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 480 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:
History of Uganda’s Mountain Gorillas
The critically endangered mountain gorillas in the whole world are not known to exist in captivity such as zoos but are only known to be thriving in the verdant tropical forests of Africa. African being a naturally blessed continent is where one can see and find mountain gorillas protected in the national parks in the countries of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo which in turn has made gorilla safaris to Uganda and Rwanda which are more stable to flourish.
In the whole world there are only an estimated number of 1050 Mountain Gorillas but surprisingly, Uganda a small land locked country located in East Africa contains almost a half of the world’s surviving species of the endangered gorillas. For example, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park alone contains 400 mountain gorillas without considering the Nyakagyezi gorilla family that thrives in the volcanic slopes of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
The rare mountain gorillas were not popularly known to the west world countries not until 1902 when the Captain Von Berenge alongside with his friends when hiking mountain Sabinyo the oldest Virunga Volcano by chance spotted a group of mountain gorillas and he shot two of them and they managed to get only one. The one they captured was a young –male mountain gorilla which was estimated to be five years old. Before the discovery of the mountain gorillas’ people in the world used to have only imaginative thoughts of the Tarzan movies and King Kong and what helped the world to know these precious primates is when the skin of the Young mountain gorilla which was captured in Rwanda was forwarded to Berlin for testing and further research and finally the report was given proving that the animal species was mountain gorillas. This increased the number of tourists taking gorilla safaris in Uganda and Rwanda most by the international scientists, researchers who were interested in researching more about the mountain gorillas.
The research report and news published by the researchers proving that mountain Gorillas where surviving in the High and colder environment of the south western Uganda i.e. Bwindi impenetrable national forest and the Rwanda’s Volcanoes National park surprised many people because no one believed that gorillas could stay in this high altitude and cold areas in Africa. The new information attracted many hunters to take gorilla safaris to Uganda and Rwanda in order to hunt these wild life species since they were highly on market and wanted by the international countries.According to an expedition carried out by Prince Wilhelm who was citizen of Sweden, he managed to shot a total of fourteen mountain gorillas with in this region between the years1920 to 1921.
In the pearl of Africa Uganda, for many years visitors were not allowed to visit the mountain gorillas until Walter Baumgartner was lastly after some time given permission and authority to establish visits for tourists to his wonderful investment of Traveller’s Rest Inn which was the only accommodation place by then in the area.Walter responded by writing an interesting,inspiring and attracting book “Up among the Mountain Gorillas” which explained more about his experience with the mountain gorillas that were surviving in the south western part of Uganda.The book is good and explains the attractive nature of the country Uganda.
The mountain gorillas surviving in Uganda are called Gorillas beringei beringei and the ones which can be found in the parts of West Africa are identified as low land Gorillas. The beringei beringei mountain gorillas can only be found in the wilder ness of the Mgahinga national park, Bwindi Impenetrable forest park in Uganda as well as Virunga mountains of Rwanda especially in the Volcanoes Park and lastly in the Virunga Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The location of these parks is not far away from each other and can be accessed with an estimated distance of 48 km from each other. Therefore organizing gorilla trekking safaris to Uganda will enable one explorer and come to know the interesting back ground information about the endangered species of the mountain gorillas.
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.
Mountain Gorilla Description:
Male Gorillas are normally twice the physical size of the females, and grow to a height of 6 feet and a weight of 350 – 500 pounds. They are have strong and muscular long arms. The males are referred to as ‘silverbacks’ since the hair on their backs changes to silver as they begin to mature. The strength of the males is 10-times stronger than that of the strongest human boxer, even when on steroids. The arms of silverbacks can stretch to a length of 7 feet.
The Mountain Gorillas are characterized with longer as well as darker hair compared to that of their lowland counterparts since they stay in colder weather conditions at higher altitudes. A gorilla’s life span is 40 – 50 years.
Mountain gorillas are majorly terrestrial, although they will climb trees once in a while in case the tree can support them. Their young ones are seen playing in trees similar to children.
Mountain Gorilla Habitat and Diet:
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest supports the largest number of Mountain Gorilla. It is a ancient forest has a very thick plant cover with the tree canopy making it somewhat dark hence being called the impenetrable forest. The forest has altitudes ranging from 1,160m – 2,607m above sea level. Mgahinga as well as Bwindi each has distinct characteristics with a number of similarities too, for instance the Mgahinga extinct volcanic region while the Bwindi isn’t. Because the Mgahinga Gorilla Park lies on a higher altitude, the Mountain Gorillas will move higher to feed on the afro-montane vegetation.
The Mountain Gorillas will feed on big quantities of roots, lush leaves, bamboo shoots, flowers, fruits,. Adults will eat up to 75 pounds a day.
The Day of a Mountain Gorilla begins at 6 am and ends at 6pm with time for a nap during their lunch time. Light falls in Uganda just a few minutes past the hour of six o’clock in the evening while the night falls close to seven o’clock in the evening.
These move to different locations each day to spending their nights in nests made of twigs plus leaves.
Mountain Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla trekking starts early in the morning in groups of 8 people and these are allowed to spend an hour in their presence. The trekking is quite tiresome involving a lot of walking along the muddy wet tracks accompanied by experienced guides. These walks take anything from 2 to 8 hours and seeing the gorillas is not 100% guaranteed since these although habituated are wild animals.
Mountain Gorilla Behavior:
Several visitors to the Bwindi Forest frequently ask if the mountain gorillas are dangerous. The answer is no. although they are powerful as well as very strong; these giants are gentle and very shy. In addition, the mountain gorillas visited in Uganda have been habituated to human presence. In other words they are used to human presence. The habituation process takes close to two years. Mountain gorillas only attack when they feel threatened in order to safe guard their own. Normally when gorilla groups meet, the Silverbacks fight against each other and may even result into death.
They live in groups of different size ranging from 4 to 30 or even 40 members, but commonly in groups of eleven. They have no specific mating season, and the Males begin breeding at 15 years while the females begin producing from 10 – 12 years of age. The Females can give birth every after 2 to 3 years with just 4 – 6 off-springs in their lifetime.
The Males leave their family at the age of 11, whereas more half of the females remain with the group.
They basically communicate using sounds like shouts, grunts and roars, and researchers have recognized 25 sounds.
Predators to Mountain Gorilla:
The biggest threat to Mountain Gorillas are humans who encroach on their natural habitat as they expand their villages and farmlands.
In addition diseases spread by humans that visit them are another threat and for that reason the Uganda Wildlife Authority has put in place very strict rules to prevent spread of diseases by humans.
General Description of Gorillas:
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.