Sadness and worry as Virungas head ranger is shot

Emmanuel-de-Merode

Hi, this is Henry,

Here in Goma, we’re used to bad news. Even the news that one of the brave rangers working to protect the Virunga National Park has been shot is something we have sadly come to expect now. After all, over the past 10 years, more than 150 rangers have been killed for just doing their jobs.

But still, the news that the head of the park, Emmanuel de Merode (above) was shot while driving back to the headquarters was greeted with great sadness and shock. Just one week ago, Emmanuel organised a really important conference where he explained his new vision for the region. His ‘Virungas Alliance’ will have the backing of both the European Union and Howard Buffet. Millions of dollars will be invested in building a new hydro-electric plant to provide power to tens of thousands of homes, and a new water system will be constructed close to the gorilla sector in order to supply local communities with clean water and reduce their reliance on the natural resources of the forest. After months and months of despair the mood was finally one of optimism – there was even talk of reopening the park to tourists!

Tourists taking pictures of one of the gorillas at the Virungas National Park

When will it be safe to welcome tourists back to see the Congo’s gorillas?

Thankfully Emmanuel has survived the attack and is doing fine. Now we have to hope that the attack won’t derail the wonderful work he has been doing over the years. We need investment in the Virungas and so we can only hope that acts of violence don’t jeopardise this.

People are so tired of all this instability here in DR Congo. We thought that, following the recent ceasefire it was time to get back to work. But as this latest tragic shooting shows, there are still serious conflicts of interest that means true peace is unlikely to come any time soon.

Gorilla missing in the mist!

Hi, this is Jean Claude,

To begin with, the entire staff and I would like to wish all of our supporters a Happy New Year from Mt. Tshiaberimu, in the DR Congo!

I was not able to write to you earlier this year as we are still working very hard on finding our lost Silverback Tsongo, from the Kipura troop. As some of you might know, he went missing around the end of November 2012 and has not been seen ever since. However, what we did find instead were about 200 snares and evidence of poaching, which sadly enough is still one of the biggest threats to gorillas’ existence.

Mwasanyinya

On one of my recent treks to find Tsongo, I came across his mate Mwasanyinya and son Mukokya (picture above) who are still in deep sorrow over the disappearance of the old silverback. It puts a strain on them, especially on the female, because the entire family is left without a leader and protector and her son Mukokya (10 yrs, picture below) is still too young to replace his father.

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Mwasanyinya’s grief over her lost mate shows how closely gorillas are related to humans as they even share similar emotions to ours. There are many studies that show that primates express themselves with facial expressions and are capable of feeling empathy and sadness. This has also shown in our latest monitoring on the female mountain gorilla as her eating habits have declined drastically since November.

It is a heartbreaking situation here at Mt. Tshiaberimu, which leaves us to hope that we will find Tsongo safe and healthy very soon. Until then we thank all of you for your ongoing support. I will write to you again soon, and hopefully with better news!

How to tell gorillas apart?

Hello, this is Emmanuel,

I recently went into the Virunga Mountains in northern Rwanda to see how our little mountain gorilla Iwacu and her family are doing. It took us about 2 hours until we found her and mother Turiho at a beautiful glade, collecting food.

As you can see from the picture below, little Iwacu, who is usually very lively, was not in a very playful mood that morning, as it is currently rainy season in Rwanda which mountain gorillas are not really keen of. Unfortunately, we could not detect any other family members, but I’m sure they are all well off and were just finding shelter from the rain somewhere.

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Did you actually ever ask yourself how gorillas are distinguished and how we knew that the mountain gorillas we came across were Iwacu and her mom Turiho? Well, there are two distinct differences every gorilla has. The first one is their fingerprint. Just like humans every gorilla has a unique fingerprint, that tells their identity. However, since it is impossible to always take fingerprints of every gorilla we come across, we just tell them apart by the shape of their noses. Just like the fingerprint every gorilla has a uniquely shaped nose, which allows trackers to tell our beautiful cousins apart.

I hope you all like the picture I took of Iwacu, and I will keep you updated with more news on our lovely gorillas down here in Africa.

News from the International Population, Health and Environment Conference 2013

Hi, This is Sam,

I recently went to Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, where the International Population, Health and Environment Conference (PHE) 2013 was being held. I attended this annual convention along with many civil society organizations, government officials, researchers and donors from across the world. We gathered to share, learn, network and identify the needs and priorities of PHE advocates and organizers.

The conference was spread over two days and offered many interesting seminars such as “Integrating PHE in rural agricultural interventions among small holder farmers”, or “Sustaining and scaling up PHE interventions in and around national parks in Uganda”. We also discussed how we can raise the profile of our PHE efforts and results as this could increase new donor interest in our projects.

Overall, it was a pretty amazing and very informative event, and it was incredible to see PHE members from all over the world working together towards the same goal of improving PHE’s global projects. My positive experience makes me look forward to next year’s conference – but don’t worry until then I will of course keep you posted with news about other projects and events that are happening down here in Africa!

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Video News from the Volcanoes National Park!

Hi, this is Tuver,

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Just recently, I travelled to the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda to track mountain gorillas located there. On my tour I came across the Umubano family, which consists of 14 members and is led by the awesome alpha silverback Charles. The name Umubano is Kinyarwandan, which translated means neighborliness, and is the name of the other silverback in the group. He used to be in charge before Charles took over.

As you guys can see from this video the group is doing fine, spending their days grooming one another or playing around. Young gorillas are usually more active than their older companions, and like to wrestle, tumble and climb trees. They also develop much faster than human infants and begin to bounce and play at about 8 weeks.

I hope you guys enjoy the video I took and as usual I will keep you updated with the latest news on our gorillas here in Africa.

Meet Regina!

Hi, this is Sam,

DSCN0569Just recently I went to see my college Regina in Kisoro, a town in Western Uganda.  Regina is our Field Officer and an expert when it comes to gardening and teaching farmers about organic sustainable agriculture. Her role is very important as her training allows local communities to grow their own food, which not only enables them to feed their own families but also provides a source of income to farmers who decide to sell their crops.

Regina has been working for our organization for more than 7 years and is very passionate about her job. Over the years she has overseen the training of more than 11,000 farmers, including many reformed poachers, teaching them about the importance of agriculture and its potential to alleviate poverty in Uganda. Her dedication to the job has helped many communities around the Virunga Mountains and has made her a vital and much-valued member of our organization.

Here are a few pictures of here in action, visiting local schools and teaching students how they can grow their own organic crops in a sustainable manner rather than rely on the resources of the nearby forest, which is home to Uganda’s critically-endangered mountain gorillas. The pictures were taken by a young Englishman called Luke, who showed great interest in our work. If you too are ever in Uganda and want to see our projects in action – or just want to say hello – then do get in touch as we’d love to hear from you!

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Strategy meeting in Kampala!

 

Hi, this is Tuver,

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I am currently in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, attending the annual staff strategy meeting of our organization. The purpose of this meeting is to reflect on the projects and achievements of 2013 as well as to plan new and better strategies and projects to save gorillas, for the year ahead of us.

Among the attendees we had our Chairman Ian Redmond and Executive Director Jilian Miller as well as our DR Congo Program Manager Henry, and our Program Managers Emmanuel and Sam who came in from Rwanda and Uganda (see picture above).

It is really exciting to see everybody again and to work together on our objectives for 2014. The determination by my colleges to help, not only the gorillas but also the local communities here in central Africa who suffer poverty, is amazing and makes me look forward to the New Year!

Thank you all for your ongoing support and as always I will keep you updated with the latest news on our work here in Africa.

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News from Mount Tshiaberimu!

Hello, this is Jean Claude,

I recently went to Mount Tshiaberimu, a hidden corner of the Virunga National Park in eastern DR Congo, to monitor the few remaining gorillas in the area and happened to come across the silverback Katsavara who has not shown himself or his family in a while.

Katsavara is not too keen on meeting humans and has been quite aggressive toward some of the rangers in recent encounters. I guess in a way his behaviour is understandable as he is trying to protect his family since the security situation at Mount Tshiaberimu has not been the best in years. The constant fighting between military and rebels in the area – let alone the horrible act of poaching – has not only been of great danger to the gorillas but also to our local staff, and since Katsavara only has a handful of family members left he feels even stronger about protecting them.

Lucky me, I had my colleague Odilion’s camera with me, which allowed me to take the first pictures of Katsavara in 3 years from about a 100m distance. His family was nowhere to be seen but we are glad that we at least got a glimpse of the old silverback and found him safe and healthy, and who knows maybe next time I’m lucky enough to capture a new born. Until then I hope you will enjoy the pictures I took of Katsavara!

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Keeping our gorillas safe and healthy!

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Keeping a good distance between me and my friend!

Hi, this is Tuver,

A few couple of days ago I went to track gorillas at the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, which is located in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park currently holds 9 gorilla families of which 2 are open to tourists, who are always welcome at Kahuzi-Biega as the ongoing tourism aids the conservation of the low land gorillas that live here. However, there are a couple of things we have to consider when tracking them.

Our number one priority when visiting these great apes is to keep them safe and healthy by ensuring we keep the amount of pathogens spread between humans and animals to a minimum – just in case you were wondering why I was wearing a mask! This is also the reason why I kept a certain distance from the gorilla in the picture, as I was in fact following a rule called the 7-meter tracking regulation. This rule is very important as gorillas and humans are very closely related which means the chances of them catching diseases like influenza is very likely if we get in immediate contact with each other. Unfortunately, this is not always preventable as especially baby gorillas are always curious in getting to know tourists and trackers who come to visit them.

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Eastern lowland gorilla at Kahuzi-Biega National Park

 

And now a trustee pops by Goma to say hello…

Paul meets with Henry at the Goma Resource Centre

Paul meets with DRC programmes manager Henry at the Goma Resource Centre

Hi, this is Tuver,

Just a few weeks after we had the honour of welcoming chairman Ian Redmond to this part of Africa, trustee Paul Baldwin and his wife also paid a visit, to see for themselves the work being done to protect gorillas and improve the lives of their human neighbours.

During their trip, the couple went to see mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda – they even managed to see baby Iwacu, our adopted mountain gorilla – and they also visited a number of development projects there and in neighbouring Uganda. To finish off their mini tour of central Africa, Paul and Sarah crossed the border into DR Congo, where they visited the team here at the Goma Resource Centre.

As well as myself, the Baldwins met with Henry, the programmes manager for DR Congo, and together we discussed the current status of the programmes and how the money donated by generous supporters in the UK and elsewhere in the world is being put to good use transforming the lives of thousands of people and so easing the pressure being put on the gorillas’ forest home.

Here are a few pictures of their visit. If you’re visiting this part of Africa any time, we’d be happy to welcome you to the Resource Centre as well – just get in touch before you arrive!

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Paul and Sarah talk gorillas and field projects with Henry