Delight, concern after endangered gorilla produces rare twins

Delight, concern after endangered gorilla produces rare twins

VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK – Glancing suspiciously in our direction, an endangered mountain gorilla turned her back to protect the rare treasure in her arms – the third-ever recorded set of twins born to these rare primates.

A huge male gorilla emerged from the bushes. Setting himself down just seven meters from our pack of tourists, the gorilla, brown eyes glaring, let out a deep growl – a signal he was prepared to use all the strength of his 200-kilogramme frame to protect the twins and their mother.We froze in our tracks.Among the world’s endangered mountain gorillas, the 37-member Susa group is the largest troop accustomed to tourists, but any sudden movement still could provoke them.Our Rwandan guide responded with a growl to assure the gorillas we were their friends.Everyone, gorillas and humans, relaxed.And soon enough, a young gorilla was helping Nyabitondore, mother of the twins, groom the babies – a key bonding ritual among the gentle, playful giants of Karisimbi Mountains.There are no mountain gorillas in captivity, and all of the rare primates live in central Africa.Since the middle of last year, gorilla troops have produced 14 other babies, and the May birth of the twins has delighted conservation experts.”Every birth is crucial to the genetic viability of the mountain gorillas, and the birth of twins is an exceptional event,” said Fidelle Ruzigandekwa, head of the Rwanda Wildlife Agency.”It is like a miracle because the primates are threatened with extinction.”But the joy is tinged with concern that Nyabitondore may not be able to handle the twins, a male and a female, when they grow older and become more active.Raising twins is hard enough for humans.The challenge is even greater for mountain gorillas.Until they are three years old, gorilla infants are totally dependent on their mothers, who carry them on their arms or back partly to guard them against wild dogs, hyenas and other predators lurking in the forest.The mothers remain fiercely protective until babies are weaned, around four years after birth, explained the tour guide, Francis Ndagijimana.The twins were born in May to 12-year-old Nyabitondore, said Clare Richardson, head of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.”The mother is doing fine up to now.She manages to feed and handle them quite well,” Ruzigandekwa said.”But caring for the babies will become more difficult as the twins grow older, heavier, stronger and more active.”In 1986, the first recorded pair of twins died just nine days after being born.Of the second pair, born in 1991, one infant died within a month.The other survived to adulthood, only to be killed by poachers in 2002.Nyabitondore appeared blissfully unaware of the odds against her as she held the babies with one hand and fed herself with the other.Not far from the mother, a baby gorilla climbed up a tree, looked our way and thumped his chest, trying to produce the sharp clapping sound made by agitated mature gorillas, who have chests of tough, bare skin.But the youngster, whose chest is still covered with hair, produced only a faint thud.It will be a while before he can thump like a silverback as mature males, who develop silver hairs on their back, are known.His failure apparent, he turned shy and hid his face against a tree trunk.It was a scene our group of eight tourists was lucky to witness.The twins have become a tourist attraction in this central African country, and there’s heavy competition for the eight daily visitor slots allotted by park officials.We saw them on the higher slopes of one of the mountains in the park.The gorillas headed up the mountain in August as the dry season took hold on the lower slopes, cutting deep into their food supply.Our group took a 10-hour hike through dense forest and up steep, slippery slopes to gain a glimpse of the mountain gorillas.We hacked our way across thick bushes, keeping a close watch on thorny branches lining the narrow pathways and stumbling across creepers that lay on the path and pinched our tired feet.The national park, Africa’s first, was established by Rwanda’s Belgian colonial rulers in 1925 after Carl Akeley of the American Museum of Natural History made a plea to protect the gorillas.It is located on the Rwandan side of a mountain range that straddles the borders of Rwanda, Congo and Uganda.Adjacent parks in Congo and Uganda are both known as Virunga National Park.The three parks are home to world’s entire mountain gorilla population.A census conducted late last year found that the number of mountain gorillas in central Africa had increased to 380 – up 17 per cent since the last census was conducted 15 years ago.- Nampa-APSetting himself down just seven meters from our pack of tourists, the gorilla, brown eyes glaring, let out a deep growl – a signal he was prepared to use all the strength of his 200-kilogramme frame to protect the twins and their mother.We froze in our tracks.Among the world’s endangered mountain gorillas, the 37-member Susa group is the largest troop accustomed to tourists, but any sudden movement still could provoke them.Our Rwandan guide responded with a growl to assure the gorillas we were their friends.Everyone, gorillas and humans, relaxed.And soon enough, a young gorilla was helping Nyabitondore, mother of the twins, groom the babies – a key bonding ritual among the gentle, playful giants of Karisimbi Mountains.There are no mountain gorillas in captivity, and all of the rare primates live in central Africa.Since the middle of last year, gorilla troops have produced 14 other babies, and the May birth of the twins has delighted conservation experts.”Every birth is crucial to the genetic viability of the mountain gorillas, and the birth of twins is an exceptional event,” said Fidelle Ruzigandekwa, head of the Rwanda Wildlife Agency.”It is like a miracle because the primates are threatened with extinction.”But the joy is tinged with concern that Nyabitondore may not be able to handle the twins, a male and a female, when they grow older and become more active.Raising twins is hard enough for humans.The challenge is even greater for mountain gorillas.Until they are three years old, gorilla infants are totally dependent on their mothers, who carry them on their arms or back partly to guard them against wild dogs, hyenas and other predators lurking in the forest.The mothers remain fiercely protective until babies are weaned, around four years after birth, explained the tour guide, Francis Ndagijimana.The twins were born in May to 12-year-old Nyabitondore, said Clare Richardson, head of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.”The mother is doing fine up to now.She manages to feed and handle them quite well,” Ruzigandekwa said.”But caring for the babies will become more difficult as the twins grow older, heavier, stronger and more active.”In 1986, the first recorded pair of twins died just nine days after being born.Of the second pair, born in 1991, one infant died within a month.The other survived to adulthood, only to be killed by poachers in 2002.Nyabitondore appeared blissfully unaware of the odds against her as she held the babies with one hand and fed herself with the other.Not far from the mother, a baby gorilla climbed up a tree, looked our way and thumped his chest, trying to produce the sharp clapping sound made by agitated mature gorillas, who have chests of tough, bare skin.But the youngster, whose chest is still covered with hair, produced only a faint thud.It will be a while before he can thump like a silverback as mature males, who develop silver hairs on their back, are known.His failure apparent, he turned shy and hid his face against a tree trunk.It was a scene our group of eight tourists was lucky to witness.The twins have become a tourist attraction in this central African country, and there’s heavy competition for the eight daily visitor slots allotted by park officials.We saw them on the higher slopes of one of the mountains in the park.The gorillas headed up the mountain in August as the dry season took hold on the lower slopes, cutting deep into their food supply.Our group took a 10-hour hike through dense forest and up steep, slippery slopes to gain a glimpse of the mountain gorillas.We hacked our way across thick bushes, keeping a close watch on thorny branches lining the narrow pathways and stumbling across creepers that lay on the path and pinched our tired feet.The national park, Africa’s first, was established by Rwanda’s Belgian colonial rulers in 1925 after Carl Akeley of the American Museum of Natural History made a plea to protect the gorillas.It is located on the Rwandan side of a mountain range that straddles the borders of Rwanda, Congo and Uganda.Adjacent parks in Congo and Uganda are both known as Virunga National Park.The three parks are home to world’s entire mountain gorilla population.A census conducted late last year found that the number of mountain gorillas in central Africa had increased to 380 – up 17 per cent since the last census was conducted 15 years ago.- Nampa-AP

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