Mountain Gorilla

Mountain Gorilla Photo
Mountain gorillas are found in only three locations on Earth: the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, and the Virunga Volcanoes on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
©Robert J. Ross

Closely related to humans, mountain gorillas share many of the behavioral traits we possess, including hugging, playing, laughing, and throwing whatever is nearby when mad. Gorillas live in tight-knit, nomadic groups of about 10 animals, led and protected by a dominant male known as a “silverback.” These herbivores roam the forest in search of stems, leaves, and shoots. They eat more than 100 different types of plants and consume up to 40 pounds of plant matter a day, so their survival depends on the protection of the habitats where they live.

Female gorillas give birth only every three to five years, a relatively low birth rate that is a contributing factor to the small populations of this species. In a 30- to 40-year lifetime, a female mountain gorilla might have just three to eight offspring.

Mountain gorillas stand out from the three other gorilla subspecies because of their thick coats, which insulates them from the cold of their cloud forest homes. There are only two places on Earth where mountain gorillas exist: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Volcanoes in the equatorial African nations of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. WCS and its partners have censused the total population of this endangered subspecies of ape and found about 700 individuals.

Fast Facts

Scientific NameGorilla beringei beringei
  • In 1959, WCS’s George Schaller was the first scientist to study mountain gorillas in the wild.
  • Mountain gorillas live in high-altitude forests that are often cloudy, misty, and cold.
  • Created in 1925, Virunga National Park was Africa’s first park and estalished specifically to protect mountain gorillas.


Though gorillas have few natural predators, they are endangered due to the loss of habitat and forest clearing. They also fall victim to hunting for the wildlife trade, and through accidental snaring by poachers who are targeting antelopes for meat. Diseases that affect humans also pose a threat to apes and can spread quickly in such small populations.

All four gorilla subspecies are classified as “critically endangered,” except eastern lowland gorillas, which are endangered. Civil unrest and wars in the region where mountain gorillas live have further contributed to the species’ fight for survival, as displaced people settle in parks designed to protect wildlife and armed rebel groups hide in the forests. Gorilla populations in central and eastern Congo Basin have declined by more than 50 percent in recent decades, but the mountain gorilla is the only subspecies that has been growing in number.

WCS Responds

Together with other conservation groups, WCS has been providing emergency help and support to rangers in Virunga Park, who have made enormous sacrifices through times of peace and war to protect the gorillas. We provide technical and financial support to researchers in the region who are conducting censuses of mountain gorillas and studying methods to reduce human-ape conflicts. We have also been conducting research and making recommendations about the control of tourism in order to reduce the potential risk of disease transmission. WCS conservationists promote sustainable use of the species’ forest habitats, and devise creative solutions to address the needs of local inhabitants while also safeguarding national parks and their resident gorillas.

WCS Projects

Ecoguards of Central Africa

As the eyes and ears for conservationists, ecoguards work not only to protect national parks and surrounding lands, but also to help evaluate the success of international conservation efforts.

From the Newsroom

Mountain Gorillas on the RiseDecember 5, 2012

The thick-coated mountain gorilla only inhabits two places on Earth: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Volcanoes in the African nations of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

WCS Says the Key to Saving Mountain Gorillas Is Saving the Guards that Protect ThemJanuary 7, 2009

Protecting gorillas in Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, relies on supporting the rangers who have sacrificed much to save the mountain gorillas and other wildlife. WCS has pledged $15,000 to help support the park guards and their families.

Good News for GorillasApril 21, 2008

A recent census conducted by WCS and other groups found that Uganda’s endangered mountain gorillas have increased in number, thanks in part to a thriving ecotourism program.

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