Last Sunday morning I browsed through Sebastião Salgado’s wonderful book ‘Africa’ and discovered a photo of «my» mountain gorilla Agashya in Rwanda. He had visited the mountain gorilla in 2004 – exactly ten years before me. Agashya is the boss of a mountain gorilla family with more than a dozen adult females.
When a male mountain gorilla grows up, he has to leave the group when he gets about 11 years old. Young male mountain gorillas stroll into the jungle alone or with other young males until they can attract female mountain gorillas to form a new group with one silverback as the leader. Poaching, habitat loss (e.g. due to charcoal harvesting), disease (e.g. viral respiratory disease), and war continue to threaten the mountain gorillas of the Virunga volcanoes. There are about 900 mountain gorillas left and they are an endangered species. The lifespan of mountain gorillas is difficult to estimate because they are systematically studied only since the 1960s.
Agashya means «special» in Kinyarwanda. Agashya was wandering alone from the Congo and took the lead of a group of mountain gorillas that had lost their silverback leader. Agashya immediately felt confident around humans which is special indeed as habituation of mountain gorillas normally takes time.
In the Virunga mountains, the average length of tenure for a silverback is a bit less than five years. However in the case of Agashya, it’s a lot longer, as he was already the leading silverback in 2004, when Sebastião Salgado took his photo. Agashya continues to be special.