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The Mountain Gorilla Facts You Need To Know

The Mountain Gorilla Facts
Home | Gorilla Facts | The Mountain Gorilla Facts You Need To Know

The Mountain Gorilla Facts

Discover the Mountain Gorilla facts that are good to know as you plan your Uganda gorilla safari or a Rwanda gorilla trekking tour. There are 2 species of gorillas on Earth: the western gorilla and the eastern gorilla.

The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is a subspecies of the eastern gorilla. Mountain Gorillas are the iconic apes that often are portrayed in ÔÇ£King KongÔÇØ movies as savage and fierce beasts. On the contrary, they are gentle, peaceful, and shy primates yet big and so powerful.

Tourists have a once in a lifetime chance to see up close these gentle giants in their natural habitat through gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda.

Interesting Facts About Mountain Gorillas

1. About 1063 Mountain Gorillas Are Left on Earth

Mountain gorillas are endangered (facing a very high risk of extinction) but their population is currently increasing. There are an estimated 1,063 in the wild according to the last 2018 census, up from few than 900 individuals in 2010.

This increase is mainly because of the co-operation from communities that live near mountain gorillas, NGOs that operate on the ground, and tourists, who pay money for the privilege of trekking to see these rare rainforest giants.

The Mountain Gorilla Facts

2. Mountain Gorillas Cannot Survive in Zoos

Unlike other gorilla sub-species, mountain gorillas can’t survive in zoos.

The only way to see them is by trekking up to their natural habitat: misty cloud forests that can reach altitudes of 4,507m (14,787 ft). In the 1960s and 1970s, several attempts were made to capture live mountain gorillas and establish a captive population.

Many adults were killed to get live babies, none of which survived in captivity. The reason why they failed to survive is not clear, since lowland gorillas have been kept successfully in captivity. Maybe their dietary needs are more specific.

3. They Live in Just 3 African Countries

Mountain gorillas only live in 3 African countries; Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They live nowhere else on Earth. These endangered giants live in two isolated populations.

An estimated 604 individuals in the Virunga volcanic mountains ÔÇô which include Volcanoes National Park in northwest Rwanda, Virunga National Park in the eastern DR Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in southwest Uganda. The other population of about 459 individuals is found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda.

4. Gorillas Are Our Some of Closest Living Relatives

The DNA of Gorillas is highly similar to that of human beings, from 95 to 99% depending on what is included. They are the next closest living relatives to us after chimpanzees and bonobos.

This implies that exposure to human infectionsÔÇô even a cold – can have potentially harmful impacts on gorillas, but they have not developed the necessary immunities. ThatÔÇÖs why you are not allowed to trek gorillas when you are ill or sick.

5. Gorillas Are the Biggest, Strongest Living Primates

A silverback gorilla (a mature male mountain gorilla) can weigh up to 220 kg. It also has about 9 times the strength of a human man and can bite more forcefully than an African lion.

Read More: Silverback Gorilla Strength

6. Mountain Gorillas Are Very Gentle

Despite their size, strength, and the common stereotype (from King Kong movies), mountain gorillas are one of the gentlest and most peaceful creatures you will ever encounter. They live in calm and organized families and rarely attack unless threatened. Gorilla charging is very rare.

Even when agitated, mountain gorillas will first attempt to communicate their displeasure to an intruder through displays and other threatening behaviors without becoming physical.

Read More: Is Gorilla Trekking Safe

7. Mountain Gorillas DonÔÇÖt Eat Meat

Mountain gorillas are primarily herbivorous creatures. They spend most of their lives peacefully foraging for plants to eat. Their diet consists of mainly leaves, shoots, and stems of 142 plant species. They also feed on bark, roots, flowers, fruit, and occasionally small insects.

8. They Can Eat All Day Long

Mountain gorillas spend about a quarter of their day eating.  In a yearlong study in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda, adult males ate an average of 18.8 kg of food a day, while females ate 14.9 kg.

Read More: What Do Gorillas Eat

9. Mountain Gorillas Live In Families

Gorillas are highly social creatures, living in stable families of between 5 to 30 members. Both males and females in the family care for their infants; hugging, carrying and playing with them. 

When they get older, around 60% of females and most males then depart their birth family to join another family. This helps avoid inbreeding.

Many of the mountain gorilla families in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo have been habituated for gorilla trekking adventures and are known by names.

Uganda has 21 habituated gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and 1 habituated family. Rwanda has 12 habituated gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park and Congo has 10 families in Virunga National Park.

10. A Gorilla Family Is Led By One Dominant Male

The gorilla family is led by one strong dominant male called Silverback.

A silverback is typically over 12 years of age. He is named for the distinctive patch of silvery gray hair on his back, which comes with maturity.

The silverback makes all the decisions, mediating conflicts, determining the movements of the family, leading the others to feeding sites, and taking responsibility for the well-being of the family. He protects the family to the death if attacked by humans, leopards or other silverbacks.

Younger males subordinate to the silverback, known as blackbacks, may serve as backup protection. Blackbacks are aged between 8 and 12 years and lack silver-back hair.

11. There Can Be More Than One Silverback In A Family

Though each gorilla family has a dominant silverback, 40% of the groups have other silverbacks.

When this occurs, a hierarchy is established among the silverbacks with the dominant male being the absolute leader.  Male gorillas do not always leave the group like females.

They will stay with the group and remain subordinate to the alpha male (who is often their father or brother) hoping to inherit power. A few will decide to leave the family and stay on their own or attempt to attract females away from larger groups to start their own families.

In a situation where there are several males in a group, all of them share the responsibility of protecting the group. The dominant silverback sires most of the offspring but the subordinates will have a few of their own.

12. Gorillas Are Highly Intelligent, Curious Creatures

Like the other great apes, gorillas can laugh, grieve, have “rich emotional lives”, develop strong family bonds, and make and use tools.

Some researchers believe gorillas have spiritual feelings or religious sentiments. They have been shown to have cultures in different areas revolving around different methods of food preparation and will show individual colour preferences.

TheyÔÇÖre also intensely curious creatures. During your gorilla trekking adventure, you might even be lucky enough to witness firsthand if an inquisitive mountain gorilla youngster tries to venture close to your viewing group.

For the safety of the mountain gorillas and yours, the gorilla trekking rules require you to keep a distance of about 7m from the gorillas.

13. Mountain Gorillas Sleep In Nests    

Gorillas construct nests for night use. Gorilla nests tend to be simple aggregations of branches and leaves and are constructed by individuals.

Gorillas, unlike chimpanzees, tend to sleep in nests on the ground. The baby gorillas nest with their mothers, but construct nests after three years of age, initially close to those of their mothers.

Nest-building by great apes is now considered to be not just animal architecture, but as an important instance of tool use.

Gorillas make a new nest to sleep on daily and do not use the previous one. This is even if remaining in the same place. Usually, they are made an hour before dusk, to be ready to sleep when night falls.

14. Gorillas Have 25 Distinct Vocalizations

Gorillas have 25 different recognized vocalizations.

Many of them are used primarily for family communication within dense vegetation. Sounds classified as grunts and barks are heard most frequently while traveling, and indicate the whereabouts of individual group members.

They also may be used during social interactions when discipline is required. Screams and roars signal alarms or warnings and are produced most often by silverbacks.

Deep, rumbling belches suggest contentment and are heard frequently during feeding and resting periods. They are the most common form of intragroup communication.

15. Mountain Gorillas Are Primarily Terrestrial

The mountain gorilla is primarily terrestrial (ground-dwelling ape). However, they can climb into fruiting trees if the branches can carry their weight.

16. They Move By Knuckle-Walking

Gorillas are quadrupeds, which means that they use both their hands and feet to walk. More specifically, they use a form of locomotion called knuckle-walking, meaning they walk on the top of their knuckles as opposed to putting all their weight on their palms.

17. Sometimes They Walk Bipedally Too!

While gorillas almost exclusively walk quadrupedally, you may occasionally see them walk on two legs, or bipedally. Bipedal walking is seen most commonly in juveniles during play, carrying someoneÔÇÖs infant, or when theyÔÇÖre curious about something in the distance. Adults may run bipedally for a few steps during a display, but bipedalism is rarely seen otherwise.

18. Mountain Gorillas Have Longer Arms.

The arms of gorillas are longer than their legs. This is why they usually walk on all fours.

19. They Have Longer, Thicker Hair.

The fur of the mountain gorilla are often thicker and longer than that of other gorilla species. This enables them to live in colder high-altitude temperatures.

21. Mountain Gorillas Features Unique Nose Prints.

Humans have unique fingerprints. Similarly, no two gorillas have the same nose print! Researchers who study wild gorillas use photos of nose prints to identify individuals. This allows them to keep track of individual gorillas throughout their lifetimes.

22. Female Give Birth To One Infant After A Pregnancy Of 9 Months.

Unlike their powerful parents, newborns are tinyÔÇöweighing four poundsÔÇöand able only to cling to their mothers’ fur. These infants ride on their mothers’ backs from the age of four months through the first two or three years of their lives.

Young gorillas, from three to six years old, remind human observers of children. Much of their day is spent in play, climbing trees, chasing one another, and swinging from branches.

23. Gorillas Can Live To Over 40 Years Old In The Wild

Gorillas are classed as infants until they reach around three-and-a-half years old, and adults from around 8 years.  Males between 8-12 years are called ‘blackbacks’. Then from 12 years old, they develop a silver section of hair over their back and hips, earning them the name ‘silverback’. 

24. Gorillas Have Few Natural Predators

One possible predator of gorillas is the leopard. Gorilla remains have been found in leopard scat, but this may be the result of scavenging. When the group is attacked by humans, leopards, or other gorillas, an individual silverback will protect the group, even at the cost of his own life.

25. They Are Under Threat

The main threat to mountain gorillas is the degradation of their habitat. As the regionÔÇÖs population grows, the land is increasingly converted for agriculture and competition for limited natural resources leads to deforestation.

With little other choice, people enter mountain gorilla forests to collect water and firewood, putting gorillas at risk of human contact and illnesses. People may also lay snares intended for bushmeat, which can accidentally injure the great apes.

26. Gorilla Safaris Are Expensive But Worth It

A gorilla permit costs $1500 in Rwanda, $700 in Uganda, and $400 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. If you are interested in the gorilla habituation experience, you can do this in Bwindi impenetrable forest at $1500 per permit. The gorilla habituation experience allows you more time (four hours) with the gorillas than in normal gorilla trekking.

Read More: Uganda gorilla permit

Frequently Asked Questions

What is so special about mountain gorillas?

As their name implies, mountain gorillas live in forests high in the mountains, at elevations of 8,000 to 13,000 feet. They have thicker fur, and more of it, compared to other great apes. The fur helps them to survive in a habitat where temperatures often drop below freezing.

Why do gorillas beat their chest?

The emanating drumming sound can be heard over one kilometer away. The presumed function of gorilla chest beats is to attract females and intimidate rival males.

Why are mountain gorillas endangered?

The biggest threats to this once critically endangered great ape’s survival comes from political instability, human encroachment, and forest degradation.

What are some unique behaviors of gorillas?

They are unaggressive and even shy unless provoked. They are calmer and more persistent than chimpanzees; though not as adaptable, gorillas are highly intelligent and capable of problem-solving. Both species are hunted for their body parts and meat, and their habitat is disappearing.

Only about 1,000 of these great apes remain in the wild, according to the most recent census.