Mwirima, one of the oldest silverback mountain gorillas has died.
Aged more than 35, Mwirima was the leader of the Rushegura group of 14 gorillas.
Mwirima was found lying lifeless on Monday near Bwindi-Mgahinga Conservation Area head offices at Buhoma in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Mr John Justice Tibesigwa, the senior warden in charge of the southern sector of Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Parks, yesterday said Mwirima is suspected to have died of old age and other illnesses. However, it should be noted gorillas have a life expectancy of 50 to 60 years.
“His ill health was first detected by trackers two weeks ago when he was observed not to be feeding well and lagging behind in the group. A doctor from Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) was called and intervened on February 23,” Mr Tibeigwa said.
He said the doctors attributed his frail condition to old age and recommended constant monitoring until further intervention which he had scheduled for Monday.
Mwirima’s condition is said to have deteriorated further, which necessitated urgent intervention.
“I called doctors from MGVP. They found a wound in Mwirima’s mouth that is suspected to have made it difficult for him to feed. Although the doctors administered treatment we were still waiting for a detailed report on his health,” Mr Tibeigwa said.
Mwirima (meaning darkness) was given his name because of his dark face. He split from the habituated Habinyanja group with 13 others on February 13, 2002, which marked the beginning of his own family called Rushegura.
His family was named Rushegura because the area in which the group split from is popularly called Rushegura.
Mwirima has since led this group which has been a source of admiration and amazement to thousands of tourists who have tracked them.
He leaves behind a family of 14 gorillas under the leadership of Kabukojo-a black back assisted by another – Kalembezi, another black back, after an adult female was taken away from the group by Maraya a week ago due to Mwirima’s ill health.
This has forced the group to move far into the park to avoid further antagonism with other gorilla groups which range in the Buhoma area.
Mwirima will be remembered for his courage to defend his group, enforcing discipline among his family and bringing joy to all those who have tracked the group since 2002.
mwirima in brief
Mwirima’s group which sometimes crosses into Democratic Republic of Congo has one silverback, five adult females, one black back, and a host of middle aged ones and infant gorillas. Gorillas under Mwirima are said to have been feeling secure given his proven heroics in fighting off rival and wild groups. Mwirima is known to have engaged in severe fights in a bid to protect his sovereignty and family.