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Mountain Gorillas Facts

Mountain Gorillas, Interesting Facts You Should Know

A Male Silverback gorilla of Bwindi Forest, one of the habitats of the mountain gorillas

The endangered mountain gorillas also Scientifically named as “Gorilla beringei beringei”, are by highly ranked as the leading tourist attraction in Africa, particularly the eastern part of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. What is so surprising is that these mountain gorillas cannot be found in any zoo in the world (as they do not survive in captivity and there are no surviving mountain gorillas in zoos), but you can only find them and see them in the countries of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to census data released by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (November 2012), the remaining mountain gorillas are about 800 in the world of which over 400 of those are in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest alone. the other half of the remaining population is distributed in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The mountain gorillas continue to attract thousands of travelers from all parts of the world everyday and while planning gorilla trekking tours to any  of the mentioned gorilla destinations above, it is very advisable and highly recommended all travelers require extensive understanding of the basic facts about these mountain gorillas before the ultimate trekking activity begins. No one can clearly describe the excitement of standing a few meters away from the world’s renowned mountain gorillas those who have taken part before review gorilla trekking as a best wildlife experience in the world.

Find out the basic and interesting facts about mountain gorillas that every tour enthusiast ought to know to have a memorable gorilla trekking experience.

A Newly Born Mountain Gorilla resting on a Mother


Physical description of the Mountain Gorillas

By physical appearance, the fur of the Mountain Gorillas is often thicker and longer than that of other lowland Gorilla species, which enables them to live in colder temperatures. Mountain Gorillas can be identified by nose prints that are identically unique to each individual. Male gorillas usually weigh twice as much as the females and have more pronounced bony crests on the top and back of their skulls, giving their heads a more conical shape. On the other hand, Adult females also have these crests, but they are less pronounced. All mountain gorillas just like other gorillas feature dark brown eyes framed by a black ring around the iris. The Adult male gorillas are referred to silverbacks because a saddle of gray or silver-colored hair develops on their backs with age.

A Fully erect, male gorilla can reach 1.9 m (6 ft 3 in) in height, with an arm span of 2.3 m (7 ft 7 in) and weigh of 220 kg (490 lb). The tallest silverback recorded was a 1.94 m (6 ft 4 in) individual shot in Alimbongo, northern Kivu in May 1938. 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 (20 ft). The young ones will play in trees like children. Like all great apes other than humans, its arms are longer than its legs. It moves by knuckle-walking (like the Common Chimpanzee, but unlike the Bonobo and both orangutan species), supporting its weight on the backs of its curved fingers rather than its palms.

Mountain Gorillas Habitat and How They Feed

Mountain gorillas are found in only two places; the Virunga Massif, an area that spans the borders of three countries; Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. The Virunga-Bwindi area is one of the most biologically diverse parts of the plant, where ice-capped mountains meet African savannah. Because of this, there is a huge variety of wildlife within the parks, which include the mountain gorillas. They live in the high altitude montane and bamboo forests at 1,500-4,000 metre elevations.

A Mountain Gorilla feeding on leaves in the forest

With a fully-grown male silverback weighing on average 140-180kg, you might be surprised to learn that they feed mainly on leaves, shoots and stems. Due to their diet, the lush, green forests found in the mountains are perfect for these amazing apes though the habitat degradation for charcoal production and agriculture development, for example, is putting pressure on the natural resources found in the mountain gorilla’s natural habitats.

Mountain Gorillas Are Closely Related to Humans

Despite the hugeness in their size, appearance, furred skim, and walking on four legs , these creatures share almost 98% of the Human DNA. Just like humans, mountain gorillas also have a unique identifier. Whereas we have fingerprints, gorillas each have a distinct pattern on their nose! As well as our biological similarities, we have geographical similarities too. The landscape where you find mountain gorillas is also home to some of the world’s highest densities of rural human populations. The proximity of humans brings a whole host of potential threats to the gorilla’s well-being, including the spread of disease, getting caught in snares or traps and human-wildlife conflict.

Mountain Gorillas and how they grow

Mountain Gorilla males mature more faster than females and do not become fathers until they reach 15 to 20 years of age (That’s so close to humanity, right?). Adult female gorillas give birth to one baby about every 4 years although a surviving infant is produced only every 6 to 8 years due to high infant mortality in the first three years of life. A baby gorilla is born weighing 1.8 – 2 kilograms (4 – 4.4 pounds) after a gestation period of 251 – 295 days. Baby gorillas are carried around by their mothers and begin to walk after 30 – 40 weeks. Gorilla infants are breast feed for about 12 months. Infant gorillas normally stay with their mother for 3 to 4 years and mature at around 11 to 12 years old. Gorilla infants are weaned at 2.5 to 3 years of age.

Young male and female gorillas are classed as juvenile between the ages of about 3 and 6. During this stage, both male and female gorillas have thick black hair and black skin. Juveniles of both male and female gorillas increase in size and weight at similar rates for the first six years. At 6 years, they are about 1.2 metres (4 feet) tall and weigh about 68 kilograms (150 pounds).

Mountain Gorilla Reproduction & Lifespan

Mountain gorillas have a slow rate of reproduction. This slow reproduction makes this species even more threatened. During a 40 – 50 year life span, a female Mountain Gorilla might have only 2 – 6 living offspring. Female mountain gorillas give birth for the first time at about the age of 10 years old and will have offspring every four years or more. Female Mountain gorillas mature at about 6 years and cease to grow taller, although they continue to gain weight slowly until they reach weights of 113 – 136 kilograms (250 – 300 pounds) at ages of 10 to 11 years. Male Mountain gorillas continue to grow both in size and weight past the age of 6 years old. They do not reach maturity until they are about 12 years old. Between the ages of about 6 and 10 years, males retain the uniformly black hair color of their youth and are called ‘Blackbacks’.

The potential for population growth for undisturbed mountain gorillas is comparable to that for human beings. The gestation period is about 9 months. Gorilla mothers with an infant may not have another for up to 4 years. There is also no apparent breeding season, since births of baby gorillas occur throughout the year. However, due to mishaps and disease, many baby gorillas die in the first year of life and nearly half of all gorillas die before reaching adulthood.

The maximum life span of mountain gorillas in the wild is difficult to estimate. The longest-lived gorillas in captivity reached ages of 30 to 35 years. No gorilla has been seen in the wild that looked as aged as the oldest captive gorillas, so the life span in the wild is probably somewhat less, perhaps 25 to 30 years. There are no known mountain gorillas in captivity at present.

Mountain Gorilla Behavior

The Mountain Gorilla is a highly intelligent and gentle creature. Despite a ferocious reputation, the Mountain Gorilla rarely makes use of his incredible strength. When it comes to defending the family or breeding rights, however, it does display dominance. Mountain gorillas wander around a home range of up to 15 square miles (39 square kilometers). Mountain Gorilla spend much of their time eating. Their food includes a variety of plants, along with a few insects and worms. At night, Mountain Gorillas make a nest to sleep in. Many lightweight gorillas nest in trees, making beds of bent branches. The heavier individuals may nest in grasses on the ground. Mountain Gorilla infants snuggle with their mothers for the night.

For a long time the image most people had of a gorilla encounter included chest pounding, roaring, charging and big, bared teeth. However, researchers studying gorillas reveal a very different picture of mountain gorillas. Mountain Gorillas are peaceful, gentle, social and mainly vegetarian creatures. The occasional ferocious-looking, impressive displays are generally from a male gorilla protecting his family group from a threat. Gorillas, especially males, have a wide range of vocal and physical communications. Silverbacks can roar, scream and bark to deter predators or competitors. Mountain Gorillas stand on their legs and beat their large chests, which contain air sacks, to produce an intimidating thudding sound. Mountain Gorillas may even charge at people or gorillas they see as threatening, striking the ground with their fists in a display of aggression.

Mountain Gorillas & What They Fear

For reasons unknown, Mountain Gorillas that have been studied appear to be naturally afraid of certain reptiles. Infants, whose natural behavior is to chase anything that moves, will go out of their way to avoid chameleons and caterpillars. Koko, the western lowland female gorilla (born July 4, 1971) trained in sign language, is able to understand more than 1,000 signs based on American Sign Language, and understand approximately 2,000 words of spoken English, is afraid of crocodiles and alligators, even though she was born in captivity and has never seen them. They are also afraid of water and will cross streams only if they can do so without getting wet (i.e. crossing over fallen logs). Dian Fossey observed and noted the Mountain Gorilla’s obvious dislike of rain, as well.