One of the characteristics and special features of gorillas is their life in stable families and their advanced social structure; forming the basis for the rich social interactions.
Well, imagine a family of gorillas that has a specific name up in the volcanoes that was habituated to human presence and regularly monitored since the 70s-80s and has lived in the same territory: Like any family, it has registered events such as births, deaths, immigration and emigration, and most interestingly the leadership succession, etc. Particularly, male dominance and group leadership make the relevance of the BIG silverback in the life of a gorilla family. However, in any society, leadership benefits correspond to a certain level with responsibilities.
The absence of the leader in the gorilla family means instability, until the complex social interactions reveal a new (promising) fate for some family members, a prolonged uncertainty for others! Three days passed members of Urugamba moving around, showing grieving signs to the dead Silverback Urugamba. On the third day, the gorillas without the leader approached one of the neighboring groups, Ntambara. Fortunately, the gorillas in both groups share the same history; the members of both Urugamba and Ntambara families previously formed the same group Shinda, which was disintegrated after the death of the old and charismatic Shinda in 2009.
The familiarity is hoped to facilitate the integration. After many hours displaying stress and tensions, as well as some aggressive behaviors addressed to some gorillas by the leader of Ntambara group (to impose his leadership and call for submission from new members), gorillas opted for peaceful settlement, particularly the young started playing together.
However, two particular cases of females with infants were subject of concern. When a different dominant silverback takes over, there is risk of infanticide; the females with babies will be reluctant to expose their young offspring to the risk of being killed by the new leader. One of the females, Pasika has known the new leader in Shinda group when both Urugamba and Ntambara were together, and although her baby has not been fathered by the Ntambara silverback she can count on his tolerance and acceptance.
Unfortunately for Bishushwe and her baby, it is different story. She joined Urugamba after it splits from Shinda and the silverback of Ntambara does not know her, she is worried about the infant on her back, she is stressed, she can easily read the new silverback’s different attitude to her. She has already received a couple of aggressive behavior from the Silverback, and she has to take a different direction to save her baby.
On the days following Urugamba gorillas’ integration in Ntambara group, female Bishushwe and her infant were found on their own. The female showed abnormal stress and she did not seem comfortable with human presence: the trackers she has known for many years. But something is unusual about her: she is not with the family, most importantly she is worried about her baby, and his father has died. She has gone back to where the father of her baby died, but he is no more!
The possibility of a female mountain gorilla living by her own and her infant is improbable, Bishushwe has continued moving alone with her infant, but she must be thinking, and hoping that nature will determine her own fate and her infant.
Gorillas have responded well to our efforts of conserving them, including the tolerance to the tourism that ultimately benefits both gorillas and humans, but there is little we can do change their natural behavior. Actually, our philosophy of gorilla conservation is based on the minimum intervention and the respect of their natural behavior!
Volcanoes National Park
The Chief Park Warden