Skeletal and dental pathology of free-ranging mountain gorillas


  • Nancy C. Lovell

    1. Department of Anthropology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853
    Current affiliation:
    1. Department of Anthropology, 13-15 H.M. Tory Building, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alta T6G 2H4 Canada
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The mountain gorillas of the central Virungas have been the subject of field study for the last 30 years; however, our understanding of morbidity and mortality in these apes is limited. This paper describes pathological conditions of the skeleton and dentition of these animals and evaluates lesions in relation to behavioral and environmental data. The skeletal remains of 31 mountain gorillas from the Karisoke Research Center were examined for enamel wear, carious lesions, abscesses, periodontal disease, antemortem tooth loss, trauma, inflammation, arthritis, neoplasia, and developmental anomalies. Two infants, three juveniles, 13 adult males, and 13 adult females form the sample.

Enamel wear in the permanent posterior dentition is moderate. Six periapical abscesses were seen; three are associated with antemortem tooth breakage. No carious lesions were observed. Pronounced calculus buildup and alveolar resorption are the most notable pathological conditions of the dentition and affect all adult animals.

The primary affliction of the skeleton is arthritis, which affects 14 animals. Vertebral degenerative disease predominates, but there is also temporomandibular joint involvement. Fractures occur at seven locations in the postcranium. In addition, there are five cranial injuries, including a fractured sagittal crest, and a penetrating wound to the vault, which is believed to result from a bite. Also thought to result from a bite is a case of cranial osteomyelitis. The only other inflammatory responses are two cases of idiopathic periostitis and one idiopathic lytic lesion. Button osteomas affect two animals and are the only neoplastic conditions observed. Two animals are afflicted by developmental abnormalities: one animal by idiopathic vertebral fusion and the other by spinal scoliosis.