Gorilla Deaths Spark Fears at Mount Tshiaberimu

Categories: Gorilla Journal, Journal no. 36, Diseases, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mt. Tshiaberimu, Grauer's Gorilla

On 10 May, 2008, Molo, one of just 20 rare gorillas living in the forests of Mount Tshiaberimu, in the northern annex of Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo, was found dead following an illness. This is the second adult female from the Kipura group of this unique and critically endangered population to have died in 3 months, leaving just 9 individuals and worryingly few breeding females.

Molo last gave birth in February 2003, while Mughole, who died on February 8, gave birth in July 2007. Sadly Mughole's infant was killed the day after it was born during an interaction between the group and a lone silverback. The remaining female in the Kipura group, Kitawiterina, last gave birth in August 2006, increasing the mountain's population to 21 at the time.
Following the recent deaths the bodies were carried to the outskirts of the park, where on both occasions, vets were able to carry out autopsies. The autopsies have shown that both gorillas were suffering from high parasite loads, which is not unusual in wild gorillas, but may have weakened their immune systems. However, it is widely thought that the parasites could not have caused their death.
The Gorilla Organization, which manages the Mount Tshiaberimu Conservation Project in collaboration with the Congolese Wildlife Authority ICCN, is liaising with Conservation Through Public Health, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and the Great Ape Health Monitoring Unit for the analysis of tissue samples and the further development of health monitoring programs on Mount Tshiaberimu.
The Mount Tshiaberimu Conservation Project was founded in 1996 for the protection of the mountain's population of 16 gorillas, which would almost certainly be extinct by now if the project had not begun when it did. While classified as eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri), they are morphologically distinct and in 1927 were classified by Ernst Schwarz as subspecies Gorilla gorilla rex-pygmaeorum. The Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig has been analysing the DNA collected from gorilla faecal samples to resolve the debate.
The project is currently supported by the European Commission in conjunction with UNEP/GRASP, and Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe.

On 30 August, 2008, another gorilla was found dead on Mt. Tshiaberimu, this time a juvenile.

Jean-Claude Kyungu