Mountain gorillas scientifically known as Gorilla Beringei Beringei are one of the world's unique and rare primate species. Barely surviving in the Virunga mountain ranges, these stunning creatures are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN list. With approximately less than 2,000 gorillas individuals left in the wild, these animals face a long hurdle to recover and be removed from the endangered species category.
It's estimated that this feat can probably be attained after 75 years even with already great efforts being devoted to their conservation and protection. This is giving a ray of hope to wildlife enthusiasts who are trying everything to see that the future of the mountain gorilla's survival is safe and even future generations can be able to enjoy the beauty of these magnificent creatures.
A huge percentage of mountain gorillas currently live within the Virunga ranges. This is a stretch of 8 volcanoes that runs along the western branch of great East African rift valley. The remaining gorilla population is found in the Bwindi impenetrable forest in south-west of Uganda. Bwindi forest is continuous with the Virunga region and these two are the only places on earth known to support the lives of mountain gorillas.
This tiny but blessed stretch of land supporting the lives of mountain gorillas is shared between the 3 countries of Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. Among these 3 nations, 4 national parks were established with the primary purpose of protecting on top of the amazing varied biodiversity found in this area from primates, endemic bird species and reptiles among others.
The four gorilla-designated national parks include the Virunga national park (oldest national park in Africa) found in D.R. Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. These are the only four parks to offer mountain gorilla adventures which has made them famous and vibrant tourist destinations in the world.
Mountain gorilla trekking.
This is a fantastic activity where guests get a golden opportunity to encounter mountain gorillas in the wild. Unlike other gorilla species like the western lowland gorillas, mountains gorillas may not easily survive the environment outside the Virunga Massif and Bwindi impenetrable forest. This means that travelers who want to meet these gorillas can only do so by adventuring into the tropical rainforests of the Virunga.
A Mountain gorilla trekking expedition is carried out after securing a gorilla trekking permit at a desired gorilla national park. The permit allows you a limited amount of time with the gorillas which is strictly an hour after meeting them. The trek starts at the park headquarters where trekkers are assigned into groups of 8 individuals then briefing which includes regulations you must follow on the track before heading into the jungle in a search of the gentle giants of Africa. The trek usually can last from 1 to 8 hours depending on how far the gorillas have moved from since they were last spotted.
Visitors should not be worried about not encountering the mountain gorillas as there is an over 90 percent chance of meeting these amazing creatures. On a gorilla trek experience visitors also get a chance to observe other wildlife species like forest elephants and buffalo, different bird species notably Albertine rift endemics, picturesque scenery among others.
Mountain gorilla social structures.
Although gigantic and strong, mountain gorillas are naturally peaceful and shy and would rather withdraw when encountered. This fact is opposed to the famous false image painted of them being brutal and dangerous animals. Mountain gorillas stay in groups or families from at least 5 to over 40 members with an average of about 1o individuals. Gorilla families are commanded by a prominent male known as the Silverback.
Silverbacks are dubbed this name due to the silver streak of gray fur that appears as male gorillas transform into mature individuals. The Silverback performs as the group's supreme leader and guardian of the group. All the other group members, silverbacks have to defer to the dominant silverback. He determines when and where the group goes, time to rest and settles conflicts among his group members.
The chief role is to protect his family and normally will lose his life before letting any harm befall his group. A silverback rarely fights or invokes violence but will quickly jump to the defense of his family if it is threatened by either rival silverback or a human being. Gorillas normally forage through their territory range and their day is mainly taken up by feeding and sleeping through the day.
Gorillas are mobile creatures therefore have to erect new nests each day in the evening. Gorilla nests are majorly built out of tree branches that are placed on top of a tree or below on the ground.
Mountain Gorilla Diet.
Mountain gorillas are primarily herbivorous animals with most of their diet comprising of plant matter. The gorillas can consume huge quantities of plant matter in just a day. Mountain gorilla spends over 30 percent of their daytime looking for and eating food. The gorilla diet includes shoots, roots, stems, leaves, bark, vines and whole small plants. Gorillas include fruits whenever they can obtain them.
In addition to the plant diet, mountain gorillas occasionally dine on tiny animals and invertebrates plus snails. These constitute a very small percentage of their diet (2% or less).
Mountain gorilla lifespan.
Mountain gorillas are estimated to have a lifespan that ranges from around 35 to 50 years in the wild. Mountain gorillas can even live 60 years in the right conditions. Mountain gorillas usually have a short lifespan due to the dangers and risks it faces in the wild like diseases and harsh climate characterized by the rugged mountainous zones they live in.
Mountain Gorilla Predators.
Most people wonder how such enormous beasts can be in the critically endangered species on the IUCN list. Mountain gorillas generally have few natural predators due to their gigantic size and brutal strength. Their immense size and power usually scare away potential predators when in the jungle.
However, the mountain gorillas have a few natural predators and this is usually in the form of leopards. These usually prey on infants or helpless and isolated juveniles. Even these are a few cases. Leopard and other potential predators rarely launch an attack on a fully grown gorilla as this can easily end up fatal for the predator and so they usually avoid them.
On a negative note, statistics show humans as the biggest threat to mountain gorillas and their survival. This is shown through different human activities that put the survival of the mountain gorillas at high risk. These human activities include:
Mountain gorilla poaching.
This is the illegal hunting of wild animals. Mountain gorillas are usually poached for 3 primary reasons bush meat, collections for zoos, and trophies.
This is a great threat to Mountain gorilla survival as most locals hunt the gorillas to sell to foreign buyers who offer attractive rates for the gorilla meat. This forces local people instead of protecting this unique species to fall in for the heavy money that comes with illegal bush meat.
The poaching for trophies greatly due to the erroneous image portrayed tortillas as fierce and unconquerable beasts. This forces many proud people to hunt trophies of their skulls, hands, feet, and coats.
The hunting of gorillas for personal zoo collections particularly infants usually leaves great havoc in its trail. This includes casualties of adults who often end up being killed as they fight to defend their young. Gorillas also fall victims to snares intended for other animals like envelopes. These often end in serious injury or death.
Diseases & Parasitism
Mountain gorillas are susceptible to the most contagious diseases that can infect humans. Diseases such as Ebola, tuberculosis, flu, and colds among others over the recent years have threatened the lives of gorillas. For example in 2002 the Ebola virus led to the deaths of several mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In conclusion to mountain gorilla predators, it's safe to say that the primary threats to mountain gorillas in the wild are poaching, habitat loss, disease transmission, and lastly civil wars and political unrest in the regions where they dwell.
Best time to visit the mountains gorillas.
Mountain gorillas are found in a region lying close to the equator. This means a balanced and conducive environment for gorilla trekking throughout the whole year. The 3 countries have two dry seasons and two rainy seasons and visitors can choose when to travel. The dry season (from June to early September) offers better gorilla viewing, fewer pesky bugs, and fewer chances of rain on a trek among others.
The rainy seasons falling from March to May come with the advantage of fewer crowds, discounts on accommodation facilities, and most importantly on the gorilla trekking permits.
Book a gorilla trekking safari in any country – D.R. Congo, Rwanda or Uganda and embark on a great journey of discovering more about Mountain gorilla predators in addition to other great attractions such as Albertine rift endemic birds while on your safari.