Being the largest living primates on earth, gorillas are amazing creatures to study. Their black fur, stocky build, and often-frowning face have led many to mistake them for aggressive and dangerous animals.
But the truth is far from it. These majestic primates are gentle and non-territorial. They are primarily herbivores, preferring to feast on leaves, berries, shrubs, and vines but do enjoy the occasional termite and other insects. They are extremely intelligent and are closely related to humans – sharing between 95 – 99% of human DNA. West and East Africa is home to gorillas and you would most likely be able to watch troops of gorillas when going on a gorilla safari.
But how much do you really know about gorillas? For example, did you know that a gorilla can laugh, grieve and develop strong familial bonds just like that of a human? Here are 5 more amazing gorilla facts that you probably didn’t know about!
What’s In a Name?
So how exactly did the gorilla earn his name? The western gorilla, or its scientific name Troglodytes gorilla can be traced back to Thomas Savage who was an American missionary and naturalist. While on a mission in Africa in 1836, Savage acquired bones and skulls from an unknown ape species and described it as the Troglodytes gorilla.
Another story telling the origin of the ape’s name is the tale of the admiral Hanno who traveled to the western coast of Africa in 6th century BC. There, he reportedly met hairy and aggressive creatures that were referred to as “gorillai” by his interpreters.
The Herculean Strength
It is difficult to say for sure how strong a gorilla is, particularly because these gentle giants don’t display their strength frequently. However, it is estimated that an adult gorilla is six times stronger than a human. This is largely due to the fact that they use their arms for swinging in trees, therefore building strong arms. They also partly walk on all fours, which means that they frequently use their arms to support their weight.
But the strongest part of a gorilla is their enormous canine teeth. A gorilla’s bite has been recorded to reach the strength of 1,300 pounds per square inch (PSI), stronger than that of a great white shark (625 PSI) or a lion (650 PSI). This is largely thanks to their diet, consisting of hard plants like bamboo, which has allowed the jaw to adapt to chewing with greater force. Occasionally, gorillas use these mighty jaws to kill – silverback troop leaders who come in contact and conflict with other silverback leaders will fight to the death.
How to tell gorillas apart? By looking at their nose! Much like the human thumbprint, each individual gorilla has unique wrinkles around their noses, often referred to as nose prints. These prints are often used by researchers to identify individual gorillas, to keep track of troops as they migrate as well as to track and arrest poachers. Nose-printing is done by taking the outline of a gorilla’s nostrils and lines on their bridge.
While much has been recorded about the intelligence of chimpanzees, with the first documentation of chimpanzees in the wild using twigs to “fish” for ants recorded in the 1960s, the gorillas don’t fall far behind. In the wild, gorillas have been observed to use tools. - a female gorilla in the Republic of Congo was recorded to have used a stick to gauge water depth while crossing a swamp. Gorillas also have a solid form of communication with 25 distinct sounds.
The most popular case for gorilla intelligence is Koko the captive western lowland gorilla, who is known to have a vocabulary of more than 1,000 signs and comprehends over 2,000 English words.
Dangerously Decreasing in Numbers
Unfortunately, the future of the gorilla’s survival is extremely uncertain due to the loss of habitat and commercial hunting. Also, female gorillas are known to only produce one baby every four to six years – which contributes to the low reproduction rate in gorillas.
While the western gorilla has a current population between 100,000 to 200,000, its eastern counterparts are treading on dangerously low numbers. The eastern gorilla has two subspecies – the mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorilla. At present, only 800 mountain gorillas and 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas remain. The Cross River gorilla is even more rare, with an estimated population of only 250 – 300 dwelling in the highland forest between Cameroon and Nigeria.
Witness the might of a western lowland gorilla in its natural habitat in Uganda when you go on a gorilla safari in Uganda!