Gorillas are a primate specie which share close DNA with human beings. The gorillas are among the four great apes close to human beings in DNA the other apes being chimpanzees, Orangutans and bonobos.

Gorillas are the most intriguing primates in the world. They are large, powerful and gentle creatures. Gorillas are special creatures which behave like humans. The gorillas exist in mainly two species, that is, western gorillas and the eastern gorillas. The western gorillas are sub divided into two sub species- cross river gorillas and western low land gorillas. The eastern gorillas on the other hand are sub divided into two sub species- the eastern low land gorillas and the mountain gorillas.

Western low land gorillas have a population of over 200,000 individuals making them the most numerous of all gorilla species. The eastern low land gorillas similarly constitute above 7000 individuals. Mountain gorillas however comprise of about 1000 living individuals while cross river gorillas at the bottom curve make up over 250 individuals in the wild.

The gorillas have four subspecies;

  • the mountain gorillas and the Eastern lowland gorillas that belong the Eastern gorilla
  • the Western lowland gorillas and the cross river gorillas that belong to the Western gorilla

The lowland gorillas are found in Democratic republic of Congo where are the mountain gorillas live in the Virunga mountain ranges and Bwindi impenetrable Forest National park.

The mountain gorillas are endangered specie with less than 1000 gorillas remaining in the world. Half of the mountain gorillas live in Virunga mountain ranges, which is shared by Rwanda, DR congo and Uganda. In Rwanda, the gorillas live in Volcanoes National Park, in Uganda, the live in Mgahinga National park and in DR Congo, they live in Virunga National Park. The other remaining half live in Bwindi impenetrable Forest National park.

For over the years, there was much poaching going on in the parks with poachers selling the gorilla feet as well as eating the gorillas’ meat. Also, there was human encroachment on the forest in search of wood and medicinal plants which affected the habitat for the gorillas, there by endangering them. This led to the gorilla population decreasing to almost extinction. It was the intervention on Dian Fossey, an American Primatologist who committed her life to conserving the lives of the gorillas and making research. This greatly improved the plight of the mountain gorillas until the very people she was protecting from the gorillas assassinated her in 1986.

Poaching of the gorillas, political instabilities and human encroachment on the forest increased again which endangered the lives of the mountain gorillas and this saw the gorilla population decrease more and more. It was until the respective governments improved gorilla conservation since 2000 that has seen the population of the gorillas on stead increase as tourism improved through sell of gorilla tracking permits by the respective countries.

An over view about the gorilla sub species

Mountain gorillas

Mountain gorillas are endemic to only three countries Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. These gentle apes live in national parks including: Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda, Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in Democratic Republic of Congo. It is because the gorillas are located in only one region in the world and are under threat from human activity that they are regarded as endangered since they can be completely extinct in case there is any advanced human activity and there is no aversion.

Eastern low land gorillas

This species of gorillas is also known as Grauer’s gorilla and is the largest of all the four sub species. Eastern low land gorilla sub species is endemic to Democratic Republic of Congo. Eastern low land gorillas are found in two national namely; Kahuzi Beiga national park and Maiko national park located in the eastern part of the country.

Western low land gorillas

The western low land gorilla has black to grayish or reddish- brown hair that covers the body except face, soles of hand and feet, and upper chest. The western low land gorillas are the most numerous in number species and can be found in Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. They are the only gorilla sub species kept in zoos with an exception on one eastern gorilla kept at Antwerp and a few mountain gorillas kept captive in Democratic Republic of Congo. Most gorilla safaris in Africa focus on the mountain gorillas of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Cross river gorillas

Cross river gorillas are the most endangered of all African great apes with less than 300 individuals living in Nigeria- Afi Mountains and Cameroon- Mbe mountains. These gorillas differ from their nearest neighbours the western low land gorillas and eastern gorillas in terms of size. Cross river gorillas have smaller skulls, ears, palates and cranial vaults. They are without doubt the smallest gorilla species.

Like all gorillas cross river gorillas are very social. They live in smaller family groups with an average of 4 to 7 members. A few groups consist of close to 20 individuals although very rare. Each group is led by a dominant mature silver back whose role is to protect the females and off springs. They sleep in nests during nights which are either made on the ground or in trees. They feed on fruits, tree bark, herbs among others.

Mountain gorillas live in groups headed by the dominant male silverback. The male silverback directs the group members daily on the activities like making nests, searching for food and the general roles a head of the family does.  Many questions are always asked in trying to understand the gorillas as some of them are as below;

– Are gorillas dangerous?

The gorillas are largely herbivorous feeding on fruits, leaves, stems, roots though they can some times eat insects.Mountain gorillas are peaceful animals and pose no threat to human beings. However, if they are not habituated for tracking, they tend to run away from human beings and can pose danger if they are under threat. The silverback will defend his family territory if there is any threat especially on the young ones.

– What do gorillas eat?

The gorillas live in the mountainous areas covered with bamboo as this is the best food they enjoy. They eat the leaves of the bamboo as well as the stems of young bamboo. The gorillas make nests everyday for sleeping in and will migrate from place to place everyday. While on gorilla trek, it is the nests that help give guidance on where the gorillas could be situated as this reflects where they stayed that night.


For more information on mountain gorillas use the following resources;

  • Mountain Gorillas Info – General information about mountain gorillas
  • The Virunga Gorillas – Exclusive information on gorillas in the Virungas.