Lifespan: 35-50 years
Wild Diet: Leaves, shoots, ferns, roots, fibrous bark and fruit
Zoo Diet: Fruits, vegetables, "monkey chow," vitamins
Predators: Humans through poaching
IUCN Status: Critically Endangered
Habitat/Range: Lowlands of Western Africa in rainforests from sea level to about 6,000 ft.
Characteristics: Mature males may stand 6 ft. tall in a bipedal stance and weigh 300-450 lbs. Females are about half the size of males and lack the ridge of bone and cartilage on top of the skull. Coat and skin pigmentation is generally black. Gorillas are quadrupedal, using the backs of long fingers of the hands to move on the ground.
Behavior: Gorillas are the largest of the great apes, but despite their great size they are generally shy and peace-loving. Gorillas live in groups of 5-30 members, although the average group size is about 11 animals. They are gentle with each other, even the silverback leader. Active during the day, gorillas spend most of their time looking for food -- from over 100 different kinds of plants. They shred their food with their hands and teeth, eating only the parts they prefer.
Like, humans, gorillas don't have a great sense of smell; however, gorillas smell unfamiliar food before putting it in their mouths, just like most of us! They also feel a full range of emotions and even laugh when they are tickled! Gorillas are also incredibly smart and can learn a lot through their interactions with humans. Zookeepers establish trusting relationships with these gentle giants. Through these relationships and positive reinforcement, keepers teach gorillas to display certain behaviors that assist in assessing their mental and physical well being. Some behaviors include: taking medication, receiving injections, nail trims, trading objects and even cooperative care of an infant. Our keepers also provide "enrichment" for all apes as a way to exercise their mind and body. Items such as puzzle feeders, fabrics, novelty food and scents are all given on a random schedule to ensure interest from the group.
Reproduction: Females breed only after previous offspring have reached 3-4 years of age. The gestation period is 9 months, and usually a single young is born. The mother cradles the baby in her arms until it is 3 months old, when the baby is able to grasp her fur and ride on her back. They are sexually mature at 6-7 years of age.
Conservation: Wild gorillas have a fragile future. Mining, logging and poaching are all factors that threaten their existence in Africa. Though habitat loss is often cited as the primary threat to wildlife, the illegal/unsustainable hunting of wild animals for meat (called bushmeat) is now the most significant threat to the future of gorillas and other wildlife in Africa and around the world. To learn more about the bushmeat crisis and the impact on gorillas, visit www.bushmeat.org.
You can make a difference in the lives of wild gorillas! Learn all you can about these amazing animals and their future, and then share that with your family and friends. Also, when you get a new cell phone, recycle the old one at the Zoo. Recycling cell phone parts and batteries lessen the need for mining for Coltan in gorilla habitat. Coltan is a metallic ore found in the regions of Africa in which gorillas live. By saving those parts for future use, you're also saving space for gorillas in Africa for years to come.