THE MOUNTAIN GORILLA
these gentle giants is a highlight in any African
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 reknown 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
chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than any living
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.