MOUNTAIN GORILLAS AND THEIR HABITAT IN VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Do you wish to become a zoologist or primatologist? Do you know where mountain gorillas are found in the world? With less than 900 mountain gorillas that are still surviving in the world, trekkers have less than 4 months this year to achieve their dreams in the remotest national parks in the heart of Africa. Mountain gorilla adventure is one of the breathtaking adventures and undoubtedly the most sought after experience that you must include in the list of activities to do while in your safari to Africa. Spend an hour with these tremendous creatures in their natural habitat and you will appreciate the magical experiences thereafter. A face to face encounter with mountain gorilla in the wild is once a life time experience and count visiting Volcanoes National Park, Northwestern Rwanda a must for you achieve your long time dreams. A 160 square kilometer national park is a home to over 62% of all the mountain gorillas that live within the Virunga Massif. Besides, visitors also get a glimpse of golden monkeys as well as the stunning 5 Virunga Mountains which include Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo. If you are planning a safari to Rwanda, you should expect to catch a glimpse of not just mountain gorillas but also a thousand hills.

Just like humans, mountain gorillas stay in varied families with a dominant silverback gorilla. They are the world’s popular largest primates and staring at them is only possible once you set yourself into habituated gorilla families basically during gorilla trekking. This means you have to walk in the tracks of the mountain gorillas as you look for them via the dense jungles. Gorilla trekking also means a trek via forested highlands to see gorillas and mostly you follow the areas where they retired for a night the previous day. In Rwanda, there are 10 habituated gorilla groups that are allocated for visitors to trek.

Mountain gorillas together with their sub-species are named based on their habitat locations. For lowland gorillas, they are found in the montane forests while the rare mountain gorillas relax high within altitude of up to 10000 feet just on the foothills of the Volcanoes National Park. For lowland gorillas, they are commonly sighted at dense tropical rain forests around Central Africa especially in countries of Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Gabon, Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Odzala kokoau national park.

Volcanoes National Park has distinct vegetation cover mainly because of large altitudinal variations. The lower montane forest straddles between 2400 and 2500 meters together with Neoboutonia forest. From 2500 to 3200 meters, you will find Arundinaria alpine also known bamboo forest and it spans up to 30% within the Volcanoes National Park. Hypericum forest on the other hand can be seen on the humid slopes in the South and West between 2600 and 3600 meters and it also spans to about 30% in the park. You will also find Hagenia Abyssinica and this covers the biggest portion of the park.

Between 3500 and 4200 meters above sea level, Volcanoes vegetation is characterized by L. lanurensis, senecio erici rosenii and Lobelia wollastonii and this takes almost 25% in the park’s area. The grassland can be found within altitude 4300 and 4500 meters above sea level while the marshes, secondary thicket, small lakes, meadows as well as swamps cover relatively small portion.

Given the fact that mountain gorillas are herbivores; they depend mainly on plant species such as wild celery, thistle and nettles which make almost 150 different plants. They depend on specific trees like bamboo and bracket fungus and their main food plants grow within the cool moist montane climate. During the wet season, the Bamboo forest remains tender and greener and the Bamboo shoots can contain about 84% of water with an extra trocatea, flowers, stems, roots, soft bamboo leaves and during the dry season, the black berries are main food for the mountain gorillas.

However, when there is food shortage within their habitat, a gorilla trekking adventure also becomes difficult since they usually roam around many areas within the park searching for food unlike the wet season when they can be passive due to plenty of food. Tracking gorillas during this season also becomes ideal as they can be found within the foothills of the Volcanoes National Park. A mature mountain gorilla eats almost 60 pounds of the vegetation every day.

Besides being large, powerful and muscular primates, mountain gorillas are also known as the most affectionate, humble, shy and social creatures that live harmoniously in their families. Mountain gorilla family ranges from 2 to 30 to 40 individuals but in most cases, they live in a family of ten. These rare species don’t have a mating season and infants are born throughout the year. The male gorilla begins breeding around 15 years while the females give birth from 10 to 12 years. Gorillas give birth after every 2 to 3 years which counts about 4 to six babies in the course of their lifespan.

A male gorilla is normally two times the size of female gorilla and they stretch up to 6 foot tall and weighs between 350 and 500 pounds. The male gorilla is called silverback simply because of their grey hair on the back. A male gorilla is ten times stronger and the arms stretch out long.  They usually have longer and darker hair given the fact that they stay in colder climate especially at a higher altitude unlike the lowland gorilla that are a bit smaller and brownish grey coats and brown ridge. They have a life span of 40 to 50 years.

Big male gorillas allow the young gorillas to climb all over them without any resistance and at 11 years, male gorillas tend to leave their families. Gorillas use over 25 distinct sounds and usually they use grunts, shouts and roars. Just like humans, a mother gorilla takes care of her baby gorilla up to four years and after the 4 years the mother gorilla conceives another one.

Besides tracking mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park, Visitors also have higher chances of viewing other mammal species and Apes that are equally of great importance to travelers for instance the rare golden monkeys, bushbuck, spotted hyena, black fronted duikers and buffaloes as well as 178 birds that are on record. The 13 species and 16 sub-species of birds that are found in the Volcanoes National Park are endemic to the Virunga and Ruwenzori Mountains.

In conclusion, mountain gorillas are the world’s critically endangered species, they share nearly 97% of their genes with humans making them to be most susceptible creatures to human diseases. Volcanoes National Park is made up of varied vegetation cover that inhabits distinct wildlife species that is why mountain gorillas can be tracked within the bamboo forest.

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