National Geographic News

Silverback Mountain Gorilla

Photograph by Michael Nichols

Adult male gorillas, called silverbacks, play the role of stern patrician. As the leader of a family group that can be as large as 30 individuals, they will lead their underlings to food, settle disputes within the clan, and fight to repel outside threats, particularly from other male gorillas, who will kill babies when seeking to usurp a silverback's group. They will also play affectionately with their offspring but will often turn nasty if a youngster pesters too stubbornly or an adolescent male challenges for dominance.

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