No-one misses a visit to meet the Western Lowland Gorillas at Melbourne Zoo. These fascinating creatures, which are from the same family as humans, Orang-utans and chimpanzees, share many features with us – they even giggle when amused!
Gorillas are native to Angola, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Gorillas are classed as ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (on the IUCN ‘red list’), with numbers in the wild falling. These critically endangered animals are vulnerable to habitat loss from mining, logging and the illegal bush meat trade. It is not known how many remain in the wild, but it is known that their numbers are decreasing.
Melbourne Zoo is one of 150 zoological institutions worldwide participating in a survival breeding program for Western Lowland Gorillas. The population within these participating zoos totals 856 gorillas. A visit to Melbourne Zoo is an opportunity to save wild gorillas by participating in the They’re Calling on You mobile phone recycling campaign. Coltan mining for the electronics industry is having catastrophic impacts on the gorillas’ survival. Recycling mobile phone helps reduce the need for coltan and directly supports the Jane Goodall Institute in conserving Africa’s primate species.
The Western Lowland Gorilla lives in troops of up to 20 gorillas. Female gorillas usually form relationships based on relatedness, but the majority of their interactions with other females in the group are aggressive. Female gorillas tend to squabble over access to the silverback and it is his job to keep the peace within the group. The leader of the group will usually be a single, dominant male known as a silverback. In large groups there may be more than one male, but these males are usually younger, non-dominant males, who may eventually move off and live solitary lives, or form bachelor groups with other adolescent males. Males may also kidnap female gorillas from other groups to begin a new troop.
Males exhibit aggressive behaviour by vocalising. The silverback stands on his hind legs and throws leaves and twigs into the air. He then beats his chest with his hands and runs back and forth tearing up the vegetation. He ends the display by beating the ground with the palms of his hands. This intimidating behaviour is used to threaten outsiders and often gives the impression that the gorilla is fiercer than he actually is.
- There are three gorilla subspecies: the Mountain Gorilla, the Eastern Lowland Gorilla and the Western Lowland Gorilla. All are found in the Western part of Africa
- When excited and pleased, gorillas giggle in almost the same way that humans do
- Young gorillas are very playful, tickling and chasing each other. At the zoo they play with special ‘gorilla proof’ toys
- Baby gorillas are quite similar to human babies and have the same needs, such as physical interaction, security and lots of opportunities to play
- When gorillas are upset or threatened they show it by coughing
- Melbourne Zoo’s gorillas are usually asleep by 7.00pm and wake at about 7.00am the next morning