Western (African) Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla)
Story By: Jason Abels Assistant Director,
Tigerhomes Animal Sanctuary
The Western (African) Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) is one of the most spectacular of all the living primates. With only two species and four subspecies, all separated by thousands of miles, the endangered Gorilla is one of the rarest primates, in drastic need of our protection.
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The Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) primarily inhabits remote habitats of Southern Cameroon, South Nigeria, the Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and parts of Zaire. Populations of the Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla graueri) have over 1100 miles separating them from Western Lowland Gorilla populations. This subspecies inhabits parts of the northern area of Lake Tanganyika between east-central Zaire and the Congo River. Another subspecies of Gorilla is the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei). The Mountain Gorilla is isolated to 6 dormant Volcanoes found in the Virunga Mountain Range, which spans the Zaire, Uganda, and Rwanda borders.
More Pictures of Mountain Gorillas >>
African Gorilla Species Table
Gorilla Distribution Map
Regardless of subspecies, the USDI “United States Department Of The Interior” and CITES, also known as the “Convention on the International Trade In Endangered Species”, considers all African Gorillas as Endangered, as listed on Appendix 1 wildlife. Although David and I do not house any subspecies of Gorilla at TigerHomes.Org Animal Sanctuary, we both have had some great experiences observing a local captive Gorilla interacting in a spectacular naturalistic habitat staged in an old growth forest here in South Florida. Watching Gorilla behavior is truly fascinating. These animals are so intelligent it is sad how their numbers are on the decline in the wild.
Gorilla Poaching for "Bush Meat" and Habitat Destruction
All three subspecies of wild Gorilla have numerous threats to their existence. On top of habitat destruction, most populations of Gorillas live amongst constant human wars. Human Guerillas, fighting internal resistance movements and rebels as well as governmental soldiers all shooting at anything that moves is responsible for numerous wild Gorilla deaths! If that was not enough, Gorilla meat is also prized as a source of what they call “Bush Meat”. It seems that Gorilla poaching for bushmeat is one of the primary revenue sources for the Gorilla poachers. Besides the fact that some local African Tribes seem to enjoy eating Gorilla meat, the meat is also sold in many African outdoor markets and even some underground restaurants to tourists who think it is fascinating and classy to eat the exotic meat of an endangered species. It is also not uncommon to find stuffed taxidermy Gorilla heads, Gorilla hands or Gorilla feet in these same markets. In some cases, one can even find a Baby Gorilla for sale as a pet taken away from its dead poached mother in these markets. Keep in mind, all this goes on despite the fact that it is illegal in all countries were Gorillas are indigenous just as poaching for Tigers continues in the Asian marketplace. Fortunately, more and more International Gorilla Task Forces are being created to ensure Gorilla protection to both stop these illegal behaviors and to establish an educational agenda actually teaching “Tribe by Tribe”, “Village by Village” on the importance of Gorilla conservation.
About Silverback Gorillas
Mature male alpha Gorillas are often referred to as “Silverbacks” or as a “Silverback Gorilla”. Many people often confuse a Silverback Gorilla as a separate species or subspecies of Gorilla, when in fact they are not. As male Gorillas mature in age and social status within their primate society, their back hair becomes gray - almost silverish in color giving them their Silverback name. If you look at pictures of Gorillas, you will notice that baby Gorillas, young Gorillas and adolescent Gorillas do not posses this silvery back hair. Since we are talking about Gorilla hair, an interesting way to tell the difference between the Mountain Gorilla and the 2 subspecies of Lowland Gorilla is the fact that the Mountain Gorilla has much longer, silkier hair. This is especially apparent on the Gorilla’s arms. Another really interesting fact I think is extremely cool is that the Gorilla’s closest relative the highly intelligent chimpanzee is closer related to you and I then it is to the Gorilla! Well, at least this is true for the Chimp’s blood. It is fascinating that a Chimp’s blood is only .1% different than ours. Recent DNA sequencing tests undertaken at the Broad Institute of MIT, Harvard & the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis revealed it is in fact VERY, VERY CLOSE. These studies revealed the DNA of a Chimpanzee is almost 99% identical to humans. In fact, they proved that 96% of a Chimpanzee’s genomes are a perfect match to human DNA! This proved a Chimp’s blood is closer to human blood than to Gorilla blood making Chimpanzees our closest living evolutionary relatives.
Gorilla Behavior: Nest Building
One of my favorite Gorilla behaviors is that of nest building. Gorillas migrate and forage within their territories and each night they each build a temporary nest to sleep in. Gorilla nests can be located either on the ground or up in a tree. It seems that depending on the availability of nesting materials and the varying types of habitat both have a factor on the location of where the Gorilla nests. Regardless of nesting locations or preference, most Gorilla nests take less then 10 minutes to design and create and are fashioned rather crudely. I love observing this wild behavior in captivity and luckily for us, David and I both have! Our friends at Monkey Jungle And Gardens have created one of the most naturalistic Gorilla habitats emulating a dense jungle environment for their captive Gorilla, King. King routinely creates natural crude nests out of plant and vine materials he finds growing in his multi-acre habitat. Whether it be a Gorilla or the common Door Mouse, all quality Zookeepers strive to provide the safest, most environmentally enriching habitats as possible. That is our goal here at TigerHomes.Org Animal Sanctuary. Nothing makes us happier then when our habitats bring out naturally occurring wild behaviors in the captive animals in our care. So needless to say, it was a real treat observing King’s nest building skills in his habitat.
Breeding & Gestation Period of Gorillas
There is no Gorilla breeding season in the wild. Females typically give birth every 3 to 5 years. On average, the Gorilla gestation period is between 250 and 296 days where in most cases one infant Gorilla is born and on rare occasions, twins. Baby Gorillas weigh about 5 pounds at birth and take about 10 years to mature if male, and 7 if female. It is believed that wild Gorillas live as long as 50 years or more with captive animals living longer.
As far as non-human primates go, the majestic African Gorilla is one of my all time favorites. Although Gorilla's look fierce and without a doubt can of course be very dangerous; they are typically a very gentle, and peaceful animal amongst themselves and even other bordering Gorilla groups.
African Gorilla Species Table >>
Gorilla Distribution Map >>
Pictures of Mountain Gorillas >>
As mentioned earlier, our Animal Sanctuary and Educational Website does not house, nor do we have any intention of ever housing these amazing Great Apes. Although we do not care for Gorillas here at the Sanctuary, we would like to invite you to get to know and learn about each of the Sanctuary’s resident animals. Don’t forget to visit our world famous “EXOTIC ANIMAL WEBCAMS” set up within the naturalistic African Lion, Amazing White Tigers, Golden Tiger, Bengal Tiger, Black Leopard, African Leopard as well as 3 species of Madagascar Lemur habitats. David and I both greatly appreciate your interest and support in our Wildlife Sanctuary and the global protection of both the remaining Wild Animals and Wild Habitats. ~ Jason Abels