The Gentle Giant

The largest living primates, gorillas are gentle vegetarians who live in small stable social groups.
Gorillas are the largest of the living primates, the group of animals that includes monkeys, lemurs, orangutans, chimpanzees and even humans. These natives of equatorial Africa are peaceful, shy, inoffensive, vegetarians - a far cry from the ferocious monsters depicted in movies like King Kong.

The word gorilla is derived from the Greek Gorillai, which translates as 'a tribe of hairy women’. The silver-gray coloration on the adult male’s back appears when he matures, hence the name 'silverback gorilla'. Silverbacks reach an average height of 150-170 cm and a weight of 135-250 kg.

Although they are able to stand upright, gorillas prefer to walk using their hands as well as their legs. Their arms are much longer than their legs, and they can use the backs of their fingers as extra feet when they walk. Gorillas and chimpanzees are the only animals able to knuckle walk.

Of all the subspecies of gorilla, the Mountain Gorilla is the largest and rarest.

Gorilla DNA is 97-98% similar to that of humans. They are highly intelligent and are capable of being taught complex tasks. Like other primates, gorillas are known to use tools and some in captivity have even been taught sign language.

Your chance of seeing one in the wild
Gorillas can be seen in the wild only in equatorial regions of Africa. Even though they have no natural predators, they are very much endangered due to human activities. They are hunted for bushmeat and logging companies destroy their natural habitat.

According to estimates, less than 10% of their habitat could be left undisturbed by the year 2030. Gorillas are listed as endangered in the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN), Red List of Threatened Species. No more than 700 Mountain Gorillas survive today.
Eastern lowland gorilla (<i>Gorilla beringei graueri</i>), Silverback male. / ©: WWF / Martin HARVEY
Eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), Silverback male.
© WWF / Martin HARVEY

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