Mountain Gorilla Mania *Video*
There are only 790 mountain gorillas worldwide and they are only found in 2 places:
- Virunga Volcanic Mountains of Central Africa, straddling the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo.
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in western Uganda.
I went to Bwindi, where they only allow 64 visitors to enter the park each day, and they charge each person $500 for a permit (which must be secured in advance).
Each morning, trackers set out to find the gorillas, which move about the park feeding. Sometimes the gorillas are close to the starting point, sometimes not. Our hike was one of the longer ones – about 4 ½ hours in – and harder, the gorillas were up several very steep mountains.
The trackers had to cut a trail for us with their machetes. And the climbing was hard. I mean, this is truly the jungle. Within an hour I ripped my pants while lifting my leg up over a log and had to tie my rain jacket around the waist for a modicum of modesty.
There are several rules about spending time with gorillas. You must stay at least 7 meters away and you can’t visit for more than 1 hour. We were tracking the Nshongi family, which has 23 members, including 4 silverbacks (1 of which – named appropriately enough Nshongi — is the most dominant) and 5 juveniles.
When we finally found our gorillas it was amazing! They were so close and very calm within our presence. Just check out this video of one of the adults munching on lunch:
Can’t view the video? Click this link: Gorilla Having Lunch – http://youtu.be/B6hW7K8lQ8A
Fun Ape Facts
Physically, gorillas are a pretty impressive species. Males usually weigh twice as much as the females, weighing in at nearly 500 lbs. Males can be as tall at 6’3” and can have an arm span of more than 7 feet.
Gorillas can be identified by their nose prints (the area right above their nostrils) that are unique to each individual. Gorillas have dark brown eyes framed by a black ring around the iris. Maybe that’s why it’s so intense when they’re looking right at you. It’s like they really see you.
• Eating: Gorillas feast on 142 different kinds of plants species, as well as worms and grubs, eating as much as 75 lbs a day. Scientists think gorillas might get slightly intoxicated when eating bamboo leaves.
• Sleeping: Gorillas build nests each night to sleep in and infants sleep in the same nests as their mothers.
• Talking: Gorillas have 25 distinct vocalizations that they use to communication with one another, usually in the form of grunts and barks. They communicate both warnings, as well as contentment. Very Cool!
• Water: Mountain gorillas don’t like to get wet, which is a bummer for them since they live in the rainforest. They will avoid streams and only cross if they can stay out of the water.
Protecting the Gorillas
As an endangered species, we need to protect the gorillas from a number of threats, including:
Loss of Habitat – Mainly due to over-harvesting in the forest and pollution. Human population growth is also encroaching on the gorillas’ native habitat as the subsistence farmers in the area surrounding the national parks want the land for planting.
In fact, some gorilla families are becoming isolated as their territories are being divided and signs of in-breeding are starting to appear. War and civil unrest in the park area also contributing factors.
Poaching – Not so much for bushmeat (thankfully), but more as a result of gorillas getting caught in the snares meant for other animals.
There is still a black market for live gorillas which are worth between $1,000-$5,000 to zoos and as pets. A Malaysian zoon apparently just “found” five gorillas for their wildlife park.
Disease – Tourists (like us) bring our germs within close contact with the gorillas (although park rangers can deny anyone with a cold or other symptoms from entering the park). It’s thought that 20% of mountain gorilla deaths are due to contracting a human disease.
Mountain Gorilla Mania
Hanging with the gorillas for a precious hour in their native habitat is an incredible experience! Seeing them – really seeing their faces – is intense. When they look at you, there is no doubt that we’re related to them.
I never thought I’d see the gorillas and now that I’ have, I can’t believe I hadn’t done it before. I encourage y’all to get there if you can (it is far away!).
A special moment with a mountain gorilla is a special moment that can’t be repeated anywhere else. The jungle is waiting!
This entry was posted on Thursday, November 10th, 2011 and is filed under Africa.