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Gushimira's group travels back from Congo
Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The small group of mountain gorillas led by silverback Gushimira was formed in 2013 but has moved in and out of our monitoring range throughout much of its history. This happens when they cross the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where our Rwandan trackers cannot follow. The group stayed in Congo for much of 2014 but was spotted by our trackers back in Rwanda in January, with only three members (Gushimira, female Kanama and her infant).

Gorilla group GushimiraOn March 16, the group returned again to Rwanda so we have resumed our tracking of them. During an interaction with Ntambara’s group that same day, females Kunga and Kurinda transferred to Gushimira’s group. The interaction was not seen, but the group has been followed every day since March 19. Now, the group has three adult females — Kanama, Kunga and Kurinda — as well as the infant.


Silverback Ugutsinda improving
Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fossey Fund gorilla trackers are happy to report that dominant silverback Ugutsinda, who leads Ntambara's group of mountain gorillas, is back in his group today after some days of being alone and appearing ill. In addition, his health appears to be improving.

Silverback Ugutsinda looking betterHowever, two females from the group are missing, and it may be that they have transferred to another group (Gushimira's) after an interaction. But this group has not been seen for several days, even with enhanced teams searching for them.

In addition, elderly female Maggie is still traveling alone. We have a special team following her and she appears to be fine, but having her alone for extended periods in the forest is not an ideal situation. She runs away from our trackers, so we follow her at a distance.

Two events in Musilikale's group
Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Rugira in Musilikale's groupThe last few days have marked two exciting events for Musilikale’s group: a transfer and a birth! On March 9, female Rugira from Kuryama’s group was seen with Musilikale. The transfer happened the day before during an interaction that occurred after the trackers left the group. The interaction site was found, though, and it showed signs of intense activity and multiple displays. Rugira, who will turn seven in April, appears to be fine in the new group, and she was observed playing with dominant female Mahane’s son, Itorero.

On March 10, Mahane—one of the remaining gorillas born while Dian Fossey was alive—gave birth. Mahane is daughter of the matriarch, Effie, and sister to two notable females: Poppy and Maggie. All three of Effie’s daughters are notably strong: Maggie, who has recently shown her independence skills; Poppy, who is the oldest known gorilla but recently transferred with a lone silverback; and Mahane, who is the dominant female of Musilikale’s group. This is the 30-year-old Mahane’s seventh infant. 

Musilikale’s group has grown quite a bit since it was first formed in 2013. At the time, the group included seven gorillas, but now is composed of 12 individuals (three silverbacks, one blackback, five females, one juvenile and two infants).

Missing silverback and elderly female seen
Monday, March 09, 2015

On Sunday, Fossey Fund trackers were able to see one of the silverbacks reported as missing in the blog on March 6. Silverback Ugutsina was seen about 500 meters from his group, which near the top of Mr. Visoke. Unfotunately he still appeared weak, and the environment in this area is a difficult one. The group appeared fine, with silverback Twibuke leading it.

In other interesting news, elderly female Maggie, who was not seen for several days, was also located during the weekend, after a large, collaborative patrol was sent on a special search fo her. However, she is traveling alone and was distressed by the presence of trackers. She was moving and feeding normally.

Two silverbacks missing from Ntambara’s group
Friday, March 06, 2015

Although the causes and details are still unclear, both leading silverbacks from Ntambara’s group are no longer in their group, after each developed health problems.

The first case was that of second-ranking silverback Ntambara (29 years old) who went missing from the group on Feb. 6. A few days prior to his disappearance, he had shown some signs of illness, though these were not considered alarming at the time, since his activities seemed to be normal.

Silverback UgutsindaOn Feb. 17, his brother Ugutsinda, who is the dominant silverback of the group, began to show similar symptoms, including a swollen face. He also began moving and feeding more slowly and his general appearance was also abnormal. Despite his condition, he was generally keeping up with the group.

On Feb. 28, the group moved into a deep ravine and our trackers are not able to see them in that area. We hope to find the group soon and see whether Ugutsinda is with them.

This group does have a third silverback ─ Twibuke ─ who has led the group during this interim stage and perhaps will become dominant if Ugutsinda does not survive.

Stay tuned for more information about this important group, as it becomes available.

Scientist Winnie Eckardt returns for new role at Karisoke
Thursday, March 05, 2015

Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D., has taken on a new role as research manager at the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda. She is no stranger to Karisoke, having worked there first as a research assistant starting in 2004, and later returning as a teaching fellow with the National University of Rwanda to train and supervise graduate students conducting research at Karisoke. She also did her doctoral research on maternal investment in mountain gorillas, while based at the University of Chester.

Winnie Eckardt back at KarisokeDuring 2011-12 Eckardt was again back at Karisoke to study the physiology of stress among mountain gorillas in relation to their health, collecting behavioral data and fecal samples, which provide information about gorillas' stress hormone levels and parasite loads. From 2013-2014, she analyzed those data at the Fossey Fund’s headquarters at Zoo Atlanta, in collaboration with Emory University and the Davee Center for Epidemiology at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Now, Eckardt has returned to Karisoke to work as research manager, and is enjoying being “reunited” with some of the gorilla groups she has known for years, especially Pablo’s group, led by silverback Cantsbee.

“I am very happy to continue contributing to gorilla conservation and help building a new generation of conservationists in Rwanda and the region. It was exciting to get back in the field and to see all the juveniles playing in Pablo’s group! Cantsbee, our oldest monitored gorilla and protector of the group, still looks strong and has hardly changed at all since I last saw him,” says Eckardt. 

Searching for Maggie
Monday, February 23, 2015

Elderly female mountain gorilla Maggie, along with her 5-year-old son Gasore, left Ugenda's group on Feb. 17. She was then seen by Fossey Fund trackers with lone silverback Giraneza. However, she seemed to be trying to avoid Giraneza, who was displaying toward her, following her, and making sexual vocalizations.

Since then, young Gasore has returned safely to Ugenda's group but Maggie has not been seen again. A special team has been dispatched to search for her. They are finding fresh traces mixed with older ones, so we are hoping she will be located soon. They did see lone silverback Giraneza by himself, however, on Saturday.

Maggie with son Gasore and AkaramataMaggie's movements affected not only her son, but also subadult female Akaramata, who also briefly left the group at the same time, presumably to look for Maggie. Luckily, she has returned to the group as well.

These developments have some relationship to how Maggie and several others ended up in Ugenda's group, since they were once led by Maggie after the silverback of their group (Bwenge) died in October.

Unfortunately, Ugenda's group faced another sad situation today, with the death of Ukuri's infant. This infant, who was born on Christmas day, had appeared normal over the weekend, so the cause of death is not known at this time.

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