Last week, I was carrying out some routine monitoring on the Hirwa group of Gorillas, with my fellow researcher Nzamurambaho, Muhire, a tracker who often leads me to the gorillas.
We were monitoring the gorillas early in the morning when a female caught our attention. We suddenly realised that we were going to witness a gorilla giving birth. This is incredibly unusual and has only been noted two or three times in the past. The mother, gave no observable indication that birth was imminent, and delivered her infant quickly and easily. Like other mammals, the birth commenced with the water sac which was broken after a couple of minutes by the mother picking at it. The baby came very quickly (a matter of minutes from start to finish), the mother picked up the infant and started to lick her child to clean it. The other members of the family were unaware of what had taken place and they continued their normal activities, as the female had moved away from the group into the bamboo to give birth alone. After giving birth, the female moved back to join the group with her infant, at which point the other gorillas became aware that a birth had taken place. At this point there was fighting between all the females over the placenta, as all the females wanted a share. The silverback had to intervene to calm the situation down and to protect the new baby and mother. After the situation had quietened down the females were very curious and all of them came close to the new mother to observe the new baby.
This incredible photo was taken by blogger and naturalist Maryke Gray, who had the extraordinary privilege of witnessing the birth of this baby mountain gorilla -- and the ensuing donnybrook over the placenta. Maryke tells the story in her blog, The Virunga Gorillas:
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