One of the best things about protecting and studying mountain gorillas every day is that we sometimes get to see important and special occasions among them. One of the most important is watching a new group form, as the gorillas adapt to various changes and circumstances in their lives.
Recently, we’ve been watching silverback Segasira forming his own group, gaining members after another group lost its leading silverback, Mafunzo. We were a bit surprised at Segasira’s initiative, because until now he did not seem highly ambitious. In fact, we saw him as playful, peaceful, and seemingly satisfied with his place as the third-ranking silverback in the Titus group, playing the role of a supporter, not a leader.
Legendary ancestors Titus and Tuck
However, Segasira, who will be 17 years old in October, does have some impressive ancestors who were great leaders. His father was the legendary Titus, a powerful dominant silverback who was featured in a PBS television documentary as “The Gorilla King.” His mother was a matriarch called Tuck, a member of a line of dominant females. Titus and Tuck spent many years together leading their group and Segasira stayed in the group as it went through leadership changes following their deaths.
Segasira seemed to see the opportunity to form a group after Mafunzo’s death, as the remaining members of that group joined up with the Titus group. After a few weeks of uncertainty, Segasira succeeded in having five females from the former Mafunzo group join him. For a while we thought they might still rejoin Titus group but so far they haven’t.
“It is challenging to follow a strong leader like Mafunzo was,” says James Munyawera, Fossey Fund research assistant who observed the new group’s development. “Segasira managed to convince the females – who once depended on the mighty Mafunzo – that he could also do a good job protecting them. He was decisive about defending them, chasing away other silverbacks from coming near the group and keeping all the members close to him.”
So we believe we officially have a new and stable group, despite Segasira’s young age and earlier behaviors. “He is showing maturity, seriousness and good decisions,” says Munyawera. “We put him among our top favorite males to be successful in leading their groups.”