Mountain gorillas are among a few wildlife species that offer magical encounters to travelers. These primates are concentrated within the thick tropical rain forests in Africa. A chain of about 8 Volcano Mountains popular as the Virunga Massifs crosses through the western region of the Rift valley creating part of the border between Uganda, DR Congo and Rwanda. These exceptional apes are inhabited in the jungles of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Elsewhere mountain gorillas are found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Southwestern Uganda, Virunga National Park in Eastern Congo and Volcanoes National Park in Northwestern Rwanda.
The mountain gorillas commonly known as the Gorilla beringei beringei are one of the five species that make the ape family including man. The other species are orangutan, chimpanzee man and the bonobos.
The eastern gorilla has got two subspecies that are identified as low land gorillas and mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, with only a few thousands left in the whole world Uganda having half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.
The total population as per the 2018 census carried is estimated to be about 1004 gorillas left. These are found in the southern parts of Uganda in Bwindi impenetrable national forest and Mgahinga gorilla national park, volcanoes national park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Gorillas are very fragile animals and captivity may or have shown that they cannot manage staying in the zoo for a very long time that is why preservation of these fragile habitats is essential for their survival.
In Uganda, Mountain gorillas are found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. In these areas tracking takes place at 5 locations Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, Nkuringo and Ntebeko/nyakagezi in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. All locations combined give a total of over 18 Gorilla groups, however the permit number are limited because only 8 people are allowed to visit a gorilla family per day for only one hour.
Getting a gorilla permit requires booking in advance at least two months before your desired date of tracking. The booking and reservations are done through registered tour operators and directly with the Uganda wildlife authority.
Gorilla permit will cost you about 700 dollars for a normal gorilla tracking or 1500 for mountain gorilla habituation in Bwindi impenetrable national park. On booking you can deposit 30%, 70% or a full payment. However full payment is required 90days to the tracking date or you may lose out on your gorilla permit.
Gorillas are more like human in nature and most characteristics . They stay in family groups headed by a silverback – a mature male – who selects places for the group to eat and sleep, and has many privileges, including the right to feed first. This privilege pays off for the rest of the family, as if the group is threatened, the silverback – weighing up to 120kg (260lbs) – will defend them to the death.
Generally though, the gorilla is a gentle species. They are considered to be highly intelligent, have been observed using tools like other great apes, and communicate using a variety of vocal sounds. Not for getting they are still considered wild life if not also considering us wild life
Getting some time to go for a gorilla safari in Bwindi or the volcanoes in Rwanda is a very authentic feel that you may never experience in a life time travel all around the world.
The physical characteristics
The mountain gorillas are the largest apes with an adult male weighing about 220 kilograms and females 97.7 kilograms, with short, thick trunk and wide chest and shoulders. Their eyes and ears are dwarfed by their big heads and hairless, shiny black muzzle. Mature males grow a crown of muscle and longer hair on their back. They have longer arms than stubby legs. The fully mature male doubles the females in terms of weight.
Habitat loss is the most severe threat to the survival of the rare mountain gorillas in Congo and the rest of destinations at large. The rich volcanic soil of the Virunga has been severely put under agriculture and this has claimed much of the forest that offers refuge to these endangered primates. Other threats include poaching, civil wars, human infectious diseases and many more.
Mountain gorillas look shy and retiring rather than ferocious and treacherous. They always look no trouble unless they are irritated but valiantly defend their groups in case of any threat. Gorilla groups are close knit and can extend up to 30 individuals but even if smaller, the family always comprises of one silverback, more females and some offspring.
They have strong attachments to their own families and even when families encounter and mingle and break away each animal remains with its respective unit. A mature male is called silverback a name derived due to its silver hair on the back and it is the silverback gorilla that is responsible in protecting the rest of the group from enemies and look for places with good food. These apes keep wandering through their refuge at range of 10-15 square miles, feeding and resting in the course of the day. Due to their nomadic nature, they construct new nests everyday at dusk using leaves and tree branches.
A family’s hierarchy, ritualized behavior and bluff charges between males prevent conflict among and between families. These primates scream, grab foliage and stuff it in their mouths, stand straight on their legs, tear up and throw plants, drum on the chest with hands/fists, stamp their feet, strike the ground with the palm of their hands gallop in a mock attack on all the fours.
They depend on vegetation-mainly leaves as part of their food. Whereas they depend on plants, including the bamboo, thistle, nettles, bedstraws and some fruits. These plant species seem to offer adequate moisture such that gorillas do not need water.
Caring for the infants
Mountain gorillas have a very slow rate of reproduction. The females give birth for the first time at the age of 10 and will have more infants after every 3 to 4 years. The males start to breed between 12 and 15 years when they are the leaders of their own families. The females are able to conceive after 3 days every month and they give birth to single babies though there are cases of twins also.
The new born babies are weak and small weighing at least 4 pounds. They have awkward movement as those of humans but their development is about twice as fast. At 3/4 months, their juveniles can sit upright and even stand with support soon after. They suckle all the time for at least a year and slowly weaned at 3 and half years when they become independent.
Gorilla enemies are mainly the leopards and humans. Crocodiles are also potentially dangerous to lowland gorillas. In western Africa, gorillas are poached mainly for their meat or in relationship to crop destruction and in East Africa they are victims to wire snares and traps that set by poachers to hunt antelopes and other wildlife.
In conclusion, mountain gorillas are the most critically endangered species in the world whose lives are at a risk of extinction. They can be differentiated using their physical features. However, they are the most intelligent, humble and magnificent primates in the world.