Thursday, February 2, 2012

Is Virunga’s gorilla king about to lose his throne?

January 2012: Kabirizi has been king of the gorillas at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo - but is his power waning? Certainly, there are plenty of new pretenders for the throne. Dr Eddy from Virunga National Park takes up the story:

Silverbacks were charging and screaming at us

On the morning of January 20, I left the Bukima patrol post with a group of trackers to find Kabirizi group.

Along the way we encountered the night nest of the silverback Mukunda, who still stays by himself in the forest. About 30 minutes later we met a wild or unhabituated gorilla group, a very rare occurrence.

The group was quiet initially but later they moved away, with the silverbacks charging and screaming at us. We know from the 2010 census that there are several large unhabituated groups in Viurnga.

Almost three-and-a-half hours after starting our trek, we found Kabirizi group. The weather was sunny and almost all of the gorillas were sitting under shade in the bushes which made our observation quite long and difficult. We counted 33 individuals, including Kabirizi himself.

Kabirizi had many woundsI realized that Kabirizi was quieter than usual. He was not charging, hiding, or running, and was eating out in the open with his family members. Normally Kabirizi does not like being observed by people, and stays hidden in the vegetation, keeping the group's babies close to him for protection.

I noticed that Kabirizi had many healing wounds on his left shoulder and thigh and a large cut (about 7cm) on his right heel which was healing but not allowing him to walk properly. He was limping on the right side and using his left leg a lot while walking.

Kabirizi's missing canines.Some time ago, Kabirizi lost his upper and lower canine teeth during a fight with another gorilla. I think that his lack of canines, his defensive weapons, is one of the reasons why it is easy for the other silverbacks in the group to take advantage of him in fights.

The younger silverback Bagheni been fighting with Kabirizi on a regular basis now - battles that Kabirizi often loses. Another young silverback in the group, Mugeni, is also starting to challenge him.

While the other gorillas in the group appear healthy, Kabirizi is declining due to a combination of aging and frequent fighting with the other silverbacks. It will be very interesting to see how the dynamics in the family change this year.

Courtesy of Wildlife Direct

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