One part of my work and perhaps the most enjoyable is taking part in a gorilla tracking exercise with gorilla experts; THE TRACKERS!
Today, 27th January I joined the Sabyinyo group trackers led by Nkanika and with the group was the park veterinary officer Elizabeth Nyirakaragire. The specific tracking mission for today, that attracted myself and Elizabeth was to check the respiratory problem in the group and help trackers identify two gorillas they failed to locate in the group yesterday, the subordinate silverback (second in the group hierarchy) Gihishamwotsi and young female Urumuli. Urumuri has recently joined Sabyinyo from Agashya group and she is a close friend of the second in command (Gihishamwotsi), often observed by trackers moving and resting together!
During the 2h30 observation of the members of Sabyinyo group, most of them were observed with mild coughing, only a couple of them did not cough. However, during most of observation period all gorillas were on normal activities: feeding, traveling and resting! Since the respiratory problem was detected five days ago, the veterinary team has treated two gorillas with antibiotics. Today, the overall assessment was that there was no new severe case to require an intervention.
As for the two gorillas that were not seen in the group yesterday, only the Silverback was identified today. After failing to see her all sides in and around the group, we decided to find the night nests and conduct a thorough counting! Given the fact the group is composed of 15 members Urumuli included, normally trackers count 11 nests, three babies and one juvenile are still sleeping with their mothers or with another adult. We managed to observe 10 nests and we made sure we deposed a stick in each nest identified to avoid a double counting. This made us confidently confirm that Urumuli is not with the Sabyinyo group. Since trackers have not seen her for three days, their suppose she has left for another group or lone silverback, and perhaps that is the reason Gihishamwotsi was not with the group yesterday, trackers think he was chasing another group that was following Sabyinyo group, but inevitably Urumuli found her way out! There may be other reasons why Urumuli is not observed in the group, she could be back tomorrow, and hopefully we will see her with other groups soon!
Finally, as we were leaving the group we found another young female Karema, who was staring at the young silverback Shirimpumu. The later was relaxing down, resting but he looked a bit weak, because of coughing! The lead tracker Nkanika believed and elaborated that Karema was soliciting copulation, and he was quite chocked that she did not care he was sick!
I like joining the trackers on their routine work. There seem to know all gorillas, not just by name but also by their individual characters. Most interestingly, I like the way they like to relate the gorilla personality, the behavior to ours as human beings! Today it was a story of female Karema staring at the seemingly uninterested Shirimpumu, tomorrow it is one of competition among males, another day one story about females competition, or how gorillas, or particularly the dominant silverback knows better conflicts management than humans …the stories never end!
Make an effort to understand their language, and just be willing to listen!
Prosper UWINGELI/Chief Park Warden