THE MOUNTAIN GORILLA
Encountering these gentle giants is a highlight in any African journey!
Captain Robert van Beringe was in 1902 the first western person to “discover” a mountain gorilla and write about them to a wider audience, it was up to this year totally unknown to western scientists although the lowland gorilla had been known earlier. The mountain gorilla was thought to be a new species of gorilla and thus named “Gorilla berengei” in honor of the captain. It was later regarded to be a subspecies and renamed “Gorilla gorilla berengei”.
The first major study of the mountain gorilla was done by George Schaller in the 1950;s. The world re known Dian Fossey is the most famous scientist to study and publicize the behavior and life of the mountain gorilla.
The mountain gorilla is bigger and heavier than their lowland relatives and can weigh up to 200 kilos although one silverback gorilla alive today is estimated to weigh 220 kilos. They are also distinguished by adaptions to the fact that they live in high altitude areas – among others a longer and bulkier coat of fur.
Like all gorillas, the mountain gorillas are highly sociable creatures living in groups of between 5 and 50 individuals. A group typically consists of a silverback male, his three or four “wives and several young animals of various ages. A silverback male gets his silver colored back at approximately 13-15 years of age and he can continue to lead his group well into his forties. It is the silverback that holds the group together and when he dies the group normally disintegrates. They can live up to the age of 5o years.
There are only approximately 600 mountain gorillas left in the world, approximately half of these live in the Volcanoes National Park. By 1980 the number was down to approximately 250 but active conservation efforts saw the number double and are today slowly increasing in numbers. The mountain gorillas are primarily vegetarians and are known to eat approximately 60 different plants. They will although also eat ants and other insects, which are important protein supplements in their diet. They will spend most of the day on the ground but move up into the trees at night where each individual will build himself or herself a night nest.
A group of gorillas seldom move more than 1 km per day except after a stressful incident of some kind when they can move several km in a day – particularly after a violent encounter with another gorilla group.
The chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than any living creature!
The chimpanzee is the most common of the great apes numbering about 180,000 found in 20 African countries. In Rwanda 500-1000 individuals live in the Nyungwe forest.
Chimps live in troops of anything between 10 and 120 animals led by a dominant male. Mother – child bonds are very strong and are known to have survived up to 40 years. A troop of chimps has a well-defined territory, which at times is violently defended against other troops.
Chimpanzees are omnivores. They feed mainly on fruits but can also eat seeds, leaves and various small mammals like small antelopes, bush pigs and even other monkeys. They can reach an age of up to 55 years and weigh up to 55 kilos. They are unique in the respect that they use tools, such as sticks to find ants and clubs and hammers to open nuts.
This endangered primate species is another of the world-class attractions in Volcanoes National Park.
There is a newly habituated group of about 40 individuals in the Volcanoes national park that can be visited. It is a little known species, which is listed as endangered. It is only during the very last few years that researchers are starting to put together a detailed picture of their lifestyle and routines. The first Golden Monkey troupe was only habituated in 2002.
The Golden Monkey has a bright golden body, cheeks and tail and black limbs, tail end and crown. It was previously found also in Nyungwe forest in southern Rwanda but the only viable population is now found in Volcanoes National Park.
To view the Golden Monkey is an entirely different experience compared to visiting the gorillas where the visitor can come up close and view them at close range. The Golden Monkeys live mainly in the bamboo thickets and are smaller and harder to spot