The Life of Mt. Gorillas

I believe that by now, at least every one is aware that tomorrow (Saturday), all roads will lead to Kinigi at the foot of Virunga mountain for the Gorilla naming ceremony (Kwita Izina).

I believe that by now, at least every one is aware that tomorrow (Saturday), all roads will lead to Kinigi at the foot of Virunga mountain for the Gorilla naming ceremony (Kwita Izina).

Society magazine brings you an insight into what the mountain gorillas are and all that revolves around them.

There are two main types of gorilla, each containing several subspecies. The mountain gorilla is a type of eastern gorilla species (which also includes the Grauer’s - or eastern lowland - gorilla) and is found in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a total population of only about 700 gorillas.

Western gorillas are found in west and central Africa, and include the western lowland gorilla, which is the species commonly found in zoos, and the Cross River gorilla, with a tiny population in the 200s.

The mountain Gorilla habitat
The mountain gorillas studied by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International live in the Virunga Volcano Mountains, which are spread across the borders between Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. Some of the volcanoes are active, and some are dormant.

Some of them reach as high as about 4,000 meters (more than 13,000 feet).

Typically, mountain gorillas live in groups that contain one or two adult males (ages 12 years or older, called silverbacks), several younger males (called blackbacks), adult females, juveniles and infants.

The dominant silverback gorilla (so named for the gleaming silver saddle of hair on his back) is in charge of the group’s daily travels in search of food.

The silverback is the center of attention during rest sessions and mediates conflicts within the group. He also protects the group from outside dangers, such as intruding silverbacks from other groups, poachers, and other animals.

The dominant silverback forms special bonds with the adult females in the group and fathers most of the offspring. Mountain gorilla females can begin motherhood around age 10, and will carry a single baby for about 8-1/2 months.

Mother gorillas share a very close relationship with their infants for about 4 years, after which another sibling may be born. Mother gorillas hold newborns close to their chest at first, but soon the infant learns how to hold on for itself.

Then it learns how to ride on the mother’s back, until it is old enough to travel on its own.

Adult male gorillas can reach 400 pounds, and females can reach about 200 pounds. Female gorillas don’t have the crest on the top of their heads like the males, and no silver on their backs.

When a silverback gorilla is standing upright (say, during a chest beating display), they can be as tall as 5 and a half feet tall. Normally gorillas walk on all fours, and are only about 3 and a half feet high at the shoulder. A newborn gorilla weighs only about 4-1/2 pounds!

The mountain gorilla diet is mostly plants like celery; nettles, bamboo and thistles, and they are quite particular about what parts of each plant they like to eat. Sometimes they also find ant nests and eat the ants, along with an occasional worm or grub.

There isn’t much fruit where mountain gorillas live, but they do love to eat the wild berries that grow in their habitat. The mountain gorillas spend a lot of their time traveling in search of food, as plants and trees change with the seasons. The full-grown mountain gorilla diet can include up to 60 pounds of vegetation a day!

Their survival
The year 2002 marked the 100th year since the mountain gorilla was first scientifically identified as a distinct subspecies of gorilla. When Dian Fossey started observing the mountain gorillas in the late 1960s, she estimated there were about 250 mountain gorillas in the Virungas.

But estimates from the early 1960s suggested there had been many more than that. As a result of the tracking and protection programs that Fossey started and have since been continued by DFGFI, and the successful gorilla eco-tourism program begun in the early 1980s, the Virunga gorilla population increased to 324 by 1989, when the last census was conducted. Today it is estimated that there are about 700 mountain gorillas.

The future of the gorillas is most dependent on the protection and survival of the forests in which they live, since they depend on this land for food, safety and normal activities. But the forests are often in danger from growing human populations, and from civil war in the region.

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