All About Mountain Gorillas

If you ever have the opportunity to look into the eyes of a gorilla, you will instinctively know that that these unique creatures deserve our efforts to save them - Howard G. Buffet, Threatened Kingdom: The Story of the mountain gorilla

 

A gorilla mother

A gorilla mother

I cannot begin to explain just how true that statement is.

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to visit the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. I was with a colleague, Valerie and my boss Julie.

We were at the park headquarters by 7am, the required time. From there, you are divided into groups and told which group of gorillas you will visit.

Gorillas are divided into two broad categories, mountain gorillas and lowland gorillas. Their names are explanatory, it’s where they live. The mountain gorillas are an endangered group, there are only about 700 mountain gorillas in the whole wide world! Imagine that. There are about 10billion people (or thereof) and only 700 of these gorillas.

They eat a lot; an adult mountain gorilla can weigh up to 250Kg. They survive on bamboo and vegetation found in forests, and we all know how everyday, forests are being cleared for farming, and trees are cut down for charcoal, firewood etc. This is the reason why conserving these forests is so important to animals that live there.

Did you know that a mountain gorilla can survive for a whole year without drinking water? That’s because the vegetation they eat contains a lot of water.

The mountain gorillas can only be found in Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. These three countries coordinate their conservation efforts and the results have been significant. The number of mountain gorillas has been slowly increasing.

Gorillas live in families (or groups) and there are trackers that keep track of where each family is. So that morning, we were to visit the Amahoro family. Amahoro means peace. Our guide, Hope (that’s his name!) talked to the trackers via a 2-way radio as we trekked through the forest, going higher and higher up the mountains.

The forest was dense but there was a beaten path which we followed. The narrow path was blocked here and there by bushes, including sting nettles (you know those plants that sting?) Gorillas eat that, and even in the Czech Republic, they are eaten as vegetables.

A gorilla family is led by a large male, consists of a few other males, many females and a number of children. All the females belong to the lead male, so usually the other subordinate males leave the group to start their own families. Males mature around the age of 10-12, and the fur on their back turns silver. Hence they are known as the silverbacks. Females don’t turn silver though.

A silverback, Kajolite. I think that was his name. He lost a hand to snares in the Congo when he was young. He is the second in command of the Amahoro group.

A silverback, Kajolite. I think that was his name. He lost a hand to snares in the Congo when he was young. He is the second in command of the Amahoro group.

A newborn gorillas weighs just 1.4 to 2Kgs, half of the weight of a human at birth. They are totally dependent on the mother and begins to crawl at about 2 months of age and at 4 months, it will begin riding on its mother’s back.

 

baby gorilla

A baby mama and baby gorilla. Saw them with my own eyes, they passed by so close to us. They’re really gentle beasts.

Young gorillas, between the ages of 3 and 4, are very playful. “They are little balls of black fur with punk rock hairdos and perpetually astonished expressions..” to quote from the book, Threatened Kingdom: The story of the mountain gorilla by Buffet/IGCP. They are called juveniles and play tag, wrestle and tickle while the males guard the family against danger and the females take care of young ones.

On Saturday, the juveniles kept rolling and rolling towards where we were, and we couldn’t move away fast enough! I remember I fell down and landed right next to them (we are encouraged to keep a distance of 7m, so as not to transmit any diseases to them.) I moved away slowly.

I was told however, that these were tourist gorillas. They are so used to people and clicking cameras, they acted as if we weren’t there. The juveniles though, did were curious and would stop wrestling each other to stare at us and then they’d lie in the grass and stretch out and bask in the lovely morning sunlight.

 

juvenile gorillas

A group of juveniles takes a break from wrestling and rolling around in the bush to bask in the sun. They were such a joy to watch.

 

The trek down the mountainside was easier…we were coming down following a familiar path. There was a park warden who walked with us, carrying a gun, in case we met any hostile forest elephants or buffaloes. We didn’t, though we saw here and there fresh buffalo dung.

There are also other animals that live in the forests; like the Bushbuck but we were not lucky to see any. We only spent an hour with the gorillas as per regulations and trekked back down the mountain.

Watching these gorillas was worth every penny. It’s 500 USD for foreigners, 200 USD for East Africans and 40USD for Rwandans.

P.S. All photos courtesy of Art of Conservation

  • http://cesily.wordpress.com cesky cess

    I love nature and I love animals. I’d have enjoyed every minute of it. Their faces are ugly though but i guess that’s their beauty.

    you have to see them live to see their beauty… you just love them.

  • Patrick

    Don’t judge me but now I really feel like kissing a gorilla. Cute man6a

    there’s this vet who was treating a little gorilla orphan, its parents were killed by poachers in Congo. She tells me she wishes she could kiss him, but ti’s forbidden here

  • http://www.thegaykenyan.blogspot.com Tamaku

    Lucky you, to see gorillas in the wild is one of my top 10 to do before I kick it.

    Trust me, it will be worth it. wish you the best in your bucket list

  • nuttyphilosopher

    Shall I call you Jane Goodall of gorillas?? hehe……Thank you for the education. Who knew they could live without water for that long. Can’t believe how expensive it is to see them. In that case, they better be posing with me to take pics.

  • http://se7ene.wordpress.com Sybella

    seeing the mountain gorillas is an amazing-almost-out-of-body experience. more east africans should go see them…

  • http://erykko.blogspot.com erykko

    you are so lucky n privileged. Going in to the world and meeting animals up close is something I always wanna do

    Dunno if am lucky and privileged but lucky, yes! Lucky to have got this job in Rwanda with a nice boss who paid for the gorilla permits.

  • http://www.uganda-tours.com/ Uganda safari

    Thank you for letting me to know this life of mountain gorillas.This helps me lot regarding gorillas.Awesome blog.Pictures are really nice.I enjoyed the post.

    • Anonymous

      You’re welcome!

  • http://www.gorillasafaris.co.ug Gorilla safaris

    Uganda safaris is one of the beatuiful place in Africa central part. Most of the people like to visit the uganda because of full of natural resources like lake, park, hill stations and main thing has wildlife nature etc. We can also see the gorilla safaris in the Uganda forest.

    • Anonymous

      Glad yo hear that