Are the gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park “true” mountain gorillas?


  • Alison A. Elgart

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers, FL 33965
    • Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Gulf Coast University, Whitaker 124, 10501 FGCU Blvd. South, Fort Myers, FL 33965, USA
    Search for more papers by this author


The gorillas that inhabit Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda are the least known of the eastern gorillas. Because they are an allopatric population living a minimum of 25 km from the well-studied population of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) in Rwanda and have certain morphological and ecological differences from these gorillas, their taxonomic status has been in question in recent years. This study presents new craniodental metrics from Bwindi individuals and compares them to Virunga individuals as well as to eastern lowland gorillas, G. gorilla graueri. Multivariate statistics, including MANCOVA, least-squares, regression, and principal components analyses, were used to evaluate how closely the Bwindi crania resemble the Virunga crania and how both relate to G. g. graueri. Results indicate that the Bwindi gorillas have generally smaller crania than the Virunga gorillas, but when metrics are log-transformed, the only variable that distinguishes the Bwindi individuals is a longer face. When both populations are compared to G. g. graueri, they cluster together separately from the eastern lowland gorillas, sharing such features as higher rami, wider bigonia, longer mandibles, and wider and shorter mandibular symphyses in relation to G. g. graueri. Functional morphological explanations for these differences are discussed, but lacking measurements of the physical properties of G. g. graueri, they cannot fully be explained. Results clearly indicate that at least pertaining to the cranium, upon which most gorilla taxonomy is based, the Bwindi gorillas are proper mountain gorillas (G. b. beringei). Am J Phys Anthropol, 2010. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.