Gorilla beringei beringei | Mountain Gorilla

 

Best spot: Volcanoes National Park, Musanze district, Rwanda

Primatology

 

Taxonomy & Occurrence

There are only two populations of Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei); one in the Virunga Mountains (a chain of volcanoes in East Africa, comprising of Virunga National Park in DR Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda), and another in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

 

IUCN Conservation Status

Critically Endangered

 

The two populations of Mountain Gorillas have an estimated size of ~900 individuals [1]. Despite this small number, the Mountain Gorilla is the only subspecies of great apes (which include Chimpanzees, Bonobos and Orangutans) that is known to be increasing in numbers.

 

All four subspecies of gorillas (genus Gorilla) are critically endangered.

© Andie Ang

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Seeing this Species

 

To see gorillas in the wild, you need a permit. 

 

Volcanoes National Park, Musanze district, Rwanda

I went with a tour agency (The Far Horizons) for a customised trip in both Rwanda (for gorilla) and Uganda (for chimpanzee). If you fly into Kigali International Airport in Rwanda, a driver can pick you up for a 2.5-hour ride to the district of Musanze (previously known as Ruhengeri) where you can settle into an accommodation. Musanze is the closest district to the Volcanoes National Park and from there, it takes less than 30 minutes to get to the park headquarters in Kinigi for an early morning briefing the next day (they recommend arriving by 7am). There isn’t any public transport from Musanze to the headquarters so going with a tour agency would help. They can also help you obtain a gorilla permit (this needs to be arranged way before your trip as there is a limited number of permits for each day). A permit to see gorillas in Rwanda costs USD$1,500 per person, but it is worth it. We were told that it has been 100% sighting rate (!). There are also other reasons why gorilla permit in Rwanda is the most expensive among four locations ($600 for Uganda's Mgahinga National Park, and also Bwindi Impenetrable National Park; $400 for DR Congo's Virunga National Park).  

 

 

 

 

In the morning on the way to the Volcanoes, a little Rwandan girl waved a sweet hello and threw me a beautiful sprig of flowers. As we proceeded in our car, more people waved and welcomed us while on their way to school, farmland, or their houses. It was a lovely experience. It was the same when we left the park, though there were a few children showing us their pretty drawings of gorillas and asking for a dollar. Our guide advised against giving them money, as these kids were likely skipping school to earn easy cash. They want their children to go to school for proper education, and we shouldn't encourage them to play truant by giving them money. Noted.

 

Before beginning the trek from ~2,500m up to 4,000m asl., each group of 8 people will be assigned a guide (and you have the option of hiring a porter to help with your bags). The guides were tremendous. Not only were they knowledgeable about the animals and the forests, they gave clear instructions on what to do and what not to do when encountering gorillas (if you are sick, even with the common cold, you would not be able to do the trek as they try to minimise disease transmission between humans and gorillas). There were also signages on responsible primate-watching (e.g. no physical contact; keep a respectable distance).

 

With wild animals, it is never possible to guarantee that you would see them. In order to maintain (100%) sighting, Volcanoes National Park has experienced trackers who follow the gorillas from when they wake up till they go to sleep. These trackers then set out earlier than the visitors to locate the gorillas, and report the sighting information to the guide who would then lead the visitors. So far, instances of visitors climbing up the mountains and getting back without having seen the gorillas are unheard of (let me know if you do!).

 

The trek wasn't that easy but the view was spectacular. It took us 3 hours trekking past elevated farmland, forest trails and never-ending beds of stinging nettle plants (they sting badly!). Wear long sleeves and pants. The trail we took was first created by the late Dian Fossey when she began her research on the gorillas in 1967.

 

And out of nowhere, a family of gorillas magically appeared; within 5m from us! At this point, the group of us fell silent and watched these gentle giants go about their usual activities: eating, playing, grooming, mating (in front of us), napping, and nursing! We were so lucky to see a mom with her 4-day old infant, who was the latest addition to Volcanoes National Park according to the guide. This infant will be named at the annual Rwandan Kwita Izina baby-naming ceremony in September 2019!  

 

Baby in her arms, the mom was so gentle and stationary, while the rest of her family were wrestling around (on the nettle plants!). They don't seem bothered that 12-15 humans were around, which was comforting to imagine (we maintained a good distance of ~5m). We were allowed maximum of 1 hour with them upon first good sighting (i.e. they didn't move away immediately). This is a great practice to ensure that the disturbance is kept to a minimum while still sustaining the tourism business.

 

The 2-hour trek down was easier than the way up. We left exhausted but so happy.

 

You can also book a separate trek to see the Golden Monkeys, which are found in a different (and easier) part of the national park.

 

Other sites:

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

Including the Mountain Gorilla, there are 14 taxa of primates here!

 

Some additional useful links:

www.bwindiforestnationalpark.com

http://bwindinationalparkuganda.com

 

Overlapping species:

  • L'Hoest's Monkey (Allochrocebus lhoesti)

  • Schmidt's Red-tailed Monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius schmidti)

  • Doggett's Silver Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis doggetti)

  • Golden Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti)

  • Budgett's Tantalus (Chlorocebus tantalus budgetti)

  • Western Guereza (Colobus guereza occidentalis)

  • Spectacled Lesser Galago (Galago matschiei)

  • Uganda Lesser Galago (Galago senegalensis sotikae)

  • Demidoff's Dwarf Galago (Galagoides demidovii)

  • Thomas' Dwarf Galago (Galagoides thomasi)

  • Eastern Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii)

  • Olive Baboon (Papio anubis)

  • Eastern Potto (Perodicticus ibeanus ibeanus)

 

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda

This is the smallest national park in Uganda but it also houses 14 primate taxa! The diversity here is only slightly different from Bwindi. L'Hoest's Monkey is in Bwindi not in Mgahinga; Miombo Silver Galago in Mgahinga not in Bwindi. There is only one family of gorillas in Mgahinga for tracking.

 

Useful link:

www.mgahinganationalpark.com

 

Overlapping species: 

  • Schmidt's Red-tailed Monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius schmidti)

  • Doggett's Silver Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis doggetti)

  • Golden Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti)

  • Budgett's Tantalus (Chlorocebus tantalus budgetti)

  • Western Guereza (Colobus guereza occidentalis)

  • Spectacled Lesser Galago (Galago matschiei)

  • Uganda Lesser Galago (Galago senegalensis sotikae)

  • Demidoff's Dwarf Galago (Galagoides demidovii)

  • Thomas' Dwarf Galago (Galagoides thomasi)

  • Miombo Silver Galago (Otolemur crassicaudatus monteiri)

  • Eastern Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii)

  • Olive Baboon (Papio anubis)

  • Eastern Potto (Perodicticus ibeanus ibeanus)

 

Virunga National Park, DR Congo

A total of 20 primate taxa are recorded in Virunga National Park! Most notably the other subspecies of gorilla, the Grauer's Gorilla.

 

Overlapping species:

  • L'Hoest's Monkey (Allochrocebus lhoesti)

  • Schmidt's Red-tailed Monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius schmidti)

  • Dent's Monkey (Cercopithecus denti)

  • Owl-faced Monkey (Cercopithecus hamlyni)

  • Stuhlmann's Blue Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis stuhlmanni)

  • De Brazza's Monkey (Cercopithecus neglectus)

  • Budgett's Tantalus (Chlorocebus tantalus budgetti)

  • Western Guereza (Colobus guereza occidentalis)

  • Spectacled Lesser Galago (Galago matschiei)

  • Uganda Lesser Galago (Galago senegalensis sotikae)

  • Demidoff's Dwarf Galago (Galagoides demidovii)

  • Thomas' Dwarf Galago (Galagoides thomasi)

  • Grauer's Gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri)

  • Johnston's Grey-cheeked Mangabey (Lophocebus albigena johnstoni)

  • Miombo Silver Galago (Otolemur crassicaudatus monteiri)

  • Eastern Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii)

  • Olive Baboon (Papio anubis)

  • Eastern Potto (Perodicticus ibeanus ibeanus)

  • Semliki Red Colobus (Piliocolobus semlikiensis

 

Local contacts: The Far Horizons Africa Ltd (+256 0 772 341 150)

Mom with her 4-day old baby!

© Andie Ang

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Probability of success: ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ 

 

Overlapping species: There are 12 other taxa of primates in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

  • Schmidt's Red-tailed Monkey (Cercopithecus ascanius schmidti)

  • Owl-faced Monkey (Cercopithecus hamlyni)

  • Golden Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti)

  • Reddish-green Vervet (Chlorocebus pygerythrus rufoviridis)

  • Spectacled Lesser Galago (Galago matschiei)

  • Uganda Lesser Galago (Galago senegalensis sotikae)

  • Demidoff's Dwarf Galago (Galagoides demidovii)

  • Thomas' Dwarf Galago (Galagoides thomasi)

  • Johnston's Grey-cheeked Mangabey (Lophocebus albigena johnstoni)

  • Miombo Silver Galago (Otolemur crassicaudatus monteiri)

  • Olive Baboon (Papio anubis)

  • Eastern Potto (Perodicticus ibeanus ibeanus)

List of overlapping species follows the Primates of East Africa pocket guide

 

Sunrise over Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

© Andie Ang

Our group at the end of the trek!

© Andie Ang

References

[1] Plumptre A., Robbins M. & Williamson E.A., 2016. Gorilla beringei. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 14 September 2018.

 

 

Page Last Updated: 23 October 2019

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