Gorilla comes from a Greek word gorillai meaning hairy women. Mountain gorillas (gorilla gorilla beringei) are the largest of the ape family and are a subspecies of the Eastern gorilla (gorilla gorilla graueri) found in the rainforests of Congo.
Unlike the other apes, mountain gorillas live and spread their time on the ground.
The mountain gorillas are believed to be the most endangered gorilla species on the planet with about 800 mountain gorillas. They reside in the impenetrable dense forests of Bwindi in southwest Uganda which houses half of the world’s population, Mgahinga national park and the Virunga region which stretches from the border areas of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
These gorillas can’t survive in captivity like the other subspecies such as the western lowland gorillas so you can’t find them in a zoo anywhere. Conservation for these mountain gorillas was still up by the Uganda wildlife Authority together with the surrounding communities to preserve the gorillas in their natural habitats.
The mountain gorilla was discovered in the early 1902 by a german explorer Captain von Berenge who was hiking Mount Sabinyo in the Virunga ranges. He came across this giant ape which had not been seen by anyone in this region by that time. This late attracted researchers to this region to study about the existence of the mountain gorillas in this region including Dian Fossey who dedicated most of her life in the jungle of Rwanda learning about these apes from 1967 – 1985. She became famous due to her movie “Gorillas in the Mist”. Up to date her research centre in Rwanda the Karisoke Research centre can be visited.
Gorillas live in family group sizes consisting of 5 individual members up to 30 members. Each group is dominated by a silverback gorilla (has silver like or grey hair on the back that is brought about by age) a mature – leading male which leads and defends the group for a period of about 4 ½ years.
The hierarchy is then followed by black back gorillas, females and their young infants. The silverback takes the highest position and rules over the group. It mainly defends the group from external attacks by other animals, poachers, other gorilla groups and more.
He also selects the habitat for his group and where to feed giving him special rights in the group, for example he feeds first.
Usually the male gorilla weighs twice the size of a female gorilla. The male gorilla fully grow can averagely weigh about 195 kgs about 429 lbs reaching a height of about 1.7m tall. Females normally weigh about 70- 110kgs about 154 – 243 lbs and a newly born gorilla weighs about 1.4 kgs.
The gorillas take long to reach maturity that’s why their reproduction is relatively low. Male gorillas reach maturity around the age of 10-12 years when they start developing a greyish / silver back. This is the time they become lone males and start leaving their parent groups to attack females to join them or take on another group if their leader dies or becomes old and is not able to protect the group from threats. They start leaving the group by distancing themselves or lagging behind their parental groups.
The females reach maturity at around 9-12 years and then can give birth to a baby. The gestation period of the female is 8.5 months and takes care for the born baby for about 3-4 years. This makes the gorilla give birth to only about 4 babies during its life span.
Mountain gorillas begin their day in the Bwindi impenetrable and Mgahinga national park at dawn
when the sun rises from the skies at around 6 a.m. The day kicks off with a search for what to eat.
The gorillas send most of their time during the morning hours looking for what to eat and feed on, on average a male gorilla can eat up to 20 kgs of leaves to support its body weight well as a female eats less than 20kgs a day.
They are vegetarians and their diet is mostly composed of leaves, shoots, roots, fruits, tree barks, stems, some herbs, and sometimes feed on bamboo shoots to supplement their diet. Occasionally they also feed on small insects and ants.
After feeding, the late mornings and afternoon is dedicated to resting and playing by the infant gorillas. Its helps the young gorillas socialize with the group members as sometimes they involve the silverback leader in their plays. They wrestle each other, run around the group terrestrial, and chase
each other which help them build strong social bonds and relationship with each other.
The evening marks the end of their great adventure. They them start to construct nests on the ground to spend their nights. Gorillas build new nests each day since they move from place to place.
Humans have found these nests comfortable sometimes to lounge in. Nests are constructed from small tree branches and leaves where by each group member builds his/her nest apart from the infants who sleep with their mothers.
The day ends at 6:00pm and then sleep sets in.
A full day gorilla habituation safari can be organised for you to have an insight in the life of a mountain gorilla. You get to spend a maximum of hours with the gorillas.
The major thread is the human since they deforestate the forest, hunt and kill the gorillas for
prestige, transfer diseases to them and more. Gorillas face few attacks from wild animal since they
live high in the impenetrable forest of Bwindi.
But thanks to the Uganda wildlife authority rules and regulations have been set up to conserve the
gorillas and there has been an increase in their number.
When you take on gorilla tracking safari to Bwindi or Mgahinga part of your money is used to
conserve and protect the gorillas and also benefits the surrounding communities.