Wild animals

Different Types of Gorillas

Giulia Graziati
By Giulia Graziati, Writer. February 26, 2024
Different Types of Gorillas

All species and subspecies of gorilla are found in the genus Gorilla. Although there is some debate within primatology, it is generally considered that there are 4 types of gorilla. These are split between two distinct species, both of which have two further subspecies. They are the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) which is split into the two subspecies known as the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) and the eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), as well as the western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) split into the two subspecies known as the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli).

Learn more with thedailyECO as we discover the 4 different types of gorillas. We discover the similarities they share as gorilla species, as well as the differences which have led to their categorization. We provide photos of each subspecies so you can better distinguish between them.

You may also be interested in: Different Types of Mammals
  1. How many types of gorillas are there?
  2. Eastern gorilla
  3. Western gorilla
  4. Gorilla Conservation

How many types of gorillas are there?

The largest extant primate, gorillas are animals that live in populations with a strong social structure. They feed mainly on leaves and fruits, foraging for food in various regions of the African continent. Sharing up to 98% DNA with human beings, these jungle mammals have been a great source of fascination and study by primatologists. As we dsicover more about gorillas, we also learn about ourselves and how we interact with nature.

According to the latest research, there are only two species of gorilla. These are the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) and the western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla). Each of these two species are divided into two subspecies:

Eastern gorilla

  • Mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei)
  • Eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri)

Western gorilla

  • Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)
  • Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli)

According to current classification systems based on genetic studies, we can there are a total of 4 different types of gorillas. Currently, there are fewer than 1,000 mountain gorillas in the wild and only about 300 Cross River gorillas.

There is some debate over another potential subspecies. This proposed type of gorilla is a subspecies of the mountain gorilla, with the common name of the Bwindi gorilla (Gorilla beringei bwindi). They are so called because they can be found in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a national park in Uganda.

To learn more about the classification of the different types of gorillas, take a look at our article explaining what are primates?

Eastern gorilla

The eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei) is not onlt the largest type of gorilla, but the largest of all the primates. It lives in the mountainous forests located in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, northwestern Rwanda and southwestern Uganda. Its diet is made up of leaves, stems, shoots, bark, roots, flowers, fruits and can be supplemented with insect larvae, snails and ants. This species is divided into two subspecies:

  • Mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei): of which only two wild populations remain. One is located in the Virunga Mountains in three different national parks, the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Volcanoes National Park and in Virunga National Park. The other population is located in the Bwindi jungle in Uganda and potentially makes up the fifth gorilla subspecies. Unlike other gorillas, its fur is thicker and darker (see photo below), allowing them to live at high altitudes and withstand low temperatures. Due to poaching, habitat fragmentation and loss, as well as the spread of diseases due to having a genome similar to that of humans, the mountain gorilla is in danger of extinction.

  • Eastern lowland gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri): also known as Grauer's gorilla. This gorrilla type is listed as one of the world's 25 most endangered primates. The lowland gorilla is endemic to the Albertine Rift forests in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Unlike the western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), it is more robust, has more elongated teeth, its jaw is reinforced and its torso is broader and more resistant.
Different Types of Gorillas - Eastern gorilla

Western gorilla

The scientific name of the western gorilla is Gorilla gorilla. It is one of the two large primates that exist, found mainly in the dense jungles and lowland forests of western Africa. Like their eastern counterparts, western gorillas live in family groups led by a dominant male, known as the silverback. This patriarch is tasked with protecting the group from outside threats. The social structure is complex and family ties are strong. They are some of the most intelligent animals on our planet, even displaying the ability to use tools in their daily lives.

Like the eastern gorilla, this species is divided into two subspecies. Through genetic research, it is suggest separated that these species were separated approximately 18,000 years ago. These gorilla subspecies are:

  • Western lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla): the most numerous of all the gorilla subspecies, inhabiting a vast area spanning several countries such as Gabon, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea, as well as parts of the Central African Republic and Angola. It is characterized by having lighter fur than that of eastern gorillas and being slightly smaller in size and weight, as depicted in the photo below.

  • Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli): is the most endangered gorilla subspecies, with a very small and fragmented population living near the Cross River on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon.

Like eastern gorillas, these two subspecies face serious threats due to poaching, habitat fragmentation and habitat loss from agricultural expansion and timber extraction. Human-borne diseases also provide a significant problem. Climate change is another important threat that could cause changes in phenology, forest productivity, increase the probability of droughts and fires, among other problems.

Learn more about these impacts of climate change with our article on the different types of environmental degradation.

Different Types of Gorillas - Western gorilla

Gorilla Conservation

Gorilla conservation has become an international priority, with efforts including:

  • The protection of their habitat
  • The fight against poaching
  • Monitoring wild populations
  • Captive breeding programs
  • Ecotourism projects that provide sustainable livelihoods for local communities and encourage conservation

Through global cooperation and local commitment, we seek to ensure a future where these impressive animals can continue to be a vital part of Africa's rich biodiversity. Tourism is a difficult issue because it can both provide awareness of gorilla conservation and further contribute to the problems which threaten them. For this reason, we need to use approaches such as ethno-tourism to help ensure that is carried out with conservation in mind.

Learn more about responsible approaches to conservation with our article on what is integral ecology?

If you want to read similar articles to Different Types of Gorillas, we recommend you visit our Wild animals category.

  • Red Lists of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved from: https://www.iucnredlist.org/

  • Miranda, D. (October 7, 2020). Gorillas on the verge of extinction. National Geographic Spain. Retrieved from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com.es/naturaleza/naturaleza-indomita-gorilas-peligro-extincion_15925

  • Fernández Muerza, Á. (January 5, 2024). Can gorillas be saved from extinction? Speaking in glass. Retrieved from: https://hablandoenvidrio.com/se-podran-salvar-los-gorilas-de-la-extincion/
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Different Types of Gorillas