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The world’s largest living primates are under critical threat

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Mountain Gorilla

Conservation Status:


  • More than 1,000 remain today
  • Only great ape with increasing population
  • Declared critically endangered since 1996 by IUCN
Scientific name

Gorilla beringei ssp. beringei


135 to 220 kilograms (300 to 485 pounds)


1 to 2 meters tall (4 to 6 feet)

Life span

Generally unknown but data shows up to 40 to 50 years


Dense forest, rainforest, bamboo forest, mixed forest, subalpine grassland on the volcanic peaks




About 8.5 months


Predominately humans, occasionally leopards


Where do mountain gorillas live?

There are two subspecies of the eastern gorilla—mountain gorilla and the Grauer’s gorilla. Eastern gorillas live in the mountainous forests of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, northwest Rwanda, and southwest Uganda. The world’s remaining mountain gorillas live in three countries spanning four national parks—Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Volcanoes National Park, and Virunga National Park. The Grauer’s gorilla are endemic to the forests of the Albertine Rift in eastern DRC.

Physical Characteristics

What is a mountain gorilla?

This great ape is one of two subspecies of the eastern gorilla and the largest of the living primates. They have muscular arms, a massive chest, and broad hands and feet. Their thick black hair helps insulate them from cold weather. This gorilla has longer hair and shorter arms than its lowland cousin.

Behavior & Diet

The silverback protects what matters most.

Mountain gorillas are tremendously social and live in groups of 2 to 40 led by the silverback, a dominant male that is the chief leader and protector. The majority of males leave their biological group around 11 years old. Some move alone and others travel with other males for a few years until they attract females to join them. The silverback leads the group to the best spot for feeding and resting throughout the year. Generally, conflicts are resolved through standoffs and intimidating behaviors meant to frighten intruders away without causing physical harm. However, almost 10 times stronger than the biggest American football players, a silverback protects its group from attacks by humans, leopards, or other gorillas—even if it means sacrificing his own life.

Mountain gorilla infants develop twice as fast as humans.

The female usually gives birth when she turns 10 and has offspring every four or more years. Newborns are weak and weigh only about four pounds. Their first movements are awkward, like a human infant, but they develop almost twice as fast. Infants nurse and are gradually weaned after they turn three when they are more independent. Mountain gorilla infants have been a principle focus for poachers.

Mountain gorillas are primarily herbivores.

Even though they eat like football players, their diet is made up of more than 10 different species of plants. This great ape favors celery, thistles, wood, and roots. And it rarely needs to drink since it gets most of its water from the plants it consumes.

  • One Tough Little Gorilla
  • Gorilla Climbing
  • Mountain gorilla in Virunga National Park, Rwanda
  • Mountain Gorilla Craig R Sholley
  • Mountain Gorilla Craig R. Sholley
  • Mountain gorilla Craig R. Sholley
  • Mountain Gorilla IGCP
  • Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge Craig R. Sholley
  • Bwindi Census Anna Behm Masozera IGCP

Humans are pushing the mountain gorillas out of the wild and into extinction.

About 1,000 of these great apes remain in the wild, according to the most recent census. Even though the population is increasing the overall decline in eastern gorillas is averaging at 5 percent per year. The Grauer’s gorilla population was previously estimated around 16,900 and dropped 77 percent to only 3,800. If this continues unabated, 93 percent of the eastern gorillas will be gone by 2054. For mountain gorillas, the biggest threats come from political instability, human encroachment, and forest degradation. Their sanctuary in Virunga National Park is fertile and rich in biodiversity making it one of the most populated regions in Africa. As people move closer to gorillas, they also bring the risk of human diseases such as the flu, pneumonia, and even Ebola. The continued encroachment pose serious threats to critical eastern gorilla habitat.

A future marred by conflict.

War in the Democratic Republic of Congo has resulted in more than four million human lives lost over the past 14 years. The political instability and pressure from rebel groups throughout the area puts pressure on Virunga National Park, placing mountain gorillas in the middle of this social and economic crisis.

Locals depend on natural resources and wildlife-based tourism for their welfare. So the future of mountain gorillas will be closely linked with the peace and prosperity through the land.


Our solutions to saving the mountain gorillas from extinction:

  • Work with partners

    Recently, African Wildlife Foundation purchased land directly adjacent to Volcanoes National Park and donated it to the Rwandan government to expand key mountain gorilla habitat. During the past seven years, this great ape’s populations have shown an increase of 26.3 percent. This expansion is the beginning of providing adequate habitat for the world’s most endangered ape.

  • Benefits from working with locals and tourism

    AWF works with locals to help both gorillas and the community. Through partnerships with private operators and communities, we have designed and constructed tourism lodges benefitting the mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda—and their respective communities. The Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, in the foothills of the Virunga Mountains, and Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, outside of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, are community-owned tourist lodges that benefit the local people who share their backyard with gorillas by generating income through tourism. In 2016, Volcanoes National Park generated $16.4 million from park entry fees. It’s efforts like these that will continue to help develop livelihood strategies that complement conservation.

  • Try a variety of conservation methods

    Our work with the International Gorilla Conservation Program and its partners has resulted in transboundary collaboration, ranger-based monitoring, community and tourism development, anti-poaching activities, and habitat conservation.

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