The Mountain Gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Posted 23 Aug 2016, Author: Bwindi Independent Travel Portal (edited) tagged Bwindi,gorillas,nature,forest,Uganda,safari

The endangered and impressive Mountain Gorillas don’t live in any zoo across the planet, since they cannot survive in detention.These can only be found and seen in Africa, in just three countries including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.  

Mountain Gorillas weren’t known by the Western world until 1902.  In Rwanda, then a German colony, Captain von Berenge was mountaineering Mount Sabinyo on the side of Rwanda, together with his friends, and at 9300 foot-level where they camped, they spotted a group of Mountain Gorillas. He shot 2 of them although managed to retrieve just one. The victim was a young-male, approximately five years of age, of an average size of 220 pounds, however larger than all apes the Germans had ever seen.  The bones and the skin were later forwarded to Berlin and there it was acknowledged as a Mountain Gorilla.

Nobody had imagined that gorillas could stay in a higher and colder environment than West Africa.  The news of gorillas attracted hunters to the region, especially within Congo, where several Mountain Gorillas where shot and others captured.  Actually Prince Wilhelm from Sweden shot fourteen mountain gorillas in an expedition within this region done from 1920 to 1921!

The Belgians launched a Mountain Gorilla preservation program in Congo and later the English did it in also Uganda.  Within Uganda for several years no one was allowed to receive visitors to see these Mountain Gorillas.  Within Kisoro, Walter Baumgärtel was offered permission to establish visits for tourists to his beautiful Traveller’s Rest Inn, a facility where still today you can stay within Uganda.  Baumgärtel wrote an interesting Book “Up among the Mountain Gorillas” which actually is about his personal encounters with the tranquil giant apes in southern Uganda.  Dian Fossey herself lived there on a frequent basis, as well as George Schaller and many other renowned personalities.

bwindi water, gorilla trekking

The majority of gorillas, which you may have seen in a zoo, are the Lowlands Gorillas of Western Africa, whilst the Mountain Gorillas are actually a subspecies known as Gorilla Beringei Beringei. These can only be found  in the wilderness of the Virunga highlands of Rwanda within the Volcano Park found in Rwanda, the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park as well as Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, and the Virunga National Park found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These parks are found only 48 km from each other.  Within Uganda as well as Rwanda these parks can be accessed easily, while in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the rebel activities that happened, represent too much of a threat for tourism in the area.

There are more than 786 Mountain Gorillas in the whole world.  Uganda holds close to half of their total population, and the majority of them live in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, whereas the others are found in Mgahinga Gorilla Park - however these at times cross over to Rwanda.  Fortunately the gorillas are growing in numbers because of the protection they are offered from the government of Uganda which also included the efforts of the adjacent communities to the parks. Part of the fee of gorilla tracking permits paid by foreign visitors to Mgahinga as well as Bwindi is invested in projects that improve the living conditions of those communities.

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Mountain Gorilla Trekking, What do Gorillas look like ?

Usually the males are two times the size of the females. They may grow to 6 ft tall and weigh up to 350 to 500 pounds. These are strong, with long arms and muscular.  The males are referred to as the Silverbacks because, as they mature the hair on their back turns somewhat silver. The strength of the males is ten times higher compared to the strongest boxer (even on steroids!).  Silverbacks' arms span can stretch up to 7 feet.

Mountain Gorillas possess longer and more darker hair compared to their Lowland counterparts because they stay in colder climates and higher altitudes.  Their life span is between 40 and 50 years. They stay mainly on the ground. They will climb large trees on few occasions, whilst their young commonly play in the trees.

A fascinating fact is that gorillas and humans share 98% of their genetic composition.

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Mountain Gorillas behaviour

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which supports the hugest Population of Mountain Gorilla, is a ancient forest also called the “Place of Darkness.”  The tree cover makes it very dark within this forest. The forest’s altitudes are between 1,160m and 2,607m above sea level. 

gorilla feeding

Mgahinga Gorilla Park sits on higher altitudes, on an extinct volcanic range, and the Mountain Gorillas move up and feed on some of the afro-montane vegetation.  Typically Mountain Gorillas eat large quantities of flowers, leaves, fruit, roots, bamboo and shoots in season.  The adults can consume up to 75 pounds each day.

The day of a Mountain Gorilla starts at 6 am up to 6pm with a snooze around lunch time.  (Uganda receives light just past 6 am and darkness falls around 7pm.)

They move every day to different locations where they make nests using twigs plus leaves and spend their night.  Some people have found these reasonably comfortable, just enough to actually slumber in.

Visitors into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest frequently inquire if mountain gorillas are dangerous?  Although dominant and very strong, these are gentle as well as shy, and in addition the Mountain Gorillas which visitors see within Uganda have been habituated.  In other words they have become used to people, which process takes close to 2 years.  Dian Fossey actually was against the idea of visiting Mountain Gorillas such as it is done today, however it’s the money collected that ensures the survival of this endangered species, and has seen their number increase in recent years.

If Mountain Gorillas are threatened, they do attack, so as to protect their own.  When different Mountain Gorilla groups meet, there can be a fight to death between the leader Silverbacks.  Recently 2 Silverbacks fought within Democratic Republic of Congo and the rangers decided to intervene.

Mountain Gorillas exist in groups which differ in size from 2 – 30 or 40, and are found commonly in groups of 10.  There is no specific mating season and babies are born through the year.  The males begin breeding at around 15 years of age while the females start giving birth between 10 and 12.  Females can give birth every 2 to 3 years, giving birth to 4 to 6 offspring through their lifetime.

Males leave their group at about 11 years of age, while just over half of the females will leave their group.

Mountain Gorillas communicate through sounds like roars, grunts and shouts, and 25 sounds currently have been documented by researchers.

Gaia Conscious Travel has partnered with a Central Africa specialist to offer you the opportunity to visit these gentle giants in Uganda, in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.  An experienced guide will share invaluable pieces of knowledge on the beautiful country of Uganda and its marvellous people. Read more here.


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