Kingo hits me on the head with a tree.

to see if it was something simple and could be fixed (the answer to this is no and no) I was going out and collecting microphone data with Kingo. I think Kingo doesn’t really like being followed with the microphone because you have to be a bit closer to him and its big and black and always pointing at you. Anyway Kete was the microphone guy and we were following Kingo. Kingo stops so we stop and there is basele (Haumania danckelmaniana) a spiky vine digging into Kete’s leg. So still holding the microphone he slooowly bends down to move it out of the way. Kingo can be very aggressive about food and basele is one of his foods. He sees Kete bending down to touch food and charges at us grunting. He also grabs a small tree and bangs it down on the ground towards us. Stay away from my food!!! The tree was small in diameter but not in height and bam!! It gets me on the head. Kete is in a crazy position, holding the microphone towards Kingo, one foot in the air ready to fend off Kingo should he really try and attack, and still trying to get the basele off his leg. All for one spiky vine we didn’t want to eat anyway! But I think that made Kingo deeply distrustful of Kete for the rest of the day. We swapped trackers on the microphone so it was Samedi. Kete was then in the back. Kingo was lying down and Kete went to bend over a small tree to sit on 15 metres away from Kingo. Kingo opens his eyes and sees Kete touching ‘Kingo’s trees’ again and keeps watching him to make sure he wasn’t going to try and eat it!

Kusu and another male.

Maybe a week after the interaction in the previous blog I was working with Kusu and Ekendi. I’d just switched to working with Kusu. He was close to Kingo and Mama and they headed off in one direction. Instead of following them, he headed off in exactly the opposite direction which we thought was a bit odd, the rest of the group was in the direction Kingo was heading in. The trackers were saying ‘This is bad, he’s far away from Kingo, what happens if another male comes?’ I said (as a joke) ‘That’s ok, you two can defend him’. He was feeding quite happily for about ten minutes then suddenly looked around and realised something was wrong. He started calling and calling but no one replied. Suddenly Mama came rushing over to him, but from the opposite direction from which she was heading previously. So it was like she travelled around in a huge circle and she was rushing to get Kusu out of the area. Then Dona said ‘There’s another male over there.’ Pointing in the direction Mama came from and rushed away. We could hear him shouting and banging his knife on a tree. I was busy thinking whoops, guys I was just kidding!! Then he came back and Kingo arrived on the scene. He was all fluffed up and charged off in the direction of the other male. Then he was doing chest beats and he ran up and hit with both hands the buttress of a Piptadeniastrum africanum tree. These are the trees with the huge butresses that chimps also use for their drumming. The bark of this tree is used by the BayAka as an aphrodisiac – but use too much and its toxic (See this blog can be educational as well; third fact it is also commercially logged under the name of Dabema). Then he raced around the corner and pulled down a massive branch of a tree. All this apparently scared off the male and life continued as n
As background to this story, once upon a time Roberta had a computer which worked. One day we had some sort of power surge and something in her computer got fried and it no longer works. So when she was off in Bomassa trying ormal. But we were starting to wonder if Kusu hears other males and just assumes that they are Kingo!

Mondika died!

Yes, the little Emilie’s baby died on March 19th. He/She had just two weeks of life. It’s a sad story that we still didn’t understand completely. On the 18th I followed her, and the baby was still fine and healthy, she/he started to keep the eyes opened and was strongly grabbing the mother’s fur. I also had the chance to see him/her suckling happily. Emilie seemed very careful and a gentle mum, but maybe this was her first experience and things during that night went unfortunately wrong somehow. Well, the morning after, the 19th, Patrice went following the group while training a new young tracker on our study area and trails system. When he came back he told us that all the females were far away from Kingo for mostly all morning. Patrice and trackers stayed with the silverback alone for more than two hours. Then some females came closer and they saw Emilie arriving were Kingo was carrying the little baby upside-down. She made a movement and the little baby cried loud for a second. Patrice tried to see but she was hiding the baby head between her legs or under her arm. Then Emilie went close to Kusu. Patrice told us that she put her hand on Kusu shoulder and pulled him in her direction, as she wanted to show something to the young male, then Kusu and Emilie started grumbling. Also Kingo came closer, and exchanged two words too before going to feed five meters away. As soon as we heard the story, preoccupied as you can imagine, we went to see what was going on. When we arrived where the group was, Kingo was sleeping on the ground and all the females were on a tree. We tried to find Emilie as soon as possible but she climbed down a tall tree only an hour after we arrived there. She was still carrying the baby, but as soon as we saw her, we knew that there was something really wrong. The baby was not crabbing her, I saw his/her little feet swinging. She was carrying it upside down still. The baby was already dead, no movement, no reaction, no cry. It was really sad to see her still going around with the little dead baby. She climbed another tree still with the baby and took a lot of naps, maybe thinking that the baby was tired. She was also looking to her enlarged breasts, not knowing what to do. Emilie has been all day close to Kingo. Just once Kingo approached her and for few seconds he was looking the baby. During one rest session, Ekendi, her “best friend”, came to see what was going on, and while she was taking out some little worms from the baby ears and nose, Ekendi was staring at the baby and then the mum very worried.
The day after we went very early in the forest to catch the group close to the nest in order to be present when she decided to leave the carcass. We arrived there and the entire group was up on several different trees. We tried for an hour to find Emilie….but we were wrongly looking for a female eating with one hand, as she was doing lately. Before the gorillas came down, Kete Samedi found the little carcass, abandoned close to a tree where one female was all alone eating up in the canopy.
We stayed close to the baby, at a safe distance and identified that female as Emilie. I didn’t want to get the baby while the group was still in the area. Same times all the adults come close to the dead group member (even if so new) for a last time before starting to travel far away. Kingo was the first to climb down with Ugly and Mekome. All of them rested for another hour at the base of their trees. Emilie was still up eating and eating (…were two weeks that she was eating less than normal…). Then she decided to climb down too. She went towards Kingo and lay down within 15 meters from him. After not more than 10 min she stood up and went to check her baby. She tried to pull him/her, but nothing. She smelled the white worms now coming out from the head and fearful she run three meters away, keeping smelling her fingers and looking at the baby. From distance we could hear Kingo traveling away. She looked in the direction where Kingo was, then again to the baby, than again to Kingo, and the last time to the baby, before traveling away. When she was 15meters from us she looked again and then leave to follow Kingo to the swamp. As soon as we were sure that all group members was gone, I put the carcass in a little plastic bag and we brought it close to the camp. The day after we sent that bag to Bomassa so that the Vets could take samples and investigate the cause of death.
That night we all drank some wine to say bye bye to the little Mondika. Our Vet told us that he suspecting pneumonia. It is possible that all the rain that did in those days didn’t help Emilie with her, we think, first baby.

Changes at Wildlife Direct

Dear Blog Readers

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support over the past year. The donations you have made have been used to pay the trackers a bonus for working with us since they have to do more work to record the gorilla vocalisations and always know the position of every gorilla in the group. We also love getting your comments, its great to know that our crazy experiences are appreciated!

Wildlife Direct is changing how the blog system works and as of the 31st March and it will no longer be possible to make donations on the page. Unfortunately we don’t have an independent website where we can still accept your help. So if you would like to continue to support us during the last two months of the project (April and May) please make a donation through our page before the 31st March.

We will keep updating the blog with our experiences, so keep reading us!!

The Gorillasound team
Roberta, Julia, the trackers and KINGO!!

The next day!!

Very early we sent out two teams to go back to where we ‘lost’ Kingo to try and find the group. At 7.30am one of the teams found Kingo sleeping on the ground at the base of a tree. All the females were up in the tree. Nearby were signs of an interaction with another male. We’re just glad that this had a happy ending!

The day we lost Kingo.

So a few weeks ago now (we lost this blog when Roberta’s computer crashed this is a rewrite . . .) we were working with Kingo in the afternoon. When we arrived Kingo was resting and Kusu was close by. All the females were far away. We figured that Kingo would take us to the females but when he started moving it became clear that he didn’t know where the females were either! He was walking and then calling them, walking, calling, waiting. When we first arrived we could hear chimps in the distance. Kingo must have thought the noise was his females because he headed off in that direction. When he saw the chimps he charged one of the females who was feeding on the ground and she ran away. Then he was just standing there trying to figure out exactly why his females were all chimpanzees. Fifteen metres away from us we could three chimpanzees on the ground watching us. There was a big, old looking grey male and two younger chimps. They kept staring at us, maybe they were naïve (hadn’t seen humans before) or maybe they just couldn’t figure out why we were with Kingo and he was so calm. Then Kingo called to his females again and the chimps hooted and hollered back at him and then Kingo went in the opposite direction from before to continue the hunt. He covered a huge square, travelling in all four compass directions and didn’t find his females. At one point he even went past another male. The trackers pointed him out to us, about 20 metres away in the vegetation.

Then after canvassing what seemed to be his entire home range it was as if he decided it was ok that his females were not there and he was going to eat instead. He was calmly eating termites next to Kusu when a female screamed in the distance and he just ran, so fast that in about 12 seconds he was gone. We all started running after him but the forest had swallowed him up. Kusu was still with us so we figured we’d follow Kusu and he’d take us to Kingo. But no, it seemed that Kusu was lost too! He started calling and calling and even climbed up a little tree and was calling from there. But to no avail, he was all alone (apart from us but I guess we don’t count!). So now we can actually hear two males in different directions chest beating and thumping trees. One of these had to be Kingo but Kusu didn’t know which one. He’d travel towards the sound of one male, change his mind and head back towards the other, then continue to zig zag. Eventually he headed off and behind us we could hear a female moving towards us. It was Emilie, she went towards Kusu and then after awhile Mama turned up. However it was now getting late and we had to leave soon to avoid getting stuck in the forest in the dark.

But what to do? We only had a fragment of the group, there was another male in the vicinity and we had no idea where Kingo was. It was the hardest thing to do but we had to leave the females and Kusu and head back to camp.

Emilie Baby!

On the 4th March I went in the forest as always with Julia and two trackers. That day I followed Mama and then Emilie. I started Emilie at 9:30 and I continued until 12:00, when the afternoon team arrived. Dona and I at that time were not with Kingo but 200 meters away. We had run in the direction of chimps screams close by…trying to see them. We didn’t have luck and afterwards we came back to the camp. That day Kingo decided to cross Mondika river and visit Buka home range in the other side. He was used to visit this forest several years ago, but in the last 5 years he went there very rarely. While I was following Emilie I noted that something was different than normal. She was very close to Kingo, she didn’t feed much and traveled much less than she is used to. At one point she just lay down close to us with one elbow on the ground (Ceasar position) and looked around. I was staring her belly because was strangely quite big. Suddenly, something moved in her belly…and as a little head, something moved from up to down. I immediately called the attention of the tracker, Dona, who, like me, said…”She is pregnant, there is a baby there!!”.
Well, when the afternoon team came back after 5pm, they told us that Emilie had a baby. They found the place where she gave birth, and saw her carrying something very small in her arms. The baby seemed fine and alive. After she gave birth around 3 pm, all the group cross again Mondika and came back in the forest they are more comfortable with. Kenga suggested the perfect name: Mondika. We are now waiting he/she grows up a little more and then the name will be official.
The day after Julia and I went all day in the forest, to `check baby and mother health. Both are fine. Emilie is very sweet with her baby, As soon as she/he cries or says something she embraces her/him immediately. The mother is not eating a lot, she rests often, and eats with just one hand, always not far from Kingo. We have also few videos in which you can see her walking bipedally carrying the infant with two hands, incredible!! If we have the possibility we will upload them asap.

A brief lesson on sperm competition.

So Kingo has been having lots of sex recently and this blog will talk in a round about way about this. The other day he was lying on the path sleeping and he had his foot in the air. He does this quite a lot but I can never get a good photo because there is always vegetation in the way. So I was going quite crazy taking lots of photos trying to get a good one. One of the trackers asked to see the photos and I showed him feeling really pleased because they’d worked. He looked at them and said no, they didn’t work at all, you can’t see his penis. I looked at Kingo and they way he was lying you could see his rather small penis, which didn’t show up on my photos at all (my zoom isn’t that good!!). So gorillas have the largest sexual dimorphism (difference in size between males and females) of all primates and the smallest male sex organs. This is because all competition over female gorillas is external. Male gorillas fight other males to gain harems and monopolise mating. Once a female is in his group she will only be mating with him (technically) so each copulation doesn’t require a lot of sperm to ensure that he is the father of the offspring. Chimpanzees on the other hand, have internal sperm competition for paternity. Females will mate with as many males as possible while she is fertile. This means that each male that copulates with a female has to ejaculate as much sperm as possible in the hopes that his sperm will win the race to the egg. That is why chimpanzees have huge balls. So bring out your magnifying glasses and see what external sperm competition does to male gorilla reproductive organs! Interestingly, if you regress body mass against testicle mass for primates including humans, humans fall slightly on the side of having internal sperm competition . . . . .

Kingo has sex.

Recently Kingo has been copulating with Mama, up to four times a day over a period of two to three days. When he does have sex it seems to be fascinating for Ekendi. As soon as he can hear it happening Ekendi will run to where Kingo and Mama are and try to get as close as possible. The one time I saw Ekendi ran up and was sniffing Mama’s head. Kingo didn’t appreciate Ekendi being so close so started grunting at him to go away. Ekendi backed off a little but was still super close and was just watching them get on with it. Apparently Kingo doesn’t appreciate being watched like that and the next moment he reaches out and bam! He pushes Ekendi out of the way. Maybe because of Ekendi’s interference it was a long copulation. Right near the end Kingo must have been getting exhausted as he picked up an ngluma fruit and started eating it, still while copulating with Mama!

Ekendi just can’t win (again).

Sometimes you see things happening that might be hard to quantify scientifically but you know that something has changed. Ekendi is now eating seriously, so the weaning process is really moving along. Unfortunately for Ekendi this is putting him in more and more conflict with Kingo as he is often close to him when he feeds.

Kingo is extremely intolerant of anyone feeding close to him, this includes his own offspring. The very first time I saw Kingo, as a visitor to the Mondika site in 2008, he “attacked” George to take fruit off her.

Over the past few days there have been several instances where Ekendi has come into conflict with Kingo. Ekendi climbed a small tree and was feeding on the leaves. Kingo comes along and decides he wants to be feeding on the leaves so pulls the tree out from under Ekendi. Luckily there was a nearby liana for Ekendi to grab onto, but it happened so fast that he was just dangling from the liana hanging on by his arms as he tried to get his feet onto a nearby tree.

Then the group was feeding on ngluma fruits and Kingo starts aggressively vocalizing. Kingo was slightly hidden in some vegetation so we couldn’t see who he was mad at. Suddenly Ekendi bursts out of the bushes with his arms so full of Ngluma fruits he has to run bipedally to get away from Kingo.

Then the final time Ekendi was sitting at the top of a small tree eating leaves, happily humming away to himself. Kingo can hear him and approaches. He sees that Ekendi is feeding and starts grunting at Ekendi. Ekendi ignores him and keeps feeding. Kingo climbs up the tree, grabs Ekendi by the shoulder and throws him to the ground. Luckily it was a small tree, so Ekendi only fell about two metres. Ekendi was screaming and then lay still on the ground for around ten minutes. I was standing there with my hand over my mouth in shock but the trackers just stood there saying, Kingo is like that, and anyway, Ekendi will be fine. And sure enough, ten minutes later he was up and off again!