Chimanuka group is the only group of Grauer’s gorillas habituated to human presence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With 37 individuals, it is a very large group led by Chimanuka, an older, magnificent silverback. Drs. Eddy and Martin recently trekked to the group in Kahuzi Biega National Park to assess their health. Here is his report:

By Dr. Eddy Kambale

On April 23rd and 24th, two routine health checks were performed from the Kahuzi Biega National Park Tshivanga Station.  On the first day, our team (composed of three park rangers, one researcher and myself) entered the forest at 8:00am. At around 9:00am, we were on the gorillas’ trail and one of the trackers spotted a wire snare attached to a stick that was deeply rooted in the ground. Our team destroyed the trap and the wire was taken back to the patrol post. The rangers/trackers made a decision to check around the area to see if there were additional snares and poachers trails. After a thorough search, no other trap was located and we moved on. 

The snare found and destroyed in Kahuzi Biega National Park by Dr. Eddy’s team.We continued to trek for another hour and at 10:36am, we found Chimanuka group’s night nests in the Cishaka area of the park at an elevation of 2269 meters. Twenty-one night nests were located, ten were located on the ground and eleven nests were in the trees above. The nests on the ground were all inspected and no signs of ill health were found.

We continued to follow the group’s trail and at 11:18am we located the gorillas, feeding in an area of very dense vegetation and eating cyperus plants. Because of the thick vegetation, we were only able to observe five of the thirty-seven gorillas in Chimanuka group. During the visit which took us one and a half hours, we were only able to photograph three of the five gorillas, among them the dominant silverback Chimanuka, adult female Makali and an infant.

The rest of the gorillas were eating nearby, under dense vegetation and we could only see leaves moving. We heard play vocalizations and the gorillas munching on food. We left the group at 12:32pm. 

On our second day in Kahuzi Biega National Park, we entered the forest at 8:10am with a team of seven people (three rangers/trackers, two Gorilla Doctors veterinarians, one veterinary student and one researcher). At 9:55am we found the night nests in the Kakumbo-Kumbo area of the forest at an altitude of 2302 meters. Twenty-two night nests were observed, thirteen on the ground and nine “aerial” nests up in the trees.

During our second visit to Chimanuka group, we collected fecal samples to analyze for a survey on a zoonotic protozoa, Balantidium coli.  During the inspection of the nests, we heard gorillas’ vocalization not far from where we were, at about 150 meters. We followed the trails and we found the group at 10:30am in the same general area as their night nests. Some gorillas were eating Mimelopsis and others were resting, playing, and grooming each other. The duration of observation was just over one hour and we were able to observe thirty of the thirty-seven gorillas of Chimanuka group.

During the two days of Routine Heath Checks, we learned again to be patient while observing gorillas in their natural habitat. Gorillas can show up or hide themselves, moving freely and peacefully. All the observed gorillas during the two days were visually in good health. Dr. Martin and I recommended that the Kahuzi Biega National Park patrol team intensify their anti-poaching patrols to ensure that poaching activity is not on the rise in the park.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.

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