Mountain Gorillas are the closest living relatives to humans after chimpanzees and bonobos. They share at least 95% of their DNA with us, and our two species derive from the same common ancestor. Mountain gorillas are some of the most lovable endangered creatures on the planet as you will be able to find out during your mountain gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. And while you might think they are ferocious beasts, they are actually quite calm.
Despite this, mountain gorilla populations have sadly been neglected by humans. Habitat loss due to increasing human populations and poaching for the bush meat trade are two of the most dangerous threats to the survival of these great apes. The eastern lowland gorilla is endangered with less than 5000 members left in the wild, while mountain gorilla numbers are down to around 700 and cross river gorillas number at approximately 300. It’s a tremendous shame, as these apes are some of the most fascinating and complex creatures on our planet.
Here are some Mountain Gorilla facts that may come in handy during your gorilla trekking safari in Uganda:
1. Their silver backs are equivalent to human beards
The saddle shaped areas of silver hair found on male gorilla’s back shows that a male has reached sexual maturity. Like human beards and lion manes, this distinctive fur helps to communicate to other gorillas in the troop which gorillas are male. The dominant Silverback mountain gorilla has more than a few grey hairs to worry about: he makes decisions on behalf of the group, determines movement, mediates conflict, protects young gorillas from infanticide and defends against predators. You can expect to see this when you choose a Silverback mountain gorilla safari with Globetrotters Travel and Tours.
2. They’re incredibly shy
King Kong the movie may portray the direct opposite to this but it is what it is. These highly intelligent apes prefer to live gentle and peaceful lives. Even when disturbed by other animals, gorillas would rather avoid conflict, making noises and gesturing rather than instigating violent behaviour. Their diet is mainly vegetarian, although Western lowland gorillas do indulge in the odd termite or ant.
3. They have an impressive lifespan
Gorillas can reach over 50 years of age in captivity. A western gorilla in Columbus Zoo named Colo was the oldest living gorilla at 59 years of age until her death on the 17th January 2017—after being rejected at birth by her mother, she was raised by zookeepers like a human child, feeding from a bottle and even wearing clothes. They live shorter lives in the wild, although still regularly reach the grand gorilla age of 35 years.
4. Their sex is remarkably human-like
Face-to-face intercourse between gorillas has been observed and photographed by researchers, proving that these amazing animals share even more similarities with humans than we previously realised. Their great ape cousins, bonobos, are the only other non-human animal known to exhibit similar bedroom behaviour. Many of such behaviours have been witnessed in the Bwindi impenetrable national park over the course of years.
5. Homosexual tendencies
Yes, gay gorillas do exist. Homosexual behaviour is usually seen in all-male groups, where close relationships between individuals mean that their social interactions can sometimes leads to promiscuous acts. This doesn’t stop them from mating with females when given the chance. A silverback named Titus who featured in documentary film ‘The Gorilla King’ engaged in sex with both male and female gorillas.
6. They can learn sign language
As well as using numerous hand gestures to communicate with one another in the wild, gorillas have shown themselves to be remarkably adept at sign language, giving some individuals the incredible ability to communicate closely with humans. Koko, the San Francisco Zoo gorilla who famously adopted kittens and befriended Robin Williams (RIP), understands approximately 2000 words of spoken English and is able to respond using ‘GSL’, or gorilla sign language.
7. They might be religious
Having witnessed gorillas experiencing intense human-like emotions such as grief and laughter, some researchers now believe that they are capable of thinking about and viewing the world in a spiritual or religious way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that gorillas believe in God—rather, that they have a compassionate relationship with the world around them and draw meanings from the things they experience. Gorillas are also capable of empathy, imagination and rule-following, three complex behaviours that the concept of religion originates from.
8. Food factors
Gorillas are mainly herbivores. They spend most of their day foraging for bamboo, fruit and leafy plants, though western lowlands also eat small insects. Adult gorillas can eat up to 30 kilos of food each day!
9. Nose knows
Gorillas have unique nose prints, much like human fingerprints, which can be used to identify individuals. So gorillas can be well identified individually by their nose prints.
10. Precious progeny
Females usually produce just one baby every four to six years. In total, a female will only give birth three or four times. Such a low reproduction rate makes it difficult for populations to bounce back following a decline which usually arises from the different man made factors like poaching and encroachment on the land.