About Mountain Gorillas
The mountain gorillas are the largest of the great apes and share 97% of their biology with human beings, just a percentage from our closest relatives in the ape family, the chimpanzees .
An adult grows to up to 1.8m high. The mountain gorillas are also the bulkiest in the gorilla family that includes their cousins, the lowland, weighing up to 210kg. They have a shaggier black coat suited to its chilly montane habitat.
Mountain gorillas are extremely social and generally live in groups typically of about 12 individuals of varying sizes including their leader, a predominant male known as the silverback, some younger black back males, females and their infants.
Silverbacks are called so because of the whitish color variation on their backs caused by a thinning and graying of their coats upon maturity.
Predominantly ground dwelling, mountain gorillas prefer open canopy forests that allow light to reach the forest floor. Their diet consists of bamboo, roots, stems, leaves and vines. These amazing creatures spend about 30% of their day feeding, 30% moving and foraging, and the remainder resting. They spend most of their time on the ground on all fours, but stand up to reach for food.
Female gorillas actively choose their breeding partners as the male protection is essential to a successful reproductive cycle. Females have on average about five births in a lifetime but have only one offspring at a time.
Mountain Gorillas communicate in a variety of ways that also include, postures, facial expressions gestures, and calls. Adult males use barks and roars during confrontation or to coordinate the movement of their groups to a different area.
Postures and gestures form an important element of intimidation and it is often possible for a clash to be easily diffused by teeth-barring, stiff-legging, lunging and charging. If all this fails, a terrifying piercing scream is enough to deter most outsiders.
Gorillas also communicate friendly with grunts of pleasure as part of group bonding, when they find food and feed. They will also grunt or bark to alert other members of the group upon finding food. Grooming among gorillas is uncommon unlike in other primates.
Gorillas are exclusively herbivores and feed on the leaves but also snack on termites, ants, and termite larvae. They tend to feed from the ground and prefer very short trees plus those with overhanging branches. Due to their huge appetite for feeding, they usually have distended bellies.
The Uniqueness of Mountain Gorillas
Mountain Gorillas are one of the most endangered species on earth almost on the verge of extinction. They are only found in three countries; Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo and almost in the same location.
In 1960, American researcher George Schaller estimated that only 450 mountain gorillas lived on the volcanoes, a number that decreased further as gorilla was reduced by agricultural encroachment, poaching and hunting safaris to provide gruesome tourist ‘Souvenirs’.
By 1973 gorilla numbers had dwindled to just 250. However through sustained and concerted efforts at conservation of the mountain gorilla and its habitat, mountain gorilla numbers have slowly increased today.
Their totals are only about 1100 regarding the latest census that had 604 individuals from Virunga Massif; Mgahinga, Uganda’s smallest National park, Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda and Virunga National Park of Congo. The census left out Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganda which stood at 400 in 2011. Uganda only harbors more than a half of these amazing species while the rest are shared by Rwanda and the Democratic republic of Congo only.
In Uganda, mountain Gorillas are only found in two Safari parks; Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga forest National parks. Bwindi is made up of ancient rain forest and a steep landscape, slippery valleys and high draughty ridges, a perfect habitat for the mountain gorilla.
With 500 population of Gorillas estimated to be living in Bwindi and 100 in Mgahinga, Uganda is regarded as the best gorilla safari destination in the world while Gorilla trekking as the country’s number one most done tour activity.
Mountain Gorilla Tracking and Permissions
Uganda now has an availability of 152 gorilla permits per day from 19 gorilla families. Each Family of mountain gorillas is permitted to be tracked by only 8 people per day.
Mountain Gorilla Trekking fees however differ with the country you wish to track from. DR Congo offers the cheapest permit for tracking gorillas at USD 400 per person. However, there are currently no tour activities taking place in Congo until further communication, probably 2019 due to insecurities in the region. In Uganda, a gorilla permit costs USD 600 per person while in Rwanda, it costs USD 1500, still per person. You are allowed to spend only one hour with the Gorillas, o observing their behaviors, taking photos and watching them playing, feeding among others.
Mountain Gorilla Habituation
Gorillas are generally rarely seen by humans because human presence greatly unsettles them and they will simply melt into the undergrowth when approached. However, through habituation, a process in which gorillas are made accustomed to human presence, they can now be viewed at a safe and an un-intrusive distance.
There is also a provision to spend more hours with the gorillas up to four hours by booking a gorilla habituation safari in only Bwindi Forest Impenetrable National Park (Rushaga sector – Bikyinji and Bushaho gorilla families) at USD 1200.
Arrangements can be done with a tour company to book your gorilla permit in advance prior to your trip. May to June and December to February gorilla tracking bookings mostly for Uganda are advised to be made and confirmed within 6 months to the trip to avoid last minute rushes since these are very busy seasons.
Are Mountain Gorillas Peaceful?
The life of mountain Gorillas is peaceful and quiet compared to that of chimpanzees. They spend most of their time lounging lazily around, chewing leaves, tolerantly fending off boisterous infants and farting continuously and contentedly.
However, gorillas usually beat their chests and mock charge, but these are mainly meant to intimidate rather than aggress. Conflict is rare and serious violence is generally limited to occasions when an interloper challenges a silverback for control of a group. This doesn’t mean that gorillas are therefore harmless.