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Impressive silverback carries on gorilla group leadership

This article is part of a series presented by the Fossey Fund’s gorilla program Senior Advisor Veronica Vecellio, focusing on mountain gorilla groups the Fossey Fund protects and studies every day in Rwanda. Veronica has worked with these gorilla families for nearly 20 years and shares her deep knowledge and insights about their lives.

Kureba’s group is a thriving family of nine gorillas, led by silverback Ishavu. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds and different natal groups, making their family dynamic truly special. The group is named for former silverback Kureba, who created the group in 2017 after splitting from the historic Pablo group. But Kureba became ill and passed away just a few months after the group formed. 

Ishavu, Kubana, Karame, and Kubana's infant sitting together
Ishavu, Kubana, Karame, and Kubana’s infant sitting together

This left the dominant status to Ishavu, who had previously not shown any interest in leadership. But he does have an illustrious history, as the last offspring of silverback Pablo, who was famously described in Dian Fossey’s book Gorillas in the Mist. He not only inherited Pablo’s striking appearance but also his strong personality, although he’s known for being calmer and more introspective. His impressive size has been a magnet for attracting females to the group.

Interestingly, Ishavu is now the only member of his group’s initial composition. The original females moved on to other groups, while new females joined, creating an exceptional new blend of lineages.

Group includes well-known females

Among the females now in the group are some strong and well-known personalities – Nzeli, Inziza, Kubana and Akamaro, each with unique backgrounds. Thirty-eight-year-old Nzeli is the group’s matriarch. She was born in Susa’s group and lived in 10 different gorilla groups before joining Kureba in 2020. She is currently raising her young infant, Kabeho.

Inziza, another senior female in the group, is nearly 30 years old. Her life has been a whirlwind of group changes. She’s moved 14 times since her birth in Beetsme’s group, joining Kureba in 2021. She hasn’t had an infant in Kureba’s group yet, but does have one offspring who lives in another group.

Kubana and Akamaro are the group’s younger adult females, at 20 and 17, respectively. They joined Kureba’s group in 2019 and both are now raising infants in the group. Akamaro also has a 4-year-old son in the group, Karame. Akamaro was born in Pablo’s group but her lineage links her to the group’s other leader, silverback Cantsbee. Kubana comes from Shinda’s group, adding her diverse lineages to the family.

Kureba, Ishavu, Kubana, Akamaro sitting in tall grass
Kureba, Ishavu, Kubana, Akamaro sitting in tall grass

It’s interesting to note that mountain gorillas, despite their close genetic ties, have developed mechanisms to avoid close family interbreeding. Kureba’s group is a prime example of this.

Today, observing Kureba’s group is a pure delight, with the three infants constantly in playful motion. They often break free from their mothers’ care to engage in various games and chasing sessions, all under the watchful eye of father Ishavu. 

Two of the infants are approaching their third year of life and are ready to be weaned. That means the mothers will soon be ready to reproduce again and we can look forward to new additions in this family. Given the group’s high energy and harmony, we anticipate it will continue to grow and thrive.