The mountain gorilla became known to science on 17 October 1902, and is a subspecies of eastern gorilla. It has longer hair, jaws and teeth, but slightly shorter arms, than the other subspecies, the eastern lowland gorilla
. Adult males grow a patch of silver hair on their back and hips, giving them the name 'silverback'.
On average, adult males weigh 160 kg, and adult females 98 kg.
Gorillas on volcanoes
Mountain gorillas are found at high altitudes (2,500-4,000 m) in montane forests, as well as bamboo forests.
A group of mountain gorillas usually consists of a single dominant silverback male, three adult females, and 4-5 offspring. There is an overlap in group territories and the silverback generally defends his group rather than his territory.
Population & distribution
Mountain gorillas are found in two separate locations: the Virunga range of extinct volcanic mountains on the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda, and in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. Some primatologists believe the Bwindi gorillas may be a separate subspecies.
In the 100 years since its discovery, the mountain gorilla has endured uncontrolled hunting, war, disease, destruction of its forest habitat, and capture for the illegal pet trade.
These factors led to a dramatic decline in numbers. Indeed, there were fears that the mountain gorilla would become extinct in the same century it was discovered.
Thanks to conservation efforts, the population of mountain gorillas has increased from 620 individuals in 1989 to around 1,004 individuals today. This number is likely to be accurate, as these animals have been intensely monitored since the 1950s.
- The Virunga population has increased to 604, up from 480 in 2010, and lives at altitudes ranging from 2,300-4,500 m. Most of these gorillas range within the southern part of Virunga National Park, DRC, and the Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans), northern Rwanda, while a few use the Mgahinga National Park, southwestern Uganda.
- The Bwindi population lives at elevations of 1,500- 2,300 m. A 2011census recorded 400 individuals. Additionally, four orphaned mountain gorillas currently reside in a sanctuary in Uganda.