On 15th January 2010 in Cibingu village in Kabare that is located in a highland at just around 3-4 km from the park, a gorilla crossed the park boundary and moved into the village. While wandering, the gorilla encountered a teenage boy walking alone in the field. Having seen this “unusual appearance of a black hairy costume”, the boy screamed and ran away crying. Suddenly the gorilla jumped on him and bit the back flesh of his thigh. The gorilla also moved back quickly into the forest to “hide”.
By hearing the cries of the bitten teenage boy, the inhabitants appeared there running quick toward him for a rescue. It was already late as the gorilla had already gone back to hide in its habitat. Some of the people in the village confirmed that he saw the gorilla by his own eyes before it went to encounter and bit the teenage boy. He emphasized and said “it was a gorilla and not another monkey”. The boy was immediately transported to the Hospital of Mukongola for treatments.
The Chief Warden of the KBNP, Radar Nishuli paid a visit to the boy last week to see how the boy was being treated. The guardian of the boy and other villagers of Cibingu proposed Radar that he must support the fees of the hospital for this boy and keep taking care of his “wild animals”.. Thus, the treatment for the boy will be continued at the hospital until his complete recovery and discharge. The park management will pay all fees for the boy as requested.
With my 20 years of tracking the gorillas in the wild, however, I kept wondering whether the local community of Cibingu village confused a baboon with a gorilla? The Eastern lowland gorillas (ELG) located in the highland sector of the KBNP have been monitored for over 4 decades. In their main habit none of them has ever been observed feeding on crops grown in the surrounding of the park such as banana, sorghum, maize, beans, soybeans, pumpkin, guava, orange, lemon, cassava, peanuts, etc.
ELG rarely leave their habitat to wander out of it. There may be two reasons for the habituated gorilla families to move out of their natural habitat: (1) When the interaction between two different groups or between a father and his son occurs, the loser of the fight would get away with or without members of their group and would some time cross the park boundary to shelter in the human fields. (2) In case of a given gorilla, male or female, becomes very old, it would leave out of its group for a long period of loneliness. Such gorilla can roam anywhere including outside the park, also in the fields and woods belonging to human beings in close proximity. None of such gorillas were ever observed daring to feed on the ripe or green crops that are cited above. Of course they do cross the farms but not to feed there.
Now I can’t help thinking about this particular gorilla, probably not habituated one, which was wandering and bit the teenage boy. What is the reason for it to cross the park boundary and move straight to the villagers’ farms? The villagers said that it did not try to feed on the crops but rather moved through. Also once moving in to the farms of crops, ELG do not nest there and rather they would just go across from one side to the other side. In case there is a wild banana tree (Ensete ventricosum) in the farm, gorillas out of the park would sit down and enjoy that tree for food. Also other forest plants like nettle (Urera hypselendron), Malabar spinach (Bassella alba) and Maesa lanceolata, found in the farms would be immediately fed by these gorillas. Did this “gorilla” that appeared in the village farms fought another gorilla or another group then lost the fight and now was hiding in the farms? Is it a solitary gorilla? What gorilla group in the park did it came from?
Among the enumerated animals which feed on the crops were the elephants which was causing a high depredation before the war of 1996. Unfortunately they were slaughtered by poachers during the turmoil of war and its population was reduced by 90%. Recently, according to a report by the POPOF published in 1999, those wildlife that consume more field crops, while troubling the park managers and farmers, were baboons, guenons (cercopithecus), colubus, antelopes and birds: But chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) that are more arboreal and spend more time in the primary forest are rarely found crossing in the farms. Gorillas are a friendly species that never hunts a human being for meat because it is herbivorous and frugivorous. It is always the human being who harm it in its natural habitat.
We can say that the KBNP is aged 40 years old since it became totally protected. It is the first national area to open the gorilla tourism in early 1970’s. These gorilla groups are daily tracked by people who may not be educated but very well experienced people. I registered 6 cases of accident where people were bitten by male gorillas of the daily tracked groups. They are five workers (trackers) and one famous cameraman Alan Root who came here to film a part of the film “Gorillas in the mist” in 1987. Root was bitten the right thigh and went to hospital for 3 months. Other trackers were always the ones who were in position of running away mostly when a silverback male of a group was charging. They all were bitten either on the calf or the shin and sent to local hospitals for treatment, too. None of the bitten people ever died after the accident but all survived. (It is however advised to always keep looking towards the face of the visiting gorilla to express your familiarity rather than turning your back towards it.)
No rabies is found in the gorillas. Otherwise the bitten people would have perished out of it. It is the same as the recent case of the teenage boy. He survived and no rabies was detected in his blood.
We thank the efforts provided by the park authorities for the mobilization they did together with the national and international NGOs for making the park resources to be respected and accepted by the local communities. Things prove that it is the beginning of the positive improvement. However more assistance is required from everyone in the world to contribute to the environmental education program conducted by POPOF, ICCN and other actors which will manage the natural resources and the surrounding communities in harmony.
For any information about the gorillas biting human beings and not feeding on crops, please contact me at the POPOF.