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Africa Safari Articles > Uganda and Rwanda Safari Articles


Gorilla Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Primates

Family: Hominidae

Genus: Gorilla



Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)

Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli)

Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri)

Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei)

Bwindi Gorilla (Gorilla beringei ?)*

Scientific classification of living organisms is known as Linnaean Taxonomy, named for the person who developed it, Carolus Linnaeus. This form of classification designates living organisms into a descending hierarchical structure, starting with kingdoms at the top. It should however be noted that many modern biologists consider Domains to be a classification above Kingdoms. As seen from the outline above, Kingdoms are divided into phylum (phyla is the plural form) which in turn are broken down into subphyla, then into classes and so on and so forth.

Basic concept on how species are named.

A species' name is binomial (two words in the name). The first word is the generic name and always starts with a Capital letter. The second word is the specific name and always begins with a small letter. If there's a third word in the name this refers to the sub-species of that particular species. So for example Gorilla beringei graueri , Gorilla refers to the genus, beringei refers to the species and graueri refers to the sub-species.


Gorillas were originally designated the scientific name Troglodytes gorilla by Thomas Savage in 1847. However the genus Troglodytes had already been described for the chimpanzee. And the plot thickens yet; fifty or so years later someone made the astute observation that the genus Troglodytes couldn't properly belong to the chimpanzee because prior to being ascribed to the chimpanzee, it had actually been allocated to a bird. The wren!

Evidently taxonomy back then was not an exact science. It was not uncommon for species to be named on the basis of a whim. In the case of gorilla classification, quite often the individual who published the description was ignorant (or at best had a very vague idea) of the geography of Africa, never mind accurately pin-pointing the place-of-origin of a specimen.

In 1852 the gorilla was eventually designated the genus Gorilla by Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. After that the process of gorilla taxonomy hummed along more smoothly. That said, it should be pointed out that even today there're still some issues of contention; though most experts recognize two species with corresponding two sub-species apiece, there still some who contend that there is only one true gorilla species and four subspecies.

Tip: Gorilla gorilla = Western Species | Gorilla beringei = Eastern Species


* The question mark reflects the current contention on whether this is a true subspecies or merely a mountain gorilla variation (as it was considered until fairly recently).

About the Author

Ba Kiwanuka http://www.gorillahub.com

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