Gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans and humans all belong to the order 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 sub specie – the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei) was identified for science purposes in the year 1903 and has gone to become Uganda’s star attraction. Mountain gorillas are physically distinct from lowland gorillas. They are larger, have much hair, a short trunk, a broad chest / shoulders and also have a longer / slightly different nose shape.
They are born small, covered with black hair and usually weigh about 2.3 kilograms. Gorillas develop about as twice as human babies with the mature female mother also under going a gestation period of 9 months. They are unique species; as a gorilla with an infant may not have another baby up to four years – good family planning.
Male and female young gorillas between the ages of three and six are classed as juvenile. During this period, both the male and female gorillas have a black skin and thick black hair and usually weigh about 2.3 kilograms. They increase in size and weight at similar rates for the first six years. On reaching six years; most Mountain gorillas weigh about 68 kilograms and are usually about 4 feet tall.
The female Mountain gorilla stop growing taller as they mature at around six years, this is as opposed to the male Mountain gorillas that continue growing both in size and weight past the age of six till they reach the ages of ten to eleven.
Between the ages of six and ten years, male gorillas have a black hair colour and are thus referred to as the Blackbacks. On reaching maturity which is usually between 10 and 12 years, the male Mountain Gorillas develop silvery grey hairs on their backs thereby being referred to as Silverbacks.
They (silverback) 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. Silver back 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 (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 favorite.
They occasionally also eat safari ants which are scooped in huge handfuls to stuff into the mouth until the safari ant bites over power 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 – Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) while in Uganda, they are confined to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi “impenetrable” Forest National park.
Bwindi “impenetrable” Forest National park is situated in south western Uganda on the edge of western rift valley (Albertine rift) and is shared by Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro districts. It is 331 square kilometers in size; on an altitude range of 1,160 metres (Ishasha gorge) to 2607 metres (Rwamanyonyi peak). According to the census carried out between April and June 2006, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park now has a total of 30 gorilla groups. Of the 30 groups, five are habituated of which four are utilized for tourism while one is used for research. The total number of gorillas in Bwindi is 340 which is almost over half of the total estimated 720 Mountain gorillas in the world. The park was gazzetted in 1992 as a National park and is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
On being gazzetted as a National park, African Pearl Safaris (APS) is on record to have been the first indigenous tour operator to take clients gorilla trekking in Bwindi Forest. This company (APS) has stood the test of time and is now revered in the tourism fraternity because of their knowledgeable staff who also have an enviable grasp and mastery of Uganda’s tourism industry. African Pearl Safaris is proud to be boosting Uganda’s tourism by continuing to conduct gorilla safaris to Bwindi. It is now on record that Gorilla trekking provides over 50% of tourism revenue for Uganda thus being a strong reason for their protection.
Currently, even with the conservation efforts being implemented so as to protect Africa’s Gentle Giants – the Mountain Gorillas, several media reports continue indicating that these species are on the decline. A case in point is a BBC report (September 2007) which reported that Gorillas head race to extinction. The reasoning was that in light of the massive movement of people in the region and growing “insecurity” in the virunga area could be among the causes of the death of 9 mountain gorillas that have been killed from the start of this year.
Uncertainty continues over who kills them and a mystery remains in the hearts of conservationists as to why it’s done. There is an urgent need for conservationists and the governments of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC to explore the missing gaps so as to save these endangered animals.