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Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)

The Western Lowland Gorilla is a common gorilla seen in zoos. It can stand up to 6 feet tall and can weigh over 600 pounds. Despite their size, most gorillas are gentle and not known for attacking humans. This is contrary to their chimpanzee cousins who have been known to attack humans in captivity and in the wild.

Image provided by the New England Primate Conservancy
Image provided by the New England Primate Conservancy

Typically, gorillas live quite harmoniously together. Groups of females band together and are usually related. A central dominant male leads the troop and is known as a Silverback. His responsibility is the protection of all the females in the group and his offspring. He also leads them to new places to forage and live. Silverbacks are also the arbiters in matters of aggression between troop members.

See Silverback jump in to prevent his younger offspring from damage due to increased rough-housing with his older sister.

All gorilla species are sexually dimorphic, this means that the differences between the sexes is quite apparent. The females are much smaller than the males and as the males age they mature with the classic silver hair on their backs. The skull is also much different with the male having a large sagittal crest adorning the top part of his skull. This feature usually means that an organism has very powerful jaw muscles.

Image: Gorilla Skull, by
Image: Gorilla Skull, by


All species and sub-species of gorilla have shown remarkable ability to learn new things on the fly without mimicry and make use of unfamiliar tools. Some Gorillas also have been shown to learn sign-language, up to 1000 signs. Studies in the 90’s revealed that gorillas can learn to barter for objects with humans and each other.


Gorillas are chiefly herbivorous (plant eaters) but like most primates, they will eat insects from time to time. Eating insects however comprises less than 0.1% of their diet according to some estimates.


Western lowland gorillas reside mostly in Western Africa. Sadly, their population is steadily declining due to habitat destruction, hunting, and disease. The actual numbers of these gorillas are unknown but due to the rate of losses in protected areas, they are now considered critically endangered by the IUCN.

In the News:

A few days before this article was originally published in June 2016, a male silverback (Harambe) was killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a child fell into the enclosure. Harambe meant no harm, but due to constant screaming at the animal and the gathering crowd, his state became more agitated. He calmed briefly but the child was still in his possession. It wasn’t known with certainty if Harambe was trying to protect the child, but he was certainly agitated and unpredictable. Harambe dragged the injured youngster through the water a few times so it became concerning that Harambe may kill the child mistakenly. Tranquilizers were considered but there were concerns that Harambe getting hit with a projectile would startle him and cause him to act out in fear, possibly further injuring or killing the child. Sadly, it was determined that the risk was too great so a decision was made to kill Harambe. It wasn’t an easy decision. This is the last thing that any of Harambe’s caretakers wanted to happen. Most zookeepers around the world agree with the decision. Video of this sad event is here.

Most falls into Gorilla enclosures have ended peacefully. See the video below:

As human and animal deaths continue in zoos and aquaria around the world, the question continues to be asked, “Do we really need such animals like these (esp. sentient beings) in captivity for entertainment and educational purposes in the first place?” Read my personal views on this topic in ‘Animals in Captivity: A Critical Reflection‘.

R.I.P Harambe

Image Provided by Vox Media
Image Provided by Vox Media

Header image of Harambe provided by, The Cincinnati Zoo.

* Gorilla gorilla gorilla is not a typo. It stands for the Genus, species and sub-subspecies accordingly.

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