Mountain Gorillas: Africa’s Gentle Giants

Mountain Gorillas: Africa’s Gentle Giants

Gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and humans all belong to the order of primates. Humans share 98.4% of their genetic material with gorillas and 98.8% with chimpanzees.

Gorillas; the largest of the great apes are divided into three subspecies that include the western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla graueri). The eastern and western lowland gorillas were identified for science in 1847 and 1877 respectively.

The third subspecies – the mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei) was identified for scientific purposes in the year 1903 and has gone on to become Uganda’s star attraction.

Mountain gorillas are physically distinct from lowland gorillas. They are larger, have more hair, a short trunk, a broad chest and shoulders and also have a longer and slightly different nose shape.

Mountain gorillas are born small, covered with black hair and usually weigh about 2.3 kilogrammes. Gorillas develop about as twice as human babies with the mature female mother also undergoing a gestation period of nine months. They are unique species; as a gorilla with an infant may not have another baby for up to four years: good family planning.

Male and female gorillas between the ages of three and six years are classed as juvenile. They increase in size and weight at similar rates for the first six years. On reaching six years; most mountain gorillas weigh about 68 kilogrammes and are usually about four feet tall.

The female mountain gorillas stop growing taller at around six years whereas the males continue growing both in size and weight till they reach the age of ten to eleven.

Between the ages of six and ten, the males have a black hair colour and are thus referred to as the blackbacks. On reaching maturity which is usually between 10 and 12 years, they develop silvery grey hairs on their backs thereby being referred to as silverbacks.

The silverbacks usually leave their parental group at the age of 11 and then moves alone or in the company of other males for a few years before managing to attract females from other groups to him hence forming his own family. Silverback is a dominant male in a group of about 12 or more gorillas that usually include females, juveniles and other infants.

On a good day, you will find them chewing leaves, laughing and farting not only continuously but with a lot of contentment. They are diurnal and nomadic, sleeping each night in a fresh nest built from leaves and branches.

Mountain gorillas are primarily vegetarian with their menu comprising bamboo, nettles and gallium being some of their favourites.

They occasionally also eat safari ants which are scooped in huge handfuls to stuff into the mouth until the safari ant bites overpower them. Gorillas spend most of their time traveling and foraging in search of food since plants and trees change with seasons.

Gorillas communicate through vocalizations. Twenty-five distinct vocalizations have so far been recognized with each one having its own particular meaning.

As an element of their socialization, they communicate through howls, grunts, barks and hoots. Screams and roars signal alarm or warning and are often produced by silverbacks.

They also communicate by beating on their chests or on the ground. This is done to show stature, prevent a fight or even scare off opponents.

However, even the infants beat their chests as a kind of displacement activity during play perhaps just to copy their elders.

Mountain gorilla life is peaceful and quite. It is from this that they have come to be called Africa’s gentle giants.

These gentle giants are found in the areas of Parc des Volcans – in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo while in Uganda, they are confined to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park gazetted in 1992, is situated in south western Uganda on the edge of the western rift valley (Albertine rift) and is shared by Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro districts. It is 331 square kilometres in size; on an altitude range of 1,160 metres (Ishasha gorge) to 2,607 metres (Rwamanyonyi peak).

Overall, Gorillas of Mgahinga , Virunga and Parc des Volcans (Volcanoes National parks) combined have nearly doubled in number since their 1980s low, reaching 480 in 2010, the time of the last census. Similar growth has been observed in Bwindi, where numbers rose from approximately 300 in 1997 to 400 in 2011 which is almost over half of the total estimated 880 left in the whole world. Gorilla tourism provides over 50% of tourism revenue for Uganda thus being a strong reason for its protection.

The threats to the Mountain Gorilla population and its habitat are many. Among these are increasing population and the possibility of disease transmission from humans to Gorillas. To address the issue of potential disease transmission to the gorillas and to reduce behavioral disturbances to the fragile population, Gorilla rules have been put in place.

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