Mountain gorillas are the great apes, the largest of the living primates. They are also known as the silver back gorillas. They get this distinctive shade of silver when they reach adulthood, around the age of 13 years old. There are about 880 such gorillas left in the entire world, and they can be found in 4 national parks in central Africa.
Although they believe their numbers are holding steady or even increasing, still, they are facing the same dangers every day: habitat loss and poaching. Many initiatives from different organizations are trying to aid this species, but it is difficult to do so, when the people’s land is expanding into their territory and the ongoing civil wars in the African countries are taking their tolls on the primates as well.
The mountain gorillas have muscular arms, broad shoulders and massive chests. Although they have shorter arms than their lowland cousins, they are taller, up to 2 m in height (6 ft) and have a massive appearance. Living in the mountains, they have developed a thick fur coat that helps them resist the cold weather.
They can live up to 40-50 years old – 35-40 years in the wild and 50 years in captivity. The strongest male will be the leader of the pack (up to 40 gorillas) and will protect the pack till its death, whether it is against other gorillas and predators like leopards, or against humans.
They are omnivores, and their diet primarily includes the surrounding vegetation - over 100 different types of plants, anything from fruits to roots and tree pulp. They will eat about 25 kg of food per day (50 pounds). Because of their diet, they rarely drink water. Each group has its own territory, which can add up to 40 square kilometers (24 miles).
Despite the impressive stature and strength, the silver back gorillas are not aggressive; they will make a lot of noise in the presence of other animals and even humans, but will rarely attack unless irritated.
Studies have shown that they are intelligent creatures, capable of learning complex tasks. In captivity, they learnt to use the sign language, showing impressive skills in forming simple sentences, and were able to communicate with people.
These gentle giants that amaze us with their qualities and their habits are part of an eco system that will disappear unless we make a stand.
Orangutans can be found only in Asia, more exactly in Indonesia and Malaysia. Their natural habitats are the rainforest of Borneo and Sumatra, where the two subspecies reside. The name comes from the Malay language, “orang” meaning person and “hutan” meaning forest. These “persons of the forest” are the largest animals in the world that live in trees, spending over 95% of their time “hanging”.
The male orangutan is larger than the female, sometimes twice in size. They can grow up to 5 ft tall and can weigh almost 300 pounds. Unlike the other apes that have mainly black coat, except the silver on the back of mountain gorillas, the orangutans have a thick reddish brown hair. They have the largest arm span in the ape kingdom, almost 8 ft, wider than their own height.
Their entire body has evolved and adapted to live in the forest canopy, where they eat, sleep and travel. They have a body perfectly adapted to the movement between the trees’ branches, called “quadrumanos scrambling”. Their hands and feet have opposable fingers for a hook-like grasp, their long arms help them swing easily, and their hips and shoulders have a high mobility, allowing them to do movements that for us humans are very difficult (like putting their feet behind their head). When they walk on the ground, they use the entire palm or fist, unlike the other apes that use their knuckles.
Compared to the pack-like behavior of other apes, the orangutans are more solitaire. Males will live alone and protect their territory against other males. In order to avoid unnecessary territory disputes, they make a lot of noise and will howler when travelling through the forest.
They are an endangered species. One of the contributing factors is the long period between births. No other animal on this planet has 8 years between pregnancies. Maybe this is also the reason why the mother-infant relationship lasts for 6-7 years, until they develop the necessary skills to live on their own. Their life span is typical to the ape family, 30-40 years in the wild, and 50-60 years in captivity.
Orangutans are special species of the ape family, as they live the entire life in trees. But this is also their downfall, as everywhere around the world, their habitat is being slowly destroyed by humans. Their numbers are in decline and, without proper intervention, whether to keep their habitat intact or to stop hunting them, these beautiful orange apes will soon be extinct.
Why is the chimpanzee considered our closest living relative, you ask? Well, because, genetically, 98% of our human blueprint is similar to them. Not to mention that we might share a common ancestor, who roamed mother earth 4 to 8 million years ago.
There are 2 species of chimpanzee, commonly known as chimps. The native habitats of these two species are divided by the Congo River. We have the common chimpanzee in West and Central Africa and the bonobo, which lives in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They can stand up to 1.7m tall (5.6 ft) and weigh up to 70 kg (150 lbs). Their arms are longer than their feet, and can measure almost 1.5 times their height. They usually walk on their knuckles, but they will stand and walk on two feet when carrying objects with their hands and arms. The bonobo walks upright more often than the common chimpanzee.
They are covered by dark coat, with their face, hands and feet hairless, and skin color from pink to very dark as they grow older. They have no tail. They become adults at the age of 10 and can live up to 40 years in the wild, and up to 60 in captivity.
The “human-like” behavior in chimps:
- Language: They are capable of learning sign language, in a limited way, and can communicate with their trainers with simple words and sentences.
- Altruism: Sometimes chimps share food, form coalitions or even cooperate in hunting and border patrol. There were cases where young orphan chimps, from unrelated groups, were adopted and accepted within the group; even males were taking care of small chimps.
- Communication: Similar to us, they communicate with each other, through facial expression, vocalization and hand gestures.
Aggression. Is commonly seen in adult males, where they fight for territory and can end up in killing their opponents.
- Hunting: Groups of chimps will organize and hunt small primates and use the meat as a social tool in their community. They use sophisticated hunting strategies that can require cooperation between different chimps, they influence each other and they will respect the rank hierarchy within the group.
- Puzzle solving: A recent study, from February 2013, showed that chimps would solve puzzles for pure entertainment, similar to us humans.
The most important feature of the chimps is the use of tools. Thanks to them, we found out that, humans are not the only species that uses tools in their activities. The chimps use sticks to pull ants from underground to eat them, have been seen throwing wood and stones in their fights against each other and even sharp spears to hunt animals hidden in the trunk of trees.