Cimanuka (the above photo) is the most well known silverback in Kahuzi-Biega National Park at the moment.
He was born in Maheshe group in 1986 and his childhood name was Soso, meaning “a chicken” in Lingala language. His father, Maheshe was a very famous gorilla who was even printed on one of the Zairean banknotes but was killed in 1993 by two poachers who were hired by a local businessman seeking its head as a trophy. Having lost its leader, Maheshe group was somehow led by an experienced female but Soso disappeared from the group the following year. He was 8 years old at that time. In general gorillas become fully mature at the age of around 12, then leave the natal group. So we were a bit concerned about his future.
Lost for 8 years:
After that we didn’t see Soso for as long as 8 years. It was also a turbulent period when our life as well as park management was very much affected by the war causing battles, killing, looting, refugee influx, illegal hunting, deforestation and so on. Many gorillas were killed in this period. It was in 1997 that our country changed its name from Zaire to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
So it was totally an unexpected event to find Soso again in 2002. We were tracking another group called Mugaruka group in the bamboo forest. Mugaruka was missing one of his hands but was miraculously leading Mugaruka group that consists of 17 gorilla members. At that time we found small traces other gorillas. These traces led us to one silverback with one pregnant female. After careful observation it didn’t take us long to identify him as Soso. Although he must have been away from the contact with human for long time, he was still moderate.
First case of Infanticide:
After a while, there was a serious interaction between Soso and Mugaruka in this bamboo forest. Soso knocked down Mugaruka and took one adult female called Mwinja, meaning “beauty” that was still carrying a 3-month old baby, of which Mugaruka was the father. Few months later, Soso grabbed this baby from Mwinja’s chest and ran away. Mwinja and other adult females pursued, running fast behind Soso. When Soso bit the baby, the adult females attacked on his legs. But Soso didn’t leave the baby until the baby finally died. Then he escaped the scene.
Soso who was later officially named Cimanuka by the park authorities became the first silverback to show us a case of infanticide in the KBNP after three and half decades of approaching the gorillas everyday. More cases of interactions occurred between Cimanuka and Mugaruka and three other cases of infanticide were recorded.
Today Cimanuka is the leader of 36 members, of which 17 are females, the largest known group in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. And Mugaruka has lost all his females and now living alone.
Cimanuka has had twins four times so far, which also makes Cimanuka a unique silverback, while his father Maheshe had only one twins. We heard that the occurrence rate of twins in gorillas is probably not different from that of human. But still it amazes us that Cimanuka has had twins four times!
Cimanuka is a mild gorilla and well habituated to human, therefore very popular among the visitors. But at the same time he is a strong male who has won all the interactions with the neighbors and made this huge group. A very brave “chicken”!