Gorilla

Gentle giants. Ever since King Kong first gave Fay Wray that unexpected lift to the top of the Empire State Building in 1933, Hollywood has gone ape depicting the gorilla as perfect monster material. They seem to be forever typecast as the heavy. But the truth is, they’re peaceful, family oriented, plant-eating primates that live in complex social groups. They are the largest of all primates—the group of animals that includes monkeys, lemurs, orangutans, chimpanzees, and humans. 

Many people like to compare gorillas with humans, but there are several differences. Although they are able to stand upright, gorillas prefer to walk using their hands as well as their legs. Their arms are much longer than their legs, and gorillas can use the backs of their fingers like extra feet when they walk. This is called the knuckle walk.

Like all great apes (except humans), gorillas require rainforests to make their living, and the forest depends upon them, too. The gorilla’s fibrous scat acts as rich fertilizer for the forest, and seedlings sprout from it rapidly, making gorillas important forest regenerators.

ABOUT

Gentle giants. Ever since King Kong first gave Fay Wray that unexpected lift to the top of the Empire State Building in 1933, Hollywood has gone ape depicting the gorilla as perfect monster material. They seem to be forever typecast as the heavy. But the truth is, they’re peaceful, family oriented, plant-eating primates that live in complex social groups. They are the largest of all primates—the group of animals that includes monkeys, lemurs, orangutans, chimpanzees, and humans. 

Many people like to compare gorillas with humans, but there are several differences. Although they are able to stand upright, gorillas prefer to walk using their hands as well as their legs. Their arms are much longer than their legs, and gorillas can use the backs of their fingers like extra feet when they walk. This is called the knuckle walk.

Like all great apes (except humans), gorillas require rainforests to make their living, and the forest depends upon them, too. The gorilla’s fibrous scat acts as rich fertilizer for the forest, and seedlings sprout from it rapidly, making gorillas important forest regenerators.

HABITAT AND DIET

Adult gorilla eating a large leaf while holding it in both hands
An adult male eats up to 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of food each day. Strong jaws and impressive teeth help the gorilla chew tough stems. 

Can you imagine waking up each morning surrounded by food? Almost everything a gorilla eats is plant material, so life in the forest is like living in a huge restaurant! And gorillas love to eat—it’s their favorite activity! An adult male eats up to 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of food each day. A gorilla’s large stomach can hold the bulky food it eats. Strong jaws help the gorilla chew tough stems. 

Baby gorilla uses its hands and left foot to grasp a small branch with leaves

The big toe of a gorilla’s foot is opposable, like our thumb, to help it grab food or climb trees.

Gorilla food includes leaves, stems, fruits, seeds, roots, ants, and termites. Unlike chimpanzees, gorillas don’t use tools to get those termites; instead, they just smash the termite mound to get the tasty insects living inside! At the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, our gorillas are fed a variety of produce and browse material six times a day, as well as special treats like Cheerios and Wheat Chex cereals. This food is scattered all about the exhibit, giving the gorillas plenty of opportunities to hunt for their meals.

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