East African Travel Stories and Inspiration
MOUNTAIN GORILLAS IN UGANDA’S WILDERNESS
The spectacular Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda is a World Heritage Site, and one of the most biologically diverse rainforests in Africa. The forest is home to more than 120 species of mammals and over 350 bird species. But we are here to talk about the mighty mountain gorillas, who call this ancient forest their home.
Mountain gorillas are among the most well-known and beloved members of the animal kingdom, thanks to their expressive eyes, fascinating behaviors, and the many conservation efforts that have been undertaken on their behalf.
But despite their celebrity status, there is still much to learn about these critically endangered primates — including some surprising facts about mountain gorilla habitat, diet, social structure and more.
The mountain gorilla is a subspecies of the eastern gorilla (Gorilla beringei). Although they share 98% of our DNA, mountain gorillas are quite different from us. They are larger and stronger than humans, with males growing to over 6 feet tall and weighing over 400 pounds. These gentle giants have a life span similar to ours - around 30 to 50 years in the wild. Mountain gorillas are the largest primates on earth.
Mountain gorillas have an interesting social structure. There are two adult females for every adult male in a group (called a troop). The females stay with their troop for life, but males leave when they reach maturity at around 10 years old. Once they leave their troop, they either live alone or join another troop as a silverback (mature male leader).
They also live in a close-knit family group led by one dominant adult male, known as the silverback because of the distinctive patches of silver fur on his back. The silverback's role is to protect his group from danger and ensure their safety. If a silverback dies, it is likely that the group will break up, as another male will try to claim the position of dominant silverback for himself.
The dominant male breeds with the females of the group and he alone determines when or if breeding occurs between them. Mountain gorilla reproduction rates are low due to their long interbirth intervals ranging from 4-8 years per birth.
Mountain gorillas are primarily folivores, eating mostly leaves, stems, bamboo shoots, and occasionally fruits. They also eat ants, termites, and other insects for protein. Adult males can consume up to 34 kilograms (75 lb) of vegetation per day.
The mountain gorilla is a terrestrial animal and lives on the ground and rarely climbs trees. The only time they climb trees is if they are eating the leaves in the trees or when they are nesting. Mountain gorillas build nests for daytime and night use in trees or on the ground from branches and leaves, they make new ones every morning. This is one way how Tourist and scientists can keep track of them because they know where a group has been by looking for its nests.
The mountain gorilla's habitat is at high altitude ranges between 8,000 ft and 13,000 ft. These habitats are characterized by equatorial evergreen and bamboo forest with rich vegetation cover. They are found in three national parks namely Virunga National Park, Volcanoes National Park, as well as Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganda.
Vocal communication among mountain gorillas is an important part of social interaction that can be divided into four categories: contact calls, aggressive sounds, play sounds, and "pant hoots."
Because of their size and strength, Mountain Gorillas do not have many predators. They can defend themselves against small animals and will sometimes kill large predators such as leopards or hyenas. People are their only real enemy.
Mountain gorillas use sticks to test water depth, making it easier for them to cross rivers. They also use tools to help them eat. For example, they sometimes use a stick to retrieve food that is out of reach and will sometimes also use sticks as weapons when fighting with other male gorillas for dominance or for mating rights.
Gorillas are highly susceptible to human diseases and viruses. One virus in particular that has had a detrimental effect on their population is tuberculosis (TB). TB resulted in the death of Dian Fossey’s favorite gorilla that she named Peanuts. TB is spread through coughing and sneezing.
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