Fossey Fund News

November 16, 2012

Silverback Cantsbee Reaches 34th Birthday

Silverback Cantsbee now 34Cantsbee, the dominant silverback of Pablo’s group, turned 34 years old on November 14.  Ordinarily we do not write about gorilla birthdays, but Cantsbee is a special case.  Not only is he one of the last living gorillas - and the only male - named by Dian Fossey, but he also presides over the largest group of mountain gorillas that the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund monitors. At one time numbering an amazing 65 members, the group experienced some spinoffs before stabilizing at about 45 members. 

At 34, Cantsbee is still very strong, out-competing his son Gicurasi, the second-ranking silverback in Pablo’s group, for dominance.  Although Gicusrasi occasionally challenges Cantsbee and silverback Musilikale has led a splinter group at times, there is no doubt that Cantsbee remains dominant in the group.

There are very few mountain gorillas for whom we have documented dates of birth and death, but of the few individuals for which we do have this information, the oldest male gorillas the Fossey Fund has monitored died at the age of 35.  These two silverbacks were Pablo and Titus.  Given how powerful Cantsbee still is we hope he will push this record and live for several more years.

Cantsbee was born in 1978 and was given his name by Dian Fossey.  Fossey thought that Cantsbee's mother was a male, until she gave birth!  Fossey then exclaimed "It can't be," and that turned into the name Cantsbee. He became the dominant silverback in Pablo's group in 1994, although he allowed the aging Pablo to remain in the group as second in command until Pablo disappeared in 2008. He has held the position of dominant silverback longer than any other male in the Karisoke research groups, and is the oldest male we monitor.

Cantsbee was featured in the first episode of a 2010 BBC “Wildlife” documentary on gorilla life, “Kingdom in the Clouds,” showing him leading his group to the bamboo zone to feed on the new shoots.

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