One of my greatest thrills and most humbling experience in life were seeing in the wild Mountain Gorillas. In 2008 I had the opportunity to visit Uganda and would never have believed that I would be lucky enough to have the actual experience of meeting these truly magnificent animals in their natural habitat and even more remarkably that they accepted so readily in their domain humans, an intruder.
Everyone who has encountered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat has experienced this; after trekking for hours through the humid, steep mountain rainforest struggling for ever upwards along muddy tracks through the entanglement of bamboo, stinging thickets and the great forest of trees dripping from the mist and rain with the nerves tingling, excitement growing by the minute as you are getting nearer to the gorillas. Trackers go on ahead and with their knowledge of the country they always seemed to know where the gorillas were in the endless jungle landscape. Then suddenly you hear grunts and snorts from the dense bamboo undergrowth just a few metres away, then comes the powerful drumming sound of a mighty silverback pounding his chest. It is an impressive sight that will immediately command respect for the incredible strength of these great apes. On coming across our first Gorilla our excitement could hardly be contained. Indeed we were just within a few hundred feet of the animals when we suddenly saw a mature female and her baby looking at us from the undergrowth. We sat down and were told to remain perfectly still and for the next hour or so watched her and the rest of the troop playing and snacking. These wonderful animals accepted us as though we were part of their environment, it was their world but they were sharing it with us. With no warning whatsoever suddenly up ahead a huge silverback came crashing out of the undergrowth and slowly made its way towards us, we were told no eye contact, remain still and he will in all probability pass. This to our relieve he did and without even a sideways glance towards us wandered on all fours into the thicket to our right laid down and snoozed. The sightings of this truly wonderful animal and the beauty and gentleness shown will remain with me forever.
Gorillas live in East, Central and West Africa and divided into three subspecies the mountain gorilla, western lowland gorilla and eastern lowland gorilla. Mountain gorillas differ from their more numerous lowland relatives and that they are larger, have longer blacker hair and higher head crests. They are highly endangered with a population of about six hundred. There are no mountain gorillas in captivity as they do not survive for more than a few months when removed from their mountain home. Main concentration of the Mountain Gorilla is centered on the Uganda , Rwanda and Congo borders in the Virunga Mountains . ‘Virunga’ means isolated mountains which reach the clouds, so mist and rain are frequent and constant occurrences in these forests. The longer hair of the mountain gorillas is probably an adaptation to the cool temperatures at higher altitudes.
Gorillas are social animals and live in close family groups of between five and forty members. Most groups are led by an adult male who has a silver back which develops with maturity. A silver back male can weigh in excess of two hundred kilograms and stand nearly two metre tall, twice the size of a female gorillas three times the weight of an average person. There can be more than one silverback in a group, but only one will be leader. In the absence of a silverback, family ties break down and individuals wander off to join neighbouring groups.Gorillas are herbivorous living on a diet of bamboo, roots, shoots, leaves, berries, fruit and wild celery, and have to consume huge quantities of vegetation to sustain their enormous frames. Their reproductive rate is slow with females conceiving for the first time at about none years of age. After gestation of nearly nine months a tiny infant is born which is entirely dependent on its mother for the first two years, after which it gradually obtains in dependence. The mother will only breed again after about four years. They can live up to fifty years and like humans each gorilla has distinctive fingerprints and can also be identified by their nose patterns.