Dispersal and reproductive careers of male mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

Martha M. Robbins, Moses Akantorana, Joseph Arinaitwe, Peter Kabano, Charles Kayijamahe, Maryke Gray, Katerina Guschanski, Jack Richardson, Justin Roy, Vastine Tindimwebwa, Linda Vigilant, Andrew M. Robbins*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Dispersal is a key event in the life of an animal and it influences individual reproductive success. Male mountain gorillas exhibit both philopatry and dispersal, resulting in a mixed one-male and multimale social organization. However, little is known about the relationship between male dispersal or philopatry and reproductive careers in Bwindi mountain gorillas. Here we analyze data spanning from 1993 to 2017 on social groups in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda to examine the proportion of males that disperse, age of dispersal, pathways to attaining alpha status, fate of dispersing males and philopatric males, and male tenure length as well as make comparisons of these variables to the Virunga mountain gorilla population. We report previously undocumented cases of dispersal by immature males and old males and we also observed the only known case of a fully mature male immigrating into a breeding group. We used genetic tracking of known individuals to estimate that a minimum of 25% of males that disperse to become solitary males eventually form new groups. No differences were found between the Bwindi and Virunga population in the age of male dispersal, the proportion of males that disperse, the age of alpha male acquisition, and dominance tenure length. The lack of differences may be due to small sample sizes or because the observed ecological variability does not lead to life history differences between the populations. Males in both populations follow variable strategies to attain alpha status leading to the variable one-male and multimale social organization, including dispersal to become solitary and eventually form a group, via group fissioning, usurping another alpha male, or inheriting the alpha position when a previous group leader dies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-142
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2019


  • alpha status
  • dispersal
  • dominance transitions
  • philopatry
  • solitary male


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