Gorillas are ground dwelling giant apes (herbivorous) and occupy the forests of central Sub- Saharan Africa. Gorillas are divided into two subspecies that is the Mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) and Lowland gorillas (Beringei grauri) but both are listed as critically endangered by IUCN.
Rwanda and Uganda gorilla subspecies are the Eastern gorillas that predominantly live in Mountains and are referred to as the “Mountain gorillas,” the Democratic Republic of Congo has got both subspecies that are the “Lowland gorillas and the Mountain gorillas.”
Gorillas are the largest living primates and their DNA is highly similar to that of the Humans, from 95-99% depending on what is counted and they’re closest relatives to humans after the Chimpanzees and Bonobos. An average gorilla can weigh up to 160kg (Eastern gorilla) and have a lifespan of 35 – 40 years of age, the Mountain gorillas inhabit the Albertine rift montane cloud forests of the Virunga Volcanoes (lies the Volcano National Park home of Mountain gorillas in Rwanda), ranging in the altitude from 2,200 – 4,300 metres (7,200 – 14,100 ft).
The fur of the Mountain gorillas is always thicker and longer compared to that of the “Lowland gorillas” (Gorilla Grauri) which is as a result of adaptation to colder climatic conditions. Gorillas can be identified by nose print differences from each individual in every habituated gorilla family.
Gorillas have dark brown eyes rounded by a black ring around the Iris, the adult dominant males are called “Silverbacks” because of a Saddle of gray or silver-colored develops at their backs with age, the hair on their backs is shorter than on any other body parts and fur on the arms is always long.
Mountain gorillas are “terrestrial and quadrupedal” but can however, climb on trees for ripe fruits if the branches carry its weight, the gorillas are “Diurnal” and are active from 6:00am to 6:00pm, and many of these hours are spent feeding.
They feed in early morning and rests during late morning and around mid day, and in the afternoon it feeds before resting in the night, each gorilla builds a nest from the surrounding vegetation before it sleeps.
The Virunga Mountains in Central Africa has got three national parks which inhabit some of the Mountain gorillas with the following neighboring parks that include the Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the other existing Gorilla population is found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. In June/2018, Gorilla count statistics showed that the gorillas had increased in population to over 1000 primates in all the above mentioned gorilla parks.
The most dominant ones are on the slopes of three dormant volcanoes that is Karisimbi and Visoke in Volcanoes national park in Rwanda and Mikeno in the Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mountain gorillas were studied by the famous American primatologists who did extensive research about the great apes in their natural habitats; Dian Fossey did her research from the Karisoke Research Centre in Volcano national park in Rwanda and by 1974, she had habituated a good number of gorilla families in the mountains, her other counterpart was known as George Schaller who based his research in Mikeno in the Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Below are some the habituated gorilla families/groups in the following Mountain gorilla parks in Africa Volcaones national park; Susa group, Karisimbi group, Sabinyo gorilla group, Amahoro gorilla group, Umubano gorilla group, 13 group also known as Agasha group, Kwitonda group, Hirwa group (meaning the “Lucky one”), Bwenge group, Ugenda group, and lastly is the Isimbi gorilla group.
The ceremony of welcoming and naming of baby gorillas is called “Kwita Izina” and normally done in June of every year, this activity is also part of Rwanda’s selling tourist attractions.
Bwindi national park has 8 habituated gorilla families with two subdivisions that is the southern part of the park and the northern part of the park. The southern part has 3 families comprising of Nshongi group, Nkuringo group, Mishaya group whereas the northern part of the park has Bitukura group, Oruzogo group, Mubare group, Habinyanja group and Rushegura group.
Mgahinga national park has only got one habituated group comprising of 9 members with 3 silverbacks. This is a migratory group which crosses borders between Uganda and Rwanda thus making it difficult to track this group. Virunga national park was closed down by the Congolese authorities until 2019.
Note: Endeavor to book for your gorilla tracking permits to avoid last minutes disappointments, at least you should book for a gorilla permit 3 – 4 months earlier or even 6 months earlier to enjoy a memorable gorilla experience in the Virunga Mountains. You have to keep fit, a month earlier physical exercise helps in keeping the body fit and ready for hiking mountains high in the search of the gigantic primates.