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Silverback Wageni re-joins Ugenda group
Friday, April 17, 2015

Great news from the Fossey Fund trackers today!  After quite a few days without a clear leader, following the death of dominant silverback Ugenda on April 8, silverback Wageni was seen today back with the group!  He was second-ranking when Ugenda was alive, but after Ugenda's death in an interaction with a lone silverback, Wageni separated from the group.

Silverback WageniToday, trackers reported that Wageni had returned and seemed to get a "royal" welcome, with all the gorillas building a circle around him and touching him. In return, Wageni smelled them closely. Later, the youngest group member, Sabato, was seen grooming Wageni, and other affiliative behaviors were also seen.

It will be very interesting to see how Wageni grows into this new role as group leader, and how well he can hold out against competitors. He is rather small for a silverback and managed to escape from the interaction that ended up in Ugenda's death.

Missing subadult Ntaribi has also been located and is in good condition, but is alone and in a different area.

 
 
Mountain and Grauer’s gorilla genome sequences announced
Thursday, April 09, 2015

An article published in the journal Science on April 10 reveals for the first time the complete genome sequence of the mountain gorilla and Grauer’s gorilla subspecies (which make up the eastern gorilla species).  While this is a very important scientific step, it will take some years for all the information to be extracted and analyzed, says Fossey Fund scientist Damien Caillaud, DVM, Ph.D.

What the first analyses show, says Caillaud, is that eastern gorillas have a genetic diversity that is two to three times lower than that of western gorillas (the genome of western gorillas was sequenced about three years ago). This is due to the history of eastern gorilla populations, which have dramatically decreased in size in the last ten thousands of years. However, whether this low diversity has a negative impact on eastern gorilla populations is still unknown. Further research is needed to determine if eastern gorillas face an elevated risk of genetic conditions or infectious disease.

Mountain gorilla CantsbeeThe good news is that we know that the mountain gorilla population has been increasing, due to decades of intense protection by the Fossey Fund, Rwanda park authorities and other partners.  However, the growth rate and overall numbers are small and extreme care must continue if they are to survive in the long term.

Caillaud was interviewed in an article for Nature on this subject. Click here to read.

 

Group members beginning to reassemble
Thursday, April 09, 2015

Following the death of leading silverback Ugenda on Tuesday night, Fossey Fund trackers report today that many of the remaining group members have reunited, for the time being at least. An adult female named Inziza appeared to guide five Ugenda members (consisting of females and youngsters) toward the site of the interaction, where Ugenda died from his wounds and where his body remains. Already nearby were three other group members. No wounds were visible on any of them, but they came very close to an active snare while en route.

Ugenda groupMissing from action is silverback Wageni, who would theoretically be in position to take over group leadership. It is possible he will find the group soon, though if he does not, they will probably encounter one of the lone silverbacks in the area, or perhaps one of the other groups that range there. Also missing is subadult Ntaribi.

Due to all the gorillas being near Ugenda's body, the decision was made by all to postpone recovery of the body for now, to avoid interference and perhaps allow for calm arrival of the missing members.

Leading silverback dies after interaction
Wednesday, April 08, 2015

One of the oldest mountain gorillas monitored by the Fossey Fund ─ dominant silverback Ugenda ─ died overnight after an intense interaction with lone silverback Giraneza. The group he led is currently in some disarray.

However, the full story is more complicated and is still being pieced together, since it relates back to the death of silverback Bwenge last year and the subsequent events affecting that group. The remaining members of Bwenge’s group were first led for some weeks by elderly female Maggie, before merging with Ugenda’s group in the fall. Things seemed stable for a while, but in early March, Maggie left the group, was seen briefly with Giraneza, and then began traveling on her own. Fossey Fund trackers were able to follow her trail until the end of March, and since then she has not been located. However, Giraneza interacted with Ugenda's group on March 18.

Wounded Ugenda on ground, Giraneza watchingThe interaction that led to Ugenda’s death overnight appeared to have started yesterday morning. Our tracker team that searches for Maggie followed a trail of a silverback and then encountered silverback Giraneza, together with one female from Ugenda’s group (Ukuri). Although he has had a small group in the past, Giraneza became a lone silverback sometime between September 2013 and January 2014.

Upon following Giraneza, trackers were led to the site of the interaction, where they found the severely wounded Ugenda, along with two young female group members who then ran away. Veterinarians from Gorilla Doctors and additional Fossey Fund staff arrived at the scene within a few hours, to assess Ugenda’s condition. He was laying face down, not moving and showed irregular breathing. Some painkillers, fluids, antibiotics and steroids were administered, but the situation was deemed dire.

While the preparation for this was underway, silverback Giraneza remained nearby and finally approached the non-moving Ugenda. At this point, Giraneza displayed and hit Ugenda’s unmoving back, before our trackers herded him away. Giraneza showed no wounds of his own.

Ugenda under tent woundedA rain cover was then built over Ugenda as everybody left the scene for the night. Our staff then encountered six of the group members more than a kilometer away and moving farther away. Young male Ntaribi seemed to be trying to herd them. They appeared scared and avoided our trackers. The only other silverback from Ugenda’s group ─ Wageni ─ was found alone in another direction, with a minor wound on his shoulder.

Today, the two young females were seen back with Ugenda's body. At one point, Giraneza was not too far away either, and was alone. Wageni was still on his own as well and Ntaribi was not found.

Stay tuned for further updates, as our trackers monitor the situation and the gorillas work out their next steps.

New mountain gorilla group forms
Monday, April 06, 2015

During the past several weeks, Fossey Fund trackers as well as those from the Rwanda park authorities (RDB), have been observing an interesting development and doing some good detective work. A 14-year-old silverback named Iyambere, who left Pablo’s group (where he was born) almost two years ago and became solitary, returned on March 21 and interacted with Pablo’s group. At this point, he was accompanied by a female named Izuru, who came from Susa-2 group (a group monitored by RDB for tourist visits).

Silverback IyambereConfirming the identity of Iyambere took some time, visits by various staff, and comparisons of photographs, since he had not been seen in several years. In the end, Iyambere was positively identified and had acquired two females. One is the elderly Izuru (with an estimated birthdate of 1978) and the other is 12-year-old Turimaso, who comes from Pablo’s group. Then, on March 27, another interaction took place between this newly formed group and Pablo’s group, but Iyambere was able to keep the two females.

Iyambere comes from an impressive maternal line that traces back to a matriarch gorilla named “Effie.” There are now four dominant silverbacks from this family line that we monitor at Karisoke. One of them is Cantsbee, who still leads Pablo’s group today. And so, we now have a new group to monitor!

Gorilla groups keeping trackers busy
Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Elderly female mountain gorilla Maggie, who has been traveling on her own for three weeks, has not been seen for several days now. The last time our trackers saw her, she was near the border of Congo. We have two tracker teams searching for Maggie, as well as help from Rwanda park authorities. Our gorilla protection and monitoring officer at Karisoke, Jean Paul Hirwa, has created a map showing the areas that have been searched and the Congo border.

Maggie and groupOur trackers are also finding many other challenging situations, including two groups that are traveling beyond our range (either in Congo or in inaccessible areas), groups that are sometimes split into two subgroups, interactions and transfers between groups, and groups beginning to go out of the park in search of bamboo shoots. Luckily, today they did reach Isabukuru's group, which is ranging very far away and requires an extremely long day for our trackers following them.

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.

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The cold, wet climate and dense rainforest wears out the clothes and equipment of our patrols quickly.
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