Closely related to humans, gorillas are the largest and strongest of the living primates. Although strong and powerful, gorillas are generally gentle and shy and not the ferocious beast depicted in imaginative movies. Gorillas have strong attachments to members of their own group. They live in groups of 2-40 individuals, on average 11. Groups are led by a dominant male "the silverback
", named for the silvery grey hairs that grow when the male matures. The silverback serves as the chief protector and defender of the group. All members of the group defer to the silverback. He leads, decides when and where to forage, rest and sleep. He arbitrates disputes among his family members and protects them from rival silverbacks or human predators.
The mountain gorilla (gorilla gorilla beringei) has a robust build with long, muscular arms and short legs, a massive chest, and broad hands and feet with thick digits. It is the hairiest race of gorillas; its long, thick black hair insulates it from the cold of living at high elevations. Gorillas have large heads – especially males, who’s sculls have a prominent crest. Facial features like wrinkles around the nose – called nose prints - are unique for each individual and are often used by human researchers for identification.
Considered to be one of the most endangered species, the mountain gorillas are only surving in volcanic mountains that form part of the border between Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and Rwanda. These spectacular mountains and the nearby Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda are the last refuges for them.
2003 figures estimates the total population of mountain gorillas to be about 706 individuals, ofwhich about 320 is found in Bwindi Impenetrable National park and the other 386 in the Volcanic mountains(Mgahinga Gorilla National Park Uganda, Volcano National Park- Rwanda and Virunga National Park - DRC).
Gorillas continually wander through their home ranges of 1.5 to 3 square miles, feeding and resting throughout the day. Mountain gorillas roughly spend 30% of their day feeding, 30% traveling or moving, and 40% resting. At dusk, they settle down for the night and sleep in nests. These nests are made of vegetation that the gorillas shove under and around them, forming rimmed cushioned platforms.
Gorillas, especially males, have a wide range of vocal and physical communications. Silverbacks can roar, scream and bark to deter predators or competitors. They stand on their legs and beat their massive chests, which contain airsacks, to produce an intimidating thudding sound. They may even charge at people or gorillas they see as threatening, striking the ground with their fists in a display of aggression.
It is perhaps surprising that mammals as large and strong as mountain gorillas are primarily herbivores (vegetarians), which eat a variety of plants and leaves. They eat a staggering 142 different species of plants, including bamboo, wild celery, thistles, stinging nettles, bedstraw and certain fruit. They rarely need to drink since their diet is so rich in succulent herbs, from which they get enough water.
Mountain gorillas have a slow rate of reproduction. This slow reproduction makes this species even more threatened. In a 40-50 year lifetime, a female might have only 2-6 living offspring. Females give birth for the first time at about age 10 and will have offspring every four years or more. A male reaches sexual maturity between 10 and 12 years.
The female produces a single young and in rare cases twins. Newborn gorillas are weak and tiny, weighing about 4 pounds. Their movements are as awkward as those of human infants, but their development is roughly twice as fast. At 3 or 4 months, the gorilla infant can sit upright and can stand with support soon after. It suckles regularly for about a year and is gradually weaned at about 3.5 years, when it becomes more independent.
The primary threat to mountain gorillas comes from man by forest clearance and degradation, due to increase in human population struggles for a living. In an attempt to capture the young gorillas for sell in zoos, the poachers have also ended in killing the entire family group. Other gorillars are killed to sell their heads and hands as trophies.
Source of information:Collins Guide to African Wildlife and African Wildlife Foundation Website