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Facts about Gorillas

Kashmira Lad
Shy and peaceful at times, gorillas can be a surprise package for people who are not familiar with their typical behavior patterns. Here are some remarkable facts about gorillas.

Did You Know?

On an average, an adult gorilla consumes between 30 to 50 pounds (15 to 23 kg) of food a day!
The first ever gorilla was sighted by a Roman explorer in the 5th century B.C. Gorilla means hairy person, and the term was coined some 2,500 years ago. The first striking aspect about gorillas is their massive size. The classification of their species is still under much debate.
The short trunk and broad chest and shoulders may make them seem frightening to some, but in reality, they can be timid in their behavior as well. These are amazing creatures, and their unique behavior and personalities are a delight to study.


• Kingdom - Animalia
• Phylum - Chordata
• Class - Mammalia
• Family - Hominidae
• Genus - Gorilla
• Species - Gorilla gorilla
  • Subspecies - G. g. gorilla (western lowland)
    G. g. diehli (Cross River gorilla)
• Species - Gorilla beringei
  • Subspecies - G. b. graueri (eastern lowland gorilla)
    G. b. beringei (mountain gorilla)


The different subspecies of gorillas differ in appearance from each other with respect to physical features.

How Do the Species Differ?

The hair of the lowland gorillas is short and fine, without any undercoat. Thus, these primates are largely found in warm forests. Mountain gorillas have a shaggy and thick coat, which enables them to live in colder temperatures at higher altitudes.
Western lowland gorillas have a grayish or brownish coat and reddish forehead. Both the mountain and eastern lowland subspecies generally have blackish coats.
Mountain gorillas are bulkier and heavier than both lowland species, which are slender. Eastern lowland gorillas have a wider chest and longer face than the western lowlands.

Physical Description

Adult males weigh between 300 to 400 pounds (135 to 180 kg), whereas adult females weigh between 150 to 250 pounds (70 to 115 kg). Males are between 5.5 to 5.9 feet tall, while females are just 5 feet tall. Adult males are known as a 'silverbacks' due to the prominent patch of silver hair on their backs. The eyes of gorillas are brown in color. They have two arms, two legs, and small ears.
Like humans, they also have 32 teeth, ten fingers, and ten toes. They have unique fingerprints and nose prints! Gorillas predominantly walk on all fours, which is known as 'knuckle walking'. They only occasionally walk on their hind legs, as if they are carrying food, or while defending themselves.

Habitat and Distribution

The habitat of gorillas is very varied and widespread. They can be found at higher altitudes as well as in tropical forests, lowland areas, and swamps. They are terrestrial animals. Most of them are found in Africa. The distribution of the subspecies is varied.
Western lowland gorillas are found in Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, Central African Republic, Zaire, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, and Angola.
Eastern lowland gorillas are found in Uganda, Zaire, and Rwanda. Mountain gorillas are found in the same regions as the eastern lowlands, but they are found at higher altitudes, between 5,400 to 12,000 feet (1,650 to 3,700 meters).


Gorillas are predominantly herbivorous animals. They eat leaves and stems of trees, shrubs, and vines. They are known to eat more than 200 different plant species. They eat bulbs, fruits, roots, bark, shoots, leaves, seeds, and flowers.
They can also occasionally eat termites, ants, and other small animals found on trees to meet their protein requirement. They do not drink water very frequently, as most of their water requirement is met through their food.


Females mature at eight years of age, but generally do not mate until they are ten years or older. Males mate when they are about 15 years of age. The gestation period is of 8.5 months, and a single baby gorilla is born. The baby weighs 3 to 4.5 pounds at birth.
Infants learn to crawl at 2 months of age, and begin to walk when they are 9 months old. Their mothers nurse them until they are 2½ to 3 years of age. They stay with their mothers till they are about 4 years old.
For the initial 3 to 4 months, the infants stay in close contact with their mothers, suckling for food at least once an hour.

Caring for Infants

Although silver backs do not participate in child rearing, they do protect the infants from any dangers, help them socialize with each other, and are even known to take care of orphaned infants who have been weaned. Female gorillas can reproduce every 4 years, thus, having about three babies in their lifetime. This low reproduction rate does not help their declining population. The lifespan of wild gorillas is 35 to 40 years, and 50 years for those in captivity.


Various Sounds

Gorillas make a very wide variety of sounds to communicate with each other.
A total of 20 to 25 sounds have been identified up until now, with many more still unknown. Gorillas grunt, chirp, growl, hoot, roar, scream, whine, bark, chuckle, beat their chest (with open hands, not fists), lunge, throw things, run sideways, slap the ground, stand on two legs, crouch low, and even stare.
They actually laugh when tickled, and also stick their tongue out at each other!

Used for

Gorillas use the above-mentioned communication forms to look for food, for disciplining, for comforting or offering support, for mating, and also for building friendships and social relations with fellow troop members.


Gorillas are considered to be very intelligent animals, and are thought to be emotionally developed and evolved. They develop deep bonds with their troop members, as do mothers with their infants. They make use of tools (using rocks to crack open fruits and nuts, or using sticks for fishing), and are also believed to think about the future and the past.
One stark example of their intelligence is the female gorilla named Koko, who learned the sign language and also communicates using it. Although some people argue that she does not know the meaning of the signs that she uses, she has won the admiration and hearts of many. She is said to know more than 2,000 words of the spoken language and more than a thousand signs.

Social Behavior

Gorillas live in troops. The troop has a dominant silverback, many females and their young, and younger males. While females stay with the troop for life, males leave when they are 10 to 11 years old. There is a very close bond among the members of the troop, and a lot of interaction, communication, and affection as well.
Gorillas fight for all the members in the troop, not just for their own young. They are extremely protective of all the members; they may even fight and give up their life.
Young gorillas mimic the older ones in order to learn the ways of life. The young ones also have grooming sessions where they groom each other by removing and eating the small insects from each others' fur. All the members engage in this activity except for the silver back.
The attachment that gorillas have to the members of their troop, and the selflessness and protectiveness that they show towards every member is wonderful to watch. Humans can sure take a lesson or two from them.

Relationship with Humans

▶ Interactions between humans and gorillas are aplenty. However, movies like King Kong, for example, show them as huge monsters who kill people and destroy everything in their path. However, this is far from the truth and only creates a negative image about them in the minds of people.
Gorillas are actually very quiet and calm animals, and will not attack unless provoked. One popular movie that will prove this point is Mighty Joe Young, a story about an orphaned baby gorilla that forms an everlasting bond with a little girl.
▶ People who study these primates, are taking care of them in zoos, and as a part of conservation programs have excellent relations and interactions with them. However, it is very important to understand that gorillas are not suitable as pets, and are not meant to be domesticated. These are wild animals and have their own personality and nature.
Many people make the mistake of keeping gorilla babies as pets unlawfully, thus, encountering severe problems later on. These animals belong to the wild, and that is where they should be.

Conservation Status

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List:
  • Eastern lowland gorillas have been listed as an endangered species
  • Western lowland and mountain gorillas are now critically endangered.
The main reasons for this are excessive hunting for sport, poaching to fuel the bush meat trade, destruction and loss of habitat due to human encroachment, climate changes, increase in temperatures (for the mountain gorillas), and forest logging.

Dwindling Numbers

The Ebola outbreak of 2007 claimed the lives of more than 5,000 gorillas in Africa. Their population is decreasing rapidly, with only an estimated 5,000 living in the wild. Of these, the least in number are the mountain gorillas, who are on the verge of extinction, with only 600 individuals left in the wild. Eastern lowlands are believed to be close to 2,500, the remaining being the western lowlands.

Ray of Hope?

The gorilla agreement, originally known as the Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and Their Habitats, was undertaken by more than 10 range states in Africa to protect gorillas from extinction.
The aim of this agreement was to protect and conserve gorillas in these 10 states, and establish a legal framework and structure to make the collaboration easier and effective. This agreement was the first of its kind to be made specifically for gorillas. It came into effect from June 1, 2008.
Gorillas need your help to survive on this planet. You can volunteer for or donate to an organization that is working towards this cause, or even support or foster an individual gorilla. Unless people step in to help these animals, and stricter laws are made to protect them from being poached (despite the current laws and restrictions, poaching still continues), we will lose these precious creatures forever.