Gorillas are great apes which live in the rainforests of central Africa. Despite being portrayed in the media as aggressive and dangerous, these huge animals are actually peaceful vegetarians. Gorillas in the wild live for approximately 35 years. Poaching and ongoing habitat loss threaten the gorilla and are pushing these social primates toward extinction.
Gorillas have bulky bodies and a large belly, which functions as a fermenting vat for all the vegetation that these animals eat. Gorillas have longer arms than legs and possess hands which are very similar to those of humans. The gorilla's coat is principally black, although some animals have dark brown hair. Male gorillas have large heads, with a sagittal crest that runs along the middle of the skull. Gorillas have 32 teeth, made up mainly of molars, but also possess large and sharp canine teeth for tearing bark from trees. Male gorillas are almost twice as large as females and can weigh as much as 181kg. Gorilla males develop a saddle-shaped area of white hair across their lower backs after 12 years of age and are termed "silverbacks."
Gorillas are herbivorous great apes. These large animals forage for leaves, bulbs, shoots and fruit during daylight hours. Gorillas also eat bamboo, flowers and seeds. Gorillas obtain much of their water requirements from their food and do not drink a great deal. Except for feeding on termites and ants, gorillas do not eat meat or hunt animals, as the chimpanzee does.
Gorillas are shy apes which live in bands of between six and 10 individuals. These great apes strengthen social bonds by grooming one another. Female gorillas sleep in bowl-shaped nests which they construct from vegetation. Gorillas are not aggressive and males will attempt to scare off predators by beating their chests and roaring. These apes use various vocalisation, including grunts and purrs, when communicating with each other. A gorilla female called Koko has learnt more than 1,000 signs in American Sign Language. Koko is housed at The Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California, and her achievements indicate that gorillas are intelligent animals capable of learning.
Conservation Issues and Reproduction
Gorillas are hunted for their body parts and for "bush meat," but the ongoing loss of habitat represents the greatest threat to them. Logging and agriculture activities are destroying gorilla habitat in the forests of west-central Africa. Gorillas are slow to mature and females breed for the first time at 10 to 11 years of age. Infants remain with their mothers for many years, and the slow reproduction rate of these apes compounds the threats to their survival.