The Mountain Gorilla is one of the two subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla. There are two populations. One is found in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, within three National Parks Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda; Volcanoes, in north-west Rwanda; and Virunga in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The other is found in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The fur of the Mountain Gorilla is often thicker and longer than that of other Gorilla species which enables them to live in colder temperatures. Gorillas can be identified by nose prints unique to each individual. Males usually weigh twice as much as the females, and this subspecies is on average the largest of all gorillas. Adult males have more pronounced bony crests on the top and back of their skulls, giving their heads a more conical shape. These crests anchor the powerful masseter muscles, which attach to the lower jaw (mandible). Adult females also have these crests, but they are less pronounced. Like all gorillas they feature dark brown eyes framed by a black ring around the iris.
Adult males are called silverbacks because a saddle of gray or silver-colored hair develops on their backs with age. The hair on their backs is shorter than on most other body parts, and their arm hair is especially long. Fully erect, males reach 6 ft 3 inches in height, with an arm span of 7 ft 7 inches and weigh 220 kg .The tallest silverback recorded was 6 ft 4 inch individual shot in Alimbongo, northern Kivu in May 1938.
The Mountain Gorilla is primarily terrestrial and quadruped. However, it will climb into fruiting trees if the branches can carry its weight, and it is capable of running bipedally up to 20 ft. Like all great apes other than humans, its arms are longer than its legs. It moves by knuckle-walking (like the Common Chimpanzee, but unlike the Bonobo and both orangutan species), supporting its weight on the backs of its curved fingers rather than its palms.
How to prepare and expect in a gorilla tracking safari
In spite of these Gorillas being habituated, do not be fooled, they are no means tame. They are completely wild animals that they tolerate human presence for an hour a day utmost. Only experienced guides will accompany you on your Gorilla tracking expedition, many of who have been involved in the gorilla habituation process themselves. These guides will brief you in detail upon your arrival on the various aspects of Gorilla Tracking Etiquette. For instance: do not get as close as 5 meters, do not surround them as a group, do not use flashing cameras, do not smoke or eat around them, and do not make loud noises or make sudden movements among others.
When a gorilla permit is purchased a gorilla family is assigned to the tourist in order to evenly distribute all visitors towards the gorilla families available. A picture of all the gorilla members and their names is given and this is to help you in tracking the different family members. Gorillas can easily be identified by their facial features that like humans vary from individual to individual.
The trek starts as early as 8.30am from the park headquarters. Gorilla trekking is done in groups of eight in the company of a guide and aides who carry your luggage. The gorillas cover large distances overnight and they are never constantly in one area. The guides will use their knowledge of Gorilla habits and information from the previous day to locate the group's whereabouts. Because of this the time period taken to track the gorillas vary enormously, from as little as half an hour to as much as 9 hours. No matter how much time you take trekking, you are guaranteed to find your assigned gorilla family.
The terrain is extremely difficult with steep slopes covered in dense vegetation, no wonder one of the parks in called impenetrable.
Once the gorillas are located your group will be allowed a maximum of one hour to interact with them but please take note of the Gorilla Tracking Etiquette you were given at briefing lest you spoil this memorable once in a lifetime experience.
Important to note is that only persons of over the age of 15 years are allowed to track Gorillas.
Gorilla Tracking rules.
- No one with communicable disease (eg Flu, Diarrhea) is allowed to enter the park.
- Stay together in a tight group while with the gorillas, do not surround them.
- Do not get closer than 7 meters to the gorillas.
- Do not use flash photography
- Do not eat or smoke when with the gorillas or within a distance of 200 meters from the gorillas
- Turn away from the gorillas if you have to sneeze or cough. Cover your nose and mouth in the process.
- Burry all human feaces a minimum of one foot deep and ensure that the hole is properly covered.
- Do not leave litter. All litter must be carried out of the park and disposed off properly.
- No person under 15 years is allowed to track gorillas
- Do not Make loud noise or move suddenly.
- You are allowed a maximum of 1 hour with gorillas.
- Do not spit on vegetation or soil while in the park, use your hankie or other garment.