By Dr. Gaspard Nzayisenga, field veterinarian, Rwanda

During my health monitoring of Muhoza group on January 5, I was surprised to find Inkundwa, a lone silverback mountain gorilla, interacting with Muhoza group (led by silverback Muhoza). Apparently, there had been a fight early that morning before our arrival, which resulted in a couple of minor lacerations to Muhoza’s front head and left thigh.

During my observation, these fresh wounds did not seem to affect Muhoza’s activities or overall health, but we will keep an eye on him to monitor for any signs of infection. In most cases, injuries stay clean and heal without requiring any treatment. I also took the opportunity to assess the overall health of Inkundwa. He appears visually healthy, with no signs of injury or any other signs of ill-health.

Lone silverback Inkundwa, observed healthy by Dr. Gaspard on January 5, 2023. © Gorilla Doctors

Eventually, Muhoza managed to chase Inkundwa off and away from the group, creating a safe distance between the intruder and his group. As we concluded our health check, we saw Inkundwa fast moving in the opposite direction. He was about 400m away from the group by the time we lost sight of him.

Inkundwa watching Muhoza group from a distance. January 5, 2023. © Gorilla Doctors

The (Un)Loved One

Born on September 20, 2003 in the Agashya family group, Inkundwa is now a 19-year-old lone silverback currently wandering throughout the park always in search of females to make a family of his own. Despite Inkundwa’s name translating to ‘The Loved One,’ no females transferred out of Muhoza group to join him during my time observing the group – another unsuccessful attempt for Inkundwa. I have known Inkundwa since 2014 when he was a young blackback and still with his family in Agashya group. My first observed interaction between Inkundwa and Muhoza was in 2015. At the time, Muhoza was the lone silverback and Inkundwa was still a blackback. Muhoza was challenging Agashya group in his own attempt to acquire females. It seems what goes around comes around!

Inkundwa as a blackback in 2015 while he was still with his family – Agashaya group. © Gorilla Doctors

The Search for Females Continues

It was a year later in 2016 that Inkundwa decided to leave his natal family and lead a solitary life with a hope of attracting females to make his own family. At the time, his leaving worried us a bit as he’d been monitored for passing soft stool a few days before, a condition that did not seem to affect his overall health but something we keep an eye on. During the years that followed, Inkundwa was rarely seen, but he started reappearing in 2018 and has been intensively challenging the silverbacks of Agashya, his original family, and Hirwa and Muhoza groups. I last encountered him in November 2020 when he suddenly appeared in Hirwa group during my routine health monitoring of the group. This time, silverback Uburanga of Hirwa group and the rest of his group immediately chased him off. Inkundwa ran away for ~200m and Hirwa group started moving fast in the opposite direction. They moved ~600m before they settled and resumed feeding.

Inkundwa in 2020. © Gorilla Doctors

Now, three years later, he continues his quest for females. And even though he struggles to make a family of his own, it always feels great to see him in good health. I look forward to the next time Inkundwa and I cross paths out in the forest.