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Uganda & Rwanda Gorilla facts

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Gorilla Facts
Gorilla Facts: Source: Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund International
There are two main species of gorilla, containing several subspecies. The western gorilla includes two subspecies (Western lowland gorilla with about 35,000 gorillas and Cross River with about 200) located in west and central Africa. The western lowland gorilla is the species commonly found in zoos. The eastern gorilla species includes the mountain gorilla (Virungas and Bwindi populations), as well as the Grauer's gorilla (eastern lowland) and is found in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mountain gorilla is the smallest population, with about 380 in the Virungas and 320 in the Bwindi area. Recent estimates show the Grauer's gorilla population at about 5,000.Because of the extensive gorilla research begun by Dr. Fossey and since carried on by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the mountain gorilla is perhaps the best understood of all gorillas.

Where do mountain gorillas live?
The mountain gorillas studied by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International live in the Virunga Volcano mountains, which are spread across the borders between Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Uganda. Some of the volcanoes are active, and some are dormant. Some of them reach as high as about 4,000 meters (more than 13,000 feet).The forests where the mountain gorillas live are often cloudy, misty and cold. At the bottom of the mountains, the vegetation is very dense, becoming less so as you go higher up. Other animals that live in the forest with the mountain gorillas are duikers (a kind of deer), antelope, tree hyraxes (a small furry animal related to the elephant), golden monkeys, and forest buffalo

What is mountain gorilla family life like?
Typically, mountain gorillas live in groups that contain one or two adult males (ages 12 years or older, called silverbacks), several younger males (called blackbacks), adult females, juveniles and infants. The dominant silverback gorilla (so named for the gleaming silver saddle of hair on his back) is in charge of the group's daily travels in search of food. He is also the center of attention during rest sessions and mediates conflicts within the group. The silverback gorilla also protects the group from outside dangers, such as intruding silverbacks from other groups, poachers, and other animals.The dominant silverback forms special bonds with the adult females in the group and fathers most of the offspring. Mountain gorilla females can begin motherhood around age 10, and will carry a single baby for about 8-1/2 months. Mother gorillas share a very close relationship with their infants for about 4 years, after which another sibling may be born. Mother gorillas hold newborns close to their chest at first, but soon the infant learns how to hold on for itself. Then it learns how to ride on the mother's back, until it is old enough to travel on its own.
How big do mountain gorillas get?Adult male gorillas can reach 400 pounds, and females can reach about 200 pounds. Female gorillas don't have the crest on the top of their heads like the males, and no silver on their backs. When a silverback gorilla is standing upright (say, during a chest beating display), they can be as tall as 5 and a half feet tall. Normally gorillas walk on all fours, and are only about 3 and a half feet high at the shoulder. A newborn gorilla weighs only about 4-1/2 pounds!

What do mountain gorillas eat?
The mountain gorilla diet is mostly plants like celery, nettles, bamboo and thistles, and they are quite particular about what parts of each plant they like to eat. Sometimes they also find ant nests and eat the ants, along with an occasional worm or grub. There isn't much fruit where mountain gorillas live, but they do love to eat the wild berries that grow in their habitat. The mountain gorillas spend a lot of their time traveling in search of food, as plants and trees change with the seasons. The full-grown mountain gorilla diet can include up to 60 pounds of vegetation a day!

How do mountain gorillas communicate?
Everyone who works with the mountain gorillas agrees that they are generally peaceful and gentle. The gorillas that are observed by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International as well as the groups that are visited by tourists, have been habituated to the presence of humans. But this doesn't mean that the gorillas won't sometimes charge, scream or bare their teeth, whether at an outsider or within the group itself. Most of these actions are just meant to serve as warnings, to ward off danger or to prevent a fight.

Mountain gorillas can communicate in a variety of ways, including facial expressions, sounds, postures and gestures. One of the nicest sounds is heard when the group is resting after a period of feeding. This sound is something like a soft purring and is called a "belch vocalization." When the gorillas feel threatened, they can make a variety of loud sounds, like roars or screams. Facial expressions are also used for communication. For example, an open mouth with both upper and lower teeth showing means aggressions. But a closed mouth with clenched teeth may signal anger as well.

And, of course, there's the classic chest beating by male gorillas, which is used to show stature, scare off opponents or even to prevent a fight.

How to track and protect the mountain gorillas?
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International employs a staff of gorilla trackers and anti-poaching patrols at Karisoke, who regularly go into the forest to locate, observe and protect several groups of mountain gorillas in the Parc National des Volcans. They record the gorillas' location and status, and try to locate and remove snares. Dr. Fossey started this work in the late 1960s and the Fossey Fund has continued it ever since. Snares generally are set by poachers, who are illegally hunting in the forest. Generally, these snares are set for other animals, not the gorillas, but gorillas can still get caught in them.Snares are circular and range in size from small, about three-inches in diameter for small animals like hyrax, to the large, 18 inch diameter ones for buffalo. They are made of rope and wire. The wire makes the circle that an animal steps into, and the rope is tied to a bent bamboo pole. When the animal steps in the wire circle of the snare, the trap is sprung, and the bamboo bends back up, making the circle tight around the leg of the animal so it can't get out.

The Karisoke staff also have the responsibility of giving names to the gorillas, when newborns arrive. After a new baby is born and has been observed for a while, the Rwandan trackers who work at the research station have a party and decide on a good name, which is how they name their own babies. Some examples are AMAHORO (which means "Peace") and PASIKA (which means "Easter" since she was born near Easter).

How do scientists study the gorillas?
Ever since Dian Fossey started studying the mountain gorillas in the late 1960s, scientists from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and from colleges and universities around the world have made the mountain gorilla a focus of their research. They have studied everything from how gorilla groups are formed to how males and females choose mates, to how infants are raised and how the gorillas communicate. In addition to the ongoing research about mountain gorilla life, scientists are now using some of the most up-to-date scientific methods to learn even more. For example, a study is currently underway using DNA samples taken from the gorillas' droppings, in order to learn the exact paternity for each new infant born in a gorilla group. Scientists are also attempting to classify all of the plants in the forests, upon which the gorillas and other species rely for food. Using a new process called hyperspectral remote sensing, they can collect information using aerial photographs, and then compare this information with other data collected on the gorillas and even the poaching activity in the area.

Will the mountain gorilla survive?
The year 2002 marks the 100th year since the mountain gorilla was first scientifically identified as a distinct subspecies of gorilla. When Dian Fossey started observing the mountain gorillas in the late 1960s, she estimated there were about 250 mountain gorillas in the Virungas. But estimates from the early 1960s suggested there had been many more than that. As a result of the tracking and protection programs that Fossey started and have since been continued by DFGFI, and the successful gorilla eco-tourism program begun in the early 1980s, the Virunga gorilla population increased to 324 by 1989, when the last census was conducted. Today it is estimated that there are about 380 mountain gorillas.

The future of the gorillas is most dependent on the protection and survival of the forests in which they live, since they depend on this land for food, safety and normal activities. But the forests are often in danger from growing human populations, and from civil war in the region

Source:Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund International
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