Everything you need to know about mountain gorillas

The world’s largest primate, from unique nose prints to mourning their dead
By Donna Scaramastra from Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

What Is It?

The world’s largest primate, which shares 98 per cent of their DNA with humans


Gorillas are the largest primate in the world. Mountain gorillas stand 4 to 6 feet tall and typically weigh 136-220 kilogrammes (300-485 pounds) when fully grown. Adult males average around 181kg (400 pounds), about twice as much as a typical female, which weighs around 91kg (200 pounds).  


Wild mountain gorillas generally live into their 30s. The oldest female mountain gorilla of known age (seen at birth and death) was Poppy, who was 43 when she died, according to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. The oldest silverback was Cantsbee, who died at age 38.

Where Do They Live?

Mountain gorillas live in only two locations. The Virunga population lives in the Virunga Massif, three parks that straddle the countries of Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. The Bwindi population is in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, located in Uganda and Sarambwe Reserve in eastern DRC. These two ranges total less than 300 square miles, or about one tenth of Yellowstone National Park in the United States.


Mountain gorillas live in dense forests at elevations of 1403 to 3810 metres (4,600 to 12,500 feet). These forests are home to remarkable biodiversity, including more than 200 species of plants, amphibians,  birds and other mammals and primates, such as golden monkeys. The plants and animals that share their habitat offer important clues about the health of the forest. 


Mountain gorillas are vegetarians. They eat 40-60 pounds of celery, tree bark, nettles, bamboo and other plants that they find in the forest every day. They drink very little water, as the plants they eat provide enough liquid.


Like humans, female gorillas give birth to one infant after an almost nine-month pregnancy. Newborn gorillas weigh about four pounds and wean between 3-4 years of age. 

Females give birth for the first time at around age ten and every four years after that.


Mountain gorillas are social animals. They live in family groups that consist of one dominant silverback, a few other adult males, multiple adult females and their young.

The groups are very hierarchical, with frequent jockeying for power. The groups travel a mile or so every day, feeding, building nests, then resting. Young gorillas spend time playing with one another.

Observers often note how similar mountain gorillas are to humans. Like humans, mountain gorillas have been observed mourning their dead.

4 Incredible Facts

Gorillas share more than 98 per cent of their DNA with humans, more than any other animal except chimpanzees and bonobos.

Like human fingerprints, mountain gorillas nose prints are unique. Researchers use them to identify individual gorillas in the field.

Gorillas are always on the move, and they construct new nests every night. Babies sleep in the same nests as their mothers. Counting daily gorilla nests is a great way for researchers to determine the size of a group, as well as the overall population.

Mountain gorillas reside at the highest elevation and coldest temperatures of any type of gorilla. Because of this, they have a distinctive and adorable woolly appearance.

How Many Mountain Gorillas Are On The Planet Today?

A recent census of Uganda’s Bwindi population counted 459 mountain gorillas, up from 400 at the last count. Last year, a similar survey of the Virunga mountain gorilla population found an increase from 480 to 604 over a five-year period.

The overall combined total of mountain gorillas now stands at 1,063.

30 years ago, there were just 250 individuals left in the Virunga Mountains, with an unknown number in Bwindi. Years of intensive conservation efforts on behalf of mountain gorillas are making a difference.

The Greatest Threats To Mountain Gorillas…

Mountain gorilla populations are slowly rebounding. They have previously been listed as ‘critically endangered’ but have recently been reclassified as ‘endangered’, to reflect the increasing numbers.

But gorillas still face numerous threats.

Gorilla populations are losing their habitat, due to human encroachment, mining and climate change.

They sometimes suffer injury and death from snares left by poachers who are hunting for bushmeat, such as antelope; gorillas are the accidental victims.

Gorillas are also susceptible to human diseases, such as respiratory infections.

What Can People Do To Help Gorillas?

Speak up. Gorillas depend on people to be their voice. We risk losing gorillas forever if we don’t advocate for them. Share this article. Tell your friends, family and neighbours about the issues and other animals face. Share news and information on social media.

Vote for leaders who prioritize conservation. In the United States, ask lawmakers to support the Great Ape Conservation Fund.

Organizations like the Fossey Fund depend on private donations. Adopt a gorilla or make a donation in support of a conservation organization, such as the Fossey Fund, to help them continue their vital work. You can learn what these organizations do with your donations at

Buy eco-friendly products. Products made from sustainable wood sources are important to protect critical forests, as are other products that are eco-friendly and/or recyclable.

Recycle your electronics. Many of today’s phones and computers rely on batteries that use metals such as coltan, mined in the Grauer gorilla habitat of eastern DRC.  Reduce demand for coltan mining. Hang on to your electronics as long as possible, and recycle what you no longer need through a company like Eco-Cell, which gives back to conservation groups.

Photos from Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund:

Follow them on Instagram at @savinggorillas.

Please SHARE this article.

NOTE: The best way to solve the crises facing the planet and its wildlife is by having open, honest, respectful conversations and hearing diverse voices from around the world. The New Big 5 project does not necessarily support or agree with every opinion or idea expressed by photographers, conservationists or organisations featured on the New Big 5 website. The many different wildlife charities, photographers, film-makers and conservationists we’ve collaborated with also do not necessarily support or agree with every idea or opinion expressed by other people or organisations on the website. It’s ok to disagree and debate. But we hope the opinions and ideas can inspire people, make people think, and be part of the conversation to help our planet and the animals that live on it.

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