Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is home to roaming mountain gorillas. It’s often hard to catch even a glimpse of them. They are known for their natural shyness and poached to near extinction, these gorillas have every reason to be reclusive. There are, after all, just 480 of them here — among just 880 mountain gorillas left on the planet.
But on a particular day in January, a gorilla named Isaro had the best reason of all to disappear from the world.
When trackers at the Dian Fossey Fund, finally caught up to her, Isaro was high up on the dizzying heights of Mount Karisimbi.
She was nursing two babies. Twins.
It was a startlingly rare find for researchers at the Dian Fossey Fund, who follow in the footsteps of the primatologist who lends the group its name.
“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,” research assistant Didier Abavandimwe said in a statement on the group’s website.
Months have passed since the 16-year-old mother and her twins were first sighted in January. Since then, trackers have managed to gain only fleeting glimpses of the new mother with her babies. But the images they captured say as much about motherhood as they do about hope for the species.
For one thing, the twins, who have yet to be seen closely enough to determine their sex, are about the same size. That means Isaro has been a model mother, the group notes, and has nurtured her babies equally.
The infants are also developing their trademark coats, particularly dense crowns of hair on the top of their heads.
Still, Isaro is keeping her precious secrets close to her chest. As the organization notes, mothers among mountain gorillas don’t take kindly to meddling hands. They typically don’t let even other members of their group help in any way, at least until the babies are a year old.
Isaro seems keen to do it all herself. Which may be for the best, considering she’s well-versed in childcare. Isaro already has two children, aged 3 and 6, in the group.
No mean feat, considering the group’s claim that “roughly 25 percent of single infants die during their first year of life.”
Among apes, who produce between two and six babies over the course of their entire lives, twins are especially rare. In fact, the group says these are only the third set of surviving twins among the entire mountain gorilla population.
“The birth of the twins is a gift in many ways,” Veronica Vecellio, manager of the Gorilla Program at the Fossey Fund, explains in the release. “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.”
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