These apes are always encountered by many tourists on gorilla safaris comprising the eponymous genus Gorilla, which is the largest sized primate genus in terms of physical expression. The gorillas are predominantly land dwelling animals which largely forage on the vegetation and no wonder they also inhabit the forest tracts of Bwindi and the Virunga Volcanoes which is the world’s renowned gorilla destinations. These also belong to the Eastern Gorilla.
Species; Gorilla beringei,
Mountain gorillas are also posteriors of the ancestral monkeys and the apes which dwelt in the vast lands of Africa and the Arabia at the onset of the Oligocene epoch approximately 34-24 million years ago which also shows that the flourishing of the gorilla safaris in Uganda and Rwanda is also by no means a surprise venture.
The mountain gorillas also share the same ancestor with the humans and the chimpanzees which are commonly encountered in East Africa. The three groups also separated from their ancestor about 9 million years ago. It is also this separation which led to the emergence of the genus gorilla and though its early relative is not well known, the theories also say that proconsul africanus which is the earliest ape could be the one. These unique apes have greatly attracted many people to come for safaris to Uganda.
Again, about 400,000 years ago, the mountain gorillas separated from the eastern lowland and these two sub species separated from the western gorillas over 2 million years ago. However, some books report that the debate about the classification of mountain gorillas is still unresolved. Mountain gorillas were also first regarded as Troglodytes in 1847 and later returned to gorilla in 1852, More so in 1967, Coln gloves suggested that all the gorillas should be considered as one species Gorilla Gorilla , Gorilla gorilla graueri and Gorilla gorilla Beringei as the three sub species. Also the IUCN conducted a review which classified gorillas into two species i.e. the gorilla gorilla and gorilla beringei in 2003.
Quick Information About Gorillas
Gorillas are very much related to humans by 97% of their DNA shared. They are one of the 4 great ape species living in Africa.
Since the time of Dian Fossey, there’ve been a number of initiatives focused on conserving mountain gorillas and their habitats. As a result, gorilla numbers which were once declining are increasing today; though continue to be threatened by poaching, habitat loss and human diseases.
Approximately 1000 mountain gorillas are living on planet earth, half of these live in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. The rest are found in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda and Virunga National Park in eastern DRC. Tourists interested to see gorillas should plan their gorilla trekking safaris ahead with a trusted tour operator.
Besides the slight DNA percentage difference between humans and gorillas, scientific research shows that both wild and habituated gorillas live in social groups /families with more or less human like behaviors. A gorilla family can have a minimum number of 2 individuals (male and female) while the highest gorilla family size can have more than 30 individuals.
Gorillas also have human like senses including hearing, seeing, smelling, touching and feeling and are peaceful animals that never kill for fodder. Unlike habituated gorillas, wild gorillas when encountered often shy away, charge or become aggressively when threatened.
Mountain gorillas are wild animals but are suited for habituation, a process through which wild gorillas are tracked by researchers day by day and year to year imitating their behavior such as chewing on vegetation to make them accustomed to human presence. However, the process doesn’t change the natural behavior of gorillas but it’s intended to ease tourist encounter.
A single gorilla family normally has females, juveniles and infants led by 1 Silverback which commands all activities like feeding and moving within a habitat range. Sometimes a single group may have more than 2 silverbacks, though they tend to be aggressive towards one another. In such cases, silverbacks often fight until the strongest silverback takes control of its family. When young males mature, they often go off and create their own families.
Baby gorillas often feed and keep around a silverback because it’s their father, strength and protection in case of danger. Adult females often fold their mouth when it time for mating and stay around the silverback waiting for response.
In a bonded gorilla family, females often groom their young ones and show affection for one another including communicating through distinct sounds, gestures and postures like hugging.
Gorillas can climb up in trees but spend most of their time on ground feeding selectively choosing flesh edible plant leaves, bamboo shots, pulps, stems, tree barks, fruits and sometimes on ants and termites. They rest for 2-3 hours a day consuming about 35 kg of vegetation.
As the night approaches, a silverback looks for a suitable place as its family gets together making nests for sleeping. Each gorilla makes its own nest except for infants who sleep with their mothers. Then the next day early morning, a silverback leads its family to a new source of flesh vegetation from which tourists often encounter them on guided trek with experienced guides and trackers.
Tourists planning for their gorilla trekking safaris to Uganda, Rwanda or DRC should prepare in advance including physical fitness, booking permits and accommodations. Contact a trusted tour operator.
Are Mountain Gorillas Endangered?
Mountain gorillas are known as critically endangered on the IUCN red list of the endangered species. In the current days, the mountain gorillas are also much threatened not only to the demand for their meat or the infants, but also a high demand for the lush forest with in which they live. Also for the poor communities that live around the gorilla habitats, it’s the forest that gives them many of their basic human needs and in the war torn areas of DR Congo. The needs are exaggerated.
Gorilla conservation is also the first conservation option in Rwanda. Gorilla tourism has greatly helped in carrying the mountain gorilla population back from death and also scares to their survival that are still very real. The biggest threat to the mountain gorillas come from the humans, the illegal logging of the rain forest intrusion of the land for farming, poaching and the risk of transmitting the diseases by the humans. More so, political instability is another factor that affects the Congolese population of the mountain gorillas with in DRC region of the Virunga Volcanoes.
The active conservation also includes going out into the forest , on foot or day after day as you try to get the poachers, killing the poachers ‘dogs which spread rabies in the park and also cutting down the traps. The population of mountain gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC has increased from low census record of 245 in 1981 to the estimated 880 individuals on 2013. Rangers have also continued to protect the gorillas. Poaching of the mountain gorillas is very rare and the poachers will become caught as they try to kill the animals.
There is also the Kwita Izina which is the annual naming ceremony that is so interesting for visiting volcanoes National park. It’s a celebration of Rwanda’s progress in gorilla conservation and the challenges these animals face endlessly. In case you trek to view the mountain gorillas, you may be also interested in knowing that each and every gorilla permit fee goes to the communities that live around the national parks. The benefits of this are so many including; the local communities receiving a physical benefit from tourism in remote parts of the country where there are a few employment opportunities. This direct financial incentive will encourage the local people in supporting tourism. Entering the national park is also controlled. Before the national parks were gazetted, the people entered the forest in order to collect firewood, set snares and hunt and also burn charcoal. More so the promotion of farming outside the protected areas as well as the development of the other alternatives to charcoal are some of the projects that conservation organizations have promoted in the local opportunities.
The relocation of the Batwa people from the gorilla parks was also another step that these authorities took in the 1990s, when the population of the gorillas faced with extinction. The batwa culture and their way of life are so unique and visiting and supporting these people projects, you can be contributing to the gorilla conservation.
In the past years, many of the people from all over the world dedicated their lives to the conservation of the mountain gorillas. And in 1885, American primatologist Dian Fossey was found dead in her own home with in volcanoes National park and she is believed to have been murdered by one of the poachers she fought in her protection of the gorillas. The mountain gorillas are protected than ever, and their numbers are increasing slowly and each year. The rangers have put their lives in danger in order to protect these gorillas.