Facts About Mountain Gorillas
The legendary mountain gorillas — which roam the forest volcanoes of the Western Rift Valley where Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo meet — are treasures in the mist. Their habitat falls inside national parks in parts of Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo. After almost going extinct in the 90s, their numbers have grown to 1063 individuals according to 2018 census results. This ensures that they are a rarity and a tourist mainstay.
- Mountain gorillas are extremely rare. About 1063 mountain gorillas exist in the wild (2018 census results). These low numbers have prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify them as endangered. . The species Gorilla is subdivided into four other subspecies. Eastern gorillas are the largest primates on earth and are divided into two subspecies: eastern lowland gorillas and the mountain gorillas. Being blessed by nature, Uganda has more than half of the world’s population of mountain gorillas.
- Mountain gorillas are manlike creatures with 98% of their DNA closely related to that of humans. Adapted perfectly for a 9-5 job, mountain gorillas are diurnal. This means they are active during the day time hours between 6:00am to 6:00pm in the evening. 40% of their days are spent resting, 30% feeding and 30% travelling or travel feeding.
- Adult mountain gorilla males are called silverbacks because of the distinctive greyish silvery hair on their backs and hips, which begins to sprout out when they reach age 10. Sleek of hair, this glossy coat appeals to the female gorillas because it is a sign of robust health.
- The males are generally larger than the females growing to sizes twice as large as the females. The male mountain gorillas also have profound canines and sagittal crests defined by a ridge of bone running lengthwise along the midline of the top of the skull and are absent on the females. Those sagittal crests indicate that these gorillas have extremely strong jaw muscles by providing extra attachment for the temporal muscles which close the jaws. They need these to chew all the plant material they eat. Much of the gorilla’s massive size is due to their large digestive tract.
- Mountain gorillas are primarily herbivores and feed mainly on leaves, bamboo shoots, and stems. They also eat a variety of fruits, tree bark, and flowers. They always seek fresh untrampled vegetation for feeding. Occasionally, they consume morsels in the shape of small invertebrates like ants, termites, insect larvae. Gorillas are often observed eating soil, especially that rich in potassium and calcium.
- Mountain gorillas build new sleeping nests every evening and this nest building process can take up to 5 minutes. These nests take the shape of sturdy leafy bathtubs and they are made by bending numerous tree stalks and leaves. These nests can be built both up in the tree canopies and on the ground. However, because of the considerable weight of the adult gorillas, they usually build them on the ground. As they go about building, they will carefully select vines and stalks then bend them around their bodies to make comfortable rims. Even when gorillas build nests in trees, they are rarely more than 10ft up because of their massive size.
- Mountain gorillas, just like chimpanzees, trundle on their knuckles with their entire weight supported on the back of their folded fingers. At times you come across evidence of previous group treks at they leave knuckle imprints in the soft ground like fist-bumps to nature’s majestic beauty.
- In the same way that no two humans have the same finger prints, no two mountain gorillas have the same nose shape. Each gorilla has a unique nose print that is identifiable to it. It is also the easiest way for field researchers to identify and distinguish them in the wild.
- In the family structure, mountain gorillas enjoy extended periods of association with their young, their parents, peers and siblings. As a consequence, they tend to have surprisingly secure types of family bonds. Nonetheless, weaning in mountain gorillas usually happens around two and half months.
- Female mountain gorillas reach sexual maturity at about 9 – 10 years and cycle about every 28 days. Male mountain gorillas reach maturity at 10 to 12 years. Sexually mature females are usually the solicitors of copulation from males, not the other way around.
- Female mountain gorillas only have one gorilla infant at a time and usually about one every three years. Again, females give birth after 8.5 months of pregnancy and most births happen at night. The newborn babies usually weigh about 1.8kg at birth and they are usually weak and uncoordinated just like human babies.
- When gorillas give birth to live babies, they always eat most of the placenta after birth but never do so when they have still born babies. The skin of a gorilla’s face, palms, and foot soles is usually pink in the first few weeks after birth. Most newly born gorillas babies will be carried in the ventral position by their mothers until they are about four months old, when their mothers start encouraging them to ride on their backs.
- All mountain gorillas upon losing their young will indulge in highly social and playful behavior with the rest of the group’s younger animals. It is believed that they do this to strengthen the social bonds with other group members after losing a baby.
- Of all the great apes, gorillas show the most stable grouping patterns. Each group is led by a dominant silverback, but not all adult males will gain group leadership at adulthood. The groups vary from 2 – 23 with 10 -12 being the average number in a single group. This silverback dominance helps to instill discipline and order in the group as it catalyzes quick and easy decision-making.
- The mountain gorilla group size increases when new females especially those that have reached adulthood join in. Conversely, the group tends to disintegrate when the adult male silverback dies or when the females leave.
- Silverbacks maintain order and decide all activities within the group. This is in addition to protecting the rest of the group members, which is the cardinal duty of a silverback. As a fearsome protector of its realm, the silverback gorilla will stave off the attacks of other silverbacks and maintain peace within the group. In aid of this, the forbidding canines of a silverback are for signaling not eating.
- Mountain gorillas, especially the silverbacks, have a strong body odour. The “odorprint” is rancid, permeating the air with a discernible stench that lingers behind in the vegetation long after they have passed through.
- Despite being buff and lovable with little to prove, mountain gorillas pound their chests when they want to display their strength. This helps avoid confrontation with each other. It is also used for intimidation and as a signal for alarm or excitement.
- The average mountain gorilla’s lifespan in the wild is 35 years.
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