Uganda Travel News

Nearly two hours of intensive searches turned up no further sign of Kweli and no other bodies. The official death toll stood at two. Additional camp staff was then called to help carry Macho’s body back to Karisoke. Bill stared at her tortured face as the young mother was loaded on a crude litter her name sake eyes now dimmed forever. She and Kweli were the first gorillas to greet us six months earlier, on our first day in the Virungas. As the procession headed slowly back to camp on a hazy dry season day, Bill wondered why the poachers didn’t take her head too. She hadn’t run more than thirty yards before she dropped. Certainly her killer could have found her and hacked off her head as they had with Uncle Bert. Did they leave her to pursue Kweli, a more valuable live infant? But there was no sign of poachers following the infant’s trail. Did David arrive to interrupt the poachers in the act? Did they just kill for the fun of it? Was it revenge?

Vatiri returned late that afternoon with hard evidence that this had not been a chance encounter between the gorilla and their killers. The poachers had camped for at least two nights on a hill just west of the attack site, from where they had apparently monitored the group’s movements. They had certainly watched David’s daily coming and going and must have guessed that he would return to the group on the morning of their attack. This investment of time showed clear premeditation. Yet the willingness to take a risk also indicated an expectation of reward. So, again, why didn’t they take another head? Why didn’t they pursue Kweli? Or did they?

The return of Army and David’s group provided the last bits of information to ponder for that day. They had followed group 4 well into Congo, where the remaining gorillas finally slowed down to eat and rest. This allowed David and Amy to approach close enough to see that Kweli was indeed alive and with the others. But the young gorilla had been shot, too. This seemed to confirm that the killers were after the silverback’s head and a live infant. These were the two most valuable commodities in the cruel international market that was driving local poachers to pursue mountain gorillas. Whatever the reason for the latest killings, it still didn’t explain why the poachers abandoned their grisly task in such apparent haste. If David had been close enough to interrupt them, he would have surely heard the shots.

The next day, Vatiri returned to track the poachers to where they existed the park in the commune of Mukingo- home of the bourgmestre with the attitude and the scar. Meanwhile, Dian made a rare trip down the mountain to enlist the local prosecutor PAULIN Nkubili’s support for the arrest of previously known suspects from that district. We could only help David follow Group 4 and hope for the best.

It was surprising to see that Group 4 had fled far into Congo; almost to the base of Mt.Mikeno. It was also a shock to recognize that we had been in the area before. Five months earlier, Dian had sent us with Ian and several Rwandan camp staff to frighten the gorillas away from what she believed to be a major poacher area. Our instructions were to align ourselves on the side opposite the direction we wanted the group to travel, and then make as much noise as possible until they fled. Ian fired a pistol in the air on at least two occasions to achieve the desired effect. After two days of such ambushes group 4 was back on the slopes of Visoke, apparently unaware of our involvement in the charade. Or at least they didn’t hold it against us when we contacted them in our role as researchers the next day. It was uncomfortable to frighten them as we did, though, even under orders and with the best of intentions. Now it was much more discomforting to wonder if we had done the right thing.

Might they have been better off on Mikeno? No, Mikeno is a poacher’s paradise. But look what happened…….There is a lot of time to think when walking through the forest. Sometimes too much.

As we watched Group 4 with David, Kweli was every one’s pre occupation. He was clearly in pain, and seemed reluctant to move his left arm. Yet beetsme and Tiger, perhaps he had a chance.

Meanwhile, Beestsme began what should only be describing as pathetic attempts at silver back displays and vocalizations. Beetsme was believed to be eleven or twelve years old in the summer of 1978.He had migrated into Group 4 several years earlier: the only recorded instance of a solitary male transfer between groups. When asked her thoughts on his origins, Dian responded with a surprised,” Beats me! The name stuck, along with her peculiar spelling. Beetsme was too young to take up the leader’s mantle under normal conditions; but this was an encouraging sign in an exceptional situation. If he could assume the role and responsibilities of a silver back, he might hold the group together and avoid the possibility of further deaths. At greatest risk were one-month-old frito, three-month-old Mwelu, and perhaps three-and-one-half-year-old Titus. Under normal circumstances, an established silverback is likely to live into his forties. By the point, he should have produced a successor from within his own bloodline. This was the situation with Beethoven and Icarus in Group 5.In Group 4,though,Uncle Bert had been killed in his prime; his only possible successor, digit had been killed six months earlier. These deaths created a situation that only rarely occurs in nature; a group of females and young infants with no mature males. This void would almost certainly be filled by a new silverback, with or without his own group, taking control. In the process, he would likely kill the youngest infants in the group.

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