The Mountain gorilla is one of the two sub species of the eastern gorilla. One of these populations is in the Virunga Volcanic Mountains of central Africa, within three national parks: in the North West Rwanda; and the Virunga in the eastern democratic Republic of Congo. The other mountain gorillas are found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park one of the best parks for Uganda safaris . However some primatologists consider the Bwindi population in Uganda as a separate sub species though no description has been finished, the estimated number of mountain gorillas is over 1000.
Mountain gorillas are also descendants of the ancestral monkeys and the apes found in Africa and also the Arabian during the start of the Oligocene. The fossil record provides evidence of the hominoid primates found in east Africa about 18-22 million years ago. Also these fossil records of the area where the mountain gorillas live is also particularly poor and so it’s evolutionary history is not so clear. The mountain gorillas have also been isolated from the eastern lowland gorillas for about 400,000 years. These have attracted many tourists to come for safaris to Uganda.
Mountain gorillas have fur thicker and longer than that of the other gorilla species, and also enables them to live in colder temperatures and the gorillas can be identified by nose prints unique to each individual. The males can weigh twice as much as the females. This sub species is on average the second largest species of the primates; only the eastern lowland gorillas, the other subspecies of the eastern gorilla, is larger. The adult males have more pronounced bony crests on the top and black of their skulls, giving their heads a more conical shape.
The crests anchor the powerful temporal muscles, which also attach to the lower jaw; the adult females also have these crests hence less pronounced. And like all the gorillas they feature dark brown eyes framed by a black ring around the iris. These species have greatly attracted many tourists to come for gorilla tours to Uganda.
What You need to know about mountain gorillas
Mountain Gorillas thrive in the western arm of the Great East African Rift Valley always referred to as the Albertine Rift. They thrive in its montane cloud forests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Uganda along with the Virunga Volcanoes which is a chain of eight (8) Mountains straddling from Uganda, Rwanda to Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Virunga massif is protected by three National Parks namely; Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The altitudinal range is 2,200 – 4,300m and the Mountain Gorilla forests are usually misty, cloudy and cold. Mountain Gorillas feed majorly on herbivores diet that include; stems and shoots (85.8%) of around 142 species of plants, bark of trees (6.9%), flowers (2.3%), roots (3.3%) and fruit (1.7%) along with small invertebrates (0.1%). The mature male gorillas can consume up to 34Kgs per day while the females consume up to 18Kgs.
The mountain gorilla lives in all these harsh conditions of the impenetrable forest of Bwindi and the volcanic mountains of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. This kind of environment gives them special characteristics that enable them survive there. The following are some of the characters of these endangered creatures;
Evolution and Taxonomy
Mountain gorillas are descendants of ancestral monkeys and apes found in Africa and Arabia during the start of the Oligocene epoch (34-24 million years ago). The fossil record provides evidence of the hominoid primates (apes) found in east Africa about 18–22 million years ago. The fossil record of the area where mountain gorillas live is particularly poor and so its evolutionary history is not clear. It was about 9 million years ago that the group of primates that were to evolve into gorillas split from their common ancestor with humans and chimps; this is when the genus Gorilla emerged.
It is not certain what this early relative of the gorilla was, but it is traced back to the early ape Proconsul Africanus. Mountain gorillas have been isolated from eastern lowland gorillas for about 400,000 years and these two taxa separated from their western counterparts approximately 2 million years ago. There has been considerable and as yet unresolved debate over the classification of mountain gorillas. The genus was first referenced as Troglodytes in 1847, but renamed to Gorilla in 1852.
It was not until 1967 that the taxonomist Colin Groves proposed that all gorillas be regarded as one species (Gorilla gorilla) with three sub-species Gorilla gorilla gorilla (western lowland gorilla), Gorilla gorilla graueri (lowland gorillas found west of the Virunga) and Gorilla gorilla beringei (mountain gorillas including, Gorilla beringei found in the Virunga and Bwindi). In 2003 after a review they were divided into two species (Gorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei) by The World Conservation Union (IUCN).
With such a cold habitat, the mountain gorilla has special adaptations to help it survive in its environment. the mountain gorilla has longer fur than its other relatives. Its long, black fur and large mass help keep it warm in below freezing temperatures in the mountains. These animals are quite large, sometimes weighing up to 440 pounds and standing up to six feet tall.
Males tend to grow a patch of silver fur on their back giving them the nickname, ‘silverbacks.’ This feature, as well as their long teeth and jaws, and shorter arms distinguish them from other gorilla species.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is the home for these endangered creatures in Uganda. Gorillas build nests to sleep in and the presence of sufficient nesting material determines the location in which they bed. Nest construction varies, but usually consists of bent/broken vines and branches formed around and underneath each individual. Infants sleep in their mother’s nest until they are about 3 years of age. However, some offspring as young as 8 months’ practice nest building. Nests function to keep the gorillas off the cold ground, prevent them slipping down a slope, or support them in a tree during the night. Researchers can identify the size, age, activity and make-up of a gorilla troop based on their nests.
Gorillas most often walk quadrupedal (four-footed) with limited bipedal (two-footed) movements. Gorillas and chimpanzees have a distinctive walk called knuckle-walking. The walk derived its name because they walk on their knuckles, not on their palms.
Life in the high altitude can be harsh, especially in the volcanic areas of Rwanda that the mountain gorilla calls home. Few plants can tolerate the low oxygen and acidic soil. Like other gorillas, the mountain gorilla enjoys fresh fruit, but only a few species grow here, such as passion fruit and banana. Thus, fruit only makes up about 2% of its diet.
Gorillas usually travel only about 0.5 to 1 km (0.3 to 0.6 mi.) per day when there is ample food supply, since they have a slow pace and relatively large body size which makes it difficult to travel extensively. The mountain gorilla is omnivorous, meaning it eats animals and plants. Except for fruit, its diet is quite different from human vegetarians. Over 80% of their diet is made of leaves, shoots, and stems which can come from bamboo or other plants. They also aren’t opposed to some protein either. Mountain gorillas will break open bamboo stocks or trees to find insects like ants, grubs and snails.
Mountain gorillas are interestingly bright creatures with high intelligence and other unique characters most of which are noticeable during gorilla tracking and gorilla habituation safaris.