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Tue, April 14, 2020

Nzeli Returns

Despite the crisis raging across the globe, gorilla life continues, as does the daily work of our field staff…

Nzeli before her disappearance

In her 34 years, Nzeli has changed gorilla groups 11 times. This mature female mountain gorilla seems unintimidated by change – so maybe it shouldn’t have surprised us when she disappeared a few days ago.

In mid-March, Fossey Fund trackers reported that Nzeli had disappeared from the Urugwiro group, which she had joined just a year earlier.

Knowing her history of switching groups, we weren’t too worried. We figured she would turn up somewhere soon. Sure enough, two weeks later, our trackers spotted her in Kureba’s group.

Kureba’s Group

We wondered: Where was Nzeli during her disappearance? She might have wandered off on her own, or she may have moved in with a lone silverback. There were no signs of group interactions on the day that she left Uruguwiro’s group or on the day she joined Kureba’s group, which led us to hypothesize that this unusual gorilla was travelling on her own.

Regardless of where she’d been, we were really happy to see her again so soon.

Dominant silverback Ishavu, the head of the Kureba group, seems very excited to have Nzeli in his group: He keeps showing off, with displays directed toward the new female.

Nzeli has moved so many times in her life that she is likely well known by many of the gorillas in the Kureba group. This is the first time she has joined Kureba’s group, but it’s not the first time she’s met some of the other group members, such as silverback Ishavu, who was originally in Pablo’s group, where Nzeli spent 12 years of her life.

Why does Nzeli move in this atypical manner? One factor to consider is her lack of success as a mother. Nzeli has given birth nine times, but only three of her offspring are still alive, with two living in Mafunzo’s group. It is possible that the deaths of so many infants prompted Nzeli’s frequent transfers. 

We will continue to monitor this new stage of Nzeli’s life with great interest. Examining her life and travel history gives us insight into gorilla society, individual variability and the importance of female choice in gorilla family hierarchies.

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