Many times over the last several years, we have predicted that silverback Kabirizi would lose complete control over the females with whom he has fathered offspring. Indeed, half of his original group of 36 was taken by silverback Bageni, and at one point, rangers only saw him in the company of juvenile and adolescent males. Surprisingly, Kabirizi made a comeback and he continues to preside over a group of 18. On a recent routine health check, Virunga’s rangers and the Gorilla Doctors got a chance to observe how he manages to hold onto his group despite his advanced age.
As the team approached the GPS coordinates where the Kabirizi’s group was last seen, they encountered silverback Nyakamwe, the leader of a group of 10 gorillas. Nyakamwe put on a huge display of dominance that was clearly aimed at challenging Kabirizi, who was close by. In his younger years, Kabirizi surely would have taken the bait. But with years comes wisdom, so instead of fighting the younger and stronger Nyakamwe, the aging Kabirizi used finesse. He quietly led his group away from the challenger and out of harm’s way. The bellicose Nyakamwe was so preoccupied with his own show of dominance that he didn’t even notice the quiet retreat of Kabirizi and his family. It seems Kabirizi’s long standing success as a silverback has been due to both brawn and brains.
Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Martin Kabuyaya