On the morning of Sept. 27, Dian Fossey Gorillas Fund trackers found 24-year-old silverback leader Vuba in critical condition when they arrived for their daily monitoring. He was very still and barely breathing, with other gorillas surrounding him initially before they moved away for feeding. Our staff immediately contacted park authorities and veterinarians from Gorilla Doctors, who soon arrived at Vuba’s location, but determined there was no useful medical intervention to be taken. Sadly, Vuba died the next night. A necropsy showed trauma that suggested he had been injured or attacked in a fight, probably with another silverback.
Vuba led a group named after former leader Kuryama. He is a son of the late, legendary silverback Titus and a well-known female named Tuck was his mother. He spent many years with Titus, and inherited the gentle facial expressions of his father as well as his kind behavior toward all of the group members. When his brother, Kuryama, formed his own group in 2007, Vuba went with him, keeping a subordinate position but always well accepted by the group. He became dominant after the death of former leader Kirahure in August 2015. Kirahure had taken over following the death of Kuryama.
Starting soon after taking over leadership, Vuba led his group across the border of Rwanda into the Democratic Republic of Congo, beyond the ranging area of our trackers. This was repeated again in 2016, until they re-stabilized in their original range in Rwanda last September.
Vuba had the support of two younger silverbacks in the group – 14-year-old Igihozo and 13-year-old Tetero – who will now have the task of leading the group. Their presence is a great advantage for the group and may help it stay cohesive. With the loss of Vuba, the group contains only seven members. It is an unusual group in that there is only one adult female member.
Vuba is one of the many gorillas who have been followed throughout their entire lives by the Fossey Fund, so his loss is deeply felt by the staff. “We are extremely saddened by Vuba’s death,” says Felix Ndagijimana, the Fossey Fund’s director of the Karisoke Research Center and all of our Rwanda programs. “He was a great leader and played a crucial role in maintaining the integrity and cohesivenss of the group during the different dominance changes it went through.”
“He was one of the most gentle male gorillas I’ve ever met,” says Veronica Vecellio, Fossey Fund gorilla program manager. “We rarely saw Vuba engaging in or initiating a fight. His personality was suited to so many roles and phases of his life, from supporter of prior group leaders to peaceful leader in his own right.”