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New Fossey Fund gorilla "adoptions" ready
Friday, July 31, 2015

Each year the Fossey Fund offers a variety of individual gorillas for "adoption," which raises money that directly supports their daily protection by our staff of trackers, anti-poachers, scientists and others. These are gorillas that our staff monitor every day and know very well. That means that for each adoption, we can provide a detailed profile on the gorilla's life, behaviors and history.

This year, we are now also including quarterly updates for each adopted gorilla, so that you can learn more about what's going on with "your" gorilla throughout the year.

Infant gorillaOn our Adoption pages, you can choose an infant gorilla, a mother-and-infant pair, a silverback, or even a whole group of gorillas! Adopts include a profile on your gorilla, a personalized certificate with the gorilla's photo, our Gorilla Journal newsletter, and access to the quarterly updates on your gorilla. Some levels include additional benefits too.

For more information, go to gorillafund.org/adoption_packages

Local communities watch conservation movies
Friday, July 24, 2015

In addition to daily protection and study of gorillas, the Fossey Fund works with local communities to help increase conservation awareness. This takes place on many levels, from programs for primary and secondary school children to working with hundreds of science students from local colleges. We also provide conservation education opportunities for the general communities near the park where the gorillas live, many of whom have never had an opportunity to see the gorillas or to learn about them and their important forest habitat.

This spring, we organized gorilla treks for groups of local leaders, along with discussion sessions. In June and July we also began showing conservation-related films in 12 sectors adjacent to the national park, inviting local people to come for free and to participate in question-and-answer sessions afterwards with Karisoke education staff.

Conservation movie showing in local communityThis year, we showed two documentaries. The first was "Titus: The Gorilla King," a documentary from the PBS Nature series, which followed the life of the late silverback group leader Titus, who was followed and studied by the Fossey Fund for many years. The second film was "Hope," produced by Craghoppers and narrated by Sir David Attenborough, showing the work of the Fossey Fund protecting and studying gorillas in Rwanda.

 So far, about 3,000 people have attended these movies in five villages and three schools, with more showings still to come. Local communities have requested more showings and movies, and oral evaluations after the films showed that most participants learned about the major threats to gorillas and opportunities for them to help with conservation.

First newborn arrives in Mafunzo's group
Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mountain gorilla Taraja was observed by our trackers with a newborn on July 19. She lives in a group of mountain gorillas led by silverback Mafunzo, one of the newest groups followed daily by the Fossey Fund. Taraja is an interesting female because she has made multiple transfers from one group to another in her lifetime, moving from Titus’s group to Pablo’ group to Giraneza’s group, then back to Pablo’s group, then to Inshuti’s group, back to Giraneza’s group and now to Mafunzo’s group!

Taraja with newbornThis birth is also the first in Mafunzo’s group, which formed in January 2014 and had a stressful beginning, but which now includes 10 gorillas. Taraja lost her previous two offspring due to infanticide, as a result of her frequent transfers. This is not unusual when a female with a young infant leaves the group in which the infant was fathered. The silverback in the new group will often kill the infant, so that the mother becomes available for reproduction again more quickly.

Everyone at the Fossey Fund hopes that this time things will go well for Taraja and her infant, and that she has found a more stable “home” in Mafunzo’s group.

Newborn arrives in Pablo's group
Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The oldest female in Pablo's group gave birth last week. Pablo's is a large, historic group of mountain gorillas followed every day by the Fossey Fund throughout its history. Mother Mukecuru was spotted by our trackers holding her newborn on the morning of July 8 and the infant was still wet. Mukecuru is about 35 years old and  has three living offspring, though she has also lost three others just after their births.

Mukecuru with infantOn the same day, Pablo's group interacted with Susa's group (which is monitored for tourism by the Rwanda Development Board), but only the males participated. Susa's group already contains several former members of Pablo, though none transferred this time.

Who's my daddy? For gorillas, it doesn't matter
Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Every day, just like humans, gorillas have to make choices about whom they socialize with. Also like humans, they usually (though not always) have the strongest relationships with their relatives. Many of the groups the Karisoke Research Center has monitored for the past 15 years have been very large and contained more than one silverback. This creates an interesting problem: when infants have multiple potential fathers, how do they figure out who dad is?

The gorillas monitored by Karisoke have been followed for some 47 years, which means we can collect very detailed data on their behavior and social relationships, plus fecal samples that allow us to figure out genetic paternity. By matching the paternity information to the gorillas’ behavior patterns, we can determine whether silverbacks and infants are more likely to socialize with one another if the silverback is the infant’s father.

Gorillas with silverbackIt turns out they’re not! Infants’ and silverbacks’ preferences for one another seem to be based on the silverbacks’ dominance rank, not genetic paternity. Dominance hierarchies are strong among silverbacks. Typically, alpha (top-ranking) males sire the most infants in a group, but males who are lower on the totem pole also father a surprising number (in one of our samples, about 60 percent of infants). We found no signs in their behavior that silverbacks or infants were using paternity to decide whom to socialize with.

Currently, we’re working on figuring out what hormones are associated with silverbacks’ parenting behaviors. Like humans, gorillas show a tremendous amount of individual variation. Some males are very paternal, playing with and grooming infants. Others, while tolerant, show little active interest. We hope to understand more about the mechanisms that control parenting behavior under different social conditions.

Support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation, National Science Foundation, and LSB Leakey Foundation allows us to integrate hormonal data collected from fecal and urine samples with our genetic paternity and behavior data. Together these will provide important insights on how and why social relationships evolved in primates — both non-human and human!

Submitted by Stacy Rosenbaum, Ph.D., NSF postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago and Lincoln Park Zoo. Dr. Rosenbaum was a research assistant at the Fossey Fund's Karisoke Research Center in 2003-2004 and reutrned in 2011-2012 to collect date for her doctoral dissertation.

CEO Dr. Stoinski tweets from the field
Friday, July 03, 2015

Dr. Tara Stoinski, Fossey Fund president and CEO/chief scientist, has been tweeting from the field on her current trip to our Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda. To keep up, follow us on Twitter at this link:  http://twitter.com/SavingGorillas

Vuba displaying to the femalesThis week Dr. Stoinski took a group of visitors to see one of the gorilla groups, which is always an exciting opportunity to share. She spotted silverback Vuba, now 21 years old, whom she first observed 11 years ago, before he turned into the majestic full-grown gorilla he is today.

The Karisoke Research Center is the heart of the Fossey Fund's operations in Rwanda, where we provide daily monitoring and protection for nine groups of gorillas, anti-poaching patrols, important scientific studies, and community programs in education and health. Stay tuned for information about a new exhibit we just opened at the Karisoke facility!

Trajan Lance, 9-year-old fundraiser and conservationist
Monday, June 22, 2015

Trajan Lance with his Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund adoption certificatesThe Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s work is made possible largely through long-term support, donations and individual fundraising—and it’s always particularly inspiring for our organization to see an extraordinarily young donor fundraising for our cause and for the well-being of gorillas. Trajan Lance is one such example, and describes the population increase in mountain gorillas as a reason to do more work and increase fundraising.

Trajan used his 9th birthday this May as a gorilla fundraiser, after he and his mother created a website and promoted it on Facebook and through email. His initial goal was to raise $760 to adopt a mother/infant gorilla pair and a silverback mountain gorilla from the Fossey Fund, as well as 12 western lowland gorillas at the Oklahoma City Zoo, but he surpassed his goal by nearly $200! 

Trajan recalls being first inspired by gorillas when he was 3 years old and likes them because of their close connection with humans and for their behavior. “My favorite thing about gorillas is how playful the babies are and how they act like us when they are upset or playful and how they show affection for one another,” Trajan said.

For Christmas 2014, Trajan received a Fossey Fund mountain gorilla infant adoption and has been inspired to do what he can to raise money since. Already looking ahead to his next fundraiser, Trajan hopes to participate in a cell-phone recycling collection and to teach his homeschool group about conservation. 

“We need to protect our home that we share with all the animals. When you think about protecting the environment we live in, you are already a part-time conservationist. When you donate, fundraise and teach others about plants, animals and their habitats, you are a full-time conservationist,” Trajan said. 

Trajan, who is holding out to become a junior curator at the Oklahoma City Zoo once he turns 14, hopes to study gorillas later in life. “I hope to be a scientist and conservationist like Dr. Tara Stoinski,” he said, referring to the Fossey Fund’s president and CEO/chief scientist.

To learn more about Trajan’s work, visit: www.savetheprimates.weebly.com

To make a gorilla adoption, visit: gorillafund.org 

From Dr. Tara Stoinski, en route to Rwanda
Friday, June 19, 2015

I am headed off to the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda, accompanied by seven huge bags of supplies for our field staff, along with my 7- and 8-year-old daughters.  We’ll spend close to a month in Africa — the girls playing with the friends they made last year while I work with our gorilla programs.

Dr. Tara Stoinski The Fossey Fund has more than 130 staff members in Africa, including gorilla trackers, anti-poachers, scientists, educators, and administrators. So, there will be lots of discussions as we review all of our field operations and plan next year’s activities and budgets. We will also conduct leadership training and strategize about events for the 50th anniversary of Karisoke in 2017, which we plan to kick off in late 2016.

Summer is also the time when a number of our partners also are on site in Africa, and so I’ll be meeting with folks visiting from Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Partners in Conservation, the George Washington University, Gorilla Doctors, and Emory University among others. But luckily all my time won’t be spent in the office — we have two tour groups coming to see the gorillas, and so I will be very excited to spend a few days in the forest with them watching the gorillas. We’ll also have them meet our team and visit our community outreach projects near the park.

I'll update you from the field in Africa soon!

Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., President and CEO/Chief Scientific Officer

Trackers witness interesting gorilla group interaction
Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fossey Fund gorilla trackers witnessed an interaction between two large groups of mountain gorillas today. One of the groups (called Ntambara group) is followed every day by the Fossey Fund. The other group (called Amahoro group) is followed by the Rwanda park authorities, for visitation by tourist groups.

Interaction of two gorilla groupsFossey Fund Gorilla Program Data Officer Theodette Gatesire watched the interaction and reported that the excitement began when a blackback from Amahoro group reached Ntamabara group, which was ranging about 200 meters away. This provoked a reaction in Ntamabara group, and soon three silverbacks from Amahoro group arrived at the site.

At first, the gorillas from each group just watched each other, wtih the silverbacks in "strut" stance. But soon, one of the silverback's from Amahoro group grabbed a gorilla from Ntambara group, leading to a lot of screaming and displays. Luckily, however, no real fighting occurred and no females attempted to transfer between the groups. Eventually, Ntambara's group moved further up hill, to try and get away from the interaction site.

In honor of Maggie's 35th birthday
Monday, June 15, 2015

Elderly female Maggie is one of the few remaining mountain gorillas of the generation studied by Dian Fossey. She’s also a favorite of Fossey Fund honorary chair Sigourney Weaver, who met Maggie while filming “Gorillas in the Mist,” based on Fossey’s book. And she is loved and admired by Fossey Fund staff and many others who have had the privilege to see her or know her story.

Elderly gorilla MaggieThere are various reasons for Maggie’s popularity. She has demonstrated an outstanding personality in many aspects of her life, doing things rarely if ever seen among female mountain gorillas. For example, she successfully led a group of gorillas after the silverback died last year, and she has been seen destroying dangerous snares set in the forest by hunters.

But it’s another one of her unusual characteristics that has the Fossey Fund thinking about Maggie the most, as we now contemplate her 35th birthday.  Since the changes in her latest groups, she has developed the tendency to travel on her own, without a group. This is extremely rare for a female mountain gorilla.

On Feb. 17, Maggie left the latest version of her group, which by then had merged with Ugenda’s group. She did this apparently due to the intrusion of lone silverback Giraneza, whose overtures she rejected. She has since traveled entirely on her own, with a special team of trackers dedicated to locating her each day. This worked for a while, but since March 28, our trackers have not been able to locate her, probably because she has traveled over the border into DR Congo, where our Rwanda-based teams cannot search.

Her background

Maggie was born on June 15, 1980, in Group 5, which was one of the gorilla groups first studied by Dian Fossey. Maggie’s mother, Effie, was the head of the largest matrilineal family known to researchers. Effie’s family was unique and included many top-ranking gorillas, males and females alike. Effie’s daughters, in particular, have all become dominant females in their respective groups, and Maggie is a prime example.

So, wherever she is now, we are proud to think about Maggie, a most unusual gorilla, on her 35th birthday.

Newly merged group doing well
Friday, June 05, 2015

Fossey Fund trackers and researchers are closely monitoring the newly merged group led by silverback Mafunzo, with the remaining members of Ugenda's group. We were happy to see the tolerance of silverback Mafunzo, with members of Ugenda's group surrounding him and even being in physical contact at times.

Mafunzo groupThe remaining members of Ugenda's group had been led for some time by female Ukuri, and Mafunzo clearly has a strong interest in her. Karisoke Research Manager Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D., reports today that Mafunzo  groomed Ukuri excessively but also displayed at her a number of times, though not violently. Ukuri seems to like being groomed by Mafunzo during rest, but also tends to wander off during feeding times. It appears that Mafunzo wants her to stay closer, which may be the cause of his displays.

We will continue to monitor the behaviors of this "new" group closely, since it will be very interesting to see how the females of the group adjust their hierarchy as the new members become integrated.

Good news: Group members merge
Monday, June 01, 2015

Fossey Fund trackers were delighted to see that the remaining members of Ugenda's gorilla group had merged with another group this weekend, led by silverback Mafunzo. Ugenda's members had suffered from the loss of two silverbacks (Ugenda and Wageni) and had been recently led by female Ukuri.

Ugenda groupGorilla Protection and Monitoring Officer at Karisoke, Jean Paul Hirwa, reported that the two groups seemed to merge peacefully. The new group now contains 10 members (six from Ugenda and four from Mafunzo).

This is also good news for our tracker teams because it lets them get back to a more normal routine in the forest, rather than monitoring partial groups.

Young male gorilla reappears, in new group
Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Seven-year-old male mountain gorilla Ntaribi had been traveling alone since April 6, after facing dramatic changes in his groups, starting last fall. He was the most affected when the leader of his natal group – silverback Bwenge – died after a fight with a lone silverback in October of last year. This may be because he was strongly bonded with father Bwenge, after his mother died when he was only 4 years old.

Young male NtaribiAfter leaving the remaining members of Bwenge’s group and going on his own for some time, in January Ntaribi finally reunited with the remaining members of his group, who were now fully merged with Ugenda’s group. However, this too turned tragic, when silverback Ugenda was also wounded and then died, after a similar fight, in early April. Again, Ntaribi decided to leave the remnants of the group and began traveling alone.

On May 23, our trackers had a big surprise, when a gorilla of Ntaribi’s description appeared in a different group, called Isabukuru. Our staff could not believe that a “foreign” male, even though young, could be accepted by a group like this, with two silverbacks (Isabukuru and Kubaha), both of whom are known for their temperaments and ability to fight. Yet, it seems the entrance of Ntaribi into the group was peaceful and no threats against him were seen. We hope this will finally be a safe and peaceful place for this young gorilla.

Do mountain gorillas avoid inbreeding?
Thursday, May 21, 2015

The long-term studies of mountain gorillas conducted at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Karisoke Research Center continue to yield important information about many aspects of gorilla life. A study just published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, focusing on gorillas monitored by the Fossey Fund, used genetic analysis based on fecal samples that have been collected since 1999. They were analyzed to determine paternity patterns and to look at whether gorillas avoid breeding with close relatives.

The study was co-authored by Fossey Fund CEO and Chief Scientific Officer Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., in collaboration with our long-term scientific collaborators at the Max Planck Institute for Anthropology.

Silverback Cantsbee has sired more than 20 offspring.The new study built on an earlier one, which examined paternity patterns through the late 1990s and found that in groups containing two or three fully adult males, the dominant silverback still sired the majority (85 percent) of offspring.

The current study included another decade of paternity data, which represented a time when the Karisoke gorilla groups grew very large and contained many more males ─ sometimes up to eight silverbacks. Under these conditions, the dominant males sired fewer offspring, although they still maintained the lion’s share of reproduction. Perhaps the costs of losing reproductive opportunities might be offset by the benefits of having male successors, who can keep the group together upon the dominant male’s death.   

Another focus of the current study was to look at inbreeding avoidance. Roughly half of females reproduce in the group where they were born, resulting in the potential for them to reproduce with their fathers. However, the genetic analyses in this study found no evidence of father-daughter reproduction, although half siblings were observed to occasionally reproduce. 

How fathers and daughters avoid breeding with each other is unknown — the authors suggest that females may use male age as a cue, since the daughters of dominant males all bred with males who were much younger than their fathers. 

As the authors state, these results emphasize “the complexity of social dynamics in one of our closest living relatives.”

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