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Great Gorillas

Updated on August 8, 2015



Gorilla characteristics and Historical accounts

The gorilla, or in the language of the natives Mpungo, are scarcely smaller than man. A full grown male {silverback} reaches 60-72 inches or more, with a shoulder width of up to 40 inches. The females are smaller.

The length and power of the trunk and upper extremities, the large size of the hands { the middle fingers and toes are joined by a membrane} and feet form the most prominent features.

The most salient part of this powerful animal is the huge head, which because of the shortness of the neck and awesome muscles appear to be immediately upon the trunk. The prominent arches of the eye brows are positioned over the hazel coloured eyes which are set deep in the sockets. The nose is broad and flat set just above the large mouth which is bounded by thick lips. The mouth is furnished with a set of fearful teeth.

The hair of the gorilla is long and thick of a shaggy nature which may vary in colour from dark browns/black, grey brown or even reddish variants occur. However the face is devoid of hair to the eye brows, as also, are the ears ,palm of the hands and sole of the feet. The face is almost human-like and when relaxed it looks serene, almost benign. However, at the first sign of danger, the hair of the forehead and the head becomes erect with a vibrating motion, its deafening bellows and violent beating of its chest with huge fists will send terror through the bravest of men.

While in the process of researching, I came upon some interesting extracts concerning the gorillas and 'hunters' of a bygone era. Sharing them here with you, the reader will get a perception of the minds of these hunters and an historical prospective of those times. the first is taken from 'Animals of the World' 1895 by Alfred Brehm, where the author quotes Duchaillus's observations of a young gorilla.--" On the fourth of May, several young natives, whom I had sent to hunt, brought back home a young gorilla. I can not do justice to the emotions that overwhelmed me, when the little monster was brought to the village."

" The ape was about 2-3 years old and 24 inches tall, but as ferocious and obstinate as any full grown brother of his might be. My hunters had caught it in the country between Rombo and the Cape St,Catherine. according to their story, the hunters, five of them, had been noiselessly creeping through a wood near a settlement, when suddenly, they heard a growl, which they at once recognized as the call of a young gorilla for its mother, and they decided to follow the sound. Their guns in hand the brave fellows crept towards a gloomy place in the forest, thick with underbrush. They new the mother must be near and expected the dreaded male to be not far away, but decided to get the young ape alive at any risk."

" As they approached. a sight new even to them, met their eyes. The little one sat by its mother, plucking berries and the old one was eating some fruit. My hunters got ready to fire immediately, and were barely in time, for the mother caught sight of them as they raised their guns. Fortunately they killed her with the first volley. The little one , frightened by the report of the guns, ran towards its mother hugged her close and hid its face" { Today this would be , by most people at least an heart-rending sight--Dal}

The story continues--" The hunters hurried forward, but then it left the mother, ran to a small tree and climbed it with the greatest agility, sat down on one of the branches and roared at its pursuers.

Young gorilla on the back of its mother.

Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic license { originally posted on Flickr }
Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic license { originally posted on Flickr } | Source

The story continues------

" The natives did not get scared, nor were they afraid of being bitten by the furious little beast. So they cut down the tree, and as it fell they quickly threw a cloth over the head of the little fellow and in that way were able to master it. Still the little ape, who as far as age went, was but a young child, showed itself to be amazingly strong and anything but good natured, so that the men, not able to lead it, had to put its head between the prongs of a pitch fork, and thus forced it to be quiet."

" In this way he entered the village and the news spread like wild fire. As the prisoner was being lifted from the boat, in which it had come part of the way, it roared and stared wildly around, as if it was assuring us that it would take revenge as soon as it could get the chance. I saw the fork had injured its neck, and therefore ordered a cage to be prepared for it."

" In hours we had built a strong cage of bamboo, in which we could observe it in security.It was a young male, independent enough to shift for himself,endowed with extraordinary strength for his age. I never saw so ill -natured an animal as this ape. he raged at everybody that approached him, but at the bamboo palings, looked around with ferocious eyes and showed his viciousness and ill nature at every opportunity"

This pious account is amazing simply for the fact that DuChaillu seems surprised that the young gorilla showed his ill-temper. The young creature had seen its mother killed, been toppled from a tree, covered by a blanket, been assaulted and injured by a pitchfork, taken from is natural environment and locked in a cage for all and sundry to gawp at. I think I would be ill-tempered in such circumstances.

The gorilla lives with his family and roams from place to place as they search for food. As darkness approaches they will spend the hours of darkness wherever they happen to be. A new 'nest' or abode is constructed every evening using green twigs which are embraced in larger branches, at a height of 15-20 feet. The purpose of the nest is to give the young ones some security and a place to sleep. Should they still need the warmth they will be joined by the mother. However, the father will crouch down at the foot of the tree with his back against the trunk. Although he sleeps he is ever alert, the slightest noise bringing him wide awake. In this manner he keeps his family safe against attack from predators such as leopards.

In the dry season when food and water are scarce he may make foraging raids on the plantations where he can cause damage. If left alone the gorilla does not attack man, indeed he tends to avoid them beating a cautious retreat. However, if one attempts to provoke him, or even more fool hardy tries to injure him, he will turn his full fury on the fool in question with dire consequences.

More historical accounts.

I return now to the writings of the early hunters, this time alluding to H.Von Koppenfels who killed his first gorilla { when this was still legal to do so} Christmas 1874, he had taken position near a Iba tree, whose fruits are very much sought after by the gorillas. he writes----" I had waited in vain for about an hour. Night was creeping in the mosquitoes were biting, and I was going to quit, when I heard the sound of breaking twigs near the Iba tree.

" Peeping from behind the tree I saw a whole family of gorillas consisting of two parents and two children. taking human growth as standard, these latter might have been six years old and one year old respectively. The solicitude of the mother for the baby was touching, while the father seemed to care for nothing but the gratification of his own appetite. The best fruit within reach seemed to have been consumed, for the female climbed the tree and shook it, to make the ripe berries fall to the ground.2

" At this time the male, his mouth still full of food, started for the river flowing nearby, evidently to get a drink. I did not take my eyes off him, for the stories of DuChaillu, and the fairy tales of the natives had combined to throw me into a state of great agitation, when I first caught sight of the animals. But this gave way to sudden calm, when the gorilla on his way to the river seemed to grow distrustful and turning round, made for the tree that concealed me."

" It was too late, I kept track of his every movement and had my gun in readiness. A few moments sufficed to take aim and shoot. before the smoke cleared away I had put another cartridge in my gun, anticipating an attack.My native companion stood behind me trembling, another gun in hand. the expected attack did not come , the male gorilla had fallen on his face dead. The young ones, giving one scream, fled into the thicket, the mother jumped down from a considerable height and followed them. I was so excited that I forgot to shoot her. So my hunting luck, had,at the same time Christmas candles were being lighted in Germany, given me too, a magnificent present"

Another account from Koppenfels alludes to him walking a narrow forest trail with his native ' servants' ,Koppenfels writes---" Suddenly the Gallou nearest to me screamed 'Take care master a large gorilla', and the cowards threw down the things they were carrying and took to their heels. I started at the cry, and just then a terrible growl coming from the side attracted my notice, and Isaw barely 15 paces away a gigantic mass standing erect. It was the largest gorilla I have ever seen and the only one which ever stood awaiting me."

" If he had profited from my confusion I would be lost. I did not wait, though, to see how long our staring at each other would last. I lifted my gun, his roaring took on a barking sound, he beat his chest quicker, the shaggy hair on its head raised itself, and it seemed this terrible opponent was going to attack me. If I had retreated in time, I am fully convinced that the gorilla would not have approached me, but such was not my intension."

" Mastering my agitation, I took aim at his heart, and pulled the trigger. The animal jumped high, and spreading his arms fell on his face. He had seized, in falling, a branch two inches in circumference, and so powerful was his grip that he tore it down along with dry and green branches from the tree. His weight seemed to be about 400 pounds and he was six feet high."

There are many such tales by the 'hunters' of that period that occurred. many of them make the gorilla sound like some freak-half man, half ape and murderous. In these more enlightened times we have { or most of us have} much more respect for our fellow creatures.

Young gorilla

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license- originally on Flickr uploaded by Magnus Manske
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license- originally on Flickr uploaded by Magnus Manske | Source

Male gorilla {silverback]

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike-3.0 Generic  unported
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike-3.0 Generic unported | Source

A Glimpse at the Species

The Western gorilla, Gorilla gorilla of which there are two sub species Gorilla gorilla gorilla and Gorilla gorilla dehli.

The sub-species, Gorilla gorilla gorilla is also referred to as the Western Lowland Gorilla, is an impressive animal. The male standing erect can be five to six feet tall and weighing between three hundred and six hundred pounds. the females can attain the height of five feet but only average around half the weight of the male. Their diet consists of vegetable material such as foliage supplemented by the occassional insects and small reptiles. They inhabit the lowland swamps in central Africa, Angola,Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo,Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. They are classed as Critically Endangered.

Gorilla gorilla diehli is also referred to as the Cross River Gorilla inhabits the region between Nigeria and Cameroon in moist broad leaved forests. The estimated population is 250-300 in the wild. they are classed as Critically endangered.

The Western Gorilla, Gorilla gorilla, is the most numerous with an estimated population of between 95,000 and 100,000 individuals. However they are classed by the IUCN as being Critically Endangered

The Eastern Gorilla, Gorilla beringei, has also got two sub-species Gorilla beringei beringei and Gorilla beringei graueri.

{The IUCN-- International Union of Conservation for Nature.}

Gorilla beringei beringei-also referred to as the mountain gorilla inhabit the Albertinne Rift, cloud forests of the Virunga Volcanoes. There is estimated to be just 750 individuals left in the wild. thus they are classed as being Critically Endangered.

Gorilla beringei graueri also referred to as grauer's gorilla or the Eastern Lowland Gorilla is also classed as Endangered with an estimated 4,000 being left in the wild.

All these species as we have seen are under threat of extinction in the wild. This again is due to mans activities such as logging both legal and illegal, hunting {illegal} and other land development which denies the gorilla its natural habitat.

Cross River Gorilla

Creative Commons Attribution Share -alike 3.0 unported license.
Creative Commons Attribution Share -alike 3.0 unported license. | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi, alancaster149, thank you for being the first to visit and for leaving the information about Dian Fossey. It is true that that mans greed in search of profit is not only threatening gorillas but many many other species throughout the world. best wishes to you.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Nice Hub you've put together, DAL. Shame the poachers could wipe them out within decades.

      The American naturalist Dian Fossey was in the process of studying the mountain gorillas when - I believe - she was killed by poachers. Apparently she got to know her subjects closely and was trying to protect them.

      Many of the poachers are recruited by Chinese businessmen looking for a way to secure the basic materials for Chinese 'medicine'. The poaching of creatures like these, rhinos, elephants etc in Africa and Asia will continue whilst many of the natives are attracted from their subsistence economy.


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