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Mountain Gorilla Facts

Rohini Mohan
Did you know that the silver backs or the mountain gorillas are the biggest primates in the world? Unlike the King Kong, gorillas are gentle animals and are known to be very protective about their young ones and their pack.
The mountain gorilla, or the gorilla beringei beringei, is the largest as well as the most endangered species within the subspecies of the gorilla primates. According to recent census there are only 790 mountain gorillas left in the world. These gorillas are found only within the volcanic terrains and forests of Central Africa, Rwanda and Uganda.

Facts About Mountain Gorillas

  • These gorillas like living in colder regions, which is why they have a denser coat of fur as compared to other species of gorillas in the world.
  • Each gorilla is identified according to its nose, because each has a unique shape and pattern to its nose.
  • These animals have big dark brown eyes with black rings around the eye's iris.
  • As these gorillas age, the males develop a gray layer or saddle of fur on their middle back, which is why these gorillas are also called the Silver Backs.
  • The senior, fertile and strongest silver back male member of the clan, is unanimously treated as the leader. All activities of the clan are centered the leader, so as to pay their respects and affection. Which is why 2-3 fertile females are usually bonded for life to the clan leader, from whom the leader bears about 6-8 offspring over his entire life span.
The adult gorillas, especially the males, have prominent conical crest shaped skulls, while the females have it too, however the crests are much smaller in size. This crests attach itself to the jaw muscles, which is required for feeding on strong barks and roots.
  • On an average, a fully grown gorilla will reach a height of about 6 ft. if it stands on its hind legs.
  • The genetic structuring of gorillas is very similar to that of humans, except a few differences which gives us our distinct appearance.
Even though these animals stay on land most of the time, they are adept tree climbers and do venture climbing tress if the tree is fruit bearing and the tree's bark is strong enough to withstand the animal's weight. In order to test the strength of the bark, the gorillas usually tug at the trunk to find out how shaky the tree actually is.
  • The mountain gorilla, like all other gorillas has arms which are longer than its legs. However it differs from other species of gorillas, because of its ability to walk while using its knuckles, while other species use their palms.
  • This species of gorilla is also diurnal, which means that the animal is active only between 6:00 am to 6:00 pm in the evening, after which they go off to sleep. They wake up as soon as the sun rises, after which they begin feeding on vegetation, fruits and insects.
  • They rest during midday and then feed again during afternoon, and laze around until evening, after which they sleep. During the evenings the mother's can be seen grooming the young ones and clearing their fur off from lice, fleas and muck which they may have collected while playing.
  • They make fresh beds of leaf every evening in order to sleep.

Habitat & Food Habits

  • Mountain gorillas live within the forests of the inactive Virunga volcanoes, which has a very dense vegetation near and around its base. While the vegetation reduces substantially as you go up in altitude.
  • These gorillas are predominantly herbivorous in their dietary habits, except for the exceptional insects once in a while. They like feeding on tree barks, roots, fruits and sometimes flowers if they are especially delicious.
  • They spend most of their time feeding on gallium vines, as these are available all yearlong. All parts of the vine are eaten, which includes the stem, the leaves, fruits and even its flowers.
  • They eat bamboo during the few seasons when the fresh shoots crop out. This is a special delicacy and is a rare treat, which they thoroughly enjoy hogging on.

Mating and Reproduction

  • Female gorillas become mature enough to ovulate by the time they are 7-8 years old. While the males take longer and are capable of sexual activity only once they reach 15 years of age. All black back males are considered immature for any sexual interaction until they develop the silver saddle on their back.
  • It's the females who initiate sexual courtship and not the males. Which helps establish as to when exactly the female is ready. They will usually give birth to their first offspring by the time they are about 10-12 years old.
  • The menstrual cycle lasts for 28 days, out of which 1-3 days are fertile days.
  • A huge advantage female gorillas have is that their natural ovulation cycle stops temporarily for about 3-5 years after delivery, which allows the mother to focus completely on her newborn, without having to worry about further pregnancies.
  • Their gestation period last for about 8 ½ months.
  • A newborn offspring will ideally weight about 1.8 kg or 4.0 lb at the time of birth.
  • The mother gorilla can be seen, continuously holding the baby in her arms during the first 2 months. After which the baby usually sticks on to its mother's back and rides atop her back wherever she goes.
  • Only the baby can share its mother's nest or sleeping patch. Only in case if the mother dies, or gets killed by poachers, are the baby gorillas taken over by the silver back male leader, who looks after them, plays with them and sometimes allows them to sleep with him in his nest.
  • The baby gorillas will remain with the mothers for several years until they turn 11 years old. After which they leave the pack so as to create their own.

Behavioral Traits

  • When a silver back dies or gets killed, the entire pack falls into chaos, and is left without a leader unless, there is a mature male descendant left behind by the leader. If not, another male from outside the pack comes and takes over the leadership of the entire group.
In such cases, the new male will kill all the offspring of the previous silver back. This form of infanticide is supposed to help the male, take control over all the fertile females within the pack who will be required to mate with the new leader so that its lineage grows.
  • Mountain gorillas are not aggressive in nature, however sometimes two male silver backs may engage in a fight unto death, so as to protect their family group.
In which case they make quick and loud hooting sounds, hit their chest with cupped hands, kick in the air with one leg, stand on their hind legs, tear vegetation, run sideways on all their four limbs, or two, or perform symbolic gestures of feeding.
  • They communicate through vocalization or specific call signs, which explain the emotion being expressed.
  • They are an extremely social group and can be seen interacting the entire day with each other, when they are not resting.
  • These giants are afraid of all reptiles and cannot stand being near lizards and caterpillars.
Even though the population of these endangered gorillas has seen a very slow increase, the overall threat they face is alarming.
They are often trapped during foraging, by poacher's snares which are usually meant for catching other animals. While poachers like abducting the newborns so that they can be sold off to zoos, for research, or to people who want to keep them as pets.
This process of abduction always ends up in the murder of the mother or some adult, because the adult would fight until its death so as to protect its young one. While some kill them for using their body parts as collector items, or for making fake medicines which are claimed to have magical properties.
The other threats include the fact that their habitat is under threat from human settlement. Civil wars and general law and order deficiency makes their protection even more difficult. These animals are also not resistant to infections transferred from humans, which makes them susceptible to falling ill more often.