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The Mountain Gorilla In Virunga National Park

Congo, Democratic Republic Of The

The Mountain Gorilla in Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park is home to approximately 200 of the world's remaining 790 Mountain Gorillas. The park's gorillas live in the Mikeno Sector, an area of forest situated on the flanks of a range of mostly dormant volcanoes.

A Mountain Gorilla family, which can number from four to fifty individuals, is led by a single dominant adult male known as the "Silverback", a name derived from the grey hair that develops on a male's back as it reaches adulthood. The Silverback is responsible for protecting the family from predators or other threats, including solitary Silverbacks intent on claiming females as their own.

Some families contain more than one Silverback, but only one is dominant and that male alone is responsible for mating with the adult females of the group.

Despite all the lore about the ferocity of the mountain gorilla, in general they are very peaceful creatures. Most days are spent foraging for food, playing, and grooming. Aside from mock fighting amongst juveniles, displays of aggression are reserved for challenges to the Silverback's dominance or direct threats to the family's well being.


The Mountain Gorilla as a species has long been close to extinction. Poaching and wars have killed many of these animals, and illegal charcoal production has destroyed much of their habitat. Many conservationists have dedicated their professional lives to furthering our understanding of this species and raising awareness of its plight.

Dian Fossey, whose work was immortalized in the movie Gorillas in the Mist, is perhaps the most famous of these. More recently influential journalists have brought the world's attention to Virunga's Mountain Gorilla population. In 2007 Brent Stirton won the World Press Photo competition with a picture of the aftermath of a gorilla massacre, which National Geographic ran as its cover story.

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