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Mountain Gorillas in Mgahinga

Mountain gorillas form the main attraction at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, which protects the Ugandan portion of the Virungas, an imposing string of nine freestanding extinct and active volcanoes that runs along the border with Rwanda and the Congo. These Gorilla groups frequently ‘pop in’ and take temporary residence for a couple of months at a stretch.

Mountain Gorillas live in forests high in the mountains and hills, at approximate elevations of 8,000 to 13,000 feet above the sea level. Mountain Gorillas have thicker fur, and more of it, compared to other great apes like chimpanzee, bonobos, and baboons among others. Their thick fur helps them to survive in a habitat where temperatures often drop below freezing- in other words, the thick fur of Mountain Gorillas provides them warmth. Due to human intervention, Mountain Gorillas have decided to move up into the mountains for longer periods, forcing them to endure dangerous and sometimes deadly conditions.

Quick Facts

Mountain gorillas are among the the most endangered primate species that are only found in three countries in the world. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one of the four national parks that inhabit the forested mountains in southwestern Uganda. In Africa, mountain gorillas are commonly found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Forest National Park in Uganda, Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Volcanoes National park among others. The statistics shows that mountain gorillas are mostly visited compared to Cross River Gorillas, Western gorillas and Cross River Gorillas.

Gorilla Watching in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Together with the Bwindi impenetrable National Park, these are the only two Ugandan parks that were gazetted by the Uganda government to protect the endangered mountain gorillas.

Many tourists visit the Mgahinga National Park for gorilla trekking, though there are many other wild animals that inhabit the forest. Currently there is only one habituated gorilla group that can be visited by the tourists – Nyakagezi Gorilla Group.

The mountain gorillas in Mgahinga National Park live in families that comprise of several individuals. Each family is led by the strongest male mountain gorillas called a silverback.  This silverback is always in charge of protecting its family against any intrusion and usually determines the daily routine. The silverback usually leads its subordinates to different parts of the jungle searching for fresh plant leaves and new places for building new nests for the night.

Mountain gorillas’ being mobile animals makes tracking them a little prolonged to take about 1 to 8 hours of hiking the forest depending on their movement and following their trails as directed by the rangers. Some mountain gorillas can be got to after short hours of hike (like 2 hours) while others are stubborn and tend to go far away to the higher slopes of the mountains and these are the ones that can be got after longer hours of hike.

Gorilla Families

There is one habituated gorilla group in the park that can be visited by tourists. It is called the Nyakagezi Family and consists of 9 members, 4 silverbacks, 2 female adults, 1 juvenile and 2 infant. However, due to their constant movement it is advisable to check the current location of the gorillas first. Gorilla tracking can be strenuous and may take the whole day. The guide leads you through the gorilla’s world, explaining aspects of their ecology and behavior along the way. The mountain gorilla families that are tracked are habituated and can therefore withstand tourist’s presence in their environments. Tourists are therefore allowed to be in the presence of the mountain gorillas for strictly one hour.  The one hours is just enough for fascinating one on one with the gorillas as well as taking photographs. After it elapses, tourists are again guided back to the national park headquarters where they are given certificates of participation. Tourists are restricted to be with the mountain gorillas for only one hour because they have about 98%DNA similar to humans and being near human beings for long exposes them to easily contracting human diseases. Tourists’ being in the presence of the gorillas for one hour also reduces the chances of behavioral change among the mountain gorillas.

All About Gorillas

The Mgahinga Gorillas’ natural habitats cover up tropical or subtropical forests. They inhabit the Albertine Rift Montane forests of the Virunga Volcanoes ranging in altitude from 2,200-4300 meters. In other words, the natural habitat for Gorillas is that they live in abundant and green vegetation.

Food & Diet

Mountain gorillas mainly feed on green plant parts, whereas lowland gorillas eat a lot of fruit. However, in the dry season only a few juicy fruits are available and so the animals have to eat more seeds and tree bark instead. Usually, fruits grow on trees; gorillas of all ages climb these trees to harvest them. An adult male gorilla may consume more than 18 kg of vegetation per day. Gorillas don’t always drink water simply because they consume vegetation that has a lot of water and morning dew. Mountain gorillas are herbivores, feeding on plants like wild celery, thistle, and nettles about 150 various plants. Special trees are bamboo and bracket fungus. Their food plants grow profusely in the cool, moist mountain climate of their range in Rwanda, Congo and Uganda. During the rainy season because the bamboos are tender and green, the bamboo shoots contain 84% of water with an extra of trocatea, flowers, stems, roots, soft bamboo leaves as well as the dry season black berries that act as a delicacy for the mountain gorillas.

To be able to process these masses of plant material, gorillas have very strong chewing muscles. Their teeth are much like human teeth, except for the very long, pointed canines of adult gorilla males.