Many people have wondered and still wonder why gorillas have attracted so many people, and why we seem to be doing more than a lot for them: the annual gorilla naming ceremony (one day, a family called and complained that we have picked all their family names…), the special and publicized birth of twins…the death of the Gorilla King and the ceremonial burial the other day!
Yes, gorillas are famous and have made their habitat famous too! Many visitors, including the most famous people have visited gorillas in Rwanda. Some of of them, who whispered to us their intimate and discreet opinion “wished all Rwandans could know how gorillas and their country habitat are so special”.
WHAT is special about gorillas?
A few days ago there was an unfortunate death of the dominant silverback in one of the research groups named URUGAMBA! He was named so because he was born during the insecurity period of early 1990s in the volcanoes area. Urugamba did not die of old age; but for now let not dwell on the causes of his early death but rather on the fate of his group members following him passing away.
Gorillas live in a structured family composed of compulsory one dominant silverback (group leader), females, juveniles and infants. The dominant silverback is a really leader; he takes responsibility of protecting the group members, decides the group’s movements. He is a truly center of attention in the family life managing both internal interactions among group members and external interactions with neighboring groups. Urugamba group its self was formed in 2009 following the natural death of Shinda, the then dominant silverback. Subsequent to Shinda’s death was disintegration of his group into three groups, led by his ex-subordinates Ntambara, Ugenda and Urugamba.
Urugamba was proclaimed dead by the group trackers on 25th January 2013. Without a subordinate male to lead the group, the fate of his females and infants was a subject of concern to all of us!
On 25th; remaining family members composed of 6 gorillas woke up and started the day without the leader. After a couple of hours moving and searching for food away from the dead body of their leader, gorillas made their way back to the site, surrounding the body and making different vocalizations, crying! Gorillas mourn their dead leader! There would come to see him, chase away the flies on the decomposing body and make different vocalizations, they don’t bury the lost, but show signs of grieving!
In this kind of situation, where the group does not have the leader, and the fact that Urugamba family had two close neighbors in group Ugenda and Ntambara; the assumption was that either the gorillas will move to join one group, or the later will move towards the unstable family. However, it is not as simple as it seems! When a different dominant silverback takes over, there is risk of infanticide; the females with babies will be reluctant to expose their young offspring to the risk of being killed by the new leader.
MORE ON THE FATE OF URUGAMBA GROUP NEXT TIME….
Prosper UWINGELI/The Chief Park Warden