Frequently asked gorilla questions
Frequently asked gorilla questions : Do you want to go for gorilla trekking but still have some questions about this great experience? Well, find most of your answers below. The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of the two subspecies of the eastern gorilla. It is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are two populations; one is found in the Virunga volcanic mountains; within three National Parks: Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda, in north-west Rwanda and Virunga in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The other is found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park.
The fur of the mountain gorilla is often thicker and longer than that of other gorilla species which enables them to live in colder temperatures. Adult males are called silverbacks because of a saddle of gray or silver-colored hair which develops on their backs with age. The hair on their backs is shorter than on most other body parts and their arm hair long. Gorillas can be identified by nose prints unique to each individual. Males have a weight of 195 kg (430 lb) upright standing with a height of 150 cm and usually weigh twice as much as the females. Adult males have more pronounced bony crests on the top and back of their skulls, giving their heads a more conical shape.
The mountain gorilla is most active between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm. Many of these hours are spent eating as large quantities of food are needed to sustain its massive bulk. It forages in early morning, rests during the late morning and around midday and in the afternoon it forages again before resting at night. Each gorilla builds a nest from surrounding vegetation to sleep in and constructing a new one every evening. Only infants sleep in the same nest as their mothers. Gorillas leave their sleeping sites when the sun rises at around 6 am, except when it is cold and overcast; then they often stay longer in their nests. Like all great apes other than humans, its arms are longer than its legs. It moves by knuckle-walking (like the common chimpanzee), supporting its weight on the backs of its curved fingers rather than its palms.
Habitat and ecology
The mountain gorilla inhabits the Albertine Rift montane cloud forests and of the Virunga volcanoes. The vegetation is very dense at the bottom of the mountains, becoming sparser at higher elevations, and the forests where the mountain gorilla lives are often cloudy, misty and cold. The mountain gorilla spends most of its time in the Hagenia forests, where gallium vines are found year-round. All parts of this vine are consumed; leaves, stems, flowers, and berries. It travels to the bamboo forests during the few months of the year when fresh shoots are available and it climbs into subalpine regions to eat the soft centers of giant senecio trees. The mountain gorilla is primarily herbivore; the majority of its diet is composed of the leaves, shoots and stems. It also feeds on roots (3.3%), flowers (2.3%), and fruit (1.7%), as well as small invertebrates (0.1%). Adult males can eat up to 34 kilograms (75 lb) of vegetation a day, while a female can eat as much as 18 kilograms (40 lb).
The mountain gorilla is highly social and lives in relatively stable, cohesive groups held together by long-term bonds between adult males and females. The dominant silverback generally determines the movements of the group, leading it to appropriate feeding sites throughout the year. He also mediates conflicts within the group and protects it from external threats. When the group is attacked by humans, leopards, or other gorillas, the silverback will protect them even at the cost of his own life. He is the center of attention during rest sessions and young gorillas frequently stay close to him and include him in their games. If a mother dies or leaves the group, the silverback is usually the one who looks after her abandoned offspring, even allowing them to sleep in his nest. When the silverback dies or is killed by disease, accident, or poachers, the family group may be disrupted. Unless there is an accepted male descendant capable of taking over his position, the group will either split up or adopt an unrelated male. When a new silverback joins the family group, he may kill all of the infants of the dead silverback.
A typical group contains: one dominant silverback, who is the group’s undisputed leader; another subordinate silverback (usually a younger brother, half-brother, or even an adult son of the dominant silverback), one or two black backs who act as sentries; three to four sexually mature females who are ordinarily bonded to the dominant silverback for life and from three to six juveniles and infants.
Males leave when they are about 11 years old and often the separation process is slow; they spend more and more time on the edge of the group until they leave altogether. They may travel alone or with an all-male group for 2–5 years before they can attract females to join them and form a new group. Females typically emigrate when they are about 8 years old, either transferring directly to an established group or beginning a new one with a lone male. Females often transfer to a new group several times before they settle down with a certain silverback male.
The midday rest period is an important time for establishing and reinforcing relationships within the group. Mutual grooming reinforces social bonds and helps keep hair free from dirt and parasites. Young gorillas play often and this helps them learn how to communicate and behave within the group. Activities include wrestling, chasing, and somersaults. The silverback and his females tolerate and even participate if encouraged.
For reasons unknown, mountain gorillas that have been studied appear to be naturally afraid of certain reptiles and insects. They are also afraid of water and will cross streams only if they can do so without getting wet, such as crossing over fallen logs.
Sounds classified as grunts and barks are heard most frequently while traveling and indicate the whereabouts of individual group members. They may also be used during social interactions when discipline is required. Screams and roars are used for alarm or warning and are produced most often by silverbacks.
Although strong and powerful, the mountain gorillas are generally gentle and very shy. Severe aggression is rare in stable groups but when two mountain gorilla groups meet, the two silverbacks can sometimes engage in a fight to death, using their canines to cause deep gaping injuries. For this reason, conflicts are most often resolved by displays and other threat behaviors that are intended to intimidate without becoming physical.
Conservation efforts have led to an increase in overall population of the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) in the Virungas and at Bwindi. In both Bwindi and the Virungas, groups of gorillas that were habituated for research and ecotourism have higher growth rates than unhabituated gorillas. Habituation means that through repeated, neutral contact with humans, gorillas exhibit normal behavior when people are in proximity. Habituated gorillas are more closely guarded by field staff and they receive veterinary treatment for snares, respiratory disease and other life-threatening conditions. Nonetheless, researchers recommended that some gorillas remain unhabituated as a bet-hedging strategy against the risk of human pathogens being transmitted throughout the population. Despite their recent population growth, the mountain gorilla remains threatened. As of 2008, mountain gorillas were listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and are dependent on conservation efforts to survive.
This is one of the most severe threats to gorilla populations. The forests where mountain gorillas live are surrounded by rapidly increasing human settlement which leads to the reduction of the genetic diversity for each group. Through shifting (slash-and-burn) agriculture, pastoral expansion and logging, villages in forest zones cause fragmentation and degradation of habitat. The resulting deforestation confines the gorillas to isolated deserts. The impact of habitat loss extends beyond the reduction of suitable living space for gorillas.
Mountain gorillas are not usually hunted for bush meat but they are frequently killed by traps and snares intended for other animals. They have also been killed for their heads, hands, and feet, which are sold to collectors. Infants are sold to zoos, researchers, and people who want them as pets. The abduction of infants generally involves the loss of at least one adult, as members of a group will fight to the death to protect their young
Despite the protection garnered from being located in national parks, the mountain gorilla is also at risk from people of a more well-meaning nature. Groups subjected to regular visits from tourists and locals are at a continued risk of disease cross-transmission, this is in spite of attempts to enforce a rule that humans and gorillas be separated by a distance of 7 metres at all times to prevent this. With a similar genetic makeup to humans and an immune system that has not evolved to cope with human disease, this poses a serious conservation threat.