Silverback profile: Rugendo

The Rugendo family is a troubled family and its history is quite dark. The name of the family is also not derived of the current Silverback but of one of the erlier Sivlerbacks. The choice was made to retain this name, because in contrary to normal mountain gorilla behavior this family currently has 3 Silverbacks!

In 1997, the Rugendo Family was led by the Silverback Rugendo and included 18 individuals. Since this time the group has never been this numerous. The family had two Silverbacks then: Rugendo and his son Humba, one Blackback, called Senkwekwe, eight adult females, one sub-adult female, and 6 infants.

The next year, in 1998, there was a fight – also known as an interaction -between Rugendo and Humba and the group was split into two. Eight family members stayed with Rugendo: Senkwekwe the blackback, four adult females, and three infants.

In 1999, there were two births in the Rugendo group. The adult female Safigave birth to Katembo, and Neza also gave birth. During this year,Senkekwe also started to become a Silverback – which means he was reaching manhood.
June and July of 2001 saw an increase in fighting between militia groups and the army in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda – but it was especially noticeable in eastern DRC, where the Mountain Gorillas live. On 15 July 2001 the Rugendo group was caught up in clashes between the military and the Interahamwe militia groups. Rugendo the Silverback was shot dead.

Rugendo, who had been habituated since 1986, died just 40 metres from the park boundary. His body was buried at Rumangabo, the headquarters for Virunga National Park, and his son, Senkwekwe, took leadership over the group.

Normally a gorilla male will take his high position within the family not only because of his strength, but also because of his experience and abilities. As young males lack the necessary experience, they often find it hard to lead the group, and can lose the females of the group to other families. In 2002, a year after Senkwekwe took leadership, the adult female Kidole left the group to join the Mapuwa Family, following interactions between the two families. That same year Safi and her infant Katembo also disappeared.

At the beginning of 2003 the group was down to just 6 individuals, after the infant Bahati was killed by the local population at Bikenge, who threw stones at Bahati after finding him in a corn field. At the end of 2003, with the birth of Bavukahe on the 6th December to Safari, and the birth of Noel on the 24th December to Neza, the group was up to eight individuals.

2004 saw the adult female Bilali leave to join the Munyaga Family, taking the group down to 7 individuals. But in 2005 the group was back up to 10 individuals; after interactions with the Humba Family, the sub adult female Mburanumwe joined the Rugendo Family, as did the adult female Macibirifrom the Kabirizi Family, and another immigration from the Humba family later on in the year, by the sub adult Mukunda.

In January 2006 the group reached 11 individuals with the birth of Ntaribi, by Macibiri. And in June 2007, the group reached the highest number since 1998, 12 individuals, with the birth of Ndeze by Safari. That was a moment of happiness for the Rangers.

Just a month later, in July 2007, the Rugendo Family was attacked. Three adult females, Safari, Mburanumwe and Neza were killed, and Senkwekwe, the majestic and gentle Silverback who took lead of his family after the killing of his father in 2001, was also shot dead. The remains of Macibiriwere found in August 2007 and her infant, Ntaribi, is presumed dead.

Senkwekwe, Mburanumwe, Safari and Neza, July 2007

The family regrouped after the massacre. When the Rangers caught up with them they found the orphaned Ndeze, on Kongomani’s back. It was a touching scene – a brother trying to take care of his baby sister – but the Rangers knew it couldn’t last: without milk Ndeze would quickly dehydrate and die. So the vets intervened, sedated Kongomani and took Ndeze. The ICCN put her in a house in Goma with another baby orphan gorilla Ndakasi, and the two became inseparable. When the war ended and the Rangers returned to the park the park authorities built an orphanage, which they called the Senkwekwe Centre.

At the moment the Rugendo family is slowly recovering from the dreadful experience it had in 2007, it currently has 7 family memebers, three Silverbacks: Bukima, Kongomani and Baseka, two females, 1 juvenile and 1 baby.

The two babies orphans Ndeze and Ndakasi are currently still living in the peacefull Senkwekwe centre together with two slightly older gorillas. The senkwekwe centre is located 5 minutes walking from our new lodge Mikeno Lodge, where you can visit them in their new spacious compound.Senkwekwe