Female gorillas are sexually mature at around seven to eight years of age. However, they do not usually reproduce until they are ten years old. However Female in the wild always mature at 10–12 years while males mature at 11–13 years. Males are known to mature later than the females and are rarely strong and dominant enough to reproduce before 15 to 20 years of age.
Gorillas may breed year round, Females are in estrus for one to two days per month and only the dominant silverback has breeding rights. A female’s first ovulatory cycle occurs when she is six years of age, and is followed by a two-year period of adolescent infertility. The estrous cycle last 30–33 days, with outward ovulation signs subtle compared to those of chimpanzees. Gorillas are polygynous in nature because the dominant silverback mates with several females in his troop.
Gorillas reproduce slowly, hence the world population doesn’t increase rapidly. Gestation period is approximately 8.5 months and gorilla mothers give birth to a baby once every four years. Female mountain gorillas first give birth at 10 years of age and have four-year afterbirth intervals. Males can be fertile before reaching adulthood. Gorillas mate year round.
Gorillas have a high infant mortality rate. Within different forests, it has been reported that at least 30% of the born babies does not survive their first year because of diseases and accidents. Another situation that causes death among the baby gorillas is when their father dies and another silverback takes over. This new male often kills all the babies of his predecessor, securing his own genes in the posterity.
Females will purse their lips and slowly approach a male while making eye contact. This serves to urge the male to mount her. If the male does not respond, then she will try to attract his attention by reaching towards him or slapping the ground. In multiple-male groups, solicitation indicates female preference, but females can be forced to mate with multiple males. Males incite copulation by approaching a female and displaying at her or touching her and giving a “train grunt”. Recently, gorillas have been observed engaging in face-to-face sex, a trait once considered unique to humans and bonobo.
Mother – Infant Relationships
Gorilla infants are vulnerable and dependants, thus mothers, their primary caregivers, are important to their survival. Male gorillas are not active in caring for the young, but they do play a role in socializing them to other youngsters. The silverback has a largely supportive relationship with the infants in his troop and shields them from aggression within the group. Infants remain in contact with their mothers for the first five months and mothers stay near the silverback for protection. Infants will suckle at least once per hour and will sleep with their mothers in the same nest.
Infants begin to break contact with their mothers after five months, but only for brief period each time. By 12 months old, infants move up to five meters (16.4 ft) from their mothers. At around 18–21 months, the distance between mother and offspring increases and they regularly spend time away from each other. In addition, nursing decreases to once every two hours. Infants spend only half of their time with their mothers by 30 months. They enter their juvenile period at their third year, and this lasts until their sixth year. At this time, gorillas are weaned and they sleep in a separate nest from their mothers. After their offspring are weaned, females begin to ovulate and soon become pregnant again. The presence of play partners, including the silverback, minimize conflicts in weaning between mother and offspring.