Three-year-old mountain gorilla Masunzu has faced quite a few hurdles in his young life so far, yet his journey also shows how resilient, adaptable and caring gorillas can be. Masunzu’s mother – Ikaze – transferred to a new group in January of this year. Females often transfer between groups, leaving their offspring behind, but usually this happens when their offspring are a bit older. At almost 3 years of age Masunzu was likely full weaned but still very young to be on his own without his mother.
At first, Masunzu showed signs of depression and stayed close to Isabukuru (believed to be the father), who did a good job acting as surrogate mother. Isabukuru was also caring for two other slightly older youngsters, whose mothers had also left the group. However, Isabukuru became ill and began to get weaker and weaker. In March he died. This meant another huge loss for Masunzu.
But, incredibly, the second-ranking silverback in the group (Kubaha) quickly became the dominant leader, and took over the role as surrogate mother for all three youngsters, spending the nights with them, hugging them during resting time, grooming them and otherwise providing motherly types of caring!
Fossey Fund staff expected that Masunzu might be adversely affected by this second loss, but thanks to Kubaha and the other gorillas in the group, he has managed so far to get enough care and support to grow up well. Luckily there are many infants in the group for him to play with, including his brother, Sakara. All of this support has helped him learn how to become independent and gain the skills that he will need as he grows up.
One example of a challenge that Masunzu overcame was when his group traveled across the Susa river earlier this year, but little Masunzu was too afraid to cross. Another young male stayed behind with him for a while, while two others stayed close to the other side, waiting for them, then crossed back and displayed at Masunzu, hoping he would follow. After this, Masunzu tried several times to get all the way across the river and after about 30 minutes he finally did it, all while four other gorillas watched him intently. When he reached the other side, young male Icyororo gave him a hug and picked him up to continue their travel. Masunzu is the second individual Icyororo encouraged to cross the river — he did the same with group-mate Fasha at another time. All three are recent orphans and obviously providing each other with much-needed emotional support.