Mountain Gorillas also known as Gorilla Beringei are one of Africa’s most famous and sought after wildlife species and meeting them is through two major tourist activities that is; Gorilla habituation experience in Bwindi only and Gorilla tracking safaris. However; Gorillas are of two species; The Western and Eastern Gorillas, each divided into two subspecies. The Western lowland and Cross River Gorillas are subspecies of the Western Gorillas while the Eastern Lowland and the Mountain Gorillas are subspecies of the Eastern Gorillas.
The Western species is found in Western Africa and part of Central Africa. The Western lowland subspecies can be found in wildlife sanctuaries (zoos) whereas the Cross River subspecies are found in Cameroon and Nigeria.
The Eastern species is found in a part of Eastern and Central Africa. The Eastern Lowland Gorilla subspecies inhabit the Eastern Congolese tropical forests whereas the Mountain Gorilla subspecies live in high altitude Afro-montane forests of two areas that is; the group found in the Virunga Massif; a geographical feature spreading across three countries and the subsequent areas where they are found in those countries are protected as National Parks; these parks are; the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, Rwanda’s Volcanos National Park and Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park.
The second group of the Mountain Gorillas is found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park of Uganda with almost half of the Mountain Gorilla individuals.
Gorillas are some of the world’s endangered species. The Western Lowland has the biggest population of the subspecies estimated to be over 100,000 and the Cross River being the least with nearly 300 individuals. Mountain Gorillas stand at a total of 1,063 individuals remaining in the wilds according to the December 2018 Mountain Gorilla census; with the Virunga Ranges having over 604 and Bwindi Impenetrable having 459 individuals.
The Mountain Gorilla
Mountain Gorillas with their counterparts fall under Primates and are the world’s largest of the Primates. They are members of the great Apes with others being the Chimpanzees, Bonobos and the Orangutans. Mountain Gorillas live in structured groups with defined home ranges. Groups range from 8-35 individuals composed of Silverbacks, young males (Black-backs), adult females and their offspring though some live as solitary individuals. The group is led by the dominant Silverback, they are called so because of a silver like patch that develops on their backs as they mature (at around the age of 12). The Silverback plays great role in the group such as; determining the family’s movements, feeding times and trips, resting/ nesting times and places and most importantly protecting its members and they can fight to death to ensure safety of their family.
The Mountain Gorillas spend most of their time on the ground looking for food and feeding, nesting and playing in their home range/territory unlike other primate that spend most time in trees. They mainly feed on tree shoots especially bamboo, leaves and fruits. They mainly inhabit the high altitudes of these parks where they are found and therefore meeting them during your Gorilla trekking Uganda Safari or Rwanda is a demanding but worth the time and effort stupendous adventurous challenge.
Conservation of Mountain Gorillas
There are more than 1000 Mountain Gorillas remaining in the wilds, this indicates a steady increase in the number of these endangered creatures and positive conservation efforts, thanks to Dian Fossey who lit the candle of this noble cause (conservation) and popularizing this through a movie Gorillas in the Mist.
Mountain Gorillas live in groups that are habituated, with other small wild or pre habituated groups that are available for the Gorilla Habituation Experience in Bwindi, a form of experiential tourism introduced to increase on visitor experience with the Mountain Gorilla. Gorilla Habituation is a process that is aimed at making these primates used to human presence. On the Gorilla habituation activity, researchers and habituators follow the Mountain Gorillas on their daily activity through the forest so as to get them used to human presence without altering their natural environment and behavior.
Visitors to Gorilla parks have an opportunity to participate in the Gorilla Habituation Experience that allows them more time to see and study the behavior of these Great Apes, this activity usually takes a full day where visitors follow researchers and habituators. On a Gorilla tracking safari, visitors are only allowed one hour in the presence of the Gorillas once they are located.
Since the Gorillas are highly sensitive and threatened by human borne diseases, on tracking visitors are requested to leave a space of 7 meters (21ft) from them to reduce the risk of contracting human diseases. Regulations and guidelines are in place to track the Mountain Gorillas to ensure sustainable conservation efforts. Be part of the conservation as proceedings from your permit are directed to this noble cause.
Mountain Gorilla Tracking is one of the most humbling and exciting experiences you can ever have on your Africa safari and a subsequent encounter with the gentle giants that were once human prey and now one of the world’s prestigious wildlife, is emotional and ranks as Africa’s premier wildlife encounter.
Mountain Gorilla families in Uganda and Rwanda.
There are a number of Mountain Gorilla families that you will be able to track on one of your Gorilla tracking safari in either Uganda or Rwanda;
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to 459 individual Mountain Gorillas with 50 groups and 13 solitary individuals according to December 2018 census results in Bwindi and Sarambwe reserve.
Bwindi has four sectors; Nkuringo with two groups that is, Nkuringo family with 19 members including 12 Silverbacks, as well as Bushaho which is available for Habituation Experiences. Ruhija sector has three families; Bitukura with 14members including 4 Silverbacks, Oruzogo has 25 including 2 Silverbacks and Kyaguriro with 14 members and it’s only for research.
Rushaga sector has five groups; Bweza with 12 members including 2 Silverbacks, Nshongi has 36 members with 5 Silverbacks, Busingye has 7 including 1Silverback, Kahungye with 13 individuals, Mishaya has 12 members with 1 Silverback as well as Bikingi group which is also available for Habituation Experiences for visitors. Buhoma sector has three families; Rushegura with 18 members including 1 Silverback, Habinyanja has 15 including 2 Silverbacks, and Mubare has 9 members with 1 Silverback.
Mgahinga National Park has one habituated trans-boundary Mountain Gorilla group the Nyakagezi with 10 members including 3 Silverback, the group crosses to the Volcanos National Park [PNV] in Rwanda and this therefore makes it hard to track. The group originated from Democratic Republic of Congo in Virunga National Park due to logging and deforestation activities in their habitat.
Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans [PNV] is home to 10 habituated Mountain Gorilla families available for the Gorilla tracking experience by visitors and one group only for scientific research purposes. The families include Susa (susaA) has 33 members with 2 Silverbacks, Karisimbi (susa B)-16 members including 2 Silverbacks, Amahoro has 18 members including 2 Silverbacks, Umubano has 13 individuals including 2 Silverbacks, Sabinyo-13 members with 1 Silverback, Kwitonda has 23 individuals including 4 Silverbacks, Agashya with 27 members including 1 Silverback, Hirwa-has16 with 1 Silverback, Ugenda-11 members with 2 Silverbacks and Bwenge-11 members with 1 Silverback.
This description gives you a picture of the Mountain Gorilla families in Uganda and Rwanda Gorilla reserves remember they are wild animals and therefore the group composition and numbers keep on changing due to a number of factors such as breakaway of members to join other groups, fights breakout between Silverbacks within the families for dominance which most times forces defeated ones to flee and form their own families among many other factors. The breakdown of the Mountain Gorilla families and population isn’t based on the 2018 Mountain Gorilla census results but past years.