Mountain gorillas are a subspecies of the Eastern gorillas that were previously listed as critically endangered up until 2008 and are instead listed as endangered due to an increase in their population, thanks to the conservation efforts of the regulatory authorities in the countries that inhabit the mountain gorillas and the various conservation organizations and NGOs. There are about 1063 mountain gorillas left in the whole world, and can only be found in the Virunga Massif and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The Virunga Massif encompasses Virunga National Park in the east of the Congo, Volcanoes National Park in north-western Rwanda and Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in the south-western part of the country, which have part of the mountain gorilla population while Bwindi Impenetrable National Park still in Uganda has more than half the total population of the mountain gorillas. These national parks have high altitudes that the mountain gorillas prefer, and they range from 2227m to 4507 meters above sea level. Given that the mountain gorillas cannot survive in captivity, preservation and the conservation of these rainforests that they call home is very important.
Mountain gorillas have thicker fur and is longer than that of any other gorilla species, thus enabling them to live in much colder areas. The hair on the back is shorter than there is on any other body part, but the fur on the arms is rather long. These mountain gorillas have nose prints that are unique to each mountain gorilla, and their eyes, just like all gorilla species, are dark brown with a black ring around the iris.
Male mountain gorillas weigh up to 195kgs as their mean weight and have a height of 150cm when upright, which is twice the size and weight of the female gorillas whose weight and height is 100kgs and 130cm respectively.
Adult males are called silverbacks as they get a straddle of grey or silver fur on their backs with age. Adult males also have really pronounced bony crests on their skulls both on top and behind, giving their heads a more conical shape. The adult females also have these crests but are less pronounced.
Whereas female mountain gorillas become sexually mature between the ages of 7-8, it is several years later that they actually start to breed with a gestation period of 8.5 months. These females rarely give birth to more than one baby at a time, and usually, birth 3-4 babies for their entire reproductive life. The newborns are tiny and they weigh about 1.8kgs only. Young gorillas at the age of 3-6 behave more like human children do-they spend their days climbing on trees, playing and chasing each other around and swing from one branch to another, so curious and inquisitive just like the humans. It is these young ones that make tourists who get a chance to have them come up-close to them and play on them to be so ecstatic and love their visit even more.
Mountain gorillas also live in families, just like their cousins the humans with whom they share a 98% DNA. The family is headed by a dominant silverback, who organizes family activities like eating areas, nesting, mediates conflicts within the group and has many privileges including the right to eat first. The dominant silverback protects his family if attacked by say poachers, other wild animals, animal traffickers, he’d defend them with his own life. When a gorilla mother dies or leaves the family, it is the silverback that takes over the responsibility of caring for the infant that he can even share his nest with it.
Mountain gorillas are terrestrial and quadrupedal. They erect themselves to reach to the fruits or foliage that they would like to eat or even climb them, should they be able to withstand their weight. These mountain gorillas are early risers whose day starts at 6am and are most active between then and 6pm. They spend much of their time eating fruits, stems, roots, shoots and leaves in very large quantities. Adult males eat up to 34kgs a day while the females can eat about 18kgs only. The early afternoon sessions, usually at midday, are very important to the gorillas as it is the time they use to bond, establish and reinforce relations with themselves, which they do by mutually grooming each other.
These apes make different nesting places every single day, each building their own. The infants sleep with their mothers and on very cold and very foggy days, the gorillas sleep for longer hours and stay put until it is lighter and bearable.
Mountain gorillas are generally gentle and shy apes, more so the habituated gorillas that travelers visit in the wild. They only get aggressive when attacked or sense trouble, even from their fellow family members say those silverbacks that want to take over the leadership of the family. The sequence of their aggressive encounter often times includes progressively quickening hooting, symbolic feeding, rising bipedally, throwing vegetation around, chest thumping with cupped hands, one-leg kick, sideways running, slapping and tearing vegetation and thumping the ground with palms which signals the end of the feud.
There are about 25 distinct vocalisations that they use to communicate. Trekkers on a gorilla trekking expedition in any of the rainforests can actually hear them as the gorillas can be very loud. Screams and roars usually produced by the silverback signal warning while rambling and belching show contentment.
Studies show that mountain gorillas generally fear certain reptiles like chameleons and caterpillars, and also water that they generally avoid rivers and if really need to cross them, they’d use logs as bridges to avoid stepping on them.
Encroachment, diseases, wars, poachers are some of the factors that threaten the existence of the mountain gorillas. Efforts by the government authorities like the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Rwanda Development Board plus other wildlife conservation agencies have contributed greatly to the preservation of the mountain gorillas and their natural habitat. It is with their combined efforts that the population of the mountain gorillas has increased and their habitat is not lost.
The gorillas that tourists visit are habituated. It is with the funds raised from the revenue collected when tourists purchase gorilla permits that allow them to take part in gorilla trekking that the agencies use to facilitate the conservation efforts, say the 20% off every gorilla permit that goes to the communities that neighbor both Bwindi and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks of Uganda. Giving back to these communities shows them the importance of the mountain gorillas and the forests that they cease to destroy and kill them but instead take part in protecting them. Travelers are thus encouraged to embark on a gorilla trekking adventure as they would be supporting the conservation efforts as well as take part in an amazing once in a lifetime gorilla trekking safari.