Mountain Gorillas in Africa

Mountain Gorillas

Scientific Name:

Gorilla beringei ssp. beringei

Weight:

135 to 220 kilograms (300 to 485 pounds)

Size:

1 to 2 meters tall (4 to 6 feet)

Life span:

Generally unknown but data shows up to 40 to 50 years

Diet:

Herbivorous

What is a Mountain Gorilla?

The Mountain Gorilla is one of two subspecies of the eastern gorilla and one of the world's largest living primates. These apes have muscular arms, a massive chest, and broad hands and feet and they have longer hair and shorter arms than their lowland cousins. Their thick black hair helps insulate them from cold weather.

 

The fur of the mountain gorilla, often thicker and longer than that of other gorilla species, enables them to live in colder temperatures. Gorillas can be identified by nose prints unique to each individual. Males, at a mean weight of 195 kg (430 lb) and upright standing height of 150 cm (59 in), usually weigh twice as much as the females, at a mean of 100 kg (220 lb) and a height of 130 cm (51 in). This subspecies is smaller than the eastern lowland gorilla, the other subspecies of eastern gorilla. Adult males have more pronounced bony crests on the top and back of their skulls, giving their heads a more conical shape. These crests anchor the powerful temporalis muscles, which attach to the lower jaw (mandible). Adult females also have these crests, but they are less pronounced. Like all gorillas, they feature dark brown eyes framed by a black ring around the iris. Adult males are called silverbacks because a saddle of gray or silver-colored hair develops on their backs with age. The hair on their backs is shorter than on most other body parts, and their arm hair is especially long

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A Mountain Gorilla in a forest covering

Where do Mountain Gorillas Live?

Mountain gorillas only live in the dense vegetation of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and along the dormant volcanic Virunga mountain range that stretches across Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The mountain gorilla inhabits the Albertine Rift montane cloud forests and the Virunga Volcanoes, ranging in altitude from 2,200–4,300 metres (7,200–14,100 ft). Most are found on the slopes of three of the dormant volcanoes: Karisimbi, Mikeno, and Visoke. The vegetation is very dense at the bottom of the mountains, becoming more sparse at higher elevations, and the forests where the mountain gorilla lives are often cloudy, misty, and cold.

What are the Behaviours of Mountain Gorillas?

Mountain Gorillas are tremendously social and live in groups of two to 40 led by the silverback, a dominant male that is the chief leader and protector. The majority of males leave their biological groups around 11 years old. Some move alone and others travel with other males for a few years until they attract females to join them. The silverback leads the group to the best spot for feeding and resting throughout the year. Generally, conflicts are resolved through standoffs and intimidating behaviors meant to frighten intruders away without causing physical harm. However, almost 10 times stronger than the biggest American football players, a silverback protects its group from threats—even if it means sacrificing his own life.

A Mountain Gorrila sitting in a forest
8 Interesting Facts about Mountain Gorillas
  1. They live in two isolated groups; Mountain gorillas live in east-central Africa in just two isolated groups – one in the Virunga Volcanoes (a region spanning 3 national parks in Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)) and one in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, which connects to Sarambwe Nature Reserve, DRC. They’re found in high altitude montane and bamboo forests, which are surrounded by agriculture and settlements.
  2. We share around 98% of our DNA with gorillas; This means that exposure to human illnesses – even a cold - can have potentially detrimental impacts on gorillas as they are so genetically similar to us, but they haven't developed the necessary immunities.
  3. They’re one of the biggest, most powerful living primates; An average male mountain gorilla can weigh 180kg (that’s almost 30 stone), and measure 170cm (over 5’5”) tall.
  4. They can eat all day long; Mountain gorillas spend about a quarter of their day eating mainly leaves and shoots, but have also been known to eat snails, ants and bark (a good source of sodium).
  5. They cozy up at night; At night, mountain gorilla groups sleep together in nests on the ground, or in trees, that they make from foliage. Infants will share their mother’s nests, staying safe and warm.
  6. They have 16 different types of call; This includes short barks when they’re mildly alarmed or curious. To intimidate rivals, male gorillas strut with stiff legs, beat their chests, and use vocalisations like roars or hoots.
  7. They live in family groups; Most mountain gorillas live in stable family groups of around 10 individuals, with one dominant male and several females. Both males and females in the group care for their infants; hugging, carrying and playing with them. When they get older, most males and around 60% of females then leave their birth group to join another troop. This helps prevent inbreeding.
  8. Gorillas can live to over 40 years old; 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'.

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