The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of the two most endangered apes in the world. In the world today there are only 700 mountain gorillas living in the wild of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo.
The Virunga Volcano Mountains and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are known a home of the mountain gorillas. They were studied by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International they live in Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. Some of the volcanoes are active, and some are dormant. Some of them reach as high as about 4,000 meters (more than 13,000 feet).
The forests where the mountain gorillas live are often cloudy, foggy, and cold. The vegetation is very dense on the bottom of the mountains, becoming less so as you go higher up. Duikers (a kind of deer), antelope, tree hyraxes (a small furry animal related to the elephant), golden monkeys, and forest buffalo are neighbors of mountains in the forest.
Society and cooperation
Typically, mountain gorillas live in groups that contain one or two adult males (ages 12 years or older, called silverbacks), several younger males (called blackbacks), adult females, youngsters and infants. The dominant silverback gorilla (so named for the shiny silver saddle of hair on his back) is in charge of the group’s daily travels in search of food. He is also the center of attention during rest assemblies and referees conflicts within the group. The silver back gorilla also protects the group from outside dangers, such as obtrusive silver backs from other groups, poachers, and other animals.
The dominant silverback forms special bonds with the adult females in the group and fathers most of the progeny. Mountain gorilla females begin motherhood early, around age 10, and will carry a single baby for about 8-1/2 months. Mother gorillas share a very close relationship with their infants for about 4 years, after which another sibling may be born. Mother gorillas hold newborns close to their chest at first, but soon the infant learns how to hold on for itself. Then it learns how to ride on the mother’s back, until it is old enough to travel on its own.
Size and structure
Adult male gorillas can reach 400 pounds, and females can reach about 200 pounds. Female gorillas don’t have the crest on the top of their heads like the males, and no silver on their backs. When a silver back gorilla is standing upright (say, during a chest beating display), they can be as tall as 5 and a half feet tall. Normally gorillas walk on all fours, and are only about 3 and a half feet high at the shoulder. A newborn gorilla weighs only about 4-1/2 pounds!
All gorillas are vegetarians, eating plants like celery, nettles, bamboo and thistles, and they are quite particular about what parts of each plant they like to eat. Sometimes they also find ant nests and eat the ants, along with an occasional worm or grub.
It is difficult for them to find t where they live, but they do love to eat the wild berries that grow in their habitat. The mountain gorillas spend a lot of their time traveling in search of food since plants and trees change with the seasons. The full-grown mountain gorilla diet can include up to 60 pounds of vegetation a day!
Everyone who works with the mountain gorillas agrees that they are generally peaceful and calm. The gorillas that are observed by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International as well as the groups that are visited by tourists have been habituated to the presence of humans. But this does not mean that the gorillas will not show some reactions like charging, screaming or baring their teeth, whether at an outsider or within the group itself. These actions play the role of warning, warding off danger or preventing a fight.
Mountain gorillas can communicate using facial expressions, sounds, postures, and gestures. A “belch vocalization” is one of the nicest sounds heard when the group is resting after a period of feeding. When the gorillas feel threatened, they can make a variety of loud sounds, like roars or screams.
Facial expressions are also used for communication. For example, an open mouth with both upper and lower teeth showing means aggression. But a closed mouth with clenched teeth may signal anger as well.
And, of course, there’s the classic chest beating by male gorillas, which is used to show stature, scare off opponents or even to prevent a fight.
Tracking and protection of the mountain gorillas
ICCN in Congo, ORTPN in Rwanda and UWA in Uganda employs a staff of gorilla trackers and anti-poaching patrols at Karisoke, who regularly go into the forest to locate, observe, and protect several groups of mountain gorillas in the Parc. They record the gorillas’ location and status, and try to locate and remove snares. Dr. Fossey started this work in the late 1960s and the Fossey Fund has continued it ever since. Snares generally are set by poachers, who are illegally hunting in the forest. Generally, these snares are set for other animals, not the gorillas, but gorillas can still get caught in them.
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Pictures: Tracking Snares are circular and range in size from small, about three-inches in diameter for small animals like hyrax, to the large, 18 inch diameter ones for buffalo. They are made of cord and wire.
The wire helps an animal in that it makes the circle that an animal steps into, and the rope is tied to a bent bamboo pole. When the animal steps in the wire circle of the snare, the trap is sprung, and the bamboo bends back up, and makes the circle tight around the leg of the animal so it cannot get out.
Giving names to the gorillas is also the duty of The Karisoke staff, when newborns arrive. After a new baby is born and has been observed for a while, the Rwandan trackers who work at the research station have a party and decide on a good name, which is how they name their own babies. The striking examples are AMAHORO (which means “Peace”) and PASIKA (which means “Easter” since she was born near Easter).
Because of their interesting life, many researches are being conducted. Apart from Dian Fossey Company which started studying the mountain gorillas in the late 1960s, scientists from different companies are also interested in their study. This is the case of some colleges and universities around the world which have made the mountain gorilla a focus of their research. It is to be noted that also that the life of Mountain Gorillas has become a research topic for many scholars.
Those researches show many things about those interesting creatures. They have studied everything including how gorilla groups (or units) are formed, how males and females choose mates, how infants are raised, and how the gorillas communicate. In addition to the ongoing research about mountain gorilla life, scientists are now using some of the most up-to-date scientific methods to learn even more. For example, a study is currently in progress using DNA samples taken from the gorillas’ droppings, in order to learn the exact parenthood or consanguinity for each new infant born in a gorilla group. Scientists are also trying to classify all of the plants in the forests, upon which the gorillas and other species rely for food.; they can collect information using aerial photographs, and then compare this information with other data collected on the gorillas and even the poaching activity in the area. This process is called “hyperspectral”.
The mountain gorilla was first scientifically identified as a distinct subspecies of gorilla in 2002. In late 1960s, Dian Fossey observed the mountain gorillas and estimated there were about 250 mountain gorillas in the Virungas. However, estimates from the early 1960s complained that there had been many more than that. By 1989, the numbered had increased to 324, as a result of the tracking and protection programs that Fossey started and have since been continued by DFGFI. Today it is estimated that there are about 380 mountain gorillas.
As it has been stated above, the survival of the gorillas depends on the protection and survival of the forests in which they live, because it is due to land that they find land for food, safety and, normal activities. However, human activities (sometimes due to the growing human populations) and civil wars that have overwhelmed the region delays and hinders the protection of Mountain Gorillas.