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Gorilla Basics

Judging where to pitch the content of a blog is not easy. I do not want to bore people with knowledge they already have; but equally I do not want to write stuff that goes over people’s heads. I never actually planned to write a post like this, but someone recently asked me a question that changed my mind. A fully-grown, well-educated adult (who will remain anonymous!) asked me:

“So, how is your work in Africa going with the Orangutans?”.

While I initially had a giggle at this, I then thought maybe I am taking some knowledge for granted. So, very genuinely, there is no shame if you don’t find that question unusual. This blog post is here to help!

A “Beginners Guide to Gorilla Biology” could end up being a small book. Additionally, anything I write will almost certainly have been written somewhere else on the web (quite probably better). So, rather than write tomes about this, I will pencil in a few sentences and then provide a link to the relevant article on the source of all knowledge (Wikipedia).

All photos taken by yours truly.

The Great Apes

There are seven species of Primate described as “The Great Apes”. All are large, tailless Primates. For more about what a Primate is click here. The Great Apes are among the most intelligent of all living creatures, they all live in social groups, display complex mating and social behaviour. Most are omnivorous, quadrupedal and spend at least some of their time in trees. There are six species of Great Apes described below; humans are the seventh.



Mountain Gorilla


Lowland Gorilla

Gorillas are the largest of the Great Apes. They live exclusively in equatorial Africa. They live in large, social groups led by a single “Silverback” male. They are heavy set with black hair, pronounced brows and jaws and the males weigh up to 200kg, the females 70kg. There are two species: the Mountain Gorilla and the Lowland Gorilla. Both are quite similar, the main difference is where they live. Mountain Gorillas are hairier, which helps them cope with the colder climate of their habitat: montane forests and grasslands on the eastern edge of the Congo Basin (Rwanda, Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo). The Lowland Gorilla lives on the western and northern edge of the Congo Basin and their habitat is dense, tropical lowland rainforest (in Gabon, Cameroon, southern Central African Republic and northern Republic of Congo). As the Lowland lives in a different habitat its behaviour is quite different, for example they spend much more time in trees and eat a lot more fruit than they Mountain cousins. While by no means unintelligent animals, their cognitive abilities are behind the other Great Apes. Population estimates put the Western Gorilla at 200,000 individuals and the Eastern Gorilla at 6,000. Both species of Gorilla are classified as Endangered.

Learn more about Gorillas:


– Version 2


Chimps are famous as the member of the Great Apes that are “most closely related to humans”. Again, they live exclusively in Africa, in the Congo Basin, Eastern Tanzania and the forests of Western Africa. They have brown-black hair, are smaller than Gorillas (both sexes weight between 40 and 50kg) and spend time both on the ground and in trees. They are highly intelligent and social animals. They display tool use and impressive cognitive abilities. They live in large groups, with many males and females mixed together. There are two species: the Chimpanzee itself and their cousins, the Bonobo. It is estimated that there are around 100,000 Chimpanzees and 10,000 Bonobos alive today. Both species of Chimpanzee are classified as Endangered.

Learn more about Chimpanzees:


Borneo - 23

Bornean Orangutan

Exclusively living on the Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, these are the least well known of the Great Apes. They have auburn “orange” hair, are slightly larger than Chimps (males 100kg, females 50kg) and spend almost all of their time in trees. They are highly intelligent, indeed it is suspected they may well be at least as intelligent as chimps. South East Asia, Orangutans are  There are two species: the Bornean Orangutan and the Sumatran Orangutan (no prizes for where they each live). There are under 70,000 Orangutans remaining on the planet. The Bornean Orangutan is Endangered and the Sumatran Orangutan is Critically Endangered.

For one of the most amazing animal behaviour YouTube videos you will ever see, watch this Orangutans reaction to a magic trick (if ever proof was need as to their advanced intelligence, this is it!): Orangutan watches magic trick.

Learn more about Orangutans:

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Rwanda. Le pay des mille collines. #remarkablerwanda Rainy season sunsets Having an "office job" isn't so bad when occasionally your desk is a speedboat on a Congo river.
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