Gorilla Mom Abandons Family To Save Her Baby's Life

"There’s nothing quite as powerful in this world as a mother’s love for her child."

A 26-year-old gorilla living in Rwanda's Virunga Mountains has chosen to leave her group to protect her baby, in behavior researchers are calling "rare" and "remarkable." 

Gorilla mom in Virunga seen leaving group to save her baby
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Back in May, Pasika was a new mother to Mashami, who was born in March.

Suddenly, things changed when the silverback gorilla, the male leader of Pasika's group, died. The female gorillas of the group broke up and joined other groups that still had a silverback leader.

One mother gorilla's baby was killed when she joined a new group — something that often happens with many kinds of social mammals, so the new leader can assert his dominance.

"Normally, female mountain gorillas like Pasika spend their entire lives living in groups and rely on the adult male — called a silverback — to protect their young," the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (DFGF) said in a statement. "If the silverback dies, the group may stay together if there is another male who can assume leadership; if not, females will immediately transfer to another group. They never live completely on their own — until now."

Gorilla single mom and baby in Virunga mountains in Rwanda
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Pasika decided not to join another group. She is trying to brave the wild on her own, with her baby attached to her.

"What mother Pasika is doing highlights the great empathy, intelligence, and adaptability of mountain gorillas," the DFGF wrote. "It is clear that Pasika recognizes the risks transferring [families] poses to her infant, and is avoiding doing so with extreme determination."

Wild baby gorilla in Virunga snuggled up to mother
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
Gorilla baby with mom in Virunga mountains
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

Researchers, who sometimes call Pasika "Wonder Woman," are a bit worried for the small family. Silverback gorillas often provide needed protection to mothers and babies, and so no one is sure just how long Pasika will be able to keep this up.

But people are keeping an eye on her and Mashami. DFGF staff frequently see the pair in the forest and they seem to be doing well. 

Mother gorilla in Virunga protecting baby on her own
Pasika running from a herd of buffalo while holding her baby | The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

“There is still so much to learn about one of our closest living relatives,” Dr. Tara Stoinski, president and CEO and chief scientific officer of the DFGF, said. “Pasika has shown us that these feats of bravery are not limited to our own species. And it also reinforces what we all know to be true for us humans — that there’s nothing quite as powerful in this world as a mother’s love for her child.”

Mother gorilla and baby in Virunga National Park
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
You can help keep Pasika and other mountain gorillas safe by making a donation to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.