MukundaGorilla Health Threat: Human-Gorilla Conflict

Because the national parks where gorillas live directly border human settlements, interactions between gorillas and people are unavoidable. Gorillas sometimes leave the parks to raid crops and people sometimes enter the parks illegally to obtain resources such as firewood. The conflict between farmers and gorillas over crop-raiding, and the conflict between people illegally seeking park resources and the park authorities and conservationists, has resulted in gorilla deaths. Several of the gorillas Dian Fossey studied were purposefully killed, including her favorite gorilla, Digit. Fossey suspected the gorillas were killed by poachers as revenge for her attempts to stop their activities in the national park. 

In June and July of 2007, seven mountain gorillas were killed in Virunga National Park in DRC. Evidence suggests the gorillas were executed because of park rangers’ efforts to stop illegal tree cutting and charcoal production in the park. The Gorilla Doctors performed necropsies on the gorillas and worked with Virunga National Park rangers to save two female infants that were orphaned by the attacks, Ndakasi and Ndeze. Ndakasi was rescued in June by Virunga National Park Gorilla Caretaker Andre Bauma who brought the orphan to the Gorilla Doctors for treatment. In July, five members of the Rugendo family were killed, including the silverback Senkwekwe and female Safari, the parents of Ndeze. Ndeze was saved by the blackback Mukunda, who carried her to safety. Because Ndeze needed milk to survive, the Gorilla Doctors darted Mukunda with anesthesia so they could take Ndeze and put her into Andre’s care with Ndakasi.

Mukunda, now a lone silverback, has had frequent run-ins with people. Mukunda has attacked several people—always men wearing uniforms—in both DRC and Rwanda. In two other instances, he walked many miles outside of the forest and boldly entered villages with hundreds of people. Despite the chaos that erupted around him, Mukunda stayed in each location for days eating crops and even visited the food market. In both cases, the Gorilla Doctors, with the help of Virunga National Park rangers, darted Mukunda with anesthesia and brought him back to the national park. In May 2011 Mukunda again traveled far outside of the park, but he turned around and walked back to the forest on his own when he saw the Gorilla Doctors approaching him. Happily, since the last incident, Mukunda has stayed well inside of the park and out of trouble.

Watch the video of Mukunda's intervention in July 2010: