Trekking amongst the mountain gorillas of Rwanda is a heartwarming and memorable wildlife experience - one of the most rich and rewarding experiences on earth. Each visit immerses you in the gorilla's kingdom, surrounding you with fantastic views of bamboo forests, lush jungle and the exotic sounds of turraco bird calls and the chatter of golden monkeys.
The lush and forested slopes form a dramatic natural setting for your face-to-face encounter with the gorillas. Trekking with these gentle giants through the damp, misty undergrowth gives you the adventurous experience of the first explorers. And standing amongst them as they eat, play, groom and rest - acting in every way like our own families - will take your breath away and leave you smiling for ages.
Meeting mountain gorillas in their misty natural habitat, where the courageous and famous American primatologist Dian Fossey lived, died and was buried while protecting them, is a privilege one shouldn't miss in life. As Sir David Attenborough said, "There is more meaning and understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than any other animal I know."
Know your Gorilla Group and composition
Mountain gorillas live in groups, and each group has a defined home range. Home ranges rarely overlap, allowing the various groups to co-exist within the Virunga Massif.
Each group is led by a dominant, male Silverback who has all mating rights and controls the group, deciding when, how and what the group will do. Every individual in the group adheres to his command.
- A male gorilla is called a Silverback when his back hair changes to silver, typically around the age of 12, and he weighs more than 200kgs. While there might be several silverbacks in a group, there is always one and only one dominant silverback that controls and directs it. Other silverbacks must stay submissive to the dominant silverback, challenge the dominant silverback for control, or leave the group to become a lone silverback or take over another group.
- A blackback is a male gorilla whose back is still black and is between the ages of 9-12 and weighs between 115-170kgs.
- A sub adult male is a gorilla between the ages of 6-8 and weighs 70-130kgs.
- An adult female is a gorilla over the age of 8 and weighing 70-130kgs.
- A sub adult female is around the age of 6-8 and weighs around 40-70kgs.
- A juvenile is around the age of 3-6 and weighs around 23-45kgs.
- A baby is around the age of 0-3 and weighs around 1.5-20kgs.
Mountain gorillas live on average for 40-50 years. By the age of 12, the adult female mountain gorilla is able to conceive and will give birth to an average of 3-5 babies during her lifetime. The dedication required to successfully raise an infant gorilla is significant, thus while twin births do happen, the survival of both babies is rare. Rwanda is privileged to have Impano and Byishimo, the only known surviving mountain gorilla twins in the Susa group. Mountain gorillas are attentive and dedicated care givers, rearing their young for 4 years, during which time the parents are unable to conceive. As is common in many species in the animal kingdom, infanticide on baby gorillas less than 4 years in age is practiced by a dominant silverback mountain gorilla when he initially assumes control of a group, though there are cases when infanticide does not happen at all. This practice frees adult females to once again conceive, allowing the silverback to promote his genetic make-up through off-spring. On the rare occasion, females have been known to migrate from one group to another to avoid infanticide.
Mountain gorillas naturally avoid in-breeding through the regular movement of individuals amongst the various groups. Young silverbacks that are unable to successfully challenge the dominant silverback will often leave their birth family group to either take over another gorilla group or to found their own by recruiting gorillas from other groups. Similarly, young females will often leave their birth family group to join other family groups as to avoid in-breeding.