"They evolved in the forest," he says one night in the Mondika camp, slapping at flying ants in the flickering candlelight. "They can see things we cannot see, smell things we cannot smell, hear things we cannot hear."
Mongo, 38, explains that the word kingo means "voice" in Mbenzele, the dialect of Mondika's trackers.
"At the beginning of habituation, without even seeing him, the trackers could distinguish his particular vocalizations from that of other silverbacks in the area. That's how we first got close to Kingo. He had a particularly deep-chested roar."
Doran-Sheehy soon confirmed, as she and others before her suspected, that the western gorillas' diet is radically different from that of mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas eat mostly herbs—wild celery, nettles, bedstraw. Western lowland gorillas have a more diverse diet of fruit, leaves, and herbs. They also consume termites, as well as waxy green ngombe leaves and the bark of favorite trees. During certain times of the year, western gorillas are practically fruitarians, seeking out jungle delicacies such as bambu, a seedy red fruit the size of a peach, or mobei, a large yellow fruit that resembles a pineapple. At such times, fruit can make up 60 to 70 percent of their diet.
In search of their favorite fruits and other foods, western gorillas typically travel about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) every day, almost four times as far as mountain gorillas. This extensive search shapes family dynamics, Doran-Sheehy has learned. Individual western lowland gorillas are more independent than mountain gorillas. Although they show affection to one another, there's little mutual grooming or other physical contact, and each individual spends considerable time alone. Which means that the females, and even the youngsters, can sometimes be relatively far away from the safety of the silverback—sometimes making it hard for Kingo to protect his family.
"One morning the trackers went out at dawn, as usual," Mongo says at the Mondika camp. "Suddenly they came running back into the camp shouting about an attack. When I got out there, I found Ugly's baby, Samedi, lying on the ground. Blood everywhere and deep gouges in the ground. Samedi had been mauled by a leopard. We radioed the wildlife vet, but Samedi was too far gone."