Celebrating (and working) at Kwita Izina 2014!

 

Huge crowds gathered to hear the baby gorillas be given their names

Huge crowds gathered to hear the baby gorillas be given their names

This year’s Kwita Izina Gorilla Naming ceremony took place in Rwanda just a few days ago, and the Gorilla Organization was there to join in the celebrations!

The annual event is a way of bringing communities and conservation professionals together to celebrate the latest additions to Rwanda’s mountain gorilla population. This year, an amazing 18 baby gorillas was officially named, with Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi the guest of honour. As well as the naming ceremony itself, there was singing, dancing and even stand-up comedy!

Some of the names given to the baby gorillas (all of them born in the past 12 months) include Inkindi, which in Rwanda is the name of very valuable cloth (but not as valuable as the gorillas are to the country right now), Masunzu and Ndengera.

Kwita Izina is about so much more than celebrating our friends of the forest. It’s status as one of the biggest events on the conservation calendar in this part of Africa means it’s a great opportunity to meet up with colleagues, share tips and success stories and make new partnerships.

That’s why we set up a special Gorilla Organization stand, from which we shared stories from our community conservation projects. As you can see from the pictures I took, we brought along some furry friends to show what can be achieved with a little imagination.

Colleagues from other NGOs, as well as government officials, were delighted to hear that, by helping communities raise rabbits, we are giving them an alternative source of protein to bushmeat found in the forests. This, of course, means many people will no longer have to illegally trespass in the National Parks and, more importantly, they won’t be tempted to lay down the snares that can trap and even kill our precious gorillas!

Gorilla Organization Chairman Ian Redmond also joined me in spreading news of our work, networking with his fellow conservationists and joining in the fun and games!

Here you can see some pictures from the great day! Here’s hoping that, this time next year, we’ll have even more new baby gorillas to be welcoming into the world!

 

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The naming committee was made up of leading conservationists and politicians from the region

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Once the naming ceremony was over, the party could begin!

 

But it wasn't all fun and games - we had a stall to look after

But it wasn’t all fun and games – we had a stall to look after

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Visitors from all over the world came to find out more about the work we do

 

Chairman Ian Redmond was on hand to talk to the local media

Chairman Ian Redmond was on hand to talk to the media

And he was also happy to explain how we're using solar power to reduce reliance on charcoal taken from the gorilla habitat

And he was also happy to explain how we’re using solar power to reduce reliance on charcoal taken from the gorilla habitat

Our rabbits helped to highlight the great community development work we are engaged in

Our rabbits helped to highlight the great community development work we are engaged in

A busy, exciting June in Goma…

It was great to see the students so enthusiastic and keen to learn about conservation and how they can help gorillas

It was great to see the students so enthusiastic and keen to learn about conservation and how they can help gorillas

Every June we join communities across the planet in celebrating World Environment Day, and this year was no different.

This time around the focus was on climate change and deforestation, both issues that are of great concern here, both to the people living in the North Kivu area and the wildlife of the region, including, of course, the magnificent gorillas.

On the day itself I was lucky enough to attend a special conference at the Free University of the Great Lakes. Here, the Provincial Minister for the Environment Anselme Kitakya put forward the government’s plans to do more to protect the wonderful forests we live alongside. Plus, we also heard of the latest biodiversity and conservation projects happening elsewhere in the world thanks to speakers from other big NGOs.

But my highlight was the competition the Gorilla Organization held for students across the city of Goma. In all, we incited 64 schools across the city to take part and share their ideas on how we can best stop deforestation. A number of prizes were awarded for the most thoughtful ideas, and it was really encouraging to see these young people using their minds to think of ways we can halt the worrying loss of gorilla habitat.

The interest in the competition shows just how much Congo’s youth care about their country, including its animals. I hope that, just as our radio shows and our Wildlife Clubs have help inspire a new generation of gorilla guardians, our work in June will have done the same.

Here are some pictures from some of the events that took place on and after World Environment Day. I hope you enjoy them!

The weather may have been bad, but World Environment Day was a great success!

The weather was bad, but World Environment Day was a great success! Check out our logo on the far right of the banner!

 

Conservation professionals from many different NGOs came to learn and share their knowledge

Conservation professionals from many different NGOs came to learn and share their knowledge, which was very inspiring

Here some competition winners sit on stage and share their ideas with other students

Competition winners sit on stage and share their ideas with other students

And I was happy to share my thoughts with the local media!

And I was happy to share my thoughts with the local media!

The day a gorilla travelled by helicopter…

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Hi, this is Tuver,

It’s not often that you get to see a gorilla travelling by helicopter! But that’s exactly what I saw last week when the United Nations gave a lift to orphaned eastern lowland gorilla Ihirwe.

The young gorilla had been living in a special orphanage in Kinigi, Rwanda, for the past few years, after she was saved from smugglers who were planning on selling her as an exotic pet. Now, with the help of the UN, she has travelled to DR Congo, where she will live with a group of fellow gorilla orphans at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Centre in Kasugho.

We all hope that, once she settles in to her new life, Ihirwe will get used to being with her own kind and learn how to be a gorilla again!

Here are some of the photos I took on that memorable day. As you can imagine, Ihirwe – whose name means ‘hope’ by the way – was more than a little nervous. However, the helicopter flight meant she was spared a gruelling day-long journey along bumpy roads. Plus, my colleagues at the GRACE centre have assured me she has got over her ordeal and is doing just fine.

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Back to work on Mount T

JC visiting his gorilla friends on Mount T

Hi, this is Tuver,

If you’ve been reading this blog, or even reading our ‘Digit News’ newsletters, you’ll know that Mount Tshiaberimu has not been a peaceful, happy place over recent months. In fact, Jean-Claude, who is the manager of our conservation project here, tells me he struggles to remember a time when he was able to carry out his important research without feeling under threat.

But JC is as determined as ever to make sure the project carries on as well as is possible. He was recently joined by a team of rangers from nearby Mutsora. With their support, he was able to go into the forests to look at the Kikyo patrol post, which was destroyed by Mai Mai militia way back in 2011. Sadly, given ongoing insecurity, as well as funding issues, the patrol post has yet to be restored, so the patrol came across quite a sad sight.

As you can see, however, the long, tough trek up Mount T was not in vain. The patrol were treated to an encounter with Mukokya, the blackback son of missing Tsongo. They were happy to report that he looks very strong and they are confident he will soon become an impressive silverback (male gorillas get their silverbacks when they are around 12 years old).

With Tsongo still missing (and, sadly, the team here fear the very worst for him), this is encouraging. Hopefully the ‘Mountain of Spirits’ as it is known locally, will soon have the strong leader it needs to protect its precious gorilla population from threats posed by poachers and militia.

Here are some pictures taken on the patrol…

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Coming across just one of the many snares set by poachers in the forests

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The team had to walk a long way, through tough terrain, on this patrol

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Arriving at the Kikyo patrol post, which was destroyed by rebels in 2011

Sadness and worry as Virungas head ranger is shot

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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.

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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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