Bwindi is home to about 480 mountain gorillas, almost a half of the world population of the total population of the mountain gorillas. Bwindi is the backbone of gorilla tourism given that the park has 14 gorilla groups habitauted for tourism and research.
Coming face to face with mountain gorillas is one of life’s great experiences. No bars, no windows, you are a humble guest in their domain. Nothing quite prepares you for the moment when you come upon a gorilla family in the wild; the first glimpse of black as a juvenile jumps off a near by branch, a toddler clings to its mother’s back and a giant silver back rises to size you up. There are thought to be around 1000 mountain gorillas left in the world, all in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Region.
Interesting Facts About Mountain Gorillas
Gorillas are the largest of the great apes and share 97% of their biological make up with human beings. Gorillas used to inhabit a swathe of land that cut right across central Africa, but the ice age diminished the forests and divided them into three groups; the western lowland gorilla, the eastern lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla. Mountain gorillas are now found only in two small populations in the forests of Bwindi impenetrable national park (about 330 individuals) in Uganda and on slopes of the virunga volcanoes (around 380), encompassing Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Rwanda’s Parc National des volcans and DRC’s Parc National de Virungas.
Mountain gorillas are distinguished from their low land relatives by longer hair, broader chests and wider jaws. Some experts even go so far as to suggest that the Bwindi gorillas are a distinct subspecies from the virunga gorillas. The most obvious thing that sets the gorillas in Bwindi apart from those of the virungas is that they are less shaggy, most likely due to lower altitude.
Gorillas spend 30% of their day feeding, 30% moving on foraging and the remainder resting. They spend most of their time on the ground, moving around on all fours, but stand up to reach for food. Gorillas are vegetarians and their diet consists of mainly bamboo shoots, giant thistles and wild celery, all of which contain water and allow the gorillas to survive without drinking for long periods of time. Insects are sometimes a source of protein. A silverback can eat his way through more than 30kg of a bamboo a day.
A group’s dominant silverback dictates movements for the day, and at night each gorilla makes its own nest. Gorillas usually travel about 1km a day, unless they have met another group in which case they may move further.
Gorillas generally live in family groups of varying sizes, usually including one to two older silverback males, younger black back males, females and infants. Most groups contain between 10 and 15 gorillas but they can exceed 40.
There are strong bonds between individuals and status is usually linked to age. Silver backs are at the top of the hierarchy, then females with infants or ties to the silverbacks, then black backs and other females.
Most gorillas leave the group when they reach maturity, which helps prevent interbreeding among such a small population.
Gorillas are relatively placid primates and serious confrontations are rare, although violence can flare if there’s a challenge for supremacy between silver backs. Conflicts are mostly kept to shows of strength and vocal disputes.
Conflict between groups is also uncommon, as gorillas aren’t territorial; though if two groups meet, there’s usually lots of display and bravado on the part of silverbacks, including mock charges. Often the whole group joins in and it’s at this point that young adult females may choose to switch allegiance.
If gorillas do fight, injuries can be very serious as these animals have long canine teeth and silverbacks pack a punch estimated at eight times stronger than a heavyweight boxer. If a dominant male is driven from a group by another silverback, it’s likely the new leader will kill all the young infants to establish his mating rights.