Gorillas, known as the largest apes, have been a part of Earth’s ecosystem for about 7 million years. Typically found in forests and mountainous regions, these magnificent creatures are easily recognizable by their impressive size and thick black hair. Interestingly, gorillas share a close genetic connection with humans and have a lifespan that ranges from 40 to 50 years. However, some gorillas have been known to live much longer than that.

In this article, we will explore the age of the oldest gorilla ever recorded and compare their lifespans to those of other primates. Stay tuned to our Live Science newsletter for more fascinating facts about these amazing animals native to the USA and other parts of the world.

What Types of Gorillas Are There and Where Do They Live?

Gorillas, native to Africa, are divided into two species: eastern and western gorillas. Each species has two subspecies, making a total of four distinct types. Eastern gorillas include the mountain gorilla and the eastern lowland gorilla, while western gorillas consist of the Cross River gorilla and the western lowland gorilla.

Eastern gorillas are generally larger than western gorillas, with eastern lowland gorillas being the largest of all the subspecies. On the other hand, western lowland gorillas are the smallest subspecies. Let’s explore their habitats and some notable characteristics:

  • Eastern Lowland Gorilla: Found in the lowland rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, males weigh around 450 pounds. They are the largest subspecies of gorillas.

  • Mountain Gorilla: These gorillas dwell between 8,000 and 13,000 feet in Ugandan national parks like Mhahinga and Bwindi, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, and Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Males weigh about 400 pounds, and their thick fur enables them to withstand sub-zero temperatures.

  • Cross River Gorilla: Living in the rainforests near the Cameroon-Nigeria border around the Cross River, this subspecies weighs around 400 pounds.

  • Western Lowland Gorilla: Found across the forests and swamplands of Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon, males of this smallest gorilla subspecies weigh around 390 pounds.

In general, all four subspecies of gorillas possess similar appearances. However, mountain gorillas have thicker hair to cope with colder temperatures, as well as a bony crest on their skull, giving their heads a more distinct shape. All adult male gorillas display silver-grey hair on their back and rump, earning them the nickname “silverbacks.” Some silverbacks can even reach heights of over 6 feet when standing upright.

The Oldest Gorilla Ever

Fatou, a 64-year-old western lowland gorilla, holds the title of being the oldest gorilla in the world. She resides at the Berlin Zoo and has been there since 1959, after beginning her life in the wild in 1957. A sailor brought her to France before she settled in Germany. Fatou even has a daughter named Dufte, along with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In April 2021, the zookeepers celebrated her birthday with an assortment of treats, such as:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Eggs
  • Rice cakes

Gorillas tend to live longer in captivity than in the wild. Previously, Trudy, another western lowland gorilla, held the oldest gorilla title before she passed away in 2019 at the age of 63. Trudy spent her final days at the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas.

Another geriatric gorilla, Helen, is 63 years old and currently resides at the Louisville Zoo in the United States.

Gorillas vs. The Oldest Apes on Record

When comparing gorilla lifespans to those of other apes, we find some interesting differences:

  • Gorillas: Slightly longer lifespan than orangutans, with the oldest gorilla on record living for 60 years.
  • Orangutans: The oldest orangutan lived to be 62 years old, while the current oldest orangutan is 60 years old.
  • Monkeys: The oldest monkey recorded lived for 54 years, while the average monkey lifespan is 30 to 40 years, depending on the species.
  • Chimpanzees: The oldest chimpanzee lived until 79 years and several others have surpassed 65 years.

Gorillas have relatively long lifespans compared to other apes, but chimpanzees hold the record for the longest lived among them.

Behavior and Social Hierarchy of Gorillas

Gorillas typically have a plant-based diet consisting of stems, bamboo shoots, and fruit. For western lowland gorillas, ants and termites also form a part of their diet, as they break open termite nests to consume the larvae.

Remarkably, gorillas create a new nest in vegetation every night for sleeping purposes. They generally sleep alone, apart from infants who sleep alongside their mothers.

Living in troops of about 30 animals, gorillas establish a social hierarchy led by a dominant silverback. Maturation occurs at the age of 10, with the silverback usually being the only one to mate with females. After a gestation period of 8.5 months, females deliver a single baby roughly every four to six years. The bond between mother and offspring is strong, with infants being in constant contact with their mothers for the first six months and nursing for nearly three years.

Gorillas are known for their peaceful nature, with group ranges often overlapping. Females are typically calm and frequently groom the silverback. As males mature, they leave their birth groups to avoid confrontation with the silverback. This often results in the formation of “bachelor groups.” Occasionally, females with young ones also leave their group to prevent the silverback from breeding with their daughters.

Upon the silverback’s death, another takes its place, sometimes even being one of his sons. If a replacement isn’t available, females may invite a new silverback to join their group. However, it is not uncommon for a new silverback to kill existing infants to increase mating opportunities for himself. The social hierarchy and behavior of gorillas are fascinating aspects that reveal the complex dynamics within their groups.

Conservation: Are Gorillas Under Threat?

Gorillas face numerous threats, with all four subspecies classified as endangered or critically endangered. The rarest and most threatened are Cross River gorillas, with fewer than 250 mature individuals remaining.

Humans pose the most significant danger to gorillas through habitat loss, diseases, and poaching. Habitat loss occurs due to mining, logging, and agriculture, leading to a significant decline in available range for the gorillas.

Moreover, civil unrest in regions where gorillas reside has further affected their habitats, as opposition groups often use forest areas as retreats, diminishing available space for the animals.

Although natural predators like leopards and crocodiles do pose some dangers, human interference remains the primary threat to these great apes. In response, zoos and conservation organizations, such as the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, are working to protect and raise awareness about endangered and critically endangered species, making gorillas ambassadors for their own protection and conservation efforts.

To summarize:

  • All four subspecies of gorillas are under threat
  • Cross River gorillas are the most endangered
  • Habitat loss, disease, and poaching are the main threats
  • Gorillas also face threats from civil unrest in their regions
  • Zoos and conservation organizations actively work to protect gorillas

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