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Silverback Wageni has died
Friday, April 24, 2015

The Fossey Fund is very saddened to report the death of silverback Wageni, just two weeks after the death of the dominant silverback in his group, Ugenda. Like Ugenda, it appears that Wageni had also been involved in an intense interaction with lone silverback Giraneza on April 7. After that interaction, Wageni stayed away from the group for some days, and was seen to have a wound on his shoulder. But on April 17, he rejoined the remaining members of the group and seemed to be welcomed by them all.

Wageni March 2014Unfortunately,  a few days ago, our trackers noticed that Wageni’s condition was not good, and that he did not move much from his nest. His stomach appeared flat, which meant he had not eaten. The next day he seemed somewhat improved, but on April 22 he seemed very weak again, and had lost weight.

A visit by veterinarians from Gorilla Doctors and Rwanda park authorities on April 23 resulted in agreement that Wageni’s condition was indeed dire and that any intervention was unlikely to succeed and could risk the well being of the other group members. 

Wageni died on April 24 at 10:30 a.m., shortly after Fossey Fund Research Assistant Jean Paul Hirwa and trackers arrived at the group. Shortly after the death, the remaining members of the gorilla group moved away and Wageni’s body was recovered for a necropsy, to be conducted by Gorilla Doctors. Fossey Fund research manager at Karisoke, Dr. Winnie Eckardt, and visiting scientist Dr. Jordi Galbany will attend. 

Wageni’s loss puts his group back into an uncertain future, without another silverback to lead them.  For some members, this is the third leader they have lost within six months. 

Wageni on April 22This has been a very difficult and challenging time for Fossey Fund field staff. The extreme level of care, dedication and team work shown, especially by  our trackers, during the last few weeks—despite harsh weather, the loss of two silverbacks, plus missing and dispersed gorillas— have resulted in a great deal of sadness. We are all deeply grateful to them for all they have done during such trying times.

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.

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