Introduction: Mountain Gorillas and their Naming
Mountain gorillas are one of the two subspecies of the eastern gorilla, and they are a critically endangered species found only in the highlands of central Africa, specifically in the Virunga Mountains and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The naming of this subspecies is an interesting topic, as it holds a significant place in the history of gorilla taxonomy and conservation. In this article, we will explore the geographic distribution, taxonomic classification, physical characteristics, naming convention, and the origin of the name “gorilla” and how it relates to the naming of mountain gorillas.
Geographic Distribution of Mountain Gorillas
Mountain gorillas are only found in the high altitude forests of the Virunga Massif, which is shared between Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. This distribution is limited to an area of about 448 square miles, which is a small fraction of the total range of the eastern gorilla subspecies.
Taxonomic Classification of Mountain Gorillas
The scientific classification of mountain gorillas is as follows: Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Chordata, Class: Mammalia, Order: Primates, Suborder: Haplorhini, Infraorder: Simiiformes, Family: Hominidae, Genus: Gorilla, Species: Gorilla beringei, Subspecies: Gorilla beringei beringei (mountain gorilla), Gorilla beringei graueri (eastern lowland gorilla).
Physical Characteristics of Mountain Gorillas
Mountain gorillas are the largest primates on earth, with males weighing up to 440 pounds and females weighing up to 220 pounds. They have dense, long black hair that protects them from the cold and rain in their high altitude habitat. Unlike the eastern lowland gorillas, mountain gorillas have longer hair on their bodies and thicker fur on their backs, which is due to the colder climate of their habitat.
Gorilla Naming Convention: Latin and Vernacular
The scientific naming of organisms follows the binomial nomenclature system, which uses Latin words to describe the genus and species of an organism. Vernacular names, on the other hand, are commonly used names in a specific language. While scientific names remain the same across the world, vernacular names can vary depending on the language of the region.
The Origin of “Gorilla”
The word “gorilla” is believed to have originated from the Greek word “Gorillai,” which means “tribe of hairy women.” This term was used by ancient Greek explorers to describe the wild and hairy creatures they encountered during their travels, which were likely chimpanzees or baboons. Later, in the 19th century, when Europeans began to encounter gorillas in central Africa, they applied the name “gorilla” to this new, unknown species.
The Naming of Mountain Gorillas
The naming of mountain gorillas is a reflection of the scientific and cultural influences of the time. In 1902, the German naturalist Paul Matschie named the subspecies “Gorilla beringei” after the explorer Carl von Beringe who collected the first specimens in the Virunga Mountains. In 1925, the American naturalist Harold Jefferson Coolidge Jr. named the subspecies “Gorilla berengei berengei” to distinguish it from the eastern lowland gorilla subspecies, “Gorilla berengei graueri.”
The Role of Conservation in Gorilla Naming
Conservation efforts for mountain gorillas began in the 1960s, when the population was estimated to be around 250 individuals. The naming of mountain gorillas plays a crucial role in conservation efforts, as it can raise public awareness and promote conservation efforts. In 2020, there were around 1,063 mountain gorillas left in the wild, and their survival depends on ongoing conservation efforts.
Conclusion: Why Mountain Gorillas are Named as Such
Mountain gorillas are named after their habitat, the Virunga Mountains, and the explorer Carl von Beringe who collected the first specimens. The naming convention follows the binomial nomenclature system, using Latin words to describe the genus and species of the organism. Conservation efforts for mountain gorillas have played a significant role in raising public awareness about their endangered status, and their survival depends on ongoing conservation efforts.