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Gorillas live in tightly knit, nomadic groups of up to 30 animals. A dominant male—known as a “silverback” for the gray-silver hair on his back—leads and protects the group, which consists of his female mates and their young. Most active during the daytime, gorillas awaken early in the morning to forage. After a midday rest, they travel again in pursuit of their next meal. Before dusk, each gorilla makes a nest, with infants sharing their mothers’ leafty quarters. Though gorillas spend most of their time on the ground, females and juveniles sometimes nest in trees. Gorillas will also climb trees to forage. In fact, they have been seen in trees more than 130 feet above ground!
Gorillas are herbivores, feeding primarily on stems, leaves, shoots, and the fleshy fruits of a wide variety of seasonally fruiting tree species. Adult male gorillas eat up to 40 pounds of plant matter per day, while females eat about one-third less.
Gorilla babies are born small, at around 4.5 pounds, but grow quickly. At about six months old, a gorilla youngster can walk and ride on its mother’s back. Young gorillas stay close to their mothers until they are four to six years old. They learn by imitating the behavior of other group members, and by play fighting with one another. By 10 years of age, when they have reached adult size and are ready to raise their own young, they strike out on their own to find a new group or mates.
Females produce young only every 4 to 6 years. This relatively low birth rate provides challenges to population recovery. Gorillas can live for up to 50 years.
Some of My Neighbors
Forest Elephants, Chimpanzees, Mandrills, Duikers, Bush Pigs, Grey-Cheeked Hornbill, Forest Buffaloes, Sitatunga
Population Status & Threats
Though gorillas have few natural predators, they are endangered due to human activities. Poaching for the bushmeat trade, habitat destruction due to logging, and health threats such as the Ebola virus are the main threats. In recent decades, gorilla populations have declined overall by more than 50 percent. All four gorilla subspecies are listed as endangered or critically endangered in the wild.
WCS Conservation Efforts
The Wildlife Conservation Society is the only organization working to protect all four gorilla subspecies—each of which is endangered. WCS Vice President of Science and Exploration Dr. George Schaller initiated the first-ever biological studies of mountain gorillas in Central Africa in 1959. WCS scientists have been studying gorillas in the Republic of Congo since the 1980s, and discovered 125,000 western lowland gorillas in the country's swampy northern reaches in 2007. In 1993, WCS worked together with the Congolese Government to establish Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, part of a national complex of protected areas. In all of Central Africa, this zone is among the most important for large mammals, including elephants and chimpanzees in addition to western gorillas. In 2008, together with the government of Cameroon and other partners,
WCS helped create Takamanda National Park, which safeguards a third of
the Cross River gorilla population.
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