the mountain gorilla project
- January 13, 2015
- Posted by: Africa Safaris
- Category: Travel News
as the mountain gorilla project began to take shape in the spring of 1979, we were pressing hard to finish our work at Karisoke. Dian never followed through on her threat to expel us, but we had much to accomplish as we approached the end of our planned seventeen month stay at the research station. We were also keen to begin work on the mountain gorilla project as soon as possible.
Amy spent her final months, and then days with group 5.The weeks of vegetation sampling provided an unintended form of emotional severance, the first time since our experience with Mweza that army passed more than three field days in a row away from her adopted family. She also introduced Beethoven and his family to Peter Veit, a new researcher who would begin his own studies of sexual cycles among group 5 females as soon as Amy finished her work.
Amy knew that we would be living and working nearby on the mountain gorilla project in coming years, but it was sadly uncertain whether we would be allowed to visit Karisoke. So each hour with the gorillas took on added meaning. How much longer would Beethoven reign? Icarus seemed an increasingly improbable successor; more likely to leave the group and go off on his own.ZIZ was next in line, an impressive black back with a seemingly strong net work of relationships within the group. Social and political skills were surely part of gorilla leadership, too. Then there was Pablo, it was hard to imagine the clown prince with his crossed eyes, crooked grin, and penchant for trouble as an adult, let alone with the mantle and authority of a silver back yet it was sad to think of him outside of the family setting banished to the social life of a solitary male. Amy hoped he would find a role that would let him remain with the family. For poor timid shinda, Amy could only hope that he might someday find courage, like the lion in the wizard of Oz. And what of the dominant matrilineal? As the alpha female, Effie held major leadership functions within the group. Would her oldest daughter puck carry on those roles? Would she compete or cooperate with her sister tuck? Or would Tuck transfer to another family before she bred?
There were so many questions with so few answers. There was also too much to do if we were going to move on from research to the more important conservation work of the MGP. If we could help save the mountain gorillas, there would be time to answer some of our questions. If not, those questions didn’t really matter.
BILL WAS SPENDING almost half of his time in Kigali during this period, laying the ground work for the tourism and education components of the MGP. In camp he monitored outlying groups when he wasn’t helping with the vegetation sampling. By that time we had also convinced Dian to hire our old Peace Corps friend and housemate from Bukavu, Craig Sholley to help with the non study groups and other essential work those full time researchers could not manage. During our final months, Craig was trying to habituate Nunkie or at least of his family to the daily presence of human observers. David watts also went to observe Nunkies group for resercah purposes. Nunkie was still uneasy in the presence of humans and gave every indication that he would stay that way as long as he lived.
Others in Nunkies group were more approachable. The most relaxed were two adult female transfers from group 4, papoose and Petula and their youngersters, N, Gee and Lee, N’ Gee were similarly approachable. The two mothers –child pairs were welcome sources of calm in an often volatile family kept on edge by Nunkies nervous nature.