Bwindi Gorillas: Are They a Different Species?

One of sub-species of the eastern gorilla, mountain gorillas inhabits the tropical forested mountains of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

There are 880 mountain gorillas living in the wild. Bwindi forest holds half of their population, about 400 individuals while the rest of the gorillas live in the Virunga Conservation Area including Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda which share borders with Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in southwestern Uganda and then Virunga National Park in Eastern DRC.

Mountain gorillas appear to be the largest living apes with larger but short arms. Mature male silverback can weigh up to 200 kilograms and stands at a height between 1.2 to 1.7 meters feet.

They have thick and longer fur as a characteristic to adapt to higher altitudes where temperatures sometimes alternate with extreme coldness (freezing) and relative warmth.

Covering an area of 331 sq km, the altitude range of Bwindi forest between 1,160 to 2,607 meters above sea level is lower than that of the Virunga massifs ranging between 2,500 to 4,507 meters.

This has the potential for researchers to establish the ecology and behavior differences which has triggered research debate trying to establish whether Bwindi gorillas could be different species from those of Virunga volcanoes.

Bwindi is a separate habitat which is 15 miles (24 km) north of Virunga volcanoes. In addition, the vegetation in Bwindi forest is very thick while that of Virunga contains large belts of bamboo.

Researchers in the past focused on gorilla tourism programs pioneered by Dian Fossey in 1960’s and later gorilla trekking which has today attracted a lot of tourist safaris in the region.

Some of the field studies conducted by mountain gorilla veterinary doctors and other researchers from great apes survival, international gorilla conservation program indicate that gorillas in Bwindi have differences in ecological behavior, diet and feeding behavior and nesting which are much not prevalent in those of Virunga volcanoes.

The diet of gorillas in Bwindi has a higher percentage at least 20 %composition of seed fruits than that of Virunga gorillas. Researchers from the Bwindi great ape project who sampled dung however indicate that at some seasonal fruiting, the gorilla dung of both Bwindi and Virunga had less or no fruit percentage. Hence there’s a similarity in dietary behavior of both gorillas.

In addition, gorillas in Bwindi cover a lot distances during fruiting seasons in search of fruits than those of Virunga that feed spend much time feeding on leaves, bamboo shoots and roots.

Bwindi gorillas including 400 pound silverbacks climb higher in tree tops during feeding especially in fruiting seasons. This character is not common or has rarely been observed among the gorillas of Virunga.

Observation made on habituated gorillas in Bwindi indicates that they tend to make their nests in trees than those of Virunga which nests entirely on the ground. Note, however, all gorillas are predominantly ground dwelling.

Would you like to visit and see the Bwindi Gorillas? Why not plan a gorilla trekking safari to Bwindi and get to learn about these great apes? Contact one of the local tour operators and get to see these great apes in the wild.