Virunga’s Solitaries are some of the most mysterious and fascinating individuals in the Mikeno Mountain Gorilla population. Most male Mountain Gorillas experience a period of solitude between leaving their parent group and establishing a family of their own.
The Solitary Silverback plays a crucial role in the life of the species. About Solitary Gorillas.
The term Solitary, which is used to describe Silverbacks who live alone, without a family, suggests a reclusive animal leading an unfulfilling life. But these gorillas are neither dysfunctional nor anomalous; rather they are experiencing a phase of life that is biologically pre-determined by the functionality of their species: Silverbacks in the solitary phase of their lives are crucial to the health, and ultimately to the survival, of the Mountain Gorilla.
Most adolescent male Mountain Gorillas will leave their parent group and become solitary for a time. Adolescent females, by contrast, tend to transfer to another troop before reproducing at around eight years of age and, usually, the first troop a female reproduces in will become her permanent family. It is highly unusual for females to remain solitary. The adolescent male, having no opportunity to breed, separates from the parent group, remains just outside it, and then, over time, moves further and further away.
His new life will, in some respects, be similar to his early years in the parent group. The pattern of his day will be the same as will the amount of time he allocates to each activity within that pattern. However his movements differ markedly from those of the group because, the group is driven by a need for food and safety and the solitary gorilla is driven by the need to find a mate. So the solitary leaves the range area of his parent group in order to find and shadow other groups.
It is, of course, inevitable that the solitary will come into contact with the groups he follows. When he does the group’s females and young show no positive responses towards him and the silverback usually exchanges sequential displays of aggression with his rival. The entire sequence has nine steps: progressively quickening hooting; symbolic feeding; rising onto two legs; throwing vegetation; chest-beating with cupped hands; one legged kicking, sideways running; two-legged to four-legged movement; slapping and tearing vegetation; and thumping the ground with palms to finish. If the silverbacks fight, it will be a ferocious and protracted affair involving bi-pedal charges and the use of canine teeth to inflict deep, gaping wounds. Sometimes the fight will be to the death.
The challenge presented to the dominant Silverback by the aspirant solitary is vital both to the survival of the group and to the health of the species. It is an example of contest competition working as a function of natural selection: if the dominant Silverback loses his family it is because he is the weaker animal. As a consequence the strongest animals get to reproduce with the most females; and the species is fortified.
You can read about each of Virunga’s solitaries here. They are some of the most enigmatic and colorful characters in the drama of the park and we hope you find them as intriguing as we do.
Please click on the photo-link to read more about each individual…