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Basic Gorilla Life

A typical gorilla family includes one silverback, the strongest male and the undisputed leader, one immature male between 8 and 13 years old, three or four adult females, who ordinarily stay with the silverback for life, and three to six youngsters under eight years old. Some groups are larger or smaller than this, and males sometimes travel alone or form bachelor groups.

Gorillas sleep about 13 hours each night and rest for several hours at midday. They build new sleeping nests every night by bending nearby plants into a springy platform, usually on the ground or in low trees. When not resting, they spend most of their time looking for food and eating it. They eat mostly plant foods: leaves, shoots, fruit, bulbs, bark, vines and nettles. They also eat ants, termites, grubs, worms and insect larvae.

There are three types of gorillas: Western Lowland, Eastern Lowland and Mountain. The names refer to the different areas of Africa where they live. Mountain gorillas are the most critically endangered, with only 620 alive in 1991. Koko, Michael, Ndume and most zoo gorillas are Western Lowland gorillas.

Gorillas are shy and peaceful. The only natural enemy of gorillas has always been human beings. Gorillas are still hunted for meat and trophies in some parts of Africa, and they are caught in traps set for other animals. In the past, whenever an infant gorilla was captured for a zoo, the mother and often the other members of the family were killed as they defended the baby. Now the most serious threat to free-living gorillas is the human population explosion. As more and more people take over the land for agriculture, logging and other development, gorillas have nowhere left to go.