A gorilla is a hominin monkey. In height, they are comparable to a person, but on average they weigh much more, and many times stronger. But they do not pose a danger: being herbivores, they are distinguished by a calm and peaceful disposition. This man is dangerous for them: it was people who played the main role in the rapid decline in the number of these monkeys.
Origin of the species and description
Previously, gorillas, along with chimpanzees and orangutans, were united in the Pongid family, but now they are classified in the same family as humans – hominids. According to genetic data, gorillas separated from a common ancestor with humans about 10 million years ago, earlier than chimpanzees (4 million).
The remains of immediate ancestors were never found due to the fact that in their habitats are poorly preserved organic materials. Therefore, scientific research in this direction is difficult and is carried out mainly based on data from other species – hence the many misconceptions in the past.
The closest fossil to the ancestors of gorillas is Chorapitek, who lived 11 million years before the advent of our era. Scientists believe that the ancestors of gorillas were smaller and lived in trees, had practically no natural enemies, they were not required to make too much effort to find food. Because of this, there were no incentives for the development of intelligence, although gorillas have considerable potential.
The current subspecies of gorillas took shape several tens of thousands of years ago. By that time, two isolated habitats had formed, adaptation to which caused increasing genetic divergence.
The scientific description of the species was made only in 1847, but people have been confronted with gorillas for a long time. Back in the 5th century BC, Carthaginian sailors saw animals called “gorillas”. It is not known for certain whether they were actually gorillas or chimpanzees. In modern times, travelers mention encounters with large apes, and according to the description, these are gorillas: this is how Andrew Battel described them in 1559. after it was recorded that a young female, named Itebero, learned to crack nuts with a stone, and it was found that no one taught her this.
Previously, it was believed that only chimpanzees were capable of using this method (and for this they needed to be trained for a long time), and gorillas were much less intelligent. After that, other cases were identified in which gorillas showed unexpected quick wit – for example, using a log as a floating bridge or a stick to test depth.
Appearance and features
Gorillas are very large apes , their height can reach 180 cm. Compared to men of the same height, male gorillas look much more powerful – their shoulder width is about a meter, and their weight is 150-200 kg. The muscle strength of the upper limbs exceeds the capabilities of human hands by an average of 6-8 times.
The body, unlike an elongated human, is closer to a square shape, the limbs are long, the palms and feet are wide. Powerful jaws protrude strongly. The head is large, with a characteristic leathery thickening in its upper part. The eyes are set close and the forehead low. The gorilla has a powerful digestive system due to the fact that it has to digest a lot of plant foods, because its stomach is wider than its chest.
Almost the entire body is covered with long hair. If the cubs have it brown, then it darkens over time until it becomes almost black. After the onset of puberty, a silvery stripe appears on the back of males. Hair on the back falls out completely with age.
It may seem that thick hair all over the body can interfere with the climate in which gorillas live, however, at night the temperature is sometimes quite cool – up to 13-15 ° C, and in such conditions, the fur helps them not to freeze.
Males are distinguished by a more powerful back of the head, which is why the hair on the top of the head sticks out. But on this, the external differences are practically exhausted, otherwise the females and males look almost the same, the difference is only in size – the males are noticeably larger.
Western and eastern gorillas differ – the first ones are somewhat smaller, and their coat is lighter. Male western gorillas have a body length of about 150-170 cm and a weight of 130-160 kg, females – 120-140 cm and 60-80 kg, respectively.
Where does the gorilla live? ?
Western and Eastern habitats gorillas are separated. The first live mainly in Gabon, Cameroon and Congo – near the West African coast. They also live in some of the countries listed above, but in much smaller quantities. Eastern gorillas live in two subpopulations – in the Virunga mountains and Bwindi National Park.
According to genetic data, the separation of populations occurred a million years ago, but after that for a long time they continued to sometimes interbreed. As a result, genetically, the species are still close – they completely separated no more than 100,000 years ago. It is assumed that this happened due to a large inland lake that appeared at that time in Africa.
Gorillas prefer lowland rainforests and swampy areas. It is important that the habitat and the lands adjacent to it be rich in grass and trees, because they require a lot of food, especially since they settle in fairly large groups.
It is assumed that because of this they do not repopulated most of the Congo, due to which the western and eastern populations were completely torn apart: these forests were heavily shaded and the grass grew in them rather little, not enough to feed.
What does a gorilla eat?
Gorillas are busy looking for food most of the time: since they are herbivores, and at the same time large animals, they need to eat a lot. The jaws are massive, this allows you to cope with tough food. Their diet consists of leaves, stems and fruits.
Most often gorillas eat:
- wild celery;
- liana leaves.
Since all of the above contain little salt, gorillas eat clay in small quantities to compensate for their lack in the body. Interestingly, although in nature they do not consume animal food, they adapt to human food when kept in captivity.
The diet of eastern and western gorillas is almost the same, but their preferences are different. Oriental for the most part they feed on the plants themselves, but the fruits are consumed to a much lesser extent. But the Westerners are looking for fruits, and they eat grass only secondarily. Sometimes they walk 10-15 kilometers to get to fruit trees and eat fruits.
In any case, the calorie content of such a diet is very low. Therefore, gorillas are forced to bypass large areas – they remember the places where food is found, and then return to them. As a result, their every day turns into bypassing such places, sometimes diluted by the search for new ones, since the productivity of the former inevitably decreases over time.
They do not need to go to the watering place, because along with plant food they get a lot of moisture. Gorillas generally dislike water – when it rains, they try to hide from them under the crowns.
Interesting fact: Every day a gorilla needs to eat about 15-20 kilograms of plant food.
Character and lifestyle features
The first half of the day is devoted to the search for food for the gorilla. They have to move a lot in search of food – they walk on all four limbs, on half-bent palms, leaning on the ground with their backs. In rare cases, they can stand up on two legs. Often they travel not on the ground, but through the trees, showing great dexterity for such heavy animals.
It gets hot at lunchtime, and therefore they take a break: they sleep or just rest on the ground, in the shade. After some time, they again go around the places where they can eat.
At night, they sleep, arranging their nests in the trees. They are used only once – each next night the gorilla spends in a different place, building a new nest. The arrangement process is approached carefully, it takes a lot of time – most of the second half of the day, until darkness.
Although the appearance of a gorilla may seem intimidating, and the expression of the muzzle often seems gloomy to people, but their character is calm – for except in certain situations. Most of the time they are busy chewing food, resembling cattle – this forms their character.
In addition, they try not to waste energy, because the more they move, the longer they will then have to eat – for such large herbivores this is a very important factor. The cubs behave differently – they are noisy, move and play more.
Social structure and reproduction
Gorillas settle in groups, in each one male, 2-5 females, as well as growing individuals and small cubs. In total, in such a group there can be from about 5 to 30 monkeys. They live settled, each group occupies a certain area, which becomes their territory.
“Borders” are completely bypassed with regularity once every two or three weeks, and if some other group is within them, it is expelled or a conflict begins.
The male has unshakable authority – he is the largest and strongest, he decides when and where the group will move, where to stay for the night. Conflicts can arise between females – some of them quarrel among themselves, it can come to fights with bites. Such collisions are usually stopped by the male.
Conflicts between males occur much less frequently, this happens if a young man who has grown and strengthened challenges the old one, trying to lead the group. And even in such cases, a fight usually does not occur, because the gorillas are very strong, and it can end in severe injuries.
Therefore, it is often limited to beating the males in the chest, screaming, rising on their hind legs to demonstrate their full growth – after which one of the rivals admits that the other is stronger.
Leadership in the herd is needed in order to mate with females – only the leader has such a right. A female gives birth on average once every four years, because it will take time not only to bear a child, but also to care for him. Pregnancy lasts 37-38 weeks. At birth, the cubs weigh little: 1.5-2 kg.
Then the mother carries the baby with her on her back for a long time. When he grows up enough, he begins to move around on his own, but continues to stay with his mother for several more years – by the age of 5-6, young gorillas often move separately, build their own food search paths. They become completely independent even later – by the age of 10-11.
Interesting fact: Gorillas use several dozen different sounds to communicate with each other, although they have nothing close to a language.
There are two main ways to form new groups. First, when fully mature, the gorilla will not always, but often, leave the group in which it grew up and live alone before forming a group of its own or joining another. Usually this period lasts up to 3-4 years.
In addition, females can move from group to group before the start of the breeding season, or if there are too many of them in one group, only males that have entered the time of maturity separate, and with them one or more females. In this case, a period of solitary life and the search for a group is not required.
Natural enemies of gorillas
Gorillas are not enemies in nature have – they are large and strong enough that most of the other animals do not even think about attacking them. In addition, they stick together, which discourages even large predators from attacking them.
The gorillas themselves are not aggressive and therefore do not make enemies because of their temper – they peacefully graze next to ungulate herbivores that are not afraid of them. And this is another factor that ensures their safety: after all, for predators, it is the latter that represent a much more attractive target. Conflicts between gorillas themselves are quite rare.
Man is their main enemy. The inhabitants of the areas in which the gorillas live did not hunt them, but after the Europeans appeared in these lands, the gorillas were hunted – both by the colonialists and local residents. They began to offer good money for gorillas – they were caught for zoological collections and zoos. Gorilla paws have become a fashionable souvenir of the rich.
An interesting fact: gorillas are not inclined to attack first, but if the enemy has already shown his unfriendly intentions, and then decides to run, then the males catch up and bite him, but do not kill . Therefore, gorilla bites say that a person himself attacked, but then was forced to flee – among Africans they are considered a shameful mark.
Species population and status
Due to human activities, the gorilla population has been greatly reduced – they were brought to the brink of complete extinction. In addition to fishing, infections brought from Europe have become a serious problem – many animals have died due to the lack of immunity to them.
Gorillas also suffer due to the constant reduction in the area of u200bu200bforests in their habitats – they are constantly being cut down, and there is less and less habitable land. Another negative factor was the ongoing wars in these regions, during which not only people, but also animals suffer.
In addition to two species, there are four subspecies of gorillas:
- The western plains are among the vulnerable ones, but practically no special measures are taken to preserve them. The total population of the subspecies is estimated at approximately 130,000 – 200,000. The conservation status is CR (critically endangered).
- Western river – separated from the plain by several hundred kilometers, the total population of the subspecies is estimated at approximately 300 individuals. Has the status CR.
- Eastern Mountain – the population reaches approximately 1,000 individuals, compared with the minimum to which it was reduced at the beginning of the 21st century (650 individuals), this is already some progress. Protected status – EN (endangered species).
- Eastern plains – the total number is about 5,000 individuals. This suggests that the subspecies is also in danger of extinction, albeit less than that of river gorillas. Status – CR.
In the past for too little effort was made to protect the species: African states did not pay much attention to the threat to gorillas at all, their authorities had other important things to do: this region experienced many upheavals throughout the 20th century.
First of all, these are wars and the related movements of large masses of people to new places of residence, due to which the territories of gorillas have been significantly reduced. They continued to be hunted illegally, and on an even larger scale than before. There are even cases of people eating gorillas for food. At the end of the century, Ebola had a devastating effect – about 30% of gorillas died from it.
As a result, despite the fact that the number of gorillas has long been small, and international organizations have been sounding the alarm about this for decades, very little has been done to save them, and the population has fallen rapidly. Even the complete extinction of river and mountain gorillas was predicted in the first decades of the 21st century.
But this did not happen – the process has slowed down recently, and there are signs of improvement: the population of eastern mountain gorillas even increased markedly, which allowed change their status to a more favorable one. To preserve river gorillas, a national park was organized in Cameroon, where more than a hundred animals live, and there are all prerequisites for an increase in this number.
The threat to the species is still far away, and international organizations and countries in which gorillas live , a lot of effort needs to be made – but work in this direction is being carried out much more actively than before.
A gorilla is a very intelligent and interesting animal with its own way of life, which is often unceremoniously invaded by a person. These are peaceful inhabitants of African forests, sometimes capable of miracles of ingenuity, and in captivity friendly to people – an integral part of the living world of our planet that must be preserved.