Violence in eastern Congo by the rebel leader Nkunda is threatening the existence of mountain gorillas in Congo Virunga national park. Fighting intensified in August 2008, when fighting heated up between the army and fighters loyal to Nkunda. More than 250,000 people have been driven from their homes in the violence and some 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers have not been able to quell the chaos.
Nkunda the leader of an ethnic Tutsi, says his rebels are fighting to protect Congo’s minority Tutsis from the Hutu militia that fled here after helping perpetrate the 1994 genocide that killed more than half a million Tutsis in Rwanda. But his critics contend he is more interested in power and Congo’s mineral wealth.
Some fear the current crisis could once again draw in neighboring countries. Congo’s devastating 1998-2002 war split the vast nation into rival fiefdoms and involved half a dozen African armies.
This fighting is taking place inside the Virunga national park where mountain gorillas find there home for years.
Gorillas, chimpanzees gorangutans and humans all belong to the order of primates. Human share 98.4% of their genetic material with gorillas and 98.8% with chimpanzees .Gorillas the largest of the great apes are divided into three subspecies that include the western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and the eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla graueri). The eastern and western lowland gorillas were identified for science in 1847 and 1877 respectively.
The third subspecies –the mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei),was identified for scientific purpose in the year 1903 and has gone on to become Uganda’s star attraction.
Mountain gorillas are physically distinct from lowland gorillas. They are larger have more hair a short truck a broad chest and shoulders and also have a longer and slightly different nose shape.
Mountains gorillas are born small covered with black hair and usually weigh about 2.3 kilogrammes. Gorillas develop about as twice as human babies with the mature female mother also undergoing a gestation period of nine months. They are unique species, as a gorilla with an infant may not have another baby for up to four years. Good family Planning.
Male and Female gorillas between the age of three ands six years are classed as juvenile. They increase in size and weight at similar rates for the first six years. On reaching six years most mountain gorillas weigh about 68 kg and are usually about four feet tall.
The female mountain gorillas stop growing taller at around six years where as the males continue growing both in size and weight till they reach the age of ten to eleven.
Between the ages of six and ten the males have a black hair colour and are thus referred to as the black backs. On reaching maturity, which is usually between 10 and 12 years they develop silverly, grey hairs on their backs there by being referred to as silver backs.
The silver backs usually leave their parental group at the age of 11 and then moves alone or in the company of other males for a few years before managing to attract females from other groups to him hence forming his own family. Silver back is a dominant male in a group of about 12 or more gorillas that usually include female juveniles and other infants. Will find them chewing leaves laughing and farting not only continuously but with a lot of contentment. They are diurnal and nomadic sleeping each night in a fresh nest built from leaves and branches. Mountain gorillas are primary vegetarian with menu comprising bamboo nettle and gallium being some of their favorites.
They occasionally also eat safari ants which are scooped in huge handful to stuff into the mouths until the safari ant bites over power them. Gorillas spend most of their time traveling and foraging in search of food since plants and trees change with seasons.
Gorillas communicate through vocalizations. Twenty-five district vocalizations have so far been recognized with each one having its own particular meaning As an element of their socialization they communicate through howls grunts barks and hoots screams and are hoots scream and roars signal alarm or warning and are often produced by silverbacks.
They also communicate by beating on their chests or on the ground. This is done to show stature prevent a fight or even scarce off opponents. However even the infant beat their chests as a kind of displacement activity during play perhaps just to copy their elders.
Mountain gorilla life is peaceful and quite .It is from this that they have come to be called Africa gentle giants. These gentle giants are found in the areas of park des Vulcan’s in Rwanda and Virunga National park in the Democratic Republic of Congo while in UgandaMgahinga Gorilla National park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park. they are confined to
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park was gazetted in 1992 is situated in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the western rift valley Albertine rift and is shared by Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro districts. It is 331 square km in size on an altitude range of 1,160metre Ishasha gorge to 2,607metres Rwamanyonyi peak.
In 1993 I was among the people who arranged the first clients to track gorillas. Working with one of the old tour companies before setting up Travel Hemispheres , arranged among the first clients to track gorillas in Bwindi national park. It was quite big fun and achievement at that time and ever since lots of clients have passed through my hands to track gorillas in Uganda , Bwindi and Congo. Thus the experience is enormous and can speak for its self. We at Travel Hemispheres have calculated experience and all our clients handled speak out towards this experience.
The total number of mountain gorillas in Bwindi is approximately 340 which is almost over half of the total estimated 720 left in the whole world. Gorilla tourism provides over 50% of tourism revenue for Uganda thus being a strong reason for its protection.
Currently the rebel insurgency in the Democratic Republic of Congo characterized by the massive movement of people in the region could be a danger to conservation of this precious resource.
Rangers have been murdered in the park camps and equipment for the park authorities have been robbed and destroyed. At this time the safety of these gentle giants –moreover our closest cousins life is at stake . Our appeal is to international bodies that may have solution to offer can do it at the earliest before we see them wiped out.
By Fred Bukenya and more his articles can be viewed at www.travelhemispheres.com
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