Martha Swartzentruber
Animal: Gorilla
Research Location:


Why This Animal?
In Iowa we don't get to see very many foreign animals. The first animal you see when you're driving to school is either a cow, a horse, or any type of farm animal. I find that animals that we don't get to see everyday interest me the most, which is why I chose the Gorilla. Gorillas fascinate me. They can be very shy and amiable, but if they are threatened they can get very mean and vicious and they also bang their fists on their chest, bare their teeth and rawr. Gorillas are also very big and their massive size blows my mind. I find it amazing that they are so smart too. My friend, Brynn, told me that she went to a zoo and said that it seemed that when people would take pictures, the gorillas would pose for the camera. It's cool how they can act sort of like a humans too. I also find it very cool that they have hands and fingernails that look a lot like ours.

Research Location
The rainforest is very warm and wet and they are located near the equator. The rainforests that I am going to focus on, are the ones in Africa. On average it rains 33% of the time in a year. That totals to 50-260 inches of rain per year, although, it usually gets over 100 inches. Since the rainforest gets so much rain, you might be asking; where does all of it go? The rainforest has a four layers to it. The tallest one is the emergent layer. The emergent layer is made up of tall trees that can grow up to 200 feet tall. These trees get the most wind and sunlight. The next layer is the canopy. The canopy is 60-90 feet off the ground and this is where most of the animals live because they can receive the most sunlight. If you go down to the next layer,which is called the understory, it is very dark gloomy and humid on that level. Then you have the floor of the rainforest which is where all of the bugs and crawly animals live. Since the rainforest has all of these layers, it would be very hard for the water to escape the canopy and then on top of that, the emergent layer. The trees and the plants have adapted to how much rain they get and the trees actually have pores that they release water through. Some plants have an oil coating over their leaves so they can absorb as much sunlight as they can and keep a lot of the water off. This environment enables many plant and animal species to survive and thrive there. One of those species is the gorilla. The gorilla has hands and fingers that enable it to grab at fruit, leaves, bark, roots, and termites. Fruit is a big part of their diet. So while going through a dry season they eat a lot more herbs and bark. Since gorilla's eat a lot of plants, they keep the plant population down, granted their are other animals that eat plants. Because of the gorilla's great size, they generally eat a lot more. If they wouldn't eat many plants, the plants would overgrow and the other animals would have a hard time getting through the forest. The gorilla relies on the rainforest to bring it food. A good amount of rain is needed to grow fruit and fruit is one of the main parts of a gorilla's diet. Without the amount of rain that the rainforests get each year, the gorilla wouldn't be able to get as much fruit as needed.

Gorilla Food Web

Wildlife Monitoring Technique

What I Saw
Journal #1
Today was my first day in the jungle. I picked my spot, where I found a group of gorillas. I kept my distance because I wasn't sure how they would react to me. I had heard that they were aggressive, vicious animals, so I kept to myself. When I was up observing the gorillas, I realized how big and black the really were. They have huge black hands. But it's weird, they have fir everywhere on their body, except on their hands, feet, armpits, faces, and across their chest. It fascinated me to find out that they have five fingers that they can use to easily pick the leaves or fruit that they would like to eat. They also have feet along with toes that enable them to climb trees and balance themselves so they can stand up easily to reach their food. Their noses are small and look squished in. I read once that their noses are kind of like a humans finger print. They all have different "designs" for noses. They all look relatively the same to us, but if you get up close, you can see that they're all different; like our finger prints. About an hour later I realized that one gorilla out of the group had a silver back. I thought that was weird considering that it was the only one. I then realized that basically all of the other gorillas had a baby with them. Their were five or so gorillas that looked like they weren't yet full grown. I then drew a conclusion: the gorilla with the silver back must be the male of the group. I decided that I was going to give them names so I didn't have to call them, "that one." Here are a few of them: Howie is the male of the group. Kipper is one of the mothers of the group and Glimmmer is her little one. I then realized that some of the gorillas were looking at. I froze because I thought they were supposedly vicious animals. After about 30 seconds they looked away. I then decided to move closer. When I did, not one gorilla minded that I did. I then drew another conclusion: gorillas aren't vicious animals, in fact they are as gentle as can be, unless they are threatened.
Journal Entry #2
Today when I was out in the jungle, it took me a couple of hours to find the group of gorillas that I have been studying. When I finally spotted them, I saw that Howie, the silver back or the male of the group, was up on his hind legs. He had his teeth bared and was roaring, and he was also banging his fists against his chest. At first I thought he was doing this action at me. But then I looked a little closer and there was a leopard threatening to attack one of the newest additions, Glimmer. This behavioral adaptation saved the little gorillas life. One of the mothers of the group, Kipper, was obviously hungry. I could tell by the way she charged over to a fruit tree and went up on her hind legs, and using her toes and feet for balance, began using her hands and fingers to pluck the fruit out of the tree. This action amazed me. It was so easy for her to stand up and pick the fruit. It's amazing the way they adapted and learned to stand to get the fruit, leaves, bark, etc. out of the higher trees. They have 32 teeth. Two of those teeth are large canines. They are used to bite through the tough food of the gorilla's diet. The other day, I was sitting their, observing my usual group of gorillas and suddenly I started to wonder what made them have such awkwardly large pot bellies. After a little research, I found out that they have an enlarged intestine, which is used for digesting the tough food in their diet. Which made perfect sense considering that they eat stuff like bugs, tree bark, plant bulbs, and fruit, that our human bodies could never handle. I mean, come on, I can barely handle eating spinach, much less plant leaves.
Journal Entry # 3
Today in the jungle, I was on my way to my usual spot and heard loud voices, and chain saws. I stopped dead in my tracks, just hoping that those sounds weren't what I thought they were. I continued in the direction of the voices. Then I heard a loud crash and began running. I came upon them where I usually study my group of gorillas. There were at least five cut down trees. I knew that they wouldn't take very kindly to me if I tried to talk to them, but I decided to go ask them anyway. "Hello!" I said. One of the men turned and said nastly, "What do you want?" In turn I said in the same tone quality of respect that he had given me, "What do you guys think you're doing. You can't just come out here and start cutting down trees. Who do you have permission from? Who do you work for?" "That's between me and my client! And that is none of you're business," he replied. "It certainly is my business because you are cutting my gorilla's habitat down!" I said. He in turn said, "Your gorillas. They don't belong to you or anybody else." Well that stopped me there but I didn't back down, "They're the group of gorillas that I have been studying for a while and they deserve a place to live in without people threatening to cut it down!" I didn't wait for a response. I was too angry. Instead I turned and stomped off. I decided not to go back just yet, instead I continued in my search for my gorillas.

Research In Action
Most of the gorilla population is located in Africa. There are three main things that prevent the gorillas from thriving. Gorillas are herbivores which means they don't eat other animals. But there are predators that kill and eat the gorilla. The leopard is one of them. The leopard occassionally will hunt and eat the gorilla.The other big one is humans. Humans poach gorillas for bush meat. They can also get diseases transmission from humans. Another reason the gorillas get hurt is deforestation. People cut down trees to make different things like paper and cardboard with. But what they sometimes don't realize is they are taking away the gorillas homes. We can try to prevent these things. Yes, we need trees to make paper, but if we would recycle more then we could prevent trees being cut down. We can't control other people, but we can possibly donate to foundations ,such as the Digit Fund, (you will find out about that in the Reseacher Profile) to help reseachers protect the gorillas.

Reseacher Profile
Dian Fossey
Dian Fossey was and still is known as the gorilla lady, just like Jane Goodall is known as the chimp lady. She has always been very interested in animals. When she got into college, she at first went to be a veterinarian, which is why she chose the school San Jose State College. She then changed her major and began studying occupational therapy. Animals were still one of her main interests though and she became very interested in Africa. She then went on a six week trip to Africa. There she met Dr. Louis Leakey who was speaking about the need for Gorilla research. Dian agreed to a long term study of gorilla. One of her most well known experiences was the Digit Fund. She was very dedicated to studying mountain gorillas and particularly became attached to a gorilla named Digit. Digit was later killed in 1977. Poachers attacked him and took him away from his beloved friend, Dian Fossey. Dian was of course, furious, which then lead her to create a protest against poaching and then set up a fund for Digit, which was known as the Digit Fund. I think that Dian and I are similar in a way. When her friend, Digit, was killed, she was very angry and, if something bad happened to someone or something that I cared deeply about, I would feel the exact same way. Just like in my last journal entry, I got really angry when those men came and were cutting down trees in my gorillas habitat. I'm almost positive that Dian would react almost the exact same way, judging by how angry she got when poachers killed Digit. Granted, the poachers did kill Digit, and the men were merely cutting down their habitat. But destroying their habitat can hurt or even kill the gorillas. Fossey wrote a book called Gorillas in the Mist which was about her life at Karisoke. The book became an international best seller and was later made into a movie. In 1985, Dian was killed in her cabin at Karisoke, which is where she based her book on.


"Dian Fossey - Short Biography." Dian Fossey. Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Inc, 2012. Web. 23 Feb. 2012.

Csomos, R. 2008. "Gorilla gorilla" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed February 25, 2012 at

"Why Do People Poach Gorillas?" WikiAnswers. Answers, 2012. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

"GORILLAS - Longevity & Causes of Death." SeaWorld/Busch Gardens ANIMALS. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.