Silverbacks are the heads of families of up to 30 individuals.
They use their magnificent size and strength to protect their family from other adult males.
If an adult male takes over a group he will often kill the rivals offspring. So the silverbacks have to take their responsibilities seriously.
They are not just bodyguards though, they are also in charge of their groups travel itinerary and keeping the peace within their family.
Infant gorilla’s have a bond with their fathers, but spend the first couple of years of their lives very close to their mothers.
However, if a mother gorilla dies or abandons the group the Silverbacks often take over primary care of young gorillas.
The bond between them becomes very strong if this happens.
Baby gorillas stay in their mothers nests until they are usurped by a new sibling. (How familiar that sounds…)
When silverbacks fill the primary carer role they prepare a nest each night for themselves and their young ward.
Gorilla’s make excellent step fathers too!
All infant gorilla’s start to show an interest in the dominant male at around 2 years old.
This is regardless of whether they are their biological fathers.
Silverbacks are incredibly patient and will let the young gorillas climb all over them in play.
If you know the story of Dian Fossey and her favourite gorilla, Digit, you’ll be interested to know that his nephew, Titus, looked after several orphaned and abandoned young gorillas in his life. Read more about the role of gorilla fathers with orphans here
or ‘Woman In The Mist’
, which is her biography. (Cheating and watching the film is also acceptable, cos, you, know, Sigourney Weaver)
I read ‘Woman In The Mist’ when I volunteered in Thailand at an elephant sanctuary, Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.
I had a battered second hand copy I bought for 50p in my local charity shop.
My 3 weeks of shovelling elephant poo and cutting down banana trees cannot compare to Dian’s lifelong mission to save the Karisoke gorillas, but I felt a connection to her then, reading about her courage in the mountains.
When I reread that book I am reminded of the hot sticky air under my mosquito net and the sound of howling gibbons in the background.
My (very brief) travelling adventure will stay with me forever. Somehow Dian’s story has become intertwined with my trip in my mind.
Whenever I discover anything about gorilla’s I am always struck by how like us they are.