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Karateka the Solitary Gorilla of Virunga Park

Karateka the Solitary Gorilla of Virunga Park


Karateka is a very calm Silverback. He’s also very distinctive and not just because of his noseprint. His left ear is torn and the third finger of his right hand is partly missing. This last injury was sustained during the late 1980s when he caught his finger in a metal snare – the lack of circulation eventually made the end of the finger drop off. His name is as memorable as his appearance. It means “He who practices karate” in Swahili. When he was young he was always hitting gorillas and people and so the rangers named him accordingly.

From the start Karateka’s life has been dramatic. He is the son of Ndungutse, the Silverback who in April 1997 was caught in deadly crossfire as the Congolese Army fought Rwandan rebels near Bukima. With Ndungutse dead Buhanga, Karateka’s brother, briefly took over the leadership of the family.

But Buhanga, who was too inexperienced to keep control of the whole family, had an interaction with Karateka and the family was split in two. Karateka left, taking three individuals with him.

1998 was the year that would define Karateka. In January he fought once again with Buhanga, and lost the three individuals he had gained only weeks before. Shortly afterwards Kabirizi took all of the individuals from Buhanga and formed a family.

Karateka has been a Solitary Silverback ever since.

Karateka haunts Kabirizi in the hope of taking his females. But that hope may well prove vain, as Kabirizi is by far the stronger animal.

When the Gorilla Sector was under rebel control we lost track of Karateka. From August 2007 to December 2008 we did not know what had become of him. And then on 1 December we saw him again – solitary but majestic. Look at the video below.

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