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Gorilla Doctors reported that on the 3rd of February, lightning struck during a severe storm and killed four endangered mountain gorillas from the Hirwa group in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (MGNP). Three females and one new-born infant were killed. One of the females, Gikundiro, was pregnant and a second, Kahatwa, left behind an infant son only 14 months old. The Hirwa Group, formerly resident in Rwanda, crossed to Uganda in August 2019, now number 13 gorillas and are led by a silverback named Munyinya.

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The cries of the remaining group members and the chest-beating of the males were heard by an MGNP tracker who immediately reported it to the relevant authorities. The incident was investigated by an international response team led by the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) with representatives from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Rwanda Development Board, MGNP, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Gorilla Doctors. The health of the remaining members was of paramount importance: fortunately, all were cleared as being in good health. However, Imbanzanbigwi (Kahatwa’s surviving son) will be closely monitored as he had only just started eating solids and was still suckling. Post-mortems were also conducted – yielding the expected results that preliminary cause of death was fatal electrocution resulting from the lightning strike.

© Andrei Gudkov

According to Gorilla Doctors, this has been a particularly challenging time for the Hirwa group as they have faced multiple health issues, including their lead silverback being treated for a respiratory infection.

Mountain Gorilla numbers have increased recently, but their small population remains under pressure, and their reproductive cycle is slow, meaning that the loss of any individuals is a setback. The loss of three adult females is not only tragic; it also means the loss of their reproductive potential.

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