What Is the Mountain Gorilla?

Angie Pollock

The mountain gorilla, scientifically named Gorilla beringei beringei, is an endangered species of gorilla that is native to mountainous regions of Africa. First identified by scientists in the early 1900s, the mountain gorilla inhabits established national parks within Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It averages more than 400 pounds (181 kg) and can reach a height of 6 feet (1.8 m) at adulthood.

The mountain gorilla can weigh over 400 pounds.
The mountain gorilla can weigh over 400 pounds.

In the wild, the mountain gorilla lives on a diet that consists mainly of vegetation. Its food source includes many succulent plants, from which it receives most of its water intake. Foods such as tree roots, fruits and tree bark are plentiful in their native habitat.

Orangutans are part of the same group of primates as mountain gorillas.
Orangutans are part of the same group of primates as mountain gorillas.

Led by a dominant adult male, known as a silverback, the mountain gorilla's community is referred to as a troop. Troops will have about 25 members, including males, females and their offspring. The silverback is responsible for leading the troop to food sources and safe nesting areas.

Like humans, mountain gorillas give birth after a gestation of about nine months. Baby mountain gorillas weigh about 4 pounds (1.8 kg) at birth and cling to their mothers for several months. After the age of about four months, the young ride on the backs of their mother for another two to three years.

Mountain gorillas are part of a group known as “the great apes.” This exclusive group of mammals, which also includes the orangutan, chimpanzee and bonobo, varies in appearance but has many characteristics in common. Unlike monkeys, apes lack tails, and they are more intelligent than monkeys. Apes are larger in size, and the ape’s brain is larger and more developed than a monkey’s.

There were fewer than 1,000 mountain gorillas estimated to exist as of 2011, making this species one of the most endangered types of gorillas in the wild. Poaching is one of the lead causes of the mountain gorilla’s decline. Adult females are killed to capture their babies for selling on the black market. The mountain gorilla’s habitat also has been under threat from agriculture, logging and the increase in human population.

Mountain gorillas were identified by scientists as a subspecies after German army captain Robert von Beringe shot and recovered a specimen in 1902 in the volcanic region of Rwanda. The specimen was sent to a Berlin museum where it was confirmed to be different from the eastern lowland gorilla, or Grauer's gorilla. The mountain gorilla was given the scientific name Gorilla beringei beringei in honor of Robert von Beringe.

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