Wed, December 27, 2017

Happy holiday surprise: Young gorilla “orphans” reunited with their group

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Fossey Fund trackers and researchers in Rwanda have been monitoring an unusual situation among the mountain gorillas in Rwanda this past week, in which three young gorillas got separated from their group.

These youngsters – Fasha, who is 4 years old, 3-year-old Masunzu, and Umugwaneza who will turn 3 years old in January – were already facing a challenging life, since all three have mothers who transferred out of their group, leaving them much earlier than is typical. Luckily, the dominant silverback in their group – 19-year-old Kubaha – had been helping to care for and protect them, as well as one additional such “orphan” in the group.

Earlier this month, however, their group got involved in an interaction with another group, and even though the interaction seemed peaceful, Fasha, Masunzu and Umugwaneza got separated from the group and started traveling on their own. This followed previous interactions between their group and a lone silverback, in which Kubaha was injured, thus leaving him perhaps unable to help care for the orphans while trying to recover.

When a group changes suddenly like this, Fossey Fund trackers are reassigned to ensure we are able to continue to monitor and protect each and every gorilla. Our staff  was especially concerned for the welfare of these youngsters, who are very young to be traveling alone. In addition, they had an encounter late last week with Titus’ group, and were unfortunately chased by one of the silverbacks.

But on Dec. 22, our field teams were able to report great news: The three youngsters had found and reunited with their group. “When they met, they seemed curious,” says gorilla program manager Jean Paul Hirwa. “Gorillas from each side were staring at each other. As soon as the group started to rest, the three youngsters went and laid down with the silverback.”

Silverback Kubaha with Umugwaneza and Icyororo (Photos by Gudula Nyirandayambaje)

“We have seen dominant silverbacks help care for ‘orphaned’ gorillas like these in the past,” says Fossey Fund President and CEO/Chief Scientist Dr. Tara Stoinski. “But when there are additional pressures on the group, such as interactions from outside groups and injuries or illnesses, the youngsters can face additional challenges.”

Earlier challenges too

Young Umugwaneza faced her first big challenge in November, when her mother – Bukima – transferred to another group. Umugwaneza was just under 3 years old at the time (her birthday is Jan. 16).  Mountain gorillas can be weaned as young as 2 to 2-1/2 years of age, but this is unusual and they would still rely on their mothers for warmth, particularly at night, and would sleep with their mothers until the next offspring was born.

Little Fasha had a traumatic experience in April, when she got caught in a poacher’s snare. Luckily, our trackers quickly noticed that she was not in her group, and set out to find her, all alone with a long piece of rope wound tightly around her ankle. A veterinary intervention to remove it was successful. Click here for full story.

And Masunzu, whose mother left the group in January, initially showed signs of depression and had some trouble keeping up when the group crossed a big river. Here’s more on Masunzu.

Masunzu feeding on Galium

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