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Visiting The Uganda Mountain Gorillas - Our Very Close Relaties

25-March-2012

From atop a tree, Makara searches with his eyes tourist visitors to his family. As we draw closer, we realise his family is converged just at the tree’s buttress.

He is the guy in charge and is keeping security to make sure the visitors are not intending to harm his family and from the bad smell around, we learn from our guide that he is not in a good mood.

“You have to keep a distance and stand still,” he advises us. After a few minutes it is all calm and Makara is now fine with us around as he now diverts his attention to feeding from the green shrubs off trees.


The popular story you will hear is about tracking the mountain gorillas in the forest thickets, but not many will tell you about who these prized tourism gems are- I mean the mountain gorillas. Simply put, they are black and with faces only a mother can like.

Musa Lubega is a gorilla conservationist who has worked with gorillas for a good number of years and a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, where he is pursuing a masters degree in wildlife management and conservation.

“I am proud to be working with the mountain gorillas,” he shares. He made a beautiful documentary on gorillas largely guiding tourists and sharing with them all he knows about gorillas.


Gorillas, for the uninitiated, are a special species which has also made them the target of poachers. A few minutes past 8am, we went at into the jungles of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in search of a family or two and Makara’s was our easy choice.

The briefing on video and the verbal one which comes prior to the sojourn is quite revealing and soon we are yet to discover or verify what Lubega briefed us about. He tells us that a good Silverback can live up to 50 years and females sometimes live longer and as Maraka wobbles about, he is clearly an elderly one with white hairs to show for it.

“In her lifetime, she can have about six young ones. It is very rare that three of these will mature into gorillas. In most times it is only one or two that can survive in the harsh conditions that they live in,” Lubega explains.

Feeding is not just a hobby to these social animals; it is almost a minute-after-minute thing which certainly makes them 99 per cent vegetarian. For the two or more hours we watch Maraka and his family they are plucking trees and feeding off the leaves and shrubs.

Lubega points out that on an average day, a Silverback can eat up to 160 kilogrammes of leaves while females can eat up to between 60 and 80 kilogrammes of leaves.


Mothers actively play their role and babies from the time they are born up to when they are three and five, they stick with their mothers.

But like you left home probably after completing your university, at five, male gorillas, as we learn, tend to move on. They stay in the family but tend to forget about their mother.

The females are easy to distinguish though with their bare breasts but what we failed to make out was whether they were heavy or belly full after continuous feeding.

The social structure is further portrayed as the girls, who you can tell from the fairly sized breasts, keep to their mother. We also learn that, like it is in humans, the girls stay close to their mothers in order to learn from the big lady; about the mothering ways.

The little Toms and Henrys keep around Maraka who is the dominant Silverback. Hierarchy is everything and it matters to be in good books with the main man, particularly for protection and avoidance of bad blood. Lubega explains that the stubborn young gorillas who attempt to defy the social hierarchy will soon either be beaten into submission or be chased out of the family. So the teenagers are better off being playful with Maraka and his likes for show of allegiance.

Lubega further shares that the Silverback gets the biggest share because he goes up the trees first. “And he does not go so high because he knows that some branches of the trees are weak and cannot hold his weight so the agile young ones will go over him to feed up there,” he adds.

By Edgar R. Batte : The Monitor Newspaper

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