Uganda has 20 primate species. Seven are nocturnal and the others are diurnal. The smallest are the nocturnal potto and bush baby. The others are old-world monkeys like the Colobus, Patas, and Vervet. We will get a look at many of these in later posts but let’s start with the largest and most charismatic of the group – no not humans – Great Apes; the Chimpanzee and the Eastern or Mountain Gorilla. In addition the Democratic Republic of the Congo has the Lowland Gorilla and the Bonobo, also Great Apes.
Many tourists visit Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the explicit goal of seeing these close relatives of ours. Both of these apes are highly social, staying in family units and hanging out with each other eating leaves and twigs and shoots all day. They are also rather easy to locate in the mountains of western Uganda. Humans, like you and me, have about 98.3% the same genetic makeup of these large primates. The differences appear to be great as we look at each other externally, but the similarities between humans, chimps, and apes are much greater than the differences.
Both chimpanzees and gorillas are forest creatures living in Uganda, Burundi, the DRC and Rwanda, at rather high elevations and in dense forests. The Chimpanzees are in trees more than the gorillas are. The average male/female gorilla weigh about 250/450 pounds and the Chimpanzee weighs about 65/135 pounds. If all goes well they both can live about 50 years. Habitat loss due to human agricultural expansion is the greatest threat to the animals. There is a Lowland Gorilla as well in the eastern part of the DRC and each type of gorilla has two somewhat different populations. The fourth Great Ape of the region, the Bonobo, is only found in the jungle forests of the DRC. Gibbons (often called a Lesser Ape) and Orangutans do not occur in this part of the world.
In Uganda the apes are doing well in the protected forests, although habitat loss, primarily to agriculture, limits their potential for population increase. The same in the DRC and Rwanda though the DRC is vast and mostly still undeveloped. Gorilla and Chimpanzee tourism has been a game changer for these countries and for the local people as well. Nowadays there is a good deal of income based on the American, Asian, and European visitor who pays just under $1000 to get to stay an hour with a habituated gorilla group. Chimpanzee tourism also exists but chimps are less predictable and are often moving about – and significantly less expense to visit. Our group stumbled on both gorillas and chimpanzee as we traveled about the countryside.
As you can imagine there have been many books written and extensive research undertaken on both Chimpanzees and Gorillas. Dian Fosse and Jane Goodall have become common, almost iconic, names in America as they have studied and written about these animals. They, and many others, have dedicated (and even given) their lives to further an understanding of these animals. One last note before jumping in to pictures and stories from our trip – humans, chimps, and gorillas are in separate taxonomic categories. These categories have no other relatives interjected; in other words we are all a bit different but the similarities are pretty much linear – we are each others closest relatives.
The next post will show the Olive Baboon and its skills, brazenness, and introspection. Gorillas and Chimpanzees may be in groups that occasionally reach twenty members, that would be a small number for a baboon troop.