While perusing the confines of the Mgahinga National Park in Uganda earlier this month, a team of conservationists were unlucky enough to discover four deceased mountain gorillas. Perhaps more surprisingly, the cause of death wasn’t something that most would readily expect.
Image Credit: Kurt Ackermann/Wikipedia
Consistent with the appropriate procedure for such an incident, the conservationists phoned officials to lead an investigation into the unlikely deaths of the elusive mountain gorillas, which comprised of three female adults and one male infant. The four were purportedly tied to a 17-member group of mountain gorillas that are often referred to as the Hirwa family.
A subsequent necropsy exposed a plethora of lesions on the animals’ bodies that could only mean death by electrocution. The general consensus was that the animals died from being in the wrong place at the wrong time when a powerful lightning strike ensued.
The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of two subspecies of the Eastern gorilla, and with around 1,000 living specimens in the wild today, it’s recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an endangered species.
Effective conservation techniques have brought that number up from an estimated 680 mountain gorillas back in 2008, and these juicy new numbers permitted the IUCN to downgrade the mountain gorilla from a critically endangered species to merely an endangered one in 2018.
Still, the downgrade to endangered doesn’t mean the mountain gorilla is out of the woods just yet, and the sudden death of three reproductively capable adult females along with an infant male is a substantial loss for the species.
As Dr. Andrew Seguya of the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) explains, “the potential of the three females for their contribution to the population was immense,” and so the disappointment associated with their deaths cannot be overstated. Without them, there are now fewer female mountain gorillas that can give birth and sustain the species.
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Conservationists have already checked on the remaining members of the Hirwa family, and from what they can gather, the remainder of the family is okay.