High up in the mountains of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, trackers with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund encountered an extremely rare sight. Isaro, a 16-year-old female gorilla, was holding to newborns—twins.
“I couldn’t believe my eyes because since I started working with the Fossey Fund in 2009, I had never experienced such an amazing event in the gorilla groups we monitor,” said research assistant Didier Abavandimwe, according to a news post by the Fossey Fund.
There are only about 880 mountain gorillas left, and this was only the third time twins that were born had survived among the known groups.
The conservation workers were worried whether Isaro will be able to care for the twins. Her group had moved up to an altitude of about 3,500 meters and it was difficult for the trackers to reach it.
Since gorilla mothers won’t allow any others to help care for babies so young, the workers were concerned if she would be able to keep up with the group, since she needed to use both her hands to carry the little apes.
Three months later, however, it seems the twins are doing fine.
Isaro is an experienced mother. She has already raised four young, two of whom are still in her group, which now counts 21, including the twins.
Also, leader of the group, silverback Isabukuru, “is one of the most actively involved in infant caring of all silverbacks,” according to research manager for the local Karisoke gorilla group Winnie Eckardt. Isaro’s daughter Keza may also give a hand, since she’s “seeking any opportunity to gain maternal skills,” Eckardt said.
Still, the family is not out of the woods yet. About one in four gorilla infants die within the first year of life. The conservation workers expect the rate will be the same or higher for twins.
“The birth of the twins is a gift in many ways,” said Fossey Fund Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio. “First for the pure beauty of nature, but also to remind us how vulnerable and precious gorillas are by just looking at the dedication of Isaro, thriving in such a severe environment with two babies to take care of. It’s a rare opportunity to observe closely the maternal investment and to compare with single-born and the other surviving twins. For Isaro everyday will be a challenge to face and we really hope the twins will do well in this delicate period of their lives!”