12 Fascinating Facts About Silverback Mountain Gorillas

The silverbacks are male gorillas that develop a silver coat on their backs as they age (at about 15 years old). Mountain gorillas live in patriarchal groups, and the silverback heads the family, with several females (usually related) and young ones. The great apes' social lives can be related to basic human families. Here's our list of 10 other facts about silverback mountain gorillas that you will find fascinating.

Step into the mysterious and captivating world of silverback mountain gorillas as we embark on a thrilling adventure filled with fascinating facts that will leave you in awe. These majestic creatures, known for their immense strength and gentle nature, have long captured the imagination of wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists alike.

In this article, we will delve deep into the enigmatic lives of silverback mountain gorillas, shedding light on their unique behaviors, habitats, and conservation efforts. Discover how these incredible animals navigate the lush rainforests of Central Africa, forming intricate social structures and displaying remarkable intelligence. From their captivating family dynamics to their complex communication methods, we will uncover the secrets of these gentle giants. Join us as we unveil the untold stories of mountain gorillas, providing an immersive experience that will leave you with a newfound appreciation for their existence and the urgent need to protect their fragile habitat.

Uganda Gorilla & Wildlife Safari Expedition
In Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a silverback mountain gorilla rests in the bushes with his young ones.

Here’s our list of 10 interesting facts about mountain gorillas that you will find fascinating.

1. There are two species of gorilla

There are two species of gorillas in the world: the eastern gorilla and the western gorilla. However, each species is split into two groups. The four gorilla subspecies are eastern mountain gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas, western cross-river gorillas, and western lowland gorillas. 

Silverbacks are eastern mountain gorillas living in forests of the Virunga Mountains, a mountain range bordering Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. Uganda gorillas live at elevations from 8,000 to 13,000 feet – the same height a skydiver jumps out of a plane! Silverback Mountain Gorillas have longer and thicker fur and longer arms and legs compared to other species. They are quadrupedal primates which means they walk on four limbs.

Dian Fossey’s drawings of gorilla nostrils

2. The mountain gorilla’s nose is special

Each mountain gorilla has special wrinkles above its nostrils, kind of like how each person has unique fingerprints. Back in the 1950s, when scientists started studying these gorillas, they needed a way to tell them apart. They discovered that the wrinkle patterns on their noses were one-of-a-kind.

To keep track of the gorillas and learn about their lives, researchers started using noseprints as a form of identification. By taking pictures and making drawings of the gorillas’ noses, along with noting other physical traits, scientists created databases to monitor the gorilla population over a long time. This helped them study the gorillas’ behavior, what they eat, and more.

3. They are vegetarian

One of the most interesting facts about mountain gorillas is that for their size, they stick to a vegetarian diet. They eat stems, bamboo shoots, and fruits. However, they have a limited choice of fruit due to the high altitude of their habitat. 

Adult male gorillas can consume more than 18 kg of vegetation daily and use their incredible strength to break apart trees and trunks. For example, they can take apart a whole banana tree to get to the tender interior pith.

Uganda Gorillas are selective foragers and don’t overexploit an area for food. Instead, they harvest vegetation in a way that allows for quick replenishment.

4. They rarely drink water.

Silverback Mountain Gorillas rarely consume water because their diet mainly consists of succulent vegetation with water and morning dew. These animals get their needed moisture from the food they eat. And they eat A LOT – they spend half of their day eating.

Dian Fossey, an American primatologist known for her extensive studies on mountain gorilla groups, wrote that the primates have an “obvious dislike of rain, and they seem to dislike water in general.”

5. They are massive and powerful.

Silverback Gorillas are the biggest and strongest primates, and they can grow four to six feet tall and weigh from 135 kg to 220 kg. The tallest Silverback recorded was 6′ 3″ tall with an arm span of 2.8 meters and a chest measuring 1.98 meters across. 

Silverbacks are stronger than any human being, and they are known to be 20 times stronger compared to adult humans and can lift or throw up to 815 kg. Despite their size, they are also fast runners and can reach speeds between 23 and 25 mph. In addition, their bites are incomparable to any other animal. Their large canines can cover 1,300 pounds per square inch, which is higher than predatory lions, whose bite covers 650 pounds per square inch. 

6. Silverback gorillas pound their chests

The beating of a gorilla’s chest is an iconic sound in the animal kingdom and has become a popular reference for exaggerating one’s achievements.

When gorillas stand up and beat their chests with cupped hands, it’s not just a sound but also a way of communicating. The loud sound can be heard over a kilometer away! Mostly, silverback gorillas do this to attract mates and intimidate other males. Researchers have discovered that the sound is also a way for gorillas to show off their size. Larger gorillas have a lower-pitched chest beat than smaller ones. This helps other males decide whether to fight or back off and helps females choose a mate. But not all gorillas do it the same way – some beat their chests more times and for longer durations than others.

7. They are gentle and shy.

Silverback Mountain Gorillas may be strong and large, but they rarely show off their power in the wild. Instead, they are gentle creatures that prefer to forage for food and laze around all day. Those who have gone gorilla trekking in Rwanda noted that the great apes are shy and reserved around humans. But once they get to know a person, they become friendly and affectionate. Due to these characteristics, they are often called gentle giants.

However, Silverbacks can be very aggressive when they are provoked or threatened. They won’t think twice about showing off their strength when this happens. They often “charge” at threats, but most of the time, these attacks are fake. They only act aggressively to give their family time to flee for safety.

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8. They live in groups.

Gorillas are social animals and live in groups called troops. One troop generally consists of one to four adult males, some young males, several adult females and young. The oldest and strongest Silverback is the leader of the troop. When the head of the group dies, the group dissolves, or a young Silverback male, usually the dead leader’s son, takes over. 

The size of a gorilla troop varies, but the average group contains four to ten members. The largest mountain gorilla troop was discovered in Rwanda, consisting of 65 gorillas. Members have solid relationships and are highly synchronized in their activity patterns.

9. They are clever

Mountain gorillas are intelligent creatures. Although they are less curious and adaptable than chimpanzees, gorillas can also use tools. Scientists have observed them using branches to gauge the depth of streams and rivers, making ladders to help their young reach treetops and even using sticks as a form of cutlery when eating ants to avoid being bitten. 

Moreover, Mountain Gorillas are known for their impressive communication skills. They have been recorded making 25 different vocalizations to communicate distress, alarm, contentment and aggression. A Mountain Gorilla named Koko even learned human sign language. Over her lifetime, she learned over 1,000 signs and can understand over 2,000 English words.

10. Their nose prints are unique.

Most Mountain Gorillas look distinctly different from one another. They differ in body size and facial features, making it easy for researchers to identify each. However, sometimes, two primates look too much alike. Therefore, primatologist Dian Fossey developed a method for easy identification of Mountain Gorillas. She noted that every Mountain Gorilla has unique nose prints, just like human fingerprints.

Mountain Gorillas have the most apparent nose prints out of the four subspecies of gorillas. As a result, these prints have become a crucial part of studies involving primates.

11. They can live up to 40 years old.

In the wild, a Mountain Gorilla has a 35 to 40 years lifespan, but they often live longer in captivity, sometimes over 50 years. This is because they have plenty of food and are not threatened by predators. Due to their size, they have few natural predators aside from leopards. However, their most significant threat is humans who hunt them. In addition, poachers often kill Mountain Gorillas for their heads, hands and feet, which are then sold to collectors. 

12. Silverback mountain gorillas are endangered.

In recent decades, the gorilla population has declined due to three main reasons: habitat loss, disease and poaching.

Forests where gorillas live are being destroyed for commercial logging and agricultural use, forcing them to live in challenging conditions. Disease outbreaks also affect their population. For example, in 2022, 95 per cent of Mountain Gorillas died from an Ebola outbreak in Congo. Similarly, an entire gorilla population was wiped out in Gabon due to a disease outbreak in 1994. 

As mentioned above, poachers hunt gorillas to sell to wealthy collectors who use them as trophies or pets. But sometimes, they are killed in traps set for other animals.

Thankfully, the conservation initiative which Dian Fossey started has raised awareness. In recent years, the gorilla population has increased, which prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to change the gorillas’ status from critically endangered to endangered.

Today, visitors to DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda’s rainforest mountains can join small groups of trekkers into the primate jungles to spend one unforgettable hour with a silverback and his entire family on gorilla trekking tours. These multi-day trips are organized by local tour operators based out of Entebbe (Uganda) and the Rwandan capital Kigali.

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FAQs: Frequently Ask Questions

What is the lifespan of gorillas?

Gorillas usually live to be around 35 to 50 years old, although some can live longer in captivity.

What do gorillas eat?

Gorillas primarily eat plants like leaves, stems, and fruits. They are herbivores.

Do gorillas eat meat?

Gorillas are mainly herbivores and rarely eat meat. They might eat insects occasionally, but it’s not a significant part of their diet.

How much does a gorilla weigh?

Gorilla weights vary by species, but they can weigh between 200 to 400 pounds (90 to 180 kilograms).

How much does a silverback gorilla weigh?

A silverback gorilla, which is an adult male leader of a gorilla group, can weigh anywhere from 350 to 500 pounds (160 to 227 kilograms). Their weight can vary depending on factors such as age, diet, and individual genetics. These are some of the largest and most powerful gorillas in a troop.

How strong are gorillas?

Gorillas are incredibly strong, with the ability to lift and carry heavy objects. They’re estimated to be around 10 times stronger than an average adult human.

How tall are gorillas compared to humans?

Gorillas are usually shorter than humans when standing upright. They typically stand around 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) tall, but they often walk on all fours, making them seem shorter.

Are gorillas endangered, and why?

Yes, gorillas are endangered. They face threats from habitat loss, poaching, and diseases. Human activities like deforestation and hunting have harmed their populations.

How many gorillas are left in the world?

The number of gorillas in the wild is continually changing, but estimates suggest there are around 100,000 to 200,000 gorillas in the world, spread across different species and subspecies. Western Lowland Gorillas are estimated at around 100,000 to 150,000 individuals. Cross River gorillas (a subspecies of Western gorillas) are estimated to be fewer than 300 individuals. Eastern Lowland Gorillas are around 4,000 to 6,000 individuals. Mountain gorillas are around 1,050 individuals.

Do gorillas attack people?

Gorillas are generally not known to attack people. They are shy and gentle creatures. However, if they feel threatened or cornered, they might defend themselves, but such incidents are very rare.

Are gorillas dangerous?

In general, gorillas are not considered dangerous to humans. They are peaceful animals, but like any wild animal, they can become unpredictable if provoked or if their natural habitat is disturbed.

What is a group of gorillas called?

A group of gorillas is called a u0022troopu0022 or a u0022band.u0022 It usually consists of several individuals, including a silverback male, adult females, and their offspring.

What do gorillas look like?

Gorillas are large primates with dark brown or black hair covering their bodies, and adult males, known as silverbacks, have a silvery-grey tinge on their backs. They have hairless faces with wide nostrils, prominent brow ridges, muscular chests, long and powerful arms, dexterous hands with five fingers, and broad, muscular chests. Their teeth are adapted for a plant-based diet, and they have a wide range of facial expressions that convey emotions. Gorillas are known for their intelligence. They live in close-knit family groups called troops or bands, and their appearance can vary slightly among the four gorilla species and individual animals.

Do gorillas climb trees?

Yes, gorillas can climb trees, and they often do so. They are primarily terrestrial (ground-dwelling) animals, but they are also skilled climbers. In their natural habitats in African rainforests, gorillas may climb trees to access fruits, leaves, or to escape predators. While they are not as agile in the trees as some other primates like chimpanzees, gorillas’ strong arms and hands enable them to move through trees and branches when needed. However, their tree-climbing behavior is generally less frequent and less arboreal than other primate species.

How do gorillas sleep?

Gorillas sleep at night and create nests from branches and leaves in trees or on the ground. They sleep for about 10 to 12 hours, often in family groups led by a silverback male, and may rest in various postures. Their sleep patterns are influenced by their social and environmental factors, reflecting their adaptation to their rainforest habitats.

Exciting Silverback Gorilla Safaris

Explore East Africa’s fascinating wildlife with Nkuringo Safaris. We can tailor your holiday so you can have an unforgettable experience and create memories that will last a lifetime. Whether you want to spend time with the silverback mountain gorillas in the rainforest mountains or explore Uganda’s picturesque countryside, our team can make it happen.

Let our experts know your great bucket list and expected experiences, and we will customize your trip with a personal safari expert guiding you through the process.

Start planning your next adventure, and contact us today.

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12 Fascinating Facts About Silverback Mountain Gorillas
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