CZAAWE Resource Article

A Preliminary Behavioral Comparison of Two Captive All-Male Gorilla Groups
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
Zoo Biology
Gorillas live in polygamous harem groups, generally composed of one male, several adult females, and their offspring. With an equal numbers of male and female gorillas born in captivity, however, housing gorillas in social breeding units inevitably means that some males will not have access to female social partners. Thus, the future of the captive gorilla population depends on the collective ability of zoos to house equal numbers of males and females. This study examined the behavioral profiles of two all-male groups of captive lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) to provide information on this type of housing situation. One group consisted of three subadult individuals, while the other consisted of two subadults and a silverback. Data were collected during two 6-month intervals, for a total of 284 hr. The behavioral profiles of the animals were stable over the course of the study but proximity patterns changed. Differences in feeding, solitary play, and object-directed behavior were found between groups, while no significant differences were observed in affiliative or agonistic social behavior. At both institutions, group cohesion appeared to be high, particularly between subadults; these individuals spent approximately 10% of their time engaging in social behavior and 25-50% of their time in close proximity (within 5 m). However, the Zoo Atlanta males spent significantly more time within 1 m and 5 m of each other than the Santa Barbara males, which may reflect a higher level of cohesiveness among members of the Zoo Atlanta group. The behavioral profiles of the animals in this study were similar to those found in bachelor groups of wild mountain gorillas. One notable exception was the absence of homosexual behavior between the silverback and subadults in Santa Barbara and the low frequency of this behavior between subadults in both groups. Although more longitudinal data are needed, these data suggest that all-male groups can be a feasible housing strategy for males at certain periods of their life span.