Baby Gorilla

Reading Time: 13 mins

The First Few Days


These infants are tiny, barely weighing 4.5 pounds. The first few days of a baby gorilla's life are critical. Within the first hour after birth, the tiny gorilla, with the instinctual wisdom of the wild, starts clinging to its mother's fur. You won't see these newborns in cradles or bassinets; their mothers are their moving homes, providing warmth, transport, and security.


The long childhood


Gorillas have one of the longest childhoods among primates. They stay with their mothers until they are between three and four years old, and they reach maturity at around 10-12 years old for females and 11-13 years for males. This extended childhood period allows them to learn and develop the complex social and survival skills they'll need as adults.


Sibling Rivalry


Just like human siblings, gorilla siblings can have their moments of jealousy, especially when a new baby arrives. Older siblings might act out or seek more attention from their mother.



Baby Gorillas Take Silverback as a Role Model


Gorillas are highly social creatures. They live in groups, known as troops, led by an adult male, the Silverback, who makes all the critical decisions from moving the troop to when to eat and rest. Understanding this complex social structure is vital for a baby gorilla's survival and integration into the troop.

As they grow older, interaction with the Silverback becomes increasingly important. He is the troop's protector, decision-maker, and role model. Young gorillas, especially males, will start to emulate the Silverback's behaviors, learning how to lead and protect the troop.


Invisible Lines


Did you know there's an "invisible line" between baby gorillas and the dominant silverback? While he's the protector and leader, he also demands respect. Baby gorillas quickly learn their place, understanding they can't cross certain boundaries with the silverback.


Mama's Boy (or Girl) Indeed


Beyond the first few months, even when the baby gorilla starts walking on its own, it stays close to its mother for 3 to 4 years. They often ride on their mothers' backs, a sight that's as adorable as it sounds.



What Do Baby Gorillas Eat?


When it comes to feeding, baby gorillas have it pretty simple. For the first few months of their life, they depend entirely on their mother's milk. However, things start to change around the age of 2.5 to 3 years, which is when they begin to show interest in solid foods. If you were to sneak a peek into a baby gorilla's mealtime at this stage, you'd see them munching on a variety of plant matter. Their menu includes roots, shoots, fruits, tree bark, and wild celery. You might even catch them savoring the occasional termite or ant, making their diet mildly omnivorous.

What's really interesting is that baby gorillas learn about their dietary choices largely through observation. They watch their troop members, especially their mothers, to understand what's edible and what's not. However, even with the introduction of solid food, the nursing period doesn't end abruptly. Instead, baby gorillas continue to nurse until they are around 4 years old.


Baby Gorillas Love to Play


During the early stages, play often involves simple actions, such as rolling, jumping, and chasing. These activities help to develop the baby gorilla's motor skills, strength, and coordination. However, play in gorillas is not merely physical. It also involves elements of social and cognitive learning. Young gorillas learn to negotiate with their peers, read social cues, and resolve disputes, often through the medium of play.

As baby gorillas grow, their play evolves to include more complex scenarios. For example, they might use sticks or other objects as tools, showcasing their problem-solving skills and growing understanding of cause and effect relationships. 



It's in the Eyes


Baby gorillas, like humans, have a white part in their eyes called the sclera. This is rare among other primates, making it easier to follow a baby gorilla's gaze and understand what it might be thinking or intending to do.


Teething troubles


Like human babies, baby gorillas also go through a teething phase. They usually get their first teeth when they're around three months old. They can often be seen chewing on various objects to soothe their gums, much like our own infants do with teething toys.


Night-time Nesting


From the age of about six months, baby gorillas start to learn how to build nests for sleeping from their mothers. By the time they are three years old, they are usually adept nest builders, creating new nests out of branches and leaves each night.


Vocal Learners


Baby gorillas start to learn the various vocalizations of their species from a very young age. They babble, much like human infants, as a precursor to the more complex sounds they will make as adults.



Baby Gorillas Have Brave Moms


When it comes to the safety and protection of their infants, gorilla mothers are second to none. As the infant grows older, it transitions from the mother's chest to her back. But the protection doesn't waver. If a threat is sensed, the mother gorilla will swiftly place herself between the danger and her infant. The bond between mother and baby is so strong that she will fight, even against larger males, to ensure her infant's safety.

Gorilla mothers also safeguard their young ones from other social risks within the troop. Young gorillas are playful and curious, often getting into mischief. It's the mother's duty to ensure they don't accidentally offend higher-ranking gorillas. She does this by pulling them away from conflicts and teaching them appropriate social behaviors.


Aunties


Let's not forget, the protection of a gorilla mother extends beyond her own infant. In instances where an infant gorilla loses its mother, other females in the group, often termed 'aunties', will step up to care for and protect the orphaned baby.


Grasping the World


Newborn gorillas, similar to human infants, have a strong grip reflex. This natural instinct enables them to hold onto their mothers’ fur tightly, a necessity in their arboreal environment. It's quite a sight seeing a tiny baby gorilla gripping its mother's back during travel!



Baby Gorillas and Human Infants


Interestingly, the development stages in both species are somewhat parallel. Just like human babies, infant gorillas spend the initial few months of their life mostly feeding and sleeping. They begin to crawl at around the same age, and before their first birthday, both human infants and baby gorillas can usually stand with support. They are also both very playful and curious, often learning through play and exploration.

As for their differences, one of the most notable is their physical strength. Despite their small size, baby gorillas are incredibly strong, even from a young age. Within hours of birth, a baby gorilla can hold onto its mother's fur unaided, a feat that a human baby couldn't manage.


Baby Gorillas Caught Ebola


Deforestation often forces gorillas into closer contact with humans. This interaction significantly increases the risk of disease transmission, with baby gorillas being particularly vulnerable. Diseases such as Ebola have decimated gorilla populations in the past, with the young often hit the hardest.


Baby Gorillas Communicate Through Touch


Baby gorillas, just like human babies, have their unique ways of expressing themselves. From the moment they open their eyes, baby gorillas begin to decipher the language of their troop. They rely heavily on vocal and visual signals, as well as tactile communication. A low, guttural grunt might mean satisfaction, while a sharp bark could indicate danger. They watch their elders, learning to associate these sounds with specific situations.

Body language is another significant component of gorilla communication. Baby gorillas learn to read subtle shifts in posture, facial expressions, and eye movements. For example, a dominant gorilla might bare its teeth and beat its chest to assert authority, whereas a submissive one might lower its gaze and adopt a crouched posture. Baby gorillas also express themselves through touch.


10 Questions


1. Do gorillas kiss their babies? 
Gorillas do show affection toward their babies in ways that can look similar to a kiss. However, it's important not to anthropomorphize too much - while it might look like a kiss to us, in gorilla language it's more about comfort and social bonding.

2. What is a baby gorilla called?
A baby gorilla is commonly referred to as an 'infant' just like human babies.

3. How long do baby gorillas stay with their mother?
Baby gorillas typically stay with their mothers for about 3-4 years. During this period, they learn essential life skills and social behaviors.

4. Do gorillas kill their babies / do male gorillas kill babies?
Infanticide, the act of killing young offspring, can occur in gorillas, particularly when a new male, or silverback, takes over a group. This is believed to be a reproductive strategy to hasten the time till the female becomes sexually receptive, thereby allowing the new male to pass on his genes.

5. Do gorillas eat their babies?
It's not common for gorillas to eat their babies. They're predominantly herbivorous, eating a diet of leaves, fruit, and occasionally insects.

6. Do gorillas love their babies / do male gorillas love their babies?
Gorillas, especially mothers, show considerable care and affection towards their babies. Male gorillas, or silverbacks, also often show protective behaviors towards the infants in their troop.

7. How much does a baby gorilla weigh?
A newborn gorilla typically weighs about 4.5 lbs (2 kg).

8. Do baby gorillas cry?
Baby gorillas do make noise if they’re upset or startled. While it might not be exactly like human crying, it is a vocal signal used to communicate distress.

9. How many babies do gorillas have?
Gorillas usually have one baby at a time. Twins are rare. They also have a long reproductive cycle, with females typically giving birth every 4-6 years.

10. Why do gorillas kiss their babies?
The "kissing" or nuzzling behavior seen in gorillas is a form of communication, used to comfort and establish social bonds within their group. It's a beautiful gesture that underscores the depth of their social interactions.



Threats


One of the significant threats to baby gorillas comes from large predatory cats, like leopards. While adult gorillas are often too big and intimidating for these big cats, a small, inexperienced baby gorilla can be an appealing target. Snakes and crocodiles also pose potential risks.

The social structure of a gorilla troop can be another source of danger. While it's rare, adult male gorillas, or silverbacks, have been known to harm infants, particularly if they suspect the baby isn't their offspring.

Human activities present the most significant and devastating threats to baby gorillas. Poaching, habitat destruction, and diseases transmitted by humans have all taken a toll on gorilla populations. In some sad cases, baby gorillas are captured for the illegal pet trade, often after their mothers have been killed.


How Sanctuaries Help Orphaned and Injured Baby Gorillas


One such haven is the Virunga National Park, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Home to about a third of the world's mountain gorilla population, Virunga has a dedicated team that provides round-the-clock care to orphaned gorillas. They mimic the role of a gorilla mother, ensuring the babies receive the love, care, and teachings they would in a natural setting.

Then there's the Grace Gorilla Sanctuary in the eastern DRC, another sanctuary that's doing remarkable work. They house Grauer's gorillas, a critically endangered subspecies, nurturing them back to health and teaching them survival skills. The goal is always reintroduction into the wild, and when that's not possible, these sanctuaries offer a safe and nurturing environment for the gorillas to live out their lives.

It's also worth mentioning the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, also known as Gorilla Doctors. These 'Doctors' are a team of veterinary professionals who provide direct, hands-on care to sick and injured gorillas in the wild. It's a unique approach that has made a significant contribution to gorilla conservation.



Stories of Baby Gorilla Rescue and Rehabilitation


Our first tale takes us to Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2012, a baby gorilla named Kaboko was found with a metal snare tightly wound around his right hand. Kaboko was severely underweight and terrified, and his hand was badly injured. The dedicated team of veterinarians and caretakers at the park worked tirelessly to nurse Kaboko back to health, and though they couldn't save his hand, Kaboko adapted to his situation amazingly. He soon started to climb trees and interact with other gorillas despite his disability. Kaboko's resilience and adaptability are a testament to the spirit of these incredible creatures.

The second story revolves around a baby gorilla named Ihirwe, which means 'luck' in Kinyarwanda. Ihirwe was rescued in 2011 in Rwanda after being found in a small bag in the back of a smuggler's car. Severely dehydrated and scared, Ihirwe was immediately taken into care by the Gorilla Doctors and Rwanda Development Board. These dedicated professionals went to great lengths to ensure her survival, providing round-the-clock care. After her health stabilized, she was moved to a sanctuary in Congo, where she was able to interact with other rescued baby gorillas. Today, Ihirwe is a playful and energetic gorilla, a happy ending to a story that began with such heartbreak.


Facts About Baby Gorillas


At birth, a baby gorilla, or an infant, weighs about 4.5 pounds, roughly the size of a small banana. It might sound small, but compared to their enormous adult sizes, it's just the beginning of a massive growth journey!

For the first few months of their lives, baby gorillas are in constant contact with their mothers, either clinging to their fur or carried in their arms. This closeness fosters an unbreakable bond between the two and ensures the infant's safety and wellbeing.

By the time they're around three months old, baby gorillas start learning to crawl. They begin walking just a couple of months later, showing just how quick they are to adapt and learn from their surroundings.

Playing is an essential part of a baby gorilla's development. This activity helps them learn essential skills like climbing, foraging, and social interaction. Play fights among siblings or peers are quite common and are a vital part of their social development.

Baby gorillas, just like their adult counterparts, are primarily herbivorous. Around six months of age, they start tasting vegetation while continuing to breastfeed. This process helps them slowly transition to an adult diet.

For the first few months, baby gorillas sleep in the same nest as their mothers. As they grow older, they learn to construct their own sleeping nests using branches and leaves. It's quite a skill to have in the wild, don't you think?

Older siblings often participate in the care of baby gorillas, particularly if the mother is preoccupied or has multiple infants. It's not just humans who understand the concept of "It takes a village to raise a child."

Like many young animals (and indeed humans), baby gorillas learn a great deal by imitating the adults around them. From foraging behavior to social interactions, they're keen observers and quick to pick up essential life skills.

Just like us humans, baby gorillas are very social. They often engage in social activities, like playing and grooming, which strengthen bonds within their family group. These interactions not only provide entertainment but also are crucial for their development and learning the norms of gorilla society.



Sources:

Nowak, K. (2018). "Gorilla beringei". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN.
Schaller, G. (1963). The Mountain Gorilla: Ecology and Behavior. University of Chicago Press.
WWF. (n.d.). Mountain Gorilla. https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/mountain-gorilla
Stoinski, T. S., Vecellio, V., & Ngaboyamahina, T. (2009). Proximate Factors Influencing Dispersal Decisions in Male Mountain Gorillas, Gorilla beringei beringei. Animal Behaviour, 77(5), 1155–1164. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.01.022
National Geographic. (n.d.). Mountain Gorilla. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/m/mountain-gorilla/

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