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Gorillas are large, powerful primates found in the forests of coastal Cameroon, throughout the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola and parts of the Congo. These massive animals have a reputation for intelligence as well as maintaining a family hierarchy that places the largest male at the head. Often found in zoos around the world, captive gorillas typically live somewhat longer than their wild counterparts.
Kinds of Gorillas
The gorilla family is divided into two main groups. The first of these is Gorilla gorilla, which includes the western lowland gorillas (G. g. gorilla) and the Cross River gorillas (G. g. diehli). The second group is Gorilla beringei, which is made up of mountain gorillas (G. b. beringei) and the eastern lowland gorillas (G. b. graueri). The main differences between the groups are where they live, their color and how long their hair is, but all of the different species tend to have similar life spans.
Gorillas in the Wild
Gorillas don’t have a lot of natural enemies so they have relatively long life spans even in the wild, but according to the National Primate Research Center, wild gorillas still have to deal with many things that can shorten their lives. Among these are illnesses such as scabies and Ebola that can be transmitted by humans to gorillas, being hunted and eaten by humans and natural disasters such as fire. According to the World Wildlife Fund, it’s not unusual for a wild gorilla to live to be as much as 40 years old. By contrast, the oldest known gorilla in captivity was 54 years old.
Gorilla Reproduction and Infant Mortality
Mothers try to protect their babies and care for them for three to four years, but they are still vulnerable to the hazards of life in the wild. Many infant gorillas never get the chance to grow old; according to the World Wildlife Fund, infant mortality among gorillas is very high and a large percentage of them die before they reach 1 year of age. University of Michigan’s Animal Diversity Web calculates that a female raises only one youngster over a period of six to eight years. In captivity the odds are better and the babies are more likely to survive.
Death by Silverback
Gorillas have a reputation as being peaceful animals, living in family groups made up of anywhere from two to 30 individuals. The groups generally have a single silverback male as the leader and the only male with breeding rights. Groups may also have a number of young males who live with them and are subservient to the silverback. When a silverback gorilla takes over an existing group he will sometimes kill all of the young in the group, so that the only juveniles in the troop are his progeny.
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