by Jessica Burbridge

11-year-old adult female Kurinda, of Ntambara group in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, gave birth to her first baby on July 7, 2013. Sadly, the nearly two-week-old infant was killed after the third ranking silverback, Twibuke, aggressed the new mother on July 18th. Trackers from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, who regularly monitors Ntambara group, reported that the infant was crying in the late afternoon of the 18th. The following morning, Gorilla Doctors Regional Vet Manager Dr. Dawn Zimmerman accompanied the trackers to the group, but the infant had passed away sometime during the night. 

First time mother Kurinda holding her deceased infant.

During Dr. Dawn’s observation, silverback Twibuke again appeared to aggress Kurinda, although the adult female shows no sign of injury from the incidents. Kurinda’s infant was believed to be fathered by dominant silverback Ntambara. Infanticide by a lower ranking silverback is somewhat unusual: although the females of the group copulate with the dominant silverback the most, many will mate with non-dominate males to confuse paternity and guard their infant from intra-group infanticide. infanticide is more commonly committed by solitary lone silverback “intruders” or silverbacks who take over control of a group. Cruel as it is, it serves the biological purpose of bringing the female back into estrus to allow the dominant silverback to sire his own offspring.

The infant was not able to be recovered for necropsy at this time as Kurinda continues to carry the body, however Dr. Dawn reports that “the carcass was consistent with 24 hours of death, although the heat and ingestion by the mother could have accelerated decomposition… most of the hair was removed on the body and the skin was removed from the frontal skull.” Dr. Dawn provided the trackers with the necessary supplies to collect the infant’s remains should Kurinda leave the baby behind. 

On a brighter note, the other young infant born in Ntambara group to 14-year-old adult female Tegereza appears to be thriving. Like Kurinda, Tegereza is also a first time mother. Her infant was named Twongere-Ingamiya at the June 2013 Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony in Kinigi, Rwanda.

Adult female Tegereza’s new infant Twongere-Ingamiya.

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