December 07, 2021 | Bujo Safaris
Gorillas are the largest primates on earth and can only be found in their natural habitats in a few selected countries. These handful, endowed countries are only on the African continent and even interacting with these glorious creatures is restricted due to the fact that they are endangered, as listed by the IUCN. Gorillas are second in place as man’s closest relatives with 98.3% similar DNA. The number one spot is taken by the chimpanzees and bonobos who share 98.7% of our DNA.
Gorillas are mainly divided into two species - Western gorillas and Eastern gorillas. Western gorillas are found in some West African countries like Nigeria, Congo and Cameroon. The Eastern gorillas are only found in the two East African countries - Uganda and Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Democratic Republic of Congo is the only country where you can trek both the mountain and Eastern lowland gorillas in Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega national parks respectively.
These two species are further divided into four sub-species with each group having two. The Western gorillas are separated into the Western lowland gorillas as well as Cross River gorillas while the Eastern gorillas are divided into Mountain gorillas and Eastern lowland gorillas. All the four subspecies might look alike at first glance but can easily be differentiated by either color, body size or the habitat where you will encounter them. For instance, mountain gorillas have a black coating of fur while the eastern lowland gorillas have a brown tinge.
Gorillas usually spend their day between eating and taking naps in between. They are more protective over members especially mothers and then the silverback is protective over his group and usually thumps his chest as a sign of his strength to scare any would-be invaders. Even though gorillas are prejudged as aggressive and violent beasts, they are recorded as one of the most peaceful creatures than other mammals you would encounter in the wild. This prejudice can easily be changed with a trip into the African jungle and spend some of the most memorable moments of your life with these magical primates.
Gorillas like most primates have the ability of climbing trees but due to their enormous body sizes, they habitually resort to terrestrial life. This means they spend over 85 per cent of their time on the ground unlike their closer related apes like chimps, monkeys and bonobos. This has also slightly altered their diet from fruits like figs to more reachable plant matter like bamboo shoots, stems and leaves.
Younger gorillas especially the juveniles are expert tree climbers because of their medium sizes and this can be seen firsthand during a gorilla trekking expedition as they do their antics from tree branches.
However, their huge body size doesn’t completely stop gorillas from climbing trees. Some of them build their nests near tree branches or also take up trees that possess branches that can support their weight comfortably.
Gorilla trekking is an all-year-round activity but is recommendable to visit during the dry season usually from June to early August and then December to February. This period offers the best gorilla trekking experience as the gorillas move to the lower slopes of the mountain and the tracks are less slippery, fewer insects and lesser chances of it raining on your excursion. However, this is also peak season and attracts very many guests yet there is a limited number of gorilla permits which calls for earlier planning like four to six months before setting out for your trip to avoid any inconveniences of missing a permit yet already at the destination.
The rainy season which runs from March to May receives fewer guests because of the little hurdles faced while gorilla trekking in this period like muddy trails, more insects and higher chances of rain plus thicker vegetation to navigate. However, this time is ideal for guests who would prefer a more private experience or who have a low budget as the permits and lodge rates are normally cut during this time to attract guests.
Gorillas share a close DNA with humans and a number of our behaviors can be reflected in their day-to-day life. These traits range from expressing surprise, excitement and pain depending on the occasion. These are experienced on a trek while observing them play, groom each other, protecting their loved ones especially the silverbacks or bonding with another.
Gorillas can create strong bonds such that they even express grief at the loss of a member. All this and more can be experienced on a gorilla trekking experience in the African jungle.