The Western gorilla is a massive primate species with a short muzzle, proportionately large hands, and a projecting brow ridge. They lack tails, have small ears and eyes, large nostrils, and jet black skin. They have quite a large thumb and nails on all digits. They have large muscles on their jaws as well as strong, broad teeth. The whole body, with the exception of the face, ears, hands, and feet, is covered with dark tough fur. The fur of Western gorillas is brown to grey in color. Older male gorillas are called "silverbacks" due to the hair on their back and rump, which is originally grey, losing with age.
The animals occur in tropical jungles, forests, lowland swamps, and secondary forests of West Central Africa.
Western gorillas are highly social animals, gathering in groups of 5-15 individuals. A group usually consists of females with their young and one dominant male. They get around by walking on their four limbs. Western gorillas are active by day. They construct day and night nests where they rest and sleep. Their nests are soft cushions, built on the ground or in trees, out of branches and leaves. Lightweight gorillas tend to hang out of tree branches, using their arms. Normally, these animals are quite peaceful, friendly, and shy. However, they emit loud growling sounds and can be extremely dangerous, when threatened or attacked. In order to scare away intruders or demonstrate their strength, male gorillas stand straight, beating their chests with their fists. Nevertheless, they don't tend to hit the opponent, instead preferring to retreat and then charge again.
Western gorillas have a polygynous mating system with the only dominant male, mating with females of the group. They breed all year round. The gestation period lasts 251-289 days, yielding a single baby, rarely - twins. The infant is kept belly-to-belly to its mother, until the age of 2 months, when the baby is mature and strong enough to be able to cling onto the mother's fur. Weaning takes place at the age of 3 years. Male gorillas are sexually mature at 8-9 years old, while females are a bit earlier - at the age of 7-8 years.
These animals are primarily threatened by human activities. For over a century, Western gorillas have suffered from the degradation of their tropical rainforest habitat. They have been persecuted, hunted for meat and big games, and captured for commercial trade. On the other hand, excessive collection by zoos and research institutions has brought to a sharp decline in their population, making the animal an endangered species. Presently, one of the most notable threats to this species is the Ebola virus: despite the conservation status, outbreaks of this virus are still a serious concern for the Western gorillas' population.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Western gorilla total population size. Currently, this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List, and its numbers today are decreasing.
Western gorillas are an important link in the ecosystem of their habitat. They are key seed dispersers of tropical rainforests, creating suitable places for the seeds to grow and thus sustaining a number of plant species. By doing this, they benefit many other animals in the area and even help sustain the habitat of humans, who live in and around the forests.