Mountain Gorillas

Mountain Gorillas

The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of the two sub-species of the eastern gorilla. There are two populations. One is found in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, within three National Parks: Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda; Volcanoes, in north-west Rwanda; and Virunga in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The other is found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Some primatologists say that the Bwindi population in Uganda may be a separate sub-species. As of spring 2010, the estimated total number of mountain gorillas worldwide is 790.

Scientific classification: Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Chordata, Class: Mammalia, Order: Primates, Family: Hominidae, Genus: Gorilla, Species: Gorilla. Berengei Subspecies: Gorilla. Berengei. Berengei.

Evolution, taxonomy and classification

Mountain gorillas are descendants of ancestral monkeys and apes found in Africa and Arabia during the start of the Oligocene epoch (34-24 million years ago). The fossil record provides evidence of the hominoid primates (apes) found in east Africa about 18–22 million years ago. The fossil record of the area where mountain gorillas live is particularly poor and so its evolutionary history is not clear. It was about 9 million years ago that the group of primates that were to evolve into gorillas split from their common ancestor with humans and chimps; this is when the genus Gorilla emerged.

It is not certain what this early relative of the gorilla was, but it is traced back to the early ape Proconsul Africanus. Mountain gorillas have been isolated from eastern lowland gorillas for about 400,000 years and these two taxa separated from their western counterparts approximately 2 million years ago. There has been considerable and as yet unresolved debate over the classification of mountain gorillas. The genus was first referenced as Troglodytes in 1847, but renamed to Gorilla in 1852. It was not until 1967 that the taxonomist Colin Groves proposed that all gorillas be regarded as one species (Gorilla gorilla) with three sub-species Gorilla gorilla gorilla (western lowland gorilla), Gorilla gorilla graueri (lowland gorillas found west of the Virunga) and Gorilla gorilla beringei (mountain gorillas including, Gorilla beringei found in the Virunga and Bwindi). In 2003 after a review they were divided into two species (Gorilla gorilla and Gorilla beringei) by The World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Conservation of the Mountain Gorillas

Conservation efforts have led to an increase in overall population of the mountain gorilla in the Virungas and at Bwindi. The overall population is now believed to be at least 880 individuals.In both Bwindi and the Virungas, groups of gorillas that were habituated for research and ecotourism have higher growth rates than unhabituated gorillas. Habituation means that through repeated, neutral contact with humans, gorillas exhibit normal behavior when people are in close proximity. Habituated gorillas are more closely guarded by field staff and they receive veterinary treatment for snares, respiratory disease, and other life-threatening conditions.Poachers always maim and kill gorillas by setting traps in their movement routes,abduct and sell young ones to zoos as pets.They have been killed for their heads, hands, and feet, which are sold to collectors.With young gorillas worth from $1000 to $5000 on the black market, poachers seeking infant and juvenile specimens will kill and wound other members of the group in the process

However, various measures have been in place to cub this habit of poaching gorillas like;

-Increased patrolling using armed guards in protected forest areas.

-Karisoke’s guards find and remove some 1,000 snares each year.

-Gorilla censuses to monitor gorilla population.

-Karisoke Research Centre runs a facility for young gorillas rescued from poachers.

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