Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to half of the world’s mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas are an endangered species, with only around 700 remaining in the wild. This has improved since Bwindi Impenetrable Forest became a National park, and the Bwindi gorilla population has increased from around 300 to around 440 since 1991.
Gorilla tracking permits are needed if you wish to see the gorillas and visitor numbers are strictly controlled. Visitors are escorted by guides and may have to walk several hours to see one of the habituated mountain gorilla groups. Four groups have been habituated to people – three ‘tourist’ groups and a ‘research’ group. The region is important for primate research as it is the only place where mountain gorillas and chimpanzees co-exist.
Read More on Mountain Gorillas:
- Bwindi mountain gorilla research
- Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Forest
- Gorilla Tracking Rules
About Bwindi Gorillas
Mountain gorillas are descendants of ancestral monkeys and apes found in Africa and Arabia during the start of the Oligocene epoch (34-24 million years ago). In 2018, IUCN listed Mountain Gorillas as endangered species. Mountain Gorillas are found in Virunga Volcanic mountains of central Africa: Virunga National Park in DRC, Mgahinga National Park in Uganda and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Others are found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. In 2018, it was estimated that Mountain Gorillas were over 1000 individuals.
Sharing over 98% of their DNA with humans, gorillas display uncanny human characteristics. Gorilla families are headed by a silverback – a mature male who select places for the group to eat and sleep. The silverback has many privileges – including the right to feed first. This previlege pays off for the rest of the family, as if the group is threatened, the silveback weighing up to 120kg (260lbs) will defend them to the death if necessary.
Generally though most people think that gorillas are scaring, they are indeed gentle and peaceful animals. These great apes are highly intelligent and have been observed using tools and communicate using a variety of vocal sounds.
The fur of the mountain gorilla, often thicker and longer than that of other gorilla species, enables them to live in colder temperatures. Gorillas can be identified by nose prints unique to each individual.
Males, at a mean weight of 195 kg and upright standing height of 150 cm, usually weigh twice as much as the females, at a mean of 100 kg and a height of 130 cm.
Adult males have more pronounced bony crests on the top and back of their skulls, giving their heads a more conical shape. These crests anchor the powerful temporalis muscles, which attach to the lower jaw (mandible). Adult females also have these crests, but they are less pronounced.
Though Generally referred to be gentle giants, Mountain Gorillas are highly intelligent, have been observed using tools like other great apes, and communicate using a variety of vocal sounds.
The mountain gorilla is primarily terrestrial and quadrupedal. However, it will climb into fruiting trees if the branches can carry its weight, and it is capable of running bipedally up to 6 m.
Mountain gorillas are diurnal, most active between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Many of these hours are spent eating, as large quantities of food are needed to sustain its massive bulk. It forages in early morning, rests during the late morning and around midday, and in the afternoon, it forages again before resting at night.
Mountain Gorillas build nests from surrounding vegetation to sleep in, constructing a new one every evening. Only infants sleep in the same nest as their mothers. They leave their sleeping sites when the sun rises at around 6 am, except when it is cold and overcast; then they often stay longer in their nests.
The mountain gorilla is primarily herbivore; the majority of its diet is composed of the leaves, shoots, and stems (85.8%) of 142 plant species. It also feeds on bark (6.9%), roots (3.3%), flowers (2.3%), and fruit (1.7%), as well as small invertebrates. (0.1%). Adult males can eat up to 34 kilograms of vegetation a day, while a female can eat as much as 18 kilograms.
How do Mountain Gorillas differ from Lowland Gorillas?
The mountain gorilla is larger, with longer hair and shorter arms than their lowland gorilla cousins and can only survive in high altitudes of about 2,200–4,300 metres. Lowland gorillas are much more likely to be seen in the trees, and prefer a more heavily forested, flatter habitat than the mountain gorilla.
The mountain gorilla is found at much higher altitudes and much farther inland, surviving in a pocket of wilderness in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most of their native habitats are the rocky slopes of once-active volcanoes, although they are known to venture into the high, alpine regions of the mountain ranges where they can face freezing temperatures.
When stressed or upset, male mountain gorillas emit a strong odor from glands under their arms. Studies of lowland gorillas have so far shown that scent communication doesn’t play as large a role in their culture.