Gorillas are the closest living relatives to humans after chimpanzees and bonobos. They share at least 95% of their DNA with us, and our two species derive from the same common ancestor.
Mountain gorillas are some of the most love-able endangered creatures on the planet as you will be able to find out during your mountain gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park. And while you might think they are ferocious beasts, they are actually.
Despite this, gorilla populations have been sadly neglected by humans. Habitat loss due to increasing human populations and poaching for the bush meat trade are two of the most dangerous threats to the survival of these great apes.
The eastern lowland gorilla is endangered with less than 5000 members left in the wild, while mountain gorilla numbers are down to around 700 and cross river gorillas number at approximately 300. It’s a tremendous shame, as these apes are some of the most fascinating and complex creatures on our planet.
Here are some of the gorilla facts that may come in handy during your African or Ugandan safari that you may choose.
- Their silver backs are equivalent to human beards
The saddle shaped areas of silver hair found on male gorilla’s back shows that a male has reached sexual maturity. Like human beards and lion manes, this distinctive fur helps to communicate to other gorillas in the troop which gorillas are male. The dominant silverback mountain gorilla has more than a few grey hairs to worry about: he makes decisions on behalf of the group, determines movement, mediates conflict, protects young gorillas from infanticide and defends against predators. You can expect to see this when you choose a silverback mountain gorilla safari with Globetrrotters Travel and Tours.
- They’re incredibly shy
King Kong the movie may portray the direct opposite to this but it is what it is. These highly intelligent apes prefer to live gentle and peaceful lives. Even when disturbed by other animals, gorillas would rather avoid conflict, making noises and gesturing rather than instigating violent behavior. Their diet is mainly vegetarian, although Western lowland gorillas do indulge in the odd termite or ant.
- They have an impressive lifespan
Gorillas can reach over 50 years of age in captivity. A western gorilla in Columbus Zoo named Colo was the oldest living gorilla at 59 years of age until her death on the 17th January 2017—after being rejected at birth by her mother, she was raised by zookeepers like a human child, feeding from a bottle and even wearing clothes. They live shorter lives in the wild, although still regularly reach the grand gorilla age of 35 years.
- Their sex is remarkably human-like
Face-to-face intercourse between gorillas has been observed and photographed by researchers, proving that these amazing animals share even more similarities with humans than we previously realized. Their great ape cousins, bonobos, are the only other non-human animal known to exhibit similar bedroom behavior. Many of such behaviors have been witnessed in the Bwindi impenetrable national park over the course of years.
- Homosexual tendencies
Yes, gay gorillas do exist. Homosexual behavior is usually seen in all-male groups, where close relationships between individuals mean that their social interactions can sometimes leads to promiscuous acts. This doesn’t stop them from mating with females when given the chance. A silverback named Titus who featured in documentary film ‘The Gorilla King’ engaged in sex with both male and female gorillas.
- They can learn sign language
As well as using numerous hand gestures to communicate with one another in the wild, gorillas have shown themselves to be remarkably adept at sign language, giving some individuals the incredible ability to communicate closely with humans. Koko, the San Francisco Zoo gorilla who famously adopted kittens and befriended Robin Williams (RIP), understands approximately 2000 words of spoken English and is able to respond using ‘GSL’, or gorilla sign language.
- 6. They might be religious
Having witnessed gorillas experiencing intense human-like emotions such as grief and laughter, some researchers now believe that they are capable of thinking about and viewing the world in a spiritual or religious way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that gorillas believe in God—rather, that they have a compassionate relationship with the world around them and draw meanings from the things they experience. Gorillas are also capable of empathy, imagination and rule-following, three complex behaviors that the concept of religion originates from.
- East vs west:
There are two species of gorilla – eastern and western. Each of these is divided into two subspecies – eastern lowland and mountain (eastern) and western lowland and cross river (western). The two species live in central Africa, separated by a vast swathe of rain forest.
- Number crunching:
The western lowland gorilla is the most numerous of the four subspecies, with population estimates often cited at 100,000-200,000. However, due to its dense, remote habitat, no one knows for sure how many exist. The least numerous is the cross river gorilla, which is confined to scattered areas of forest in Nigeria and Cameroon, and is thought to number no more than 300 individuals.
- Size matters:
Gorillas are the world’s largest primates. They are closely related to humans, with 98% of their DNA identical to that of Homo sapiens as earlier discussed from the first paragraph.
- Food factors:
Gorillas are mainly herbivores. They spend most of their day foraging for bamboo, fruit and leafy plants, though western lowlands also eat small insects. Adult gorillas can eat up to 30 kg of food each day.
- Nesting instincts:
Gorillas build nests in which to sleep, both on the ground and in trees, made of leaves and branches. Counting abandoned nests is an effective way for scientists to estimate population size.
- Nose knows:
Gorillas have unique nose prints, much like human fingerprints, which can be used to identify individuals. So gorillas can be well identified individually by their nose prints.
- Precious progeny:
Females usually produce just one baby every four to six years. In total, a female will only give birth three or four times. Such a low reproduction rate makes it difficult for populations to bounce back following a decline which usually arises from the different man made factors like poaching and encroachment on the land.