Until recently it was considered that there was only one species of gorilla (Gorilla gorilla), divided into three subspecies that live in different parts of Africa, the Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), the Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla Graueri) and the mountain gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla Beringei). However, recent DNA evidence has led to the recognition of the eastern and western populations as separate full species classified as Gorilla beringei and Gorilla gorilla respectively.
The two mountain populations, one in the Virunga Volcanoes area on the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and the other in the Bwindi National Park in Uganda, belong to the Eastern group which changes their classification to Gorilla Beringei Beringei.
The two mountain populations, one in the Virunga Volcanoes area on the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and the other in the Bwindi National Park in Uganda, belong to the Eastern group, which changes their classification to Gorilla Beringei Beringei. After chimpanzees, gorillas are our closest relatives and share about 97.7% of our DNA. Mountain gorillas are the largest living primates, an adult male weighing up to 180 kilograms (400 pounds), with an arm span of about two meters (seven feet). They have longer, thicker fur than Lowland gorillas and a slightly different nose shape among other skeletal differences.
Mountain gorillas do not survive in captivity, which is why they are not seen in zoos. Tracking the mountain gorilla through the misty forests requires patience and stamina, often walking for hours in the mud and the wet. Finally meeting them in the undergrowth is an inspiring moment. Quietly chewing away at their vegetarian delicacies, they seem like a marooned human family. The tender grooming and firm disciplining of their offspring seems all too familiar. The gorilla family cast a wary glance at the sudden human intrusion into their private world, but is comforted by the clucking made by the trackers. When provoked, the noisy but harmless silverback grunts, screeches, bares his fangs and beats his chest, before slithering off with attendant females, offspring and other mature males.
1. The name Gorilla is derived from a Greek word Gorillai meaning hairy women.
2. Today there remains only 10 countries (all within the western, central and Eastern Africa region) with naturally occurring gorilla populations.
3. The Latin name for mountain gorillas is Gorilla Gorilla Berengei
4. Mountain gorillas are only found in three countries in the world – Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC
5. Mountain Gorillas are critically endangered specie. There are only about 786 mountain gorillas left in the world.
6. Over half the world’s mountain gorilla population is to be found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.
7. The rest are to be found in the Virunga Volcanoes shared between Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo.
8. Mountain gorillas are not known to survive outside their natural habitat, meaning that there are none to be found in zoos around the world.
9. Gorillas are the largest living primates.
10. Gorillas are ground-dwelling herbivores.
11. Gorillas are divided into two species Western Lowland gorillas and Eastern Gorillas –
12. There was considered to be a single gorilla species, with three subspecies: the Western Lowland Gorilla, the Eastern Lowland Gorilla and the Mountain Gorilla. There is now agreement that there are two species with two subspecies each. More recently it has been claimed that a third subspecies exists in one of the species.
13. Almost all gorillas share the same blood type (B)
14. Like humans, mountain gorillas have individual finger prints.
15. The DNA of gorillas is 98%–99% identical to that of a human, and they are the next closest living relatives to humans after the two chimpanzee species.
16. Man is gorilla’s only enemy.
17. A gorilla family is categorised in this way: Infant – 0 to 3 years; Juvenile 3 to 5 years; Sub-adult 5 to about 9 years; Adult female – About 9+ years depending on when she starts her menses. Blackback 9 to12 years. Silverback 12+ years, depending on when the male develops a spray of silver on his back marking him as mature enough to head a family.
18. Females usually conceive at around 8 to 9 years with their first baby being born before age 10. Pregnancy lasts 8 and-a-half months. Infants are weaned at about 2 years, but will ‘comfort suckle’ as long as their mother lets them, or until she gives birth again - usually after around 3 to 4 years.
19. An adult female mountain gorilla has a reproductive and menstrual cycle of 28 days just like a human female.
20. A silverback is an adult male gorilla, typically more than 12 years of age and named for the distinctive patch of silver hair on his back.
21. A silverback gorilla has large canine teeth that come with maturity.
22. These large canine teeth are used for – tearing off tree bark; act as leverage when climbing up trees; prying into ant mounds to get the ants out; scrapping off soft lime stone to get to the salt within.
23. Gorillas consider ants a delicacy.
24. Gorillas follow a very strict pecking order, with the dominant silverback enjoying key privileges and first rights to all that is desirable in a gorilla’s world. For example, if a blackback or adult female chances upon an ant mound and begins to feast on the ants, should a silverback come by, without question, the lesser gorilla will allow the silverback first feeding rights.
25. Silverbacks do not allow blackbacks mating rights with the females in a family.
26. Gorillas are very intelligent, and they share with us a full range of emotions: love, hate, fear, grief, joy, greed, generosity, pride, shame, empathy, and jealousy. They laugh when they are tickled and cry when they are sad or hurt. Gorillas cry with sounds, not tears.
27. One way in which gorillas establish and reinforce bonds is by social grooming. One gorilla will groom the other by combing through its fur with its fingers and teeth. In addition to the cleanliness it promotes, social grooming allows close contact and touch between the animals. Social grooming can relax a gorilla to the point that it will go into a trance.
28. Each evening, gorillas build nests in trees and on the forest floor, in which to spend the night. Up to the age of three, the young share their mothers’ nest. However, the nest-building instinct is so strong that they experiment with making their own nest at an early age.
29. In addition, each gorilla has a unique nose print with which researchers use to identify it.
30. Gorillas rarely attack humans. But in an encounter a person should stay still and refrain from staring or pointing at the gorilla.
31. Gorillas are susceptible to various parasites and diseases, especially to pneumonia during the long, cold wet seasons.
32. Male silverback gorillas can weigh 50-100 pounds more - and are about 10 times stronger - than the biggest American football players.
33. Gorillas live in tight knit social units – families, usually headed by a dominant silverback who determines where the group will range, eat, and sleep among other things.
34. When the group is attacked by humans, leopards, or other gorillas, the Silverback(s) will protect them even at the cost of his own life.
35. Gorillas can be very fussy eaters, eating only certain parts of plants. They may even stack the parts they don’t want in a neat pile off to the side.
36. It is commonly believed that silverbacks always kill the young ones not sired by them. This is not necessarily true among mountain gorillas as the dominant male takes care of all the young born to his harem of adult females as his own.
37. In Uganda, there are seven currently habituated groups, with six of these available for mountain gorilla tourism. (The seventh gorilla family is habituated for purposes of research for development of mountain gorilla welfare).
38. Habituation is the process where families of wild gorilla are gradually made used to non-threatening human presence. This process takes about two to three years and it involves UWA trackers monitoring gorillas for months on end. Once habituated, a gorilla family is then open for tourism.
39. Gorilla tourism in Uganda brings in money that is channelled back into mountain gorilla conservation and also benefits the communities that live near the mountain gorilla homing ranges. This goes a long way in preventing human-wildlife conflict.