The Western Lowland Gorilla

The Western Lowland Gorilla:
A comparison with humans and a critique of methods of study.
Fokren Masters

For thousands of years, men and women have strived to explain the why of their existence. To discover the reasons for how we act the way we do and what this knowledge can do to impact the way we live our lives in this complex society that we have created. One of the ways that science has begun to shed light on the inner workings of the human condition is through Primatology. Built from the words Primate which refers to a group of animals closely related to humans and logos which is a Greek word meaning ‘the study of’ Primatology’s goals include more than simply to amass data on the primate species. Rather a Primatologist observes data about primates in an effort to understand the primate species under their study and to relate that data back to the human condition so that we can learn more about ourselves through our evolutionary cousins. In recent years, Primatologists have done much research on all aspects of the life of the western lowland Gorilla, known scientifically as: gorilla gorilla gorilla (Fay, 1989). In this paper I will compare these primates, more precisely classified as great apes, to humans in an attempt to illuminate both differences and similarities between the two species. More specifically, I will focus on the social structure of the western lowland Gorilla, describing how these predominantly gentle creatures live in a society similar to that of humans in many ways. Finally, in my conclusion I will explore the methods that Primatologists use to study primates such as the western lowland Gorilla and whether those methods are biased towards or against the Gorillas. However, I cannot draw indelible conclusions about these subjects as I have had no time studying these animals in the field and have only the observations and writings of others from which to draw my data and form opinions.
The most common of the Gorilla species, there are approximately ten thousand to thirty five thousand western lowland Gorillas in the wild and five hundred and fifty individuals in captivity worldwide. They are found in Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic and Zaire in increasingly shrinking habitats due to the incessant encroachment of human populations.
Western lowland gorillas are covered with black or brown-gray fur with black skin on chests, palms, and faces. Red heads are common in Camaroon gorillas especially. Males develop a silver back as they mature this is not unlike the tendency for many human males to develop gray hair as they mature as well. The main difference being that only Gorilla males develop silver backs whereas in humans both males and females alike tend to lose their hair coloring with age.
Unlike humans, which are bipedal, walking on two legs, Gorillas are quadrupedal, they walk on all fours with the soles of their feet flat on the ground with the knuckles of the hands curled and planted on the ground (Schaller, 1963). Although they are mainly quadrupedal, gorillas can travel bipedally but generally no farther than approximately six meters (Schaller, 1963). This upright stance is used most often used for chest beating, to observe something of interest, or to reach an object (Schaller, 1963).
Gorillas recognize each other by their faces and body shapes. Each gorilla has a unique nose print which researchers can use to identify animals in the field (Schaller, 1963). This is very much like humans who recognize each other almost exclusively by visual identification of the facial features.
Gorillas sleep about 13 hours each night and rest for several hours at midday. They build new sleeping nests every night by bending nearby plants into a springy platform, usually on the ground or in low trees. When not resting, they spend most of their time looking for food and eating it.
Despite their fearsome size (three hundred to five hundred pounds for males and one hundred fifty to two hundred fifty pounds for females) and large canine teeth the western lowland gorilla is an herbivore. They consume over two hundred types of leaves, tubers, flowers, and fruit, supplemented with fungus and some types of insects. Gorillas do not drink water. They obtain all the moisture they