Gorillas in the Wild

Because they are the largest living primates but also very sociable, gorillas in the wild are nicknamed “gentle giants”. Their homes are located in central and East Africa. The gorillas in the wild share more than 98% with the human genes, making the gentle giants our closest cousins after chimpanzees and bonobos. Just like us, they are organized through well-developed social structures and experience behavior and emotions that are close to ours. They can even feel laughter and sadness! Gorillas in the wild live in family groups of usually 5 to 10 gorillas but it can also reach (30-40 members). The family is led by an adult male called silverback. Great apes’ lifespan in the wild is around 35 to 50 years.

Because gorillas have a low reproduction rate, their species is challenged by population declined among other threats. Indeed, the number of gorillas has unfortunately been decreasing for decades. As a result, conservation efforts and the design of protected areas have become more and more significant.

Here are some facts to get to know the gorilla, the Gorilla diehli and the Gorilla beringei – the scientific names of the different gorilla types.

Types of gorillas in the Wild

The gorilla family includes four different types:

  • Cross river gorilla
  • Mountain gorilla
  • Western Lowland gorilla
  • Eastern Lowland gorilla

Cross River Gorilla


Only fewer than 300 Cross river gorillas remain on the globe, making them the rarest but also the most endangered gorillas (listed as “critically endangered”). The Cross river gorilla looks like the Western Lowland gorilla, with slight differences when it comes to the skull and the teeth. The Cross river gorillas measure around 1.4 to 1.7 meters (4.7 to 5.5 feet) and weigh between 100 to 200 kilograms (220 to 440 pounds). Like the Western Lowland gorillas, this species is smaller than the Eastern Lowland gorillas. They also have shorter and lighter-colored hair, a slenderer figure and longer arms. Like all gorilla types, their faces are flat and expressive, with flat nose and dark eyes. The Cross river gorillas have brownish gray to black coats, auburn chests and a reddish crest on their head (like the Western Lowland gorillas).

Mountain Gorillas

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There are about 1’200 mountain gorillas in the wild and this specie cant survive in captive making them a “endangered” species (they were listed as “critically endangered” until 2018). Since adult males usually weigh over 180 kilos (400 pounds) and measure 1.7 meters (5.5 feet) while adult females weigh over 90 kilos (200 pounds) for 1.5 meters (4.9 feet), mountain gorillas are the largest of the great apes and the biggest/most powerful living primates. Because they live in colder environment, the mountain gorillas have longer hair. They are also usually a bit larger, with shorter arms. Even if they know how to climb trees, they mostly stay on the ground with their family group – that can reach up to 30 members

Western Lowland Gorillas


The Western Lowland gorillas are the most widespread species of gorillas in the wild, with a population estimated around 350’000 individuals. They can be differentiated from other species by their slightly smaller size, their auburn chests and brown-grey coasts. They usually weigh between 68 to 200 kilos (150 to 440 pounds) and stand 1.2 to 1.8 meters tall (4 to 6 feet). Western Lowland gorillas also tend to have wider skulls, smaller ears and more pronounced brow ridges than their Cross River gorilla cousins.

Eastern Lowland gorilla


With an estimated population of 6’000 Eastern Lowland gorillas in the wild, the species is critically endangered. Also called the Grauer’s gorilla, this subspecies is the largest. The Eastern Lowland gorilla is characterized by a stocky body, short muzzle and larger hands. An adult females weigh around 100 kilos (220 pounds), while adult men reach 210 kilos on average (460 pounds). Like the mountain gorillas, they belong to the eastern gorilla species. However, they have differences not only in appearance but also in their behavior. For instance, the Eastern Lowland gorillas live in lower altitude areas and usually have only one silverback (which has the right to mate with all females in the group).

Habitats – Where do Gorillas in the Wild stay?

Cross river gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli)

This species is endemic to Nigeria and Cameroon, in the lowland montane forests and rainforests. Their habitat is hence an area of around 3’000 square miles (about 7’770 square kilometers) on the African continent. According to researchers, cross river gorillas are split in 11 family groups living in 8 different sites. They live close to humans, usually on hilly terrain.

Mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei)

As their name suggests, the mountain gorillas live in the mountains with elevation between 2’400 and 3’600 meters (8’000 to 12’000 feet). They can be found in east-central Africa, within two isolated groups: one in the Virunga Volcanoes (a region divided between Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo) and another one in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (located in Uganda).  

Western Lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla)

Western Lowland gorillas can be found West and central Africa, across more than 270’000 square miles (700’00 square kilometers) spreading over Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo and Gabon. They usually live in dense tropical rainforests, but can also be spotted in swamps or swampy forests.

Eastern Lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri)

Lowland tropical rainforests of DR Congo are home of the Eastern Lowland gorilla. The area of its habitat has dramatically shrunk over the past decades and is now about 4’600 square miles. The National Park of Kahuzi-Biega (DRC) is home of the largest population of protected Gauer’s gorillas. Another large population lives in Maiko National Park.   

The map below gives an overview of the habitat of the different species of great apes in Africa.


Diet of the gorillas in the Wild.

Despite their impressive and powerful bodies, gorillas mainly observe a vegetarian diet. They mainly feed on fruits, bamboo shoots and stems. However, Western Lowland gorillas sometimes feed on ants and termites (including larvae).

The diet of the mountain gorillas is mainly composed of plant (around 86%), as they are known to feed on over 140 plant species. 7% of their diet is made up of edible roots, 3% of flowers and 2% of fruits. Per day, an adult male mountain gorilla can eat up to 34 kilos of vegetation, whereas the females eat around 18 kilos. As they eat a lot of juicy foliage, mountain gorillas rarely drink water.

Threats to Survival of Gorilla in The Wild

Trough poaching, diseases and habitat destruction, human-beings are the biggest threat for the gorillas. The gorillas in the wild are also threatened by climate change.

In some countries, humans poach gorillas to eat them (bushmeat consumption) or to illegally trade them (a persistent problem across Africa). Apes are killed to supply high-end demand for bushmeat in urban centers, where it is considered a sign of wealth. Gorillas’ body parts can be used for medicine purposes or as magical charms.

Because gorillas share a DNA similar to humans, our diseases and infections can be spread to them. For instance, Ebola has caused the death of many great apes since the 1990s.

Habitat loss is a major for the gorillas. Their home areas are exploited for commercial interest, such as agriculture or illegal mining. The forests they live in have been destroyed for charcoal and timber production. Also, climate change threatens gorillas because of warmer temperatures: gorillas are forced to move to higher altitude, where forests become densely populated.

Why do Gorillas hit their chest ?

The hitting of chests by gorillas provides a spectacular display. The male gorillas normally stand on their feet and start cupping their hands. This has been found to be non verbal communication to lure or seduce their partners and threaten the competitors by sending them a warning signal.

The hitting of chests varies in duration and the number of chest beats by the different gorillas. Though reasons are for gorillas pounding their chests are scarce, the following reasons could be associated with gorillas hitting their chests;

  • To send a signal of their strength to the opponents. It’s common that the authority of gorilla males is always challenged by others. Therefore they feel insecure hence sending a signal through the sound of chest beat to their rivals that they better reconsider their decision to challenge them and not start any commotion.
  • Perhaps to evaluate the ability of their opponents to fight.
  • It is a sign of aggression by the gorilla
  • Sometimes the chest beat may try to avoid a conflict among gorillas.
  • By hitting their chest, they also show the size of their bodies. Larger males have lower peak frequencies than the smaller ones. The bigger air sacs near the voice box of the larger males reduce the frequencies of sounds produced as they hit their chests.
  • Hitting the chest is also a form of communication to their colleagues for identification.
  • They also attract their mates by hitting their chests. Female gorillas are believed to use the sound or information to identify a mate.

How gorillas hit their chests

It is not common to find real gorillas hitting their chests with fists. They instead cup their hands to amplify their sounds. The gorillas also ensure that they are in a standing posture to make sure that the sounds can be heard at a distance.

A male gorilla hits its chest about an average of 1.6 times at an interval of 10 hours. The weak male gorillas who are subordinates and the young male gorillas do also hit their chests, the young gorillas do it when they are playing.

Distance of the chest beat sound

The chest beat sound can move a distance of more than 0.62 miles (1 kilometer) far away from their position.

Comparing the sound of bigger gorillas and smaller gorillas

The larger gorillas do produce the sound with lower frequency compared to the smaller gorillas and this is attributed to the fact that larger gorillas are characterized by bigger air sacs near their voice box. The beating of chest by the gorillas is not a mere visual display, rather a signal of power and authority.

When weak male gorillas hear the chest sound of the bigger gorilla, they keep away likewise when bigger gorillas hear the chest sound of smaller male gorillas, it ignores and take it for being weak to respond to them.

Gorilla strength Vs human

A gorilla is certainly stronger than a human being a Fully adult silverback gorilla is said to be stronger than 20 adult combined. A Silverback gorilla can lift something heavy to up to  (1,810 kg) while on record an Icelandic man Hafthor Bjornsson lifted  500 kg so far the strongest man. Research shows that a gorilla can lift up to 27 times their full body weight.

Gorillas have been reportedly escaping from cages by breaking iron bars. With a  bite force of around 1300 pounds per square inch, double that of a lion gorillas are considered a strong animals you should’nt ever annoy.

Where you can see gorillas beating chest.

You can see gorillas beating their chest when you visit Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park you can also find gorillas pounding their chest especially the young ones and also in Dr Congo

Strength of gorillas

A gorilla’s strength is estimated to range from 4x-10x. When you consider the strength of silverback gorilla, it’s really tough. A gorilla is capable of felling a banana tree with a lot of ease. They have ability to bend the iron bars of their cags to escape. Actually their bite force doubles that of a lion at 1300psi. Gorillas have massive muscles with canine teeth that are long. They rarely fight because of the hitting of chests which sends signals to rivals early enough without a fight.

Size of the gorillas’ chest

The male gorillas are so large with heights ranging from 1.25 and 1.8metres tall. They weigh between 100 to 270 kilograms. Their arm reaches up to 2.6 metres according to their species and the sex. They have a chest of 1.98m (6ft6in). Specifically the female gorillas weigh between 68-113 kg with a height of between 1.25 to 1.5m and their arm span to 2.5 metres.

What do gorillas use the information conveyed by chest hitting?

When the male gorillas hear the chest beat sounds of rival males, they are able to assess the strength of the chest beater and his abilities. They are in position to start, fuel or give way to the aggressive conduct of the chest beater.

The female gorillas are able to determine the suitability of the chest beater so as to mate.

Why is the sound resonant with the male gorillas?

Much as both the males and females do perform chest beating, the sound is loudest among the males because they have air sacs in the throat that make their sound more resounding.

What can you learn from the sound of the gorilla?

Gorillas are able to solve problems since the chest beating can be a warning to those trying to cause chaos in the camp.

Gorillas can stay in harmony since they are able to communicate.

Gorillas are also able to find their mate

you can go to Rwanda for an ultimage gorilla trekking safari because its one of the most safe destinations  for gorilla trekking Check out our rwanda gorilla safaris

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