Your Guide to Uganda’s Gorillas

Your Guide to Uganda’s Gorillas

By Greg Hayes

Your Guide to Uganda’s Gorillas

In the hanging mist of central Africa’s forested mountains, one of the world’s most impressive and curious creatures dazzles anyone lucky enough to visit its verdant home. And Uganda – known as the Pearl of Africa – is the perfect place to see these wonderful animals in their natural environment.

A trip to Uganda is great for seeing quintessential African wildlife like zebra and buffalo, but unlike other countries on the continent, it is one of the few locations that offer up a chance to see wild gorillas. Nearly half of the world’s mountain gorillas live in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, and a guided tour is the best way to come across elephants, birds and, of course, these beautiful apes.

Before your trip, here are some important and interesting facts about mountain gorillas and why these animals are so special:

1. Mountain gorillas are endangered
Encountering a band of wild gorillas is a fantastic and wonderful experience in and of itself, but because these animals are increasingly rare, it also represents an unfortunately fleeting opportunity.  At present, there are less than 800 mountain gorillas remaining in the wild, and those numbers are continually threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and regional war. Uganda has enjoyed decades of peace following regional and internal war, but across Africa, destruction from human fighting threatens vulnerable wildlife.

Despite wildlife refuges and new conservation efforts, seeing these animals up-close in their natural environment is an opportunity that may not be afforded to future generations.

2. They’re gentle giants
Because of movies like “King Kong,” there is a perception that gorillas are violent brutes. In reality, not only is their diet largely vegetarian, but they are peaceful and calm animals. It is true that males can engage in severe fighting for mating purposes, but they supplement these dust-ups by being tender fathers and peaceful guardians of family troops. They spend their days grazing on wild celery, bamboo and other vegetation that grows in the cool mountain forests they call home.

Like all wild animals, mountain gorillas and other sub-species should be respected in the wild and enjoyed from a safe distance. In fact, some of the most important conservation areas where gorillas can be found are right next to human settlements and communities. Poaching for bush meat continues to threaten the animals, meaning that we are far more dangerous than they are in the grand scheme of things.

3. Until 1902, they were unknown to Western science
The first gorillas weren’t scientifically analyzed until 1847, when findings from a specimen from Liberia were published. This was the Western world’s first look at the gorilla. We now know that this was a lowland gorilla, one of two main sub-species. The mountain gorilla, meanwhile continued to thrive in the jungles of east Africa undetected by Western scientists until 1902, when a German doctor set out to explore Rwandan volcanoes. On this trip, he and his group became the first group of Europeans to document this community of animals.

While lowland gorillas reside in the dense rainforests of western Africa, mountain gorillas are found in the steep mountains of central and east Africa. Aside from geographic differences, mountain gorillas also have thicker fur, which is important for combating the near-freezing alpine temperatures in their home range.

4. Gorillas are incredibly smart
One of the most impressive things about gorillas is the level of emotional and problem-solving intelligence they display. Many people around the world are familiar with Koko, a female gorilla who not only is able to communicate with her human handlers with a form of sign language, but has also proved an effective surrogate mother for orphaned kittens.

In the wild, gorillas utilize their mental prowess to examine the world around them. They may use rocks to get at tasty inner-bark, or even probe the depth of a stream with a bamboo shoot. Because they are much more calm and reserved than their cousins, the chimpanzees, they do not seem as outwardly curious or intelligent. Having said that, these animals still exhibit incredible cerebral skills.

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