November 13, 2015
Silverback Cantsbee: Still going strong at 37
On Nov. 14, dominant silverback Cantsbee turns 37 years old, continuing to lead his group and set new records. He is now past the statistical life expectancy for mountain gorillas, and is the only silverback monitored since birth to have reached this age. He is also one of the last few gorillas we monitor from the generation of gorillas observed by Dian Fossey. Fossey actually thought his mother was a male, until she gave birth. At that point, Fossey exclaimed "It can't be," and then coined the name "Cantsbee" for the newborn.
In other milestones, Cantsbee still leads the largest group of mountain gorillas ever recorded (currently at 33 members but once reaching a high of 65 members, before a group split), and holds the record for the longest consistent group leadership.
At his current age, Fossey Fund staff keep expecting that things will change, and that his son, Gicurasi, will try to take over. But despite a few attempts, Cantsbee continues to show his dominance. And, says Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program manager, he is also still the "coolest, most confident silverback we know. He belongs to the historic group of silverbacks, like Titus and Shinda — scared of nothing, relaxed, never nervous. The females love that!"
And so do our trackers and researchers! "I feel comfortable to stand near Cantsbee, because I feel protected. Even aggressive gorillas can't touch me when he is around," says data technician Michel Niyitegeka, who observes and collects information in this group every day.
"Cantsbee is very peaceful and gentle toward people and gorillas, so it is good to work with him," adds data technician Emmanuel Nzabonimpa. "Even if you surprisingly meet him while tracking, he doesn't charge. He is clever too."
Despite his age, everyone agrees that Cantsbee still looks good too. "I like how he stays respected by other gorillas, even if he is old," says data technician Jean Bosco Ntirenganya.
So, as Cantsbee reaches another milestone in his long, successful life, we wish him many more years of leadership. We know it won't be easy to find such a remarkable leader again.