Category Archives: Monitoring Visits

After Intervention, Starved Gorilla Able to Feed Herself Again

By Dr. Dawn Zimmerman

On August 7, Karisoke Research Center (KRC) reported that 17-year-old adult female Kunama of Ugenda group appeared to have a protruding tongue and difficulty eating. I visited the group the following day and observed the same behaviour, although I could not determine the cause of her condition through visual observation. A plan was made for a team to check her again on Thursday and intervene if she showed no improvement.

The next morning, a team including myself, Dr. Jean-Felix Kinani, Elisabeth Nyirakaragire from the Rwandan Development Board, KRC Researcher Winnie Eckardt, and KRC trackers, trekked to Ugenda group. Kunama looked weak and was hunched over, although she was still trying to eat. Her tongue appeared even more swollen and her abdomen was flat, indicating that she had ingested little or no food recently. We needed to intervene.

We easily darted Kunama with anaesthesia and she fell asleep within minutes without the other gorillas, including two silverbacks, seeming to notice. Kunama appeared to be moderately dehydrated and undernourished so we gave her IV fluids and dextrose.
Her tongue was grossly swollen and protruding from her mouth. There were several ulcerated lesions on her tongue that appeared secondary to the tongue’s enlargement, but I could find no other obvious problems. There were no foreign bodies or masses, and the throat and mouth all appeared normal. We administered IV steroids to help reduce the inflammation of her tongue and antibiotics to treat potential infections.

During the exam, we also noticed some reproductive abnormalities that may indicate Kunama recently had a miscarriage. She has a five-year-old son, and this would have been her second baby. We can’t tell if the miscarriage is linked to her current feeding problems, but we took many samples to analyze at the laboratory to help us better understand her condition. After the exam, Kunama was given a reversal drug and returned to her group.

There  were many possible causes of Kunama’s condition and I consulted with human doctors to help narrow down the list of possibilities since we were unable to perform a wide range of tests in a limited amount of time. Dr. Jean-Felix and the KRC trackers reported, in hindsight, that they had observed Kunama playing with her tongue excessively over the past year, suggesting that her condition might be chronic rather than acute. A chronic inflammatory (deposition) disease seemed like a strong possibility.

On August 10, I returned in the morning to recheck Kanama’s condition.  She appeared stronger but with little change in the condition of her tongue and ability to eat. Winnie monitored Kanama for four hours and though Kanama continued trying to eat, she grew weaker as the afternoon went on. Drs. Jean-Felix and Noel arranged to check her again on Saturday to determine if a second intervention was needed.

The next morning, the veterinarians were surprised to see Kanama looking much better. Her tongue was not protruding and she was eating.

Today, Monday the 13th, I went up to see Kanama for myself. She looked well and was eating non-stop. My only concern was that she continued to stick her fingers in her mouth, so her tongue may still be bothering her. Unfortunately, I could not actually visualize the tongue. Perhaps it is not quite yet back to its normal size, and certainly the ulcerated lesions could be a bit painful when she’s eating. I was also unable to visualize her abdomen, but based on her rate of eating, I imagine it will be back to normal in a few days if not already. Otherwise, we are happy with the progress, and will continue to ask the KRC trackers to update us on her status.

In light of this progression, I wonder if perhaps there was a foreign body or allergen that was removed prior to our intervention and it just took longer than expected for the inflammation to be alleviated. However, because many of the possible causes of her inflamed tongue are chronic conditions, we will continue to closely monitor the condition of her tongue in the future.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting us by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

Urgent Appeal: Help Us Document Our Patients!

The Gorilla Doctors team in Rwanda is in tremendous need of a new professional DSLR camera and telephoto lens after both of our older cameras and lenses were damaged beyond repair. We photograph our patients so that we can document and better track their health. Long lenses and cameras designed to work well in low light help us to clearly identify individuals in the dark forest.

Help make sure our staff can properly photograph our gorilla patients in Rwanda by making a cash gift to our camera fund: we hope to raise $2,000 so that we can purchase two refurbished recent-model cameras and lenses from Nikon or Canon.

If you are able to help, visit GorillaDoctors.org to make a secure on-line donation. When using the online donation system, please designate that your gift is for “cameras” in the appropriate box under the “This is a donation” heading. Thanks so much for helping the Gorilla Doctors share our world with you!

A Mountain Gorilla’s Self-Healing Power

Being wildlife veterinarians, the Gorilla Doctors are often challenged to determine the seriousness of an illness or injury in a gorilla by visual observation alone. Clinically, it’s ideal to perform tests and physical examinations on ailing patients to make definitive diagnoses. However, as conservationists of wild gorillas, the Gorilla Doctors must take care to disrupt their patients’ lives as little as possible and only interevene in truly life-threatening cases.

When our veterinary team observes a gorilla with a health problem that doesn’t appear to be life-threatening, they must watch and wait to see if the gorilla is able to recover without treatment. The waiting can be nerve wrecking, but we’re thrilled when a gorilla has the strenght to recover on its own.

Such was the case with Turate, an infant gorilla in Urugamaba group in Volcanoes National Park, who lost the use of his arm for several weeks. On June 12, Karisoke Research Center staff, which monitor Urugamba group, noticed that the two-year-old son of female Pasika was not using his right hand. His right arm appeared swollen and somewhat twisted and Turate showed pain when trying to use the arm to walk. Was his arm wrenched by a snare or did he dislocate his elbow in a fall?  It was impossible to tell without a physical exam or X-Ray. Despite the injury, however, Turate was able to move about and climb trees. He had even adapted his feeding habits and was using his right foot and left hand to feed.

Dr. Jean-Felix followed Turate’s case but the infant did not seem to improve much over the course of several weeks. He suspected that Turate might have a broken humerus or collarbone. Still, Turate seemed to be coping well. Then, in July, trackers began to notice that Turate was regaining the use of arm.

Dr. Dawn visited the group on July 11 and found that Turate had made a full recovery. Given that four weeks passed between the initial injury and recovery, Dr. Dawn suspected Turate may have had a severe soft tissue injury, a minor fracture, or dislocated bone that reduced itself. Whatever the case, we’re happy Turate was able to self heal. We can’t wait to see what kind of silverback this tough little guy will grow up to be.

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You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting MGVP by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

Concerns Mount for Two Injured Infants of Inshuti Group

Over the last few days, the Gorilla Doctors have been following the complicated cases of two injured infant gorillas belonging to Inshuti group. One infant was caught in a snare and in the other the case the cause of the trauma was unclear. It has not been possible to intervene yet in either case due to high stress levels in Inshuti group and fighting between silverback Inshuti and his rival Giraneza.

Dr. Dawn reports:

July 9

On July 3, trackers from the Karisoke Research Center reported finding the infant gorilla Akaruso dangling upside down from a tree by a rope snare that had caught his left leg. Akaruso is the three-year-old infant of Taraja who transferred to Giraneza group, the new group that formed when silverback Giraneza took some members from Inshuti group in February. Akaruso remained with Inshuti group. The trackers were able to cut the snare from the tree, and the infant was reunited with Inshuti, although he appeared to be weak and limping with the rope still around his leg. As standard practice, we did not attempt an intervention that same day in order to allow the stressed group to regain some composure.

The next day, Karisoke reported that Inshuti made it very difficult to check on Akaruso. Inshuti charged multiple times and kept the infant out of view. It was not possible to perform an intervention.

Over the next few days, Inshuti continued to charge the trackers, and they could only catch glimpses of Akaruso.  On July 8, trackers reported seeing the snare still on Akaruso’s left leg.  However, later in the day, the Inshuti and Giraneza groups met and the silverbacks fought, making it impossible to intervene again.

Today, I went up to assess the situation for a possible intervention to remove Akaruso’s snare.  Our team found Giraneza’s group first and, surprisingly, Akaruso was with Giraneza. No snare was observed on Akaruso’s leg, nor was he limping.  However, he was not using his left arm very well.  No wound or swelling could be appreciated, and he could.  I observed his ability to fully extend his elbow, wrist, and fingers, even grasping at some vegetation on the ground.  However, most of the time, he kept his left arm in to his chest, using only his right arm when moving. In addition, Akaruso was not observed eating during our two-hour observation period.

It became apparent that there might have been a misidentification between Akaruso and the two-year-old female Ngwino, who is also a member of Inshuti group. In retrospect, Ngwino may have been the infant cut from the tree on July 3.

Trackers believed that another infant was caught in a snare around the same time, as a piece of bitten off rope was found in the area.  Perhaps this was Akaruso and the snare had been attached to his left arm, causing pain and mal-use of the arm.  Another possibility for Akaruso could be trauma due to aggression from Giraneza. When an infant gorilla joins a group with an unrelated silverback, there is always the risk that the silverback could commit infanticide. We observed one episode of aggression by Giraneza towards Akaruso, but Giraneza subsequently groomed Akaruso and they rested together.

Soft tissue trauma to the arm is the most likely differential, although we are unable to rule-out a fracture and/or dislocation.  Due to the movement of the elbow, wrist, and finger joints, I suspect he will improve without needing intervention. However, we cannot rule-out any internal abdominal trauma due to aggression from Giraneza that would explain the infant’s decreased appetite. Stress could be another factor as it has been only one day since the infant moved to a new group post-interaction.

Later in the day, we found Inshuti with the adult female Shangaza not far from Giraneza group’s location. Inshuti appeared uneasy. Ngwino was not with them. Tomorrow, a large tracker team will set out to try to find her.

July 10

Today trackers found Inshuti and Shangaza but no sign of Ngwino. The search will resume tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the tense situation between the silverback Giraneza and the male infant Akaruso, who left Inshuti group on July 8 to join his mother Taraja, has evolved. This morning trackers reported that Akaruso appeared to be trying to run away from Giraneza with his mother. Later Akaruso was observed by himself, running in the direction of Inshuti group. He was half way to Inshuti group when trackers left the forest at the end of the day.

We are very concerned for the safety of both Ngwino and Akaruso. Tomorrow our colleagues at the Karisoke Research Center and the Rwandan Development Board will attempt to track both infants.

July 11

Neither infant was located today. The search will continue tomorrow.

July 12

Karisoke Research Center trackers finally found  Ngwino today with Inshuti group. She still has the rope snare around her leg and appeared very weak. We are planning to intervene with the Karisoke team first thing tomorrow morning. Sadly, the infant Akarusho is still missing.

To be continued …

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting MGVP by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

Celebrating New Gorilla Life in Rwanda

Every new mountain gorilla born in the wild represents hope for the species’ long-term survival. In Rwanda, these births are celebrated every June at Volcanoes National Park’s annual Kwita Izina Gorilla Naming Ceremony. On June 16, 19 mountain gorilla infants born in the park since June 2011 received Kinyarwanda names.

Our own Dr. Dawn has had the rare experience of seeing two of these babies the day they were born. Here she recalls these special moments.

On February 7th, 2012, I visited Hirwa group for a routine health monitoring check.  As I observed the 17 gorillas with the tracker, he would identify each by their nose print and tell me their name so that I could assess and record their health status.  As we moved from gorilla to gorilla, we came to adult female Mararo.  The tracker explaining that she was pregnant when, mid-sentence, he stopped. Mararo then turned to face us and we saw a newborn clinging to her belly.  The tracker smiled widely, heartened by this discovery.  It seems the amazement of birth endures.

About a month later on March 15, I performed a health assessment of the seven gorillas of Titus group who appeared to be in good health, including adult female Imvune. After 50 minutes of observation I left the group and headed down the mountain. However, upon exiting the forest, a radio call from trackers indicated that Imvune was “bleeding.” As we started trekking back to the group, trackers reported she had given birth.  We returned to the group to visually assess the mother and new infant, who both appeared well.  Imvune was very protective of her infant, hiding the baby from our view as well as from the other gorillas who came to her to check out the new addition.

Trackers say I am very fortunate to have observed not one, but two, mountain gorilla infants on their first day of life.  Having been in Rwanda only 6 months in the position of Regional Veterinary Manager, witnessing new life in the forest has been one of the highlights of my time here.

Gorilla Doctors Treat Injured Grauer’s Gorilla Silverback in Kahuzi-Biega

While the Gorilla Doctors have been unable to visit the mountain gorilla groups in DRC this month due to ongoing fighting between rebel groups and the Congolese army, our field veterinarians Dr. Eddy and Dr. Martin have been able to travel to Kahuzi-Biega National Park in South Kivu to check on the park’s Grauer’s gorillas. This time, their visit coincided with a health scare in Langa group. Dr. Eddy reports:

On the morning June 8, Dr. Martin and I prepared to visit Langa group in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Trackers informed us that silverback Langa was in poor health after being injured in fight with Ganywamulume group on May 28.

Langa group includes silverback Langa, one adult female, two sub adults, and three juveniles. The silverback lost two adult females and an infant to a lone male in March. The family has been under intensive habituation for the past 10 months and visitors can now approach the group within 7 meters, although Langa still charges frequently.

When we arrived at the group we heard Langa screaming and charging. Later he came in to open and began eating with the three juveniles. He appeared very thin with wasted muscles. He is thin partly because of his old age but this has been aggravated by painful-looking wounds, which have clearly reduced his appetite. Langa was moving slowly with a limp in the left leg. He was only using his right arm while walking and feeding.

Severe, open wounds were visible on both arms, and there was a noticeable bad smell emanating from the gashes. He had a wound that looked about 7 cm long and 3 cm deep halfway up his right arm and had a smaller wound on his left arm close to the wrist. Despite his wounds, he was alert and responsive, and breathing normally. His appetite was quite good and his stomach looked to be about half full.

After observing him for some time, we made the plan to return the next morning to dart him with antibiotic and anti-inflammatory drugs. On June 9 we found the group at about 10:15 am. They hadn’t moved far. Unfortunately the place had dense vegetation with branches so it was not easy to find a good spot to shoot the darts.  We saw Langa trying to eat with his left hand. He had cleaned both of his wounds and we did not notice the bad smell.

We prepared two darts, one with 50mg of the antibiotic Ceftriaxone to help with wound healing and another with 5 mg of the anti-inflammatory Ketoprofen to ease his pain. I was able to successfully dart Langa with the antibiotics, but then he ran into the forest and I was not able to get another good shot. However, the antibiotic was the most important.

Trackers will check on Langa every day and report back to the Gorilla Doctors on his progress. If he does not improve we should consider to a full intervention so we can examine him fully.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting MGVP by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

Two Health Scares in Pablo Group in Two Days

After an extremely quiet spring with no veterinary interventions in Uganda, DRC, or Rwanda, June brought the Gorilla Doctors a flush of new veterinary cases. The first full week of June, two female gorillas in Pablo group, Mukecuru and Turimaso, found themselves in need of medical attention. Drs. Dawn and Jean-Felix report on the cases:

From Dr. Dawn: On May 20, Karisoke Research Center requested a health assessment of a 9-day-old infant born to Mukecuru, an elderly female in Pablo group. The infant was reported to be crying and weak. Sadly, the infant was dead when we arrived the next day. Mukecuru continued to carry the body and no visual abnormalities could be appreciated. Because she kept the deceased infant to her breast with her arms folded, it was not possible to observe her mammary glands during our visit. However, trackers reported the subsequent day that her mammary glands appeared to be flat with little to no milk. This is the third infant Mukecuru has lost in four years.

During my visit on May 21, Mukecuru herself appeared to be in good health, moving and eating normally. This is in contrast to the lethargy and weakness observed when she lost her last infant in 2009.

From Dr. Jean-Felix: On June 2, Karisoke Research Center trackers reported that Mukecuru was lethargic, not eating, and lagging behind the rest of the group. The following day Volcanoes National Park Veterinary Warden Elisabeth Nyirakaragire, a team of Karisoke Research Center trackers, and I traveled to Pablo group to perform an intervention on Mukecuru.

We arrived at the group at 9 am and saw all of the group members except Mukecuru. After some searching, trackers found her alone, 50 meters away from the others. Elisabeth and I observed her for 2 hours. She was laying on her stomach and very lethargic. Her respiratory rate was fast and her gums and mouth appeared pale. Her breasts looked entirely empty and her abdomen was flat—she had not eaten in a few days. She also had watery diarrhea.

We decided to dart her with 1 gram of the antibiotic Ceftriaxone and 75 mg of the anti-inflammatory Ketoprofene. She was darted on the right thigh and didn’t cry out. We attempted to herd her back towards the group and she yowled at us, but eventually found her way to Cantsbee, the group’s leading silverback. She looked much more calm once she was back with the group. In the days that followed, Mukecuru gradually recovered her strength and began eating normally and moving with the rest of the group.

On June 4, the day after the Mukecuru intervention, Turimaso, a 9-year-old female gorilla from Pablo group, was caught in a snare attached to a tree. Karisoke Research Center trackers tried to cut the rope snare from the tree but they were charged repeatedly by silverback Gicurasi who was protecting Turimaso. Fortunately, Turimaso chewed off the rope from the tree (but with the snare still around her wrist) and she was able to rejoin the group. Because the gorillas were so aggressive and agitated, we decided to try to remove the snare the following day.

The next morning, Drs. Eddy, Noel, and I along with Elisabeth and a Karisoke team arrived at the group around 9 am. Trackers noticed that the snare was gone from Turimaso’s wrist. It was difficult to get close to her as Gicurasi was shielding her from our view and it was raining. After 1 hour we were able to observe Turimaso well, who was using only her left hand when moving and eating. Her right hand was slightly swollen but she was calm and ate abundantly. We decided to give her some time and see if the right hand could regain normal functioning after a period of rest.

On June 6, Karisoke trackers reported that Turimaso was keeping up with group and eating well, although still not using her right hand. Trackers will continue to monitor her daily.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting MGVP by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

Dr. Dawn Checks on Ailing Baby in Urugamba Group

For every gorilla health case that requires a full medical intervention, the Gorilla Doctors probably follow up on at least half a dozen other cases that thankfully do not require emergency treatment. To ensure we catch health problems in the early stages, the Gorilla Doctors keep in close contact with the trackers who monitor the gorilla groups on a daily basis.  Whenever a problem is noted, such as coughing in the group, a wounded silverback, or a sickly baby, the Gorilla Doctors trek to the group to make a visual health check and determine what additional care is needed.

In a case earlier this month, Dr. Dawn visited Urugamba group to check on a new baby that appeared to be in pain. Here is Dr. Dawn’s report:

Karisoke Research center trackers reported on April 3 that Bishushwe’s 4-month-old infant  group was not observed nursing this past morning, was crying, and appeared to be experiencing abdominal pain based on unusual movements of the infant. Historically, trackers reported that this mother Bishushwe has raised her previous offspring well. The next day I went to assess the infant. Trackers had been with the group for about 15 minutes prior to my arrival and reported that the infant appeared much improved and they had observed it nursing. A visual examination of the infant revealed normal activity and body condition, although nursing was not directly observed during my veterinary assessment.

The infant was not crying nor did he or she display any abnormal abdominal movements attributed to pain. The mother, Bishushwe, also appeared in good general health and I observed no visual abnormalities of her mammary glands.

All 7 gorillas in the group were visually checked and appeared in good health. Only the juvenile Inkumbuza was observed with minor healing wounds on the left hand and old scars on the palm.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

Please consider supporting MGVP by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.

The Saga of the Silverback Inshuti

By Dr. Dawn

Inshuti

It’s been a difficult 2012 thus far for Inshuti, a silverback gorilla in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.  Meaning “friend” in Kinyarwandan, Inshuti is considered one of the largest and most aggressive silverbacks within the Karisoke research groups, and he has endured his share of drama. Over the years, Inshuti has survived attacks from other gorillas, a suspected fall, and a respiratory infection.

At 16 years of age, Inshuti left Shinda group to become a lone silverback in search of a family.  Just months later, he met the Beetsme’s group and was beaten badly by a number of gorillas.  He spent three days in his night nest, a sign of critical concern, then suddenly emerged and continued to forge on.

In 2007, after various unsuccessful attempts to acquire some females over his three years of bachelorhood, he was joined by two females from Titus group, Taraja and Shangaza.  In 2008, Shangaza gave birth to a female named Ngwino, and Taraja produced a male, Akarusho, in 2009.  A third female, Nyandwi, joined in 2011 from Pablo group.  Inshuti had finally secured a growing family.

His blissful life of female companionship did not last long.

Inshuti's head wound.

On Friday, January 27, I received a call from Karisoke Gorilla Program Coordinator Veronica Vecellio reporting that Inshuti had sustained severe wounds from an interaction with two lone silverbacks.  Karisoke researchers had witnessed the interaction, which lasted for over 2 hours and left Inshuti with bite wounds to the head, neck, back, hands, and feet.  The two lone silverbacks were identified by Karisoke as Tuyizere and Turatsinze, originating from Pablo group, and had continued to follow Inshuti after the interaction.

Inshuti's wounded hand.

A veterinary assessment was requested, and the next morning, Dr. Jean-Felix and I trekked up to the Basumba area which lies between the Bisoke and Karisimbi volcanoes.  We were joined by Dr. Winnie Eckardt, a Karisoke post-doctoral researcher, and numerous Karisoke trackers who knew the group well, as Inshuti’s aggressive reputation warranted many bodies for protection should an intervention be needed.  Along the way, we came across one of the lone silverbacks, Turatsinze, with a few minor wounds on his back.

We found Inshuti lying on his belly, often a pose associated with not feeling well.  He seemed to care less that we were there, unusual for him.  He was quite weak and sore but alert, responsive, and eating.  He was moving very slowly and we discovered the reason – a large wound on the sole of his right foot. As a mature silverback, he is likely close to 200 kg in weight, and as gorillas walk on the knuckles of their hands and the soles of their feet, a significant percentage of their weight is distributed to each foot.

Inshuti feeling badly.

We followed him to his next resting place, sadly only a few meters away, and watched him for over an hour documenting his wounds and looking for any signs of serious internal injuries (such as blunt trauma or deep puncture wounds impossible to observe by visual examination at 7+ meters away).  His abdomen was fairly flat, a sign that he had not eaten much in the last 24 hours.  Numerous other bite wounds were observed, including a severe laceration to his head: approximately 20 cm in length and 1 cm in depth, scaling from his right ear to the top of his head.  Although this wound was of significant concern, it did not appear life-threatening and therefore did not warrant an intervention.

A Gorilla Doctor protocol, the decision to intervene is based on whether the injury or illness is human-induced and whether the injury or illness is life-threatening.  In Inshuti’s case,  his wounds did not appear to be immediately life threatening, and undergoing anesthesia could weaken him further, making him an easier target for the lone silverbacks who had continued to follow the group.  We decided to not to intervene but monitor his wounds and if signs of infection were observed, we would be ready to dart with antibiotics.  The Karisoke trackers would stay and watch him for the next several hours and check on him daily.

The next day, the trackers reported that Inshuti was not eating nor moving much.  Although this would not be unusual if feeling sore, it was still of concern that the wounds may have been worse than our visual inspection suggested.  While preparing to return for a possible intervention, we waited anxiously for the next report.  The call came mid-day . . . he was eating and moving around much more! We breathed a sigh of relief, but still scheduled a visual recheck for the next day.

Dr. Jean Felix confirmed Inshuti’s improved condition; however, during the veterinary health check, Inshuti had another interaction with

Tuyizere

Inshuti was seen charging Tuyizere many times to prevent him from getting close to the females but no physical contact was observed. Inshuti did not display any signs of weakness or pain when displaying and running the lone silverback off, and his wounds appeared to be healing well.  This, at least, was good news that he was feeling well enough to defend himself.  Nyandwi, only nine years old and without an infant, appeared as if she wanted to go with Tuyizere, but Inshuti would run after her and pull her back.  Despite such advances, Inshuti’s group remained intact.

However, the very next day, trackers reported an interaction with yet another lone silverback, 17-year-old Giraneza, who also originated from Pablo group. The next, day, Inshuti and his group went missing.

No sign of them could be found for the next 5 days.  Karisoke trackers searched intensely starting from the trail on the last day they were seen, even employing a second patrol assisted by the Volcanoes National Park anti-poaching team who had recently discovered 16 snares and arrested a poacher, but to no avail.

A main concern was that another interaction had led to group to flee so quickly that they left no trace of their path behind.  And assuming there had been another interaction, we needed to find him soon to assess his health.  Further complicating things was the thought that they may have fled across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Giraneza

Finally, trackers found Nyandwi, not with Inshuti but with the lone silverback, Giraneza. Five days after going missing, Karisoke trackers found Inshuti.  He was alone and weak, but still moving and eating.  Just one kilometer away, the lone silverback Giraneza and female Nyandwi had been joined by Taraja and her infant Akarusho.  This was concerning for almost 3-year old Akarusho as infanticide is not uncommon in gorilla groups where the dominant silverback is not the sire.

The same day, lone silverback Turatsinze approached the group and fought with Giraneza.  The group dispersed during the interaction.  Afterwards, Akarusho did not return to the group and was not seen for the rest of the day.  Meanwhile, Shangaza and infant Ngwino had not been found.

Fortunately, the next morning,

Akarusho and Inshuti

joined Inshuti, stressed after spending a night alone for the first time, but otherwise fine.  Karisoke researchers reported that he cried when he saw Inshuti and remained close to him for the rest of the day.  Inshuti remains weak but moving and feeding, and still recovering from wounds of the initial attack almost two weeks ago.

On February 10th, Dr. Jean Felix returned to check on Inshuti’s condition.  He found Inshuti very active, with the majority of his wounds healing well with exception of the one located behind his left ear extending to his neck which was still open and probably taking longer to heal as the laceration was pulled open when Inshuti moved his head to the side.

Two days later, Shangaza and infant Ngwino joined Inshuti, looking fine and healthy.  After one of the few lone silverbacks to successfully acquire a family group, and then lose one, it appears that Inshuti once again has a family.

Weeks later, Inshuti’s group was found on Karisimbi, quite far from their normal territory.  It is not known whether they continue to run from lone silverbacks, or if, perhaps, Inshuti is looking for his lost females.

Silverback Kabirizi’s Role as King of Virunga Threatened

Kabirizi with his family.

Kabirizi with his family.

This Blog was written by Dr. Eddy from Virunga National Park, DRC.

On the morning January 20, I left the Bukima patrol post with a group of trackers to find Kabirizi group. Along the way we encountered the night nest of the silverback Mukunda, who still stays by himself in the forest. About 30 minutes later we met a wild or unhabituated gorilla group, a very rare occurrence. The group was quiet initially but later they moved away, with the silverbacks charging and screaming at us. We know from the 2010 census that there are several large unhabituated groups in Viurnga.

Almost 3.5 hours after starting our trek, we found Kabirizi group. The weather was sunny and almost all of the gorillas were sitting under shade in the bushes which made our observation quite long and difficult.  We counted 33 individuals, including Kabirizi himself.

I realized that Kabirizi was quieter than usual. He was not charging, hiding, or running, and was eating out in the open with his family members. Normally Kabirizi does not like being observed by people, and stays hidden in the vegetation, keeping the group’s babies close to him for protection.  I noticed that Kabirizi has many healing wounds on his left shoulder and thigh and a large cut (about 7cm) on his right heel which was healing but not allowing him to walk properly. He was limping on the right side and using his left leg a lot while walking.

Kabirizi's missing canines.

Kabirizi's missing canines.

Some time ago, Kabirizi lost his upper and lower canine teeth during a fight with another gorilla. I think that his lack of canines, his defensive weapons, is one of the reasons why it is easy for the other silverbacks in the group to take advantage of him in fights. The younger silverback Bagheni  been fighting with Kabirizi on a regular basis now, and Kabirizi most often loses the battles. Another young silverback in the group, Mugeni, is also starting to challenge Kabirizi.

While the other gorillas in the group appear healthy, Kabirizi is declining due to a combination of aging and frequent fighting with the other silverbacks. It will be very interesting to see how the dynamics in the family change this year.

Research Notes:  Kabirizi has been one of the most successful silverbacks in Virunga National Park, having sired dozens of babies during his 14-year reign as leader of Kabirizi group. Famous for his aggressiveness towards people and other gorillas, Kabirizi has killed a number of other male gorillas while defending his family.

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