Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Uganda and Rwanda
A gorilla Trekking Safari is an unforgettable life-time experience that no human should miss. Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo have in the recent year become a tourist hot spot because of the gorilla trekking safari activity done in the Virunga Mountain ranges shared between the three countries. Mountain gorillas can only be found in the Virunga mountain ranges and nowhere else in the world and their population is estimated to be around 1000 mountain gorillas.
Gorilla trekking is usually included on an East African safari route. Trekking the mountain gorillas deep in the heart of Africa’s most spectacular rainforests is life memory for every traveller that undertakes it. A Uganda gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest can take anything from 15 minutes to 8 hours, depending on where the mountain Gorillas are slept the previous night and you’re allowed to stay for only one hour photographing, admiring, learning and interacting with these great mountain apes once you find them.
The Mountain Gorilla
Mountain gorillas are the biggest primates, rarest on planet earth and the most intelligent of all mammals. This endangered species of animal can only be found in the 3 highland areas of Africa (Western rim of the Great Rift Valley) in the whole world which include Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga gorilla Park in Uganda, Virunga de parc in DRC and Volcanoes in Rwanda making them unique and the gorilla trekking safari so famous.
The Virunga volcanoes that separate the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable forest were first discovered by British explorers in 1861. Later in 1902, the gorillas were discovered. However the mountain gorilla species were made famous through the research of Dian Fossey, and today this species’ survival depends more on the local people of these countries than any other factor.
Mountain gorillas have never survived in the Zoos except the Western and Eastern gorillas basically because of unfavorable conditions since they are naturally bound to live in highland areas with forests having enough space, cool temperatures and good supply of food.
Attempts were made to collect mountain gorillas for zoos in the 1960’s and 70’s but none survived. Since then, all zoos have agreed to halt all further attempts to collect mountain gorillas for captive populations to avoid making the wild population even more vulnerable to extinction.
The western lowland gorillas, and the Eastern lowland gorilla-gorilla beringei graueri are more abundant and can also be found in zoos.
Captive lowland gorillas in zoos are important ambassadors for the conservation of wild populations of gorillas, and both lowland and mountain gorillas benefit from the impact gorilla has on the people that see them in zoos.
The only mountain gorillas which survive in the zoos are the Western and the Eastern gorillas.
There are about 1000 mountain gorillas in the whole world which have to be handled with a lot of care in order for them to increase in number and those that remain, many have been habituated for gorilla trekking safari experience by the authorities.
The size of their remaining habitat is rather small. Bwindi is only 330 kilometers squared composed of both montane and lowland forest located in south-western Uganda.
General characteristics of Mountain gorillas
- The gorilla has a characteristically heavy body shape and shaggy dark coat.
- Mountain gorillas have large jaws, smaller noses and shorter arms than their relatives. They also have longer hair for warmth.
- Although mountain gorillas are slightly larger and have longer fur than lowland gorillas, the differences are relatively slight and most people would have difficulty identifying the difference between them.
- An adult gorilla consumes 20 kgs of vegetation in a day although a silverback can consume as much as 35kgs
- Adult gorillas have 32 teeth-uses their large molars for chewing food and long canine teeth to bite or break thick pieces of vegetation.
- Gorillas’ hands and feet are very similar to ours-gorillas can grasp objects with both their hand and feet.
- Each gorilla’s nose is unique as a human fingerprint. This is one way researchers identify individual gorillas.
- Gorillas use at least 25 recognized vocalizations including grunts, roars and growls.
- They are fascinating, intelligent and highly sociable, playful and gentle creatures
- They can be found in Bwindi Impenetrable NPK in Uganda, Virunga in DRC, and The Volcanoes NPK. Rwanda
- They live in forests high in the mountains at an elevation of 8,000 to 13,000 feet
- Gorillas roam throughout their forest habitat and sometimes cover large distances in a day.
- Gorillas are not strictly territorial but do have home ranges which can be as large as 40 sq km primarily for large amounts of vegetation.
- They move regularly in a constant such for food, thus allowing vegetation to regenerate in their absence
- Gorillas use leaves and other plant materials to build their nests for sleeping at night.
- They have thicker fur and more of it compared to other great apes
- The fur helps them to survive in habitat where temperatures often drop below freezing point
- Generally, the gorillas are peaceful and non aggressive animals
- Young gorillas-play tag, wrestling and tickling as the adult males guard the family
- Gorillas often exhibit various poses that appear comical and sometimes they seem to mimic human behavior. They share many characteristics with humans, including a high degree of intelligence, complex social behavior, and strong emotional bonds with well developed senses-sight, smell, taste and touch.
- Gorillas spend about 30% of their time eating, 40% sleeping and 30% travelling.
- Males mature around the age of 10-12 years, and about that time the hair on their backs begin to turn silver hence the name “silverback”
- Mature males are referred to as silverbacks.
- They are the leaders of the family group.
- Adult male weighs around 160-227 kgs
- It’s dependent upon its mother for about 3 years
- Adult female gorilla
- Adult female gorilla weighs-70-120 kgs
- Female height: up to 1.5 m
- Female weight: 90 kg
- Females are smaller compared to the males
- Females do look after the baby gorillas.
Baby mountain gorillas
A baby gorilla crawls at about 4 months of age and it will begin to ride on its mother’s back clinging to the far.
Baby gorilla will nurse for about 18 months to two and a half years.
A newborn gorilla weighs about 1.4 to 2 kgs and this is half the weight of a human at birth. Young gorillas are very vulnerable and will stay close to their mothers for protection.
Young gorillas are playful and like to climb. As they get older, they spend less time climbing and more time eating.
Diet for gorillas
Gorillas like all primates prepare their food before eating it. The tough and bitter back or leaves are often striped off the stem of plants so that the tender core can be enjoyed.
They use their fingers and nails to deliberately remove the parts of the plant they do not like to eat and only indulge in those parts that provide nutrients and water.
Mountain gorillas eat up to 70 kinds of plants and as many as 200 different parts of various vegetation like wild celery, leaves herbs, thistles, nettles, shrubs, roots, bark, flowers, fruits, fungi and bamboo. Sometimes ants and termites to supplement on their diet
Gorillas eat both the leaves and the thick base of thistles which add a lot of nutrients to the gorilla’s diet.
The decaying dead trees
They collect humidity and many minerals which gorillas chew sometimes as well as fungi that grow on decaying trees.
The soft wood is a source of nutrients and water particularly in the dry season when water is scarce.
The order in which gorillas are allowed to enjoy this food is directly related to their order in the hierarchy in the group, with dominant animals having first access.
Mountain gorillas have been divided into three categories namely;
Wild gorillas – have no human contact.
Research gorillas – are approached and observed strictly for research purposes.
Tourist gorillas – habituated to tolerate short visits by people to generate income for conservation and community development
Researchers can estimate the size and age structure of a group by how many nests are constructed and the size of the feces by the nest but such indirect counting methods are not as accurate as visual observation of the group
Threats of Mountain gorillas
Conversion of land for agriculture which reduces on the food supply and habitat loss as a result of cultivation by the neighboring communities of the Park
Deforestation for firewood and lumber destroys the habitat for Mountain gorillas.
Poaching where by Mountain gorillas are caught by traps and wire snares set to trap other animals like antelopes, forest pigs among others. They are also hunted for to get their skin which is used for traditional purposes like cultural dances.
Transmission of diseases caused by human beings like flue and cough which are so dangerous to Mountain gorillas
The mentioned Threats above have been addressed through the incredible commitment of dedicated Park rangers, increased understanding by local inhabitants and outside resources from interested Organizations. The mountain gorilla population has become reasonably stable over the past few years.
Although mountain gorillas are being threatened by a number of factors, conservation bodies like UWA and funders like The International Gorilla Conservation Program have designed strategies to overcome these threats.
They have involved the local populations in the conservation of the mountain gorillas by giving the local people jobs such as guides, trackers and porters for gorilla tourism.
Ownership and management of the tourism facilities is shared directly with the local communities to fund development projects in the region for example bee keeping.
Wood curving, basket and other locally made products are sold to tourists. This income can help increase profits derived from the natural resources found in the gorillas’ habitat.
Local culture is shared with tourists in the evening around a campfire as part of entertainment which generates income to the local people making them realize the importance of mountain gorillas in the community.