One of the rarest animals on earth with approximately 1004, mountain gorillas are only found in three countries on planet earth. These are Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. There are 4 gorilla national parks which are Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and the virunga conservation area which include volcanoes national park in Rwanda, virunga national park in DR Congo and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda. More gorillas have been habituated for tourism and thus has made gorilla trekking one of the most famous wildlife safaris in Africa today.

If you are planning to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, its worth learning some of the facts about them

They are closely related to human beings.

Mountain gorillas share about 98 % of their DNA with humans and they are the closest living relatives to man after the chimpanzee. You might be surprised to learn that gorillas have hands and five fingers. While humans have fingerprints, each gorilla is uniquely identified by the pattern on their nose.

Mountain gorillas don’t survive in captivity

They live for about 35 to 40 years in the wild.

Appearance

Mountain gorillas are the largest primates in the world but known as gentle giants and peaceful animals. Aged males called silverbacks can weigh 140 to 180 kgs and stand at 1.4 meters tall. They also walk on knuckles or on two legs to appear like humans.

Gorillas are therefore very strong and can break tree branches when looking for food. Many misconceptions including the one that say gorillas are violent were disapproved by the study and work of Dian Fossey in her book “Gorillas in the Mist”.

In order to respect their natural behavior, gorillas are habituated in a responsible way and the numbers of tourists who can visit gorillas during gorilla trekking are limited to 8 people per day per hour.

Species

After comprehensive studies, primatologists agree that there are two subspecies of gorillas which are the western and eastern gorilla.  Mountain gorillas are a subspecies of the eastern gorilla. However there are claims that consider Bwindi gorilla population to be a separate species because they don’t survive in captivity while other subspecies like western and eastern lowland gorillas do. Since Bwindi is a separate habitat, claims suggest that Bwindi gorillas might have developed from a single type of gorilla during the ice when their forest habitats shrunk and become isolated from the virunga massif.

Reproduction

Females can start reproducing at the age of 10 and give birth to one or twins. Triplets are extremely rare. They give birth approximately after eight and a half months after mating. Babies will stay with their mothers for about 2- years. Therefore females only reproduce every after four or six years and can bear up to six off springs in the entire life.

Mature male gorillas are called Silverbacks.

Aged male gorillas are known for their unique silver patch that develops on their back at of 12 – 15 years of age.

Habitat

The mountain gorilla habitat is limited two places on planet earth. These are Bwindi impenetrable forest national park where half of the gorillas are live and the Virunga Mountains a chain of 8 volcanoes that straddle the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic republic of Congo. Their habitats are typically tropical rainforests with dense undergrowth and bamboo at altitude of 1100 to 4500 meters above sea level. Heavy rainfall is experienced up to (2500 mm pa) or dense mist throughout the year covers these remote forests in clouds. They have thick fur which acts as a coat to keep them warm in the cool mist covered mountainous rainforests.

Status

A gorilla census in 2018 by the international gorilla conservation program estimated the current population of wild mountain gorillas at approximately 1004. There are no mountain gorillas living in captivity. With their population rising steadily from less than 500 in 1980’s to 880 in 2010, the status of mountain gorillas has been adjusted from being critically endangered to endangered species. Mountain gorillas are on the Red List of threatened animals by International union for Conservation of Nature.  Poaching has reduced due to gorilla tourism, community engagement in conservation and law enforcement. However, human accidental capture of gorillas in snare wires/traps set for small antelopes can result into death or injury of gorillas. Human infectious disease such as respiratory colds, influenza and diarrhea still poses a serious threat to the survival of gorillas. A major threat too is habitat loss due to the impact of rapid population growth. The areas where gorillas live have the highest population densities. For instance there are approximately 4 million people living virunga national park. And this can result in a lot of problems such as human gorilla conflicts, spread of diseases and destruction of habitat.

Activities

Mountain gorillas spend most of their day time eating up to 9 hours a day. Young ones like to play, rolling, climbing trees. At night, each gorilla makes its own nest for sleeping either on ground or in trees.

Diet

Classified as herbivores (vegetarian), mountain gorillas mostly eat plants. Their diet mainly consists of shoots, leaves and stems. Their human like hands make it possible for them to hold, break and bite plants. The digestive system of mountain gorillas isn’t effective, thus they consume large quantities of foliage every day to obtain the nutritional content they need. As a result, they eat up to 9 hours a day and feed their tummies with 30 kgs. No wonder they are the largest primates. A Silverback can weigh between 140 to 180 kgs.