Gorilla Deaths Bring Hope and Despair
01 September 2003
Two famous gorillas have died in the past few months, each in verydifferent circumstances. Pandora, who died of natural causes, aged 43,in Rwanda in June, was one of the first gorillas Dian Fossey studied when she founded the Karisoke Research Centre.
Despite a few setbacks in her early years - she had one eye and severalfingers missing - Pandora lived a long and healthy life in the wild. Inher final years she was a favourite companion to the silverback Shinda,especially at grooming time. There is no doubt that Pandora's chancesof survival were dramatically improved because of the attentionafforded by the Karisoke staff and the park rangers who monitor andprotect the forest.
The death of Mishebere, in February, tells a different story. Thismagnificent silverback, leader of a family of 39 gorillas inKahuzi-Biega National Park in Congo, was shot and his body left to rotfor months, until park rangers pleaded with the rebels who control thepark to allow them to investigate. The rangers found the body in thebamboo zone at the foot of Mount Kahuzi, where Mishebere had come withhis family to feed on the tender young shoots that appear in earlyspring.
They found no signs of poaching (a poacher would have retrieved hisgruesome trophy) and concluded that Mishebere had been shot - yetanother casualty of the Congo war. To the rangers the death was a starkreminder of their helplessness in protecting Congo's biodiversity inthe face of armed rebels.
Both Pandora and Mishebere will be sorely missed by the rangers andothers who knew them well. But the loss of Pandora, sad as it is, alsosignifies hope for the preservation of the species in the wild;Mishebere's death tests that hope to the limit.