When we visited Rwanda last September we were privileged to be able to spend an hour in the company of a group of mountain gorillas. It was at once an exhilarating and unnerving experience. On the one hand you know you are being looked after by expert guides, yet on the other you are within a few feet of some of the most powerful animals on earth. During our far too brief stay with these magnificent creatures we were entranced by the gentleness of the dominant silverback, Ugenda, who had given the group his name. He had taken a young male under his wing in whose company he was snoozing and generally lazing the morning away. The other silverback, Wageni, was a touch less tolerant and on one occasion actually charged us, an episode that got the heart thumping and left you feeling pleased you had a spare pair of trousers back at base. It was of course all much ado about nothing; we had made too much eye contact whilst taking our snaps, and he was simply putting us in our place. The grinning faces of the park guards told its own story and we were ever so slightly abashed that we had reacted by trying to outrun a half ton ape when all we needed to have done was adopt a non-threatening posture, crouch down and acknowledge who was boss.
So sadly both of these wonderful characters are now dead. They were attacked by a lone male named Giraneza and have died of injuries sustained in some kind of aggressive takeover action. I feel quite weirdly bereft. It really is like losing a friend or relative and it is quite hard to understand what has happened. It is a natural event I guess and is certainly better than having to learn they died through the actions of poachers, but it is nonetheless a real blow. Apparently the now leaderless group has dispersed and is vulnerable. Let's hope they find the protection of another strong group and can get their lives back together. More details can be found at here.