Mountain Gorillas

By Masiko the Mountain Gorilla, as told to Anne Cissel; photos by Suzi Eszterhas

My dad might look laid back here, but he is large and in charge. And I’m learning to be just like him!

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Hi! I’m Masiko, a one-year-old mountain gorilla. I live with my family high up on the steep slopes of the Virunga (vee-ROONG-gah) Mountains in Central Africa. We make our home in a cool, misty woodland with lots of yummy plants for us to eat. You might think of Africa as a hot place, but it can get very cold here. Good thing we have long, thick hair to keep us warm.

My dad leads me, my mom, and other members of our group to the best places to eat. He also protects us from danger. Dad is called a silverback because of the color of the hair on his back. For gorillas, silver hair isn’t a sign of old age, as it is with people. It just means he is a grown-up male gorilla! Come find out more about my dad—and gorilla family life in the mountains.

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We gorillas are the largest of the great apes. My dad weighs about 450 pounds and is very strong. I’ve seen him tear down trees without really trying!

But, just as I did, my father began life as a tiny baby, weighing only about five pounds. When I was that little, I snuggled with my mom almost all of the time. She is about half as big as Dad, but she gave me plenty of warmth and protection. For the first year, my only food was milk from my mother. But now I’m starting to eat gorilla foods: leaves, tender shoots, and stems. Sometimes we also eat bark, roots, flowers, and fruits.

And we eat A LOT. My dad can eat up to 30 pounds of plants every day. We look for food in the early morning and the late afternoon. I ride on Mom’s back as we move through the forest, with Dad in the lead. In the middle of the day, we rest. At night, we snooze in nests that we make from piles of plants.

Like human fingerprints, the wrinkles around gorilla noses are unique on each gorilla. Scientists use these “nose prints” to identify specific gorillas during their research.

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My favorite part of the day is when we stop to rest. That’s my time to play! All the young gorillas wrestle, chase each other, and climb trees and vines. Dad will join in sometimes, making sure to be gentle when wrestling!

During our rest times, my mom will clean and comb my hair. This is called grooming, and it’s an important part of our life. Sometimes I wriggle away from Mom because I want to play, but I know she is just showing me love.

Gorillas are mostly gentle animals. If we are threatened by another gorilla group, a leopard, or humans, Dad will charge around, roar, beat his chest, and slap the ground. But he will rarely attack. Dad just wants to protect us and keep life peaceful.

My dad can protect us from a lot of dangers, but he can’t solve the problems that people cause. Humans have moved into our forest home, cut down the trees, and built farms. Traps people have set to catch smaller animals have injured or killed gorillas. Some people even hunt us! Also, we can catch human diseases and get really sick from them.

The good news is that many people are trying to protect us, and the number of mountain gorillas has been growing. The bad news is that we are still endangered. Only about 1,000 of us now live in the wild.

Luckily, more and more of our forests are being protected. People are getting paid to guard the forest from hunters and to remove any traps they find. As long as people keep working hard to help us, mountain gorilla babies like me will grow big and strong—like my dad!

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