Did you know that gorillas and humans share 98% of the same genetic material?
What do Mountain Gorillas look like?
Male Mountain Gorillas may grow to six feet tall and weigh between 350 and 500 pounds. As the males mature, the hair on their back turns silver in colour, giving them the name Silverbacks. An adult male gorilla may be ten times stronger than the strongest human. A Silverback’s arms can stretch 7 feet wide.
Mountain Gorillas communicate through sounds like roars, grunts and shouts.
Adults can consume up to 75 pounds of flowers, leaves, bamboo, fruit, roots and shoots every day as they move around the forest.
When were mountain gorillas first identified by man?
It was only in 1902 that the Western world became aware of the Mountain Gorilla. (I’d love to know more about local gorilla-related beliefs and knowledge).
Back in the day, German Explorer Captain von Berenge was climbing the Rwanda side of Mount Sabyinyo when he and his friends spotted a group of mountain gorillas. They shot two of them. They retrieved one of the bodies, a young male gorilla of approximately five years of age. It was bigger than any ape the Germans had ever seen before. Some of the animal’s remains were sent to Europe for analysis, where they were identified as a new species, distinct from the Lowland Gorillas* of West Africa. This subspecies became known as Gorilla beringei beringei.￼
The news of a new species attracted hunters to Rwanda. In the heyday of Mountain Gorilla hunting, Sweden’s Prince Wilhelm is reported to have shot fourteen Mountain Gorillas (1920-1921).
According to Wikipedia, “in 1921, eager to learn about gorillas to determine if killing them for museums was justified, Explorers Club former President Carl Akeley led an expedition to Mt. Mikeno in the Virunga Mountains at the edge of the then Belgian Congo. In the process of “collecting” several Mountain Gorillas [for zoos], Akeley’s attitude was fundamentally changed and for the remainder of his life he worked for the establishment of a gorilla preserve. In 1925, greatly influenced by Akeley, King Albert I of Belgium established what we now know as Virunga National Park – Africa’s first national park.”￼
Later, the British – colonisers of next door Uganda – followed suit and for many years, no-one was allowed to visit the mountain gorillas until Walter Baumgärtel was given permission to establish visits for tourists to his Traveller’s Rest Inn, in Kisoro, Uganda, a facility where up to date you can stay. Baumgärtel wrote “Up among the Mountain Gorillas” all about his personal encounters with the tranquil giant apes in southern Uganda. Pioneer primatologist Dian Fossey frequently stayed at Traveller’s Rest Inn while studying the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda, as did George Schaller and many other renowned personalities.
*The majority of gorillas seen in zoos are the Lowland Gorillas of West Africa.
Are mountain gorillas dangerous?
Forget King Kong, Mountain Gorillas are naturally peaceful creatures, but just like humans, they have their limits. If they feel threatened (for example, if people get too close, frighten them with camera flashes or unexpected loud noises), they may occasionally send out a warning.
If you’re trekking the Mountain Gorillas, you will be visiting the habituated groups, those who are used to being in close proximity to humans.
If you follow the Gorilla Trekking Rules, you will have a safe and wonderful experience.
For gorilla trekking stories and Uganda and Rwanda travel advice, click on the hyperlinks in the Ultimate Guide to Mountain Gorilla Trekking. Still got a question? Contact the Muzungu.