basic technique for a gorilla census
- October 10, 2014
- Posted by: Africa Safaris
- Category: Travel News
At 11:30, peanuts part vegetation to peer at obs 6m below. He stares for three minutes then sits and scratches. A tear-shaped drainage is still visible from his right eye wound. After a soft slur/hoot at 11:08, he moves to within 4m. he stands at 11:15 and moves to within 2m and sits at 11:17…. At 11:22 he gives a brief hoot/chestbeat before moving to 1m away: there he knuckle-stands for 2 minutes before placing his right hand 6 inches from obs.
At that point, peanuts’s downtrodden physical appearance, his lack of any family or companion s, and his apparent interest in social contact across species lines led Bill to place his hand over peanuts’s and give it a few pats. He couldn’t know what that gesture of intended consolation meant to a gorilla, but the silverback sat down beside him. For the next ten minutes, peanuts remained with arm’s reach, distractedly grooming himself and casting occasional glances towards Bill. With any extended eye contact , he would turn shyly away , then look up and around as he scratched his massive chin , producing a sound like a fork scraping thick boot leather . Whatever peanuts might have been thinking, a flash of brilliant crimson from the under wing of a passing Ruwenzori turacco jolted him into action. Moving several meets away, he inserted himself into a thick clump of vegetation and spent most of the next hour busily consuming vast quantities of lush thistle and celery.
As peanuts finally ambled off through the undergrowth, Bill felt both privileged and saddened: privileged to have felt the powerful bond of close contact initiated by peanuts, yet sad that he was the sole such contact that peanuts might have for months or even years. We had already seen enough of gorillas to appreciate that they were supremely social creatures. The solitary male might be an evolutionary in a polygamous society, but peanuts was a tragic figure nonetheless.
ADDING THE RESEARCH and peripheral group to the earlier count from karisimbi, Bill reached a total of fifty-eight gorillas. To learn any more he had to move beyond the karisoke contact zone, establish a series of base camps, and conduct multiday censuses of the remaining wild gorillas.
Bill and Rwelekana shouldered their heavy packs and followed the trail north from karisoke through an open forest dominated by the contorted shapes of giant Hagenia trees. Uprooted trunks littered the grassy glades, highlighting the risk of growing at such precarious angles with heavy loads of mosses and epiphytes. In death , many of these trees had felt the axe of the karisoke woodcutters. The trail skirted the saturated edge of the upper meadow before leaving the broad saddle to rise through dense stands of five foot-tall strings nettles in the heart of group 4’s range. Climbing high into more rugged terrain, Bill and Rwelekana left the nettles behind. Mt Visoke’s steep slopes are cut every few hundred meters by sharply eroded ravines. Ranging in size from mere clefts to minor canyons, they were lumped as bonds in the simplified Swahili spoken at karisoke. Most were given names muti kufa(dead tree), ndege(bird) and kulala(sleep) ravines were all within the range of group 4. Next came the more evocatively named bonde ya chui(leopard), bonde ya kujiua(suicide), bonde mkubwa(grand canyon)and the world of unhabituated gorillas beyond.
Rwelekana knew this area from his eight years of experience at karisoke and led Bill unerringly to the best crossing site for each ravine. Beyond the leopard cave at 10270 feet on the edge of bonde mkubwa. The Grand Canyon was named for its boxlike shape and sheer walls with few transit points. Leaving our packs, we climbed a rocky ridge along the canyon’s western flanks the footing was slippery and the gnarled giant health required that Bill maintain his six-foot-two frame in a constantly stooped posture. Still the ridge provided an excellent view into the canyon bottom a few hundred meters below, where Rwelekana’s expert eyes search of any recent gorilla’s passage.
The basic technique for a gorilla census is to walk up and down the ridges and ravines of each volcano in a systematic fashion looking for trail signs. As gorillas move through the thick herbaceous vegetation in which they find most of their preferred food species, even lone silverbacks leave a path of bent and broken plants. Larger groups may flatten a wider trail, but the passage of many individuals leaves a deeper and longer lasting mark. The easiest way to find these trails is to walk along a ridge and look for telltale cuts through the herbaceous mat that colonize the exposed side and bottom of the ravines below.
Peering into Grand Canyon, Rwelekana did not take long to find what he was searching for.ikonjia ya ingagi. A gorilla trail. Even Bill’s less experienced eyes could detect the dark line of flattened plants that curved through the undergrowth perhaps eighty meters below. But he was not prepared for the silverback who soon emerged at the head of that line. We not only had the great good fortune to come across fresh trail on our first day out, but the gorillas themselves were immediately visible.
At 12:30, a silverback crosses the bottom of the canyon followed by 2 adults and a juvenile/young adult … SB [silverback] chestbeats as I descend…. While these 4 climb far side, at least 4 others remain on S side and are climbing back up towards me…. An adult female with pursed lips plays rear guard, climbing out on limb of a large Hagenia; from there she cbs [chestbeats] and slaps trunk frequently … at 12:52 a YA with prominent wart joins ‘’purser’’ in tree , followed by a juvenile at 12:55. Both cb and slap trunk… a second SB crashes through on near side …. Purser is on her way down at 13:03 as SB crashes through group and moves into canyon; all follow. I remain above and climb out on a limb to get a better view and count as they cross to the far slope. Between 13:08 -13:12 I count 8 more individuals. added to the 4 already across this makes a group composition of 12:2 silverbacks , 7 adults, 1 young adult, and 2 juveniles…. They move out of sight about 80m up the N slope of the canyon and continue to cb infrequently.