Though there are several globally recognizable conservation initiatives established to protect mountain gorillas like Friend a Gorilla, they continue facing major threats from habitat loss and poaching. Brought to fame by the world class movie of the 1980s known as the “gorillas in the mist” a lot of attention and care is still needed in order to protect them in the wild.
Unlike the lowland gorillas which are in 100,000s, there are only about 880 mountain gorillas surviving in the world in only three countries in the world; Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. Mountain gorillas have longer hair and shorter arms and are larger than other gorillas. They can also climb trees just like others. Roughly, about only 880 mountain gorillas can be found alive on planet Earth and about 420 in Uganda, others can be tracked from the forests of the Virunga Mountains – central Africa, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Mountain gorillas often like to establish their habitats on green, volcanic slopes and in areas that have seen much human violence from which the gorillas have not escaped untouched. They often feed on tree roots, fruits, tree barks and pulp and other kind of vegetated diet.
They are socially structured in their way of life where they divide themselves into different groupings(troops) of about 30 members (comprising of young males, some females, and their offspring), each being led by a silver back, a dominant elder (most especially older male) uniquely identified by a lining of silver hair adorning the dark fur.
This silverback is responsible for organizing and supervising routine activities like eating, nesting in leaves, and moving about the group’s 2-to-40-square-kilometer home range. Since they are our close cousins, though gorillas are generally calm and non-aggressive, they also neither want to be challenged nor disturbed by other members from other groups. It is a role of the silverback to intimidate the enemies by frightening with impressive shows of physical power through standing upright, making aggressive charges, and pounding his huge chest with continuous powerful barks, hoots and roaring.
After a gestation period of 8 – 9 months, a female gorilla gives birth to a one two-kilogram-helpless-weak-tiny-infant only able to clutch to its mothers’ fur. It starts riding on its mothers’ back from age of 4 to 5 months till the age of 2 to 3 years where it is now able to walk a shorter distance that increases respectively to its age. Just like humans, gorillas at this stage are so playful, they chase themselves, climb trees not forgetting their funniest moment of swinging from tree branches.
In addition, through time gorillas have displayed significant intelligence recognized through continuous adaptation to simple human languages.
Where to find them
Mgahinga gorilla national park; it is a cultural heritage and part of a larger ecosystem of the Virunga conservation area including two more adjacent parks in both Rwanda and Congo. In Gahinga slopes can be found a swamp filled – crater of about 180m wide and Muhavura the highest peak of mount Mgahinga has a small crater lake about 36m wide at its summit The park can be accessed by road or air transport. Kisoro town at the foot of Mt Muhavura is about 540 km from Kampala and takes about 8 hours via Kabale on an excellent paved road surface. Public transport by bus is available on daily basis. Mgahinga is located 13 km from Kisoro town and can be accessed by public transport. Kisoro town can also be accessed by air by using the runway Airfield at Nyakabande.
Bwindi impenetrable forest; here is unique wildlife experience, biologically, the Bwindi impenetrable is one of Africa’s richest forests, owing to its great age (over 25000 years) and an altitudinal range that spans 1400 metres. Not only the forest’s star attraction the mountain gorilla, but also much more attractions can be seen here including about 350 birds, 310 buttterflies, 200 trees, 51 reptiles, 88 moths, and 120 mammals including several other primateslike chimpanzees, black and white colobus, blue monkeys , grey –cheeked mangabey, and L,Hoest’s monkey.
Bwindi has ten habituated gorilla groups, which are tracked from four trail heads. Eight permits are available for each group, giving a daily maximum of 48 permits. An addition gorilla group can be tracked on the Virunga volcanoes in the nearby Mgahinga gorilla national park. Tracking the mountain gorillas takes two to eight hours depending on the location of the group.
Bwindi can be reached from QENP in the North (2-3 hours), from Kabale to the South (1-2 hours), or from Kampala via Mbarara (6-8 hours). Roads meet at Butagota 17 km from the Buhoma entrance gate. A 4x4WD car is recommended if you are to travel through Bwindi most especially during the rain season.
Volcanoes National Park: This park is located in northern Rwanda and it is part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area. It is the best place to visit for gorilla trekking in Africa and a trip to this park ranges from day excursions to longer trips of various weeks. Gazetted in 1925 to protect the mountains together with the larger Virunga National Park, PNV is a safe haven for the mountain gorilla. There are ten habituated gorilla groups available for gorilla tracking to prospective tourists. The park also has eight volcanoes that makeup the Virunga Ranges.