Have you ever bothered to know what mountain gorillas eat? What about a Silverback, do you know who he is and what makes him very unique from other gorilla family members? What about black backs, baby gorillas? Would you like to deeply understand more about these beautiful creatures?
Mountain gorillas are certainly one of the most charming, adorable and fascinating creatures you will ever encounter in the rain forests of East Africa. Be sure to have an extraordinary feeling when you finally meet face to face with them. Apart from the fascinating sensation of coming up close with these huge apes, it is essential to fully understand mountain gorillas, their habitats, their threats / enemies, diet and other numerous aspects that make extremely captivating animals, especially to travelers.
What are the Mountain gorillas?
Most popular of the 4 subspecies of gorillas, Mountain gorillas were first known to the world in 1902 when a German Army Captain, Robert Von Beringe was traversing Congo Jungles and saw one in the wild. Mountain gorillas are the most commonly habituated and tracked by travelers than other species of gorillas.
Captain Robert Von Beringe while on his voyage to Rwanda to meet with the Sultan Msinga saw a gorilla in the wild, which he killed and sent the specimen back home in Berlin to be exclusively studied.
A mountain gorilla would later be named after that captain, thus leading to the birth of Gorilla Beringei Beringei, a scientific name given to mountain gorillas in his honour.
Before 1902, another gorilla had been seen by Paul Du Chaillu (probably the first ever to be seen) during his exploration travels in western equatorial Africa in a period between 1856 and 1859. Paul killed one and brought the specimen to UK later in 1861, but was slightly studied. The mountain gorillas’ long and thick hair makes them slightly different from other subspecies, and enables them adopt to the cold and high altitude environment in which they dwell.
Mountain gorillas also have relatively wide, larger heads and shorter arms than other gorilla species.
Mountain gorillas are apparently the easiest and commonest species of gorillas to trek and see in the wild; thanks to the historic conservation efforts in the Virunga region and Bwindi impenetrable forest, began way back in early 19th century by the late Dian Fossey and the recent commitment by various government and conservation bodies.
Subspecies of Gorillas and where they live?
It is essential to fully understand different types of gorillas and where they live. Even though the mountain gorillas are famous, there are more two species of gorillas each with more 2 subspecies, dwelling within 9 distinct countries across the jungles of East and Central Africa. This therefore implies that there is a total of up to four types of gorillas.
The two main species of gorillas include the Eastern and Western Gorillas that near the Congo River. The Congo River apparently acted as a natural barrier and these two gorilla species lived and evolved differently in regard to their respective habitat.
Eastern gorillas can be split further into tow subspecies – the Grauer gorillas, located in Eastern D.R. Congo, and mountain gorillas which live in the Virunga region that span across north -eastern Rwanda, south western Uganda and eastern DRC. The mountain gorillas probably are the commonest and longest studied of the 2 subspecies.
A Silverback, the king in a mountain gorilla family
A Silverback is a male dominant gorilla within a particular gorilla family. Silverback gorillas just like their name depicts have silver fur on their backs which easily differentiates them from the rest of the group members. Silverbacks are relatively, arguably the largest living ape and a well grown Silverback could weigh up to 200kg and measure 180cm in height.
Its gigantic size therefore earns it a status as a leader of the entire group and assumes a role of defense, protecting the group from unsuspected dangers and taking holistic care of the rest of the family. Silverback are highly respected and in most cases become oldest fathers of their respective families. The silver hair on the back is a sign of maturity, just like grey hair in human beings.
There is always one dominant Silverback in every family, who is responsible for mating with all other female gorillas. A Silverback makes all the rules and assumes the role of being a family head responsible for making decisions for the group. Even though there’s always one dominant Silverback in a particular gorilla family, some families can have more than one Silverbacks, sometimes up to four.
What do mountain gorillas eat?
Mountain gorillas are generally herbivorous, feeding only on vegetation, shoots, plant stems, leaves, seeds and fruits. Unlike, chimpanzees, mountain gorillas do not eat meat. Although they at times eat insects but mountain gorillas have not been known to hunt for meat.
Mountain gorillas’ feeding patterns and diet is grossly influenced by environment and habitats where they live. They have slight variations in feeding habits from the eastern gorillas and western gorillas – including each of their subspecies. As mountain gorillas live within mountainous forests, where fruits are not as common as in lowland areas, thus they are known to be folivorous, that is, they mostly feed on plant leaves and stems.
Mountain gorillas have over 98% shared human DNA
Definitely, one exhilarating fact that has made mountain gorillas to stand out is their genetic closeness with human beings. It is truly engrossing to realize how similar mountain gorillas behave when you set your eyes on them during trekking experience. However, this closeness with human beings make mountain gorillas susceptible to contagious diseases spread by man.
This is the sole reason why one can’t go gorilla trekking while sick and there’s a minimum distance of up to 8m that has to be maintained while in the presence of mountain gorillas.
Gorillas are very intelligent and can learn sign languages
Their resemblance with human beings surpasses just physical appearance but their unequaled ability and prowess to learn and speak sign languages. One of the most popular gorillas known as ‘KOKO’ born in San Francisco zoo in 1971 accumulated a library of up to 1000 signs and was on record to have understood 2,000 English words by the time she made 40 years.
Where to see mountain gorillas
And this is probably the most important fact, especially for those needing to undertake that maiden journey to the jungles of Africa and rediscover what was discovered a century ago but has remained less exploited to date.
Mountain gorillas only inhabit the Virunga massif region, which span across three east African countries – Uganda, Rwanda and D.R Congo. Each country has a unique national park that provides shelter to the magical creatures. These include Bwindi and Mgahinga national parks in Uganda, Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Virunga national park in D. R Congo.
Each national park has particular number of gorilla families that are fully habituated and open for visitations all year long. Mgahinga gorilla and Bwindi impenetrable national parks together have a total of 17 gorilla families, while Volcanoes national park in Rwanda has 12 and Virunga national park in D.R. Congo has up to 8 habituated gorilla families.