the reality of gorilla conservation in the 1970’s
- October 20, 2014
- Posted by: Africa Safaris
- Category: Travel News
Infanticide is driven by the ruthless logic of genetics. Gorilla males, like those from most other species, seek to breed as soon as possible with new females. This assures that their genes will be passed onto future generations. Yet gorilla females cannot become pregnant during the approximately three years that they nurse their young. The brutal means to end a mother’s lactation – and quickly restart her reproductive cycle – is to kill her infant. This is unlikely to happen when the successor is related to the deceased silver back, as would have been the case with digit. But when a unrelated silverback takes over a group, the youngest gorillas are at great risk.
The death of Uncle Bert provoked a change in Beetsme. Within a week his vocalizations gained resonance and his displays seemed more confident. He began to harass Flossie, charging, hitting and biting the mother of new born frito.Twenty-two days after Uncle Bert’s death, Beetsme gave a killing blow to FRITO. Flossie carried the dead infant for two days while Beetsme continued to harass her. Once she dropped the body, David saw Beetsme copulate with Flossie. But for all his aggression, Beetsme could not keep control of group 4.Within days of the infanticide, Flossie, Cleo and Augustus all transfer again, this time to the Susa group.
The remaining adult female, samba, did not transfer with the others and Beetsme made no attempt to harm her infant, Mwelu. This may have reflected the possibility that Beetsme was Mwelu’s father, since earlier records had noted that Simba and Beetsme had copulated, even while Uncle Bert and digit were alive. Beetsme also continued to help Tiger groom Kweli. By September; Kweli seemed to be on the road to recovery from his bullet wound. David noted that he had no difficulty in keeping up with the others and that he was feeding normally. He stopped playing, but David felt that this could be attributed to depression after the loss of his mother and father.
Then in October, Kweli quickly deteriorated. He stopped eating and whimpered frequently. The next morning, he didn’t seem able to move from his nest. Beetsme tried to prop him up, but Kweli slumped back into his bed. After an hour the other gorillas moved off to feed nearby. Then David took advantage of a powerful rainstorm to lift Kweli and carry him back to Karisoke. He was not breathing when he arrived at camp. David and Dian could not resuscitate him.
The day after Kwela’s death, Tiger, Beetsme, Titus and Simba circled back to the exact spot where they had last seen Kweli. After a brief inspection of his nest, they moved off to feed. In December, Simba followed the other females and transferred to Nunkie. Within days, Nunkie had killed Mwelu and was copulating with samba. Barely one month later, Beetsme, Tiger and Titus joined forces with peanuts. Five gorillas were now dead from this one poacher attack six, counting digit. Flossie, Simba, cleo and Augustus all transferred to other groups. Peanuts, Beetsme, Tiger, and Titus were on their own in a group with no females. The future of an entire lineage-the primary focus of Dian fosse’s work and the best-known family of gorillas in the world- was irreversibly altered by the July massacre.
WE DID NOT SEE the deaths of Frito and Kweli, but we experienced them through David’s eyes and emotions. For us the most brutalizing aspects of the 1978 killings were the autopsies of Uncle Bert and Macho. Before going to Ruhengeri to press for the arrests of suspected poachers, Dian left brief instructions to cut the gorillas open, recover any bullets and remove parts of certain organs before burying them. Yet there were no proper implements for the grisly task. Instead, we cut through the gorilla’s incredibly thick skin with a Swiss Army knife and opened Uncle Bert’s rib cage only with multiple blows from a machete. Once inside his massive chest cavity, we were stunned to see how even his great size and strength were no defense against the ravages of a simple bullet, probably fired from a high –powered military rifle. Entering through a tiny one-quarter-inch hole in his chest, the projectile had shredded soft tissues and shattered his spine before existing through a much larger hole in his back. Macho was the same. We never recovered a single bullet from any of the gorillas shot during that terrible time.
We had come to help save gorillas. Now we were surrounded by dead and decapitated bodies and were up to our elbows in their blood. It was impossible to make any sense of events, but this was the reality of gorilla conservation in 1978. Our research might help us understand the African poachers world, the harsh economies of local poverty, and the power of foreign markets. But nothing could ever justify the killing of such innocent and peaceful creatures. Nor could we begin to comprehend how anyone could be so sick as to pay for a gorilla’s disembodied head or its brutality orphaned infant.
SABYINYO, teeth of the old one, Time and erosion have removed any trace of its once massive cauldron. Leaving only five jagged incisors with wide gaps between. Below its peaks, a dark carpet of bamboo softens the sharp edges of deep canyons and crevasses gouged from its flanks.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the colonial empires of Britain, Belgium, and Germany intersected on Sabyinyo’s highest tooth. In their rush to carve up Africa, the European powers did not feel constrained by their profound geographical ignorance of the vast continent. Instead they sat around a table at the Berlin conference of 1885 and drew lines along known rivers, presumed watersheds and reported land marks. Yet explorers from Baker and Burton to Speke and Stanley had avoided the mountain kingdom of Rwanda, steered away by guides who knew only of the Rwandans fierce reputation as fighters. The result was a complete lack of information about the region, including the failure to note the existence of either Lake Kivu or the Virunga chain of volcanoes. Stanley did record the name of a single volcano called Mufimbira, and it was on that dubious spot that the Berlin conferees marked the shared boundary point of the British, Belgian, and German colonies. Years later, the first Europeans to actually visit the area would discover that Mufumbiro did not exist. In its place was a long chain of partially active volcanoes. Ultimately, a tripartite commission would allocate the Virunga’s Southern flank to the German colony of Rwanda-Urundi, its North West sector to the Belgian Congo, and a smaller North East sector to British East Africa.
Oscar von Beringe was a young military officer assigned to oversee Germany’s investment in Rwanda. In 1899 he was the first white man to explore Mt.Visoke. Three years later, Captain von Beringe returned with a patrol to display the German presence near the trinational border. Climbing a narrow ridge as about 10,400 feet on the East side of Sabyinyo,he spotted a group of “black large apes”. He proceeded to shoot 2 of the animals “which fell with much noise into a canyon.