As Shakespeare once said "the course of true love never did run smooth" and nowhere is that more true than in the animal kingdom. Over the years, our teams have witnessed many soap-opera-worthy moments among the rewilded animals at our conservation projects around the world, but the wife-swapping and harem-stealing antics of Cheri the gibbon and Boumango the gorilla have captured our attention - and we can't wait to see what happens next!
Treetop Wife Swap
Javan gibbon Cheri was rescued by the team from a cramped cage in a local village where he was kept chained up as a pet. The initial vet assessment revealed the horrific extent of his injuries; blind in one eye with a fractured hand and 5 air rifle pellets embedded in his body. But Cheri was a fighter and after recovering from this earlier abuse he was paired with another confiscated gibbon, the beautiful Ukong.
Cheri and Ukong got along famously and just months later, baby Uchi was born in June 2013. The new family thrived at the rescue centre and almost a year later they were ready to be released back into the wild.
Cheri, Ukong and Uchi adpated well to their new life, spending their days sampling wild fruits and leaves and exploring the treetops together, until....
Cheri's wandering eye was caught by a wild female named Dewi. Following her through the forest day after day, the latest object of his affections finally accepted his advances, taking him under her wing and teaching him how to behave like a wild gibbon.
Although Ukong didn't get her happily ever-after with the silver-haired lothario, Cheri and his wild-girl have discovered true love and now have two beautiful offspring, named Deri and Adew.
Top left: Cheri on the day he was rescued. Bottom left: Mt. Tilu release site, Java. Centre: Cheri after he was released. Top right: Cheri, Ukong and baby Uchi at the rehabilitation centre. Bottom right: Cheri and Dewi
Despite his wife-stealing ways, Boumango has become something of a favourite with the team in Gabon since he was confiscated from a hunter in 2000. The cheeky character began his antics in July 2015 when the once solitary male was spotted wandering the forest with Mboundou, a female from rival silverback Tonga's group. Just six months later two more of Tonga's harem, Sophie and Miyandza had joined Boumango.
Fast forward to June 2020 and Boumango has been busy. Now a father of three and leader of his band of 11 feisty ladies, Gabon's answer to Casanova is always the first to appear with a macho display of chest beating when the monitoring teams are tracking the group by boat from the safety of the river.
With the biggest group of released gorillas in the protrected reserve, Boumango briefly lost one his females, Okeli, to young silverback Rafa who was released in 2018 and previously only seen with one female, Mbwambe. Not to be outdone by the young upstart, Boumango had retrieved Okeli and brought her back to the group within a month.
Remember Djongo and Mayombe from our last email? In September of 2020, Boumango also tried his luck with Mayombe from his side of the river. Although Mayombe was curious about the charismatic male from her viewpoint on the rehabilitation island in the Mpassa river, Djongo was quick to block her view and she soon lost interest. Djongo responded to Boumango's impressive branch displays with a stiff walk, pressed lips and a stiff back! With honour satisfied all round, both males moved off into their respective territories.
Boumango regularly passes by the island with his ever-growing harem and as soon as the silverbacks recognize each other from across the river, they start displaying with water splashing, branch displays, and some very manly chest-beats.
By the end of 2022, Boumango had sired three more babies within his group. Ntsege's baby is particularly distinctive with striking white markings visible on her tiny hands as she clings to her mother.
Despite his tough start to life and his obvious love for the ladies, Boumango has proven to be a model silverback, caring for his band of females and offspring, and leading them in a life of freedom and safety in their forest home.
Top left: Mboundou. Bottom left: Miyandza. Centre: Boumango. Top right: Ntsege with her baby. Bottom right: Okeli
"The success of these wild-living groups is
testament to the success of our work protecting and rewilding this magnificent species."