Gorillas are ground-dwelling, predominantly herbivorous apes that inhabit the forests of central Africa. The eponymous genusGorilla is divided into two species: the eastern gorillas and the western gorillas, and either four or five subspecies. They are the largest living primates. The DNA of gorillas is highly similar to that of humans, from 95–99% depending on what is counted, and they are the next closest living relatives to humans after the chimpanzees and bonobos.
Gorillas’ natural habitats cover tropical or subtropical forests in Africa. Although their range covers a small percentage of Africa, gorillas cover a wide range of elevations.
Gorillas are ground-dwelling and live in groups of 6-12 with the oldest and largest silverback leading a family of females, their young and younger males called blackbacks. The silverback makes the decisions on when his group wakes up, eats, moves and rests for the night. Because he must protect his family at all times, the silverback tends to be the most aggressive. In such situations, he will beat his chest and charge at the perceived threat.
Gorillas are shy animals that are most active during the day. At dusk, each gorilla constructs a ‘nest’ of leaves and plant material in which it will sleep. Mothers usually share their nests with nursing infants.
Eastern lowland gorilla numbers have rapidly declined to below 5,000 today. Critically endangered, there are fewer than 300 Cross River gorillas. Mountain gorillas, another endangered subspecies, number at around 700. A recent survey has shown that there are around 150,000-200,000 western lowland gorillas.
Eastern lowland gorillas are found in part of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and Rwanda, while mountain gorillas are only found within the Virunga mountain region straddling the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda borders, as well as the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
Western lowland gorillas inhabit Cameroon, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, eastern DRC, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Angola. Cross River gorillas are confined to a small region in Nigeria and Cameroon.