We almost renamed this month’s Odzala Observer the Gorilla Gazette, as it focuses on perhaps the most charismatic species to be encountered in the Congo Basin. A very healthy population of western lowland gorillas live in the forests around Ngaga Camp, and this makes a stay at this intimate 6-room camp an absolute must for any primate enthusiast.

Two habituated groups of gorillas form part of a long-term study, which means that close, meaningful encounters are possible. Ngaga guests benefit from being able to not just photograph gorillas, but to spend time observing them and even getting to know the individual personalities and behavioural traits of the gorillas in each of the habituated groups.

Our expert guides and local trackers do their utmost to thoroughly ‘introduce’ guests to these amazing animals, while the frequent presence of leading researchers in Camp means that insights into the forefront of gorilla studies are readily available.

We are often contacted by former Odzala guests, curious as to how a particular gorilla is doing, or how a particular story or drama panned out. So we wanted to take this opportunity to update you all on the gorillas of Ngaga, and particularly on some of better-known personalities.

NEPTUNO’S GROUP
For young males of many species, adolescence is a time of bravado, hierarchy and transition – this is especially true of western lowland gorillas. Kako is embarking on the long (and not always smooth) path from being a young black-back, to becoming a full-grown silver-back. This means that he is beginning to stray from the reassuring confines of his group and gradually spend time alone on the side-lines.

Happily, Kako has not entirely lost his youthful playfulness – he still seems to greatly enjoy silently sneaking up on his human observers, using the forest vegetation as cover.

One of the oldest and most well-known females in Neptune’s group, Roma, has not been seen for over a month, and we believe that she has most likely passed away. Roma’s probable demise has caused a reaction in the group, most notably from Neptuno himself. Attempting to compensate for the loss of an important mother figure, he has been taking on some of her duties in keeping a watchful eye on the infant gorillas.

This can be seen through his impressive and more frequent display charges whenever a young gorilla gets too close to human observers. Previously, Roma achieved a degree of notoriety for frequently encouraging the rather laid-back Neptuno to display towards humans, egging him on to behave in a more assertive way.

The youngsters in Neptuno’s group are beginning to adjust to the changes in their immediate social framework, and it will be fascinating to see how this plays out. Certainly the latest new-born will hopefully grow up in a differently-structured group, although for now his entire world is his mother, Prosa, who is often seen proudly carrying her one-month-old-offspring.

JUPITER’S GROUP
Jupiter’s group (the larger of the two Ngaga study groups, currently comprising some 24 individuals) also features its fair share of adolescent males, prone to following their natural urges.

Turno, a young silver-back, has been spending much of his time away from the group he was born into, in search of female mates. Although still partially reliant on the Jupiter group, he is beginning to assert himself more and more, as seen in footage from camera traps.

This has shown an increasingly confident young male gorilla, coming into his prime and pushing other gorillas away from favoured root sites. He is still of an age and size whereby his temporary possession of the feeding spot is soon terminated by Jupiter putting him in check, but undeterred, Turno has also been seen boldly chasing off a group of chimpanzees!

Meanwhile the juveniles of Jupiter’s group continue to entertain and amaze observers with their endless curiosity. Mundi in particular is one of the most charismatic and playful members of the group in front of observers. He can be seen acrobatically swinging down lianas, often sending his siblings tumbling in the process. Mundi’s peers do not seem to stigmatise him despite a very visible, inherited skin condition that has spread to cover most of his face.

More recently, the group has been moving further south, beyond the extent of the researchers’ forest trail network. This has taken them into swampier habitats which makes tracking them more challenging – but still very rewarding.

In a gorilla group as large as Jupiter’s, there is enormous potential for interactions, vocalisations and playful behaviour. The massively built silverback tends to shun the limelight somewhat, although one of the best ways to catch a glimpse of him is to scan the upper reaches of Dialium trees, where he has been spending time enjoying one of his favourite fruits while they are in season.

If you’ve spent time at Ngaga and have pictures of the gorillas, why not post them on our Facebook page using the hashtag #gorillaupdate and we’ll try and respond with an ID of the specific individual(s) in your image, and if possible, give you an update on our recent sightings.

For those of you who’ll be attending PURE in Marrakech in September, Ngaga Camp Manager Conrad would be delighted to meet with you; he’ll be on stand K06. There’s also still time to vote for Odzala (as Congo Conservation Company) in the Transformational Travel category of the PURE Awards.