When a group of endangered mountain gorillas from the Rwanda side of the Virunga Mountains which had migrated to the DR Congo side returned recently, one group of conservationists was overjoyed – and they showed it in a blog on Dec.5. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, which protects about half of the mountain gorilla population in Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains, had been waiting a full twelve months for this moment.
The group of gorillas called the Kuryama Group crossed to the DR Congo side in October 2015 and was only sited again on the Rwandan side on September 30, 2016. It is not unusual for gorillas to roam over the border into either DR Congo or Uganda. In fact, the Kuryama group had done so before when for eight months between 2014 and 2015 they migrated to the DR Congo. However, these episodes are usually filled with apprehensive anticipation among the Dian Fossey conservations because of the unpredictability surrounding the migration.
While the conservationists track and offer anti-poacher protection to the gorillas on the Rwanda side, they are virtually helpless when the gorillas cross into another country.
According to the Dian Fossey blog (https://gorillafund.org), when a group crosses over the border into the Congolese side of the mountains, where our Rwandan trackers cannot go, it means direct protection as well as daily data collection for that group will stop. The conservationists must wait for the group to come back.
When the Kuryama group returned, it was first spotted on Sept. 30 on the top of Mt. Bisoke. According to the report, the composition of the group had changed, with four original gorillas missing, having probably transferred to other groups in Congo. And those who were left included seven males and only one female.
Before they went to Congo, the group had already faced a number of challenges. Former leader Kuryama was wounded in a fight and then died in 2012, and then his successor, Kirahure, died after being wounded in 2015. The group’s leadership was then left, by default, to 22-year-old silverback Vuba, who led them over the border into Congo in October of last year.
What will happen next?
Now that the group has returned, the Dian Fossey conservations have resumed their daily monitoring. With its unbalanced ratio of males to females, this group should provide a lot of insight into gorilla behavior in unusual situations.
The conservations say Vuba has a calm temperament, like that of his father Titus, who also once led a group composed of all males and one female.
Vuba also seems to be respected by the other males in the group but they are not intimidated by him either, says Fossey Fund research manager Winnie Eckardt. Two of the males are already silverbacks, two are younger blackbacks, and one is a juvenile. The female – Mahirwe – has an infant estimated to be about seven months old, so she will not be available for reproduction again for about another three years.
The conservationists don’t know who fathered the infant, but an ongoing genetic study of paternity among the gorillas will eventually give them an answer.
“For now,” says gorilla program manager Veronica Vecellio, “We hope that the group will stay on the Rwandan side of the Virungas, so we don’t miss any other important phases of each individual’s development!”