Author Archives: Tuver Wundi

Getting official protection for Congo’s great apes

One of my latest visits to the gorillas at The Virungas National Park

One of my latest visits to my favourite gorilla family. We need to work together to protect these wonderful creatures!

Hi, this is Tuver,

Effective conservation is all about cooperation. No matter how hard we work, we conservationists would not achieve much without the support of the authorities or without being able to work with other NGOs and charities. This is especially true here in Congo, where poverty and insecurity combine with the usual bureaucracy and the associated challenges that come with running such a large country.

This is why I was so excited to attend a special awareness event held here in Goma just a few days ago. Organised by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) in partnership with other NGOs and with funding from the Arcus Foundation, the workshop was well attended and brought together the latest thinking on how civil society and governments can work together to protect great apes, not just here in Congo, but in all the ten countries where gorillas live in the wild.

The big highlight of the day was an informative lecture by Jean Claude Kyungu Kasolene. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might remember that JC used to run our project at Mount Tshiaberimu and, while part of our team, he completed a Master’s degree in gorilla behaviour. So, he was the perfect choice to tell us all about the genetic differences between the four distinct types of gorilla and how things like their varied habitat and behaviour should influence how we approach our conservation efforts.

What’s more, we learned how, right across Africa, local communities are benefitting from the improved protection of great apes and other primates. We learned, for example, how the protection of monkeys along the southern part of the border between Nigeria and Cameroon has helped the forests there thrive, spelling good news for local people.

After the fascinating talk from JC, leading figures from the region pledged official support for ongoing efforts to protect both gorillas and chimpanzees. The Provincial Minster of the Environment for North Kivu, Anselme Kitakya, alongside the Vice-President of the Province, signed an agreement committing to the protection of flora and fauna, and in particular pledging to protect the habitat that serves as the last refuge of the great apes.

Now, we have to get busy ensuring the good words and followed up with action. Myself and the rest of the team here in Congo are busy rolling out our ambitious SafeZone project. This will see two million trees planted in order to create a safe space where gorillas can live free form human contact. But we must hurry! The rainy season starts in four weeks and we need to get all the saplings we have grown planted. Please help us if you can. Read more on the Gorillas.org website here!

Until next time,

Tuver

Speaking out about climate change and gorillas

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Here I am, on stage, talking about how climate change threatens both people and gorillas

Hi, this is Tuver,

If gorillas are to stand any chance of long-term survival, it’s the young generations whose help we need the most. So it was definitely very encouraging that I was invited to speak to university students in Goma as part of their World Environment Day celebrations.

The big day was centred on climate change and environmental education across the Great Lakes region, an area which includes Congo and which is home to the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas, as well as numerous other threatened species and, of course, some of the world’s most diverse and important ecosystems.

As you might expect, the theme of my talk was related to gorillas and their habitat. I wanted to show that the ongoing overuse of the natural resources found in the boundaries of the Virunga National Park has both immediate and long-term consequences. Right now, habitat loss, which is partly driven by the illegal market for fuel which people use in their homes, is one of the biggest threats facing gorillas living in the wild. Our cousins rely on the trees and plants for food and shelter and the destruction of their home places them in grave jeopardy.

At the same time, habitat loss here in Congo is also part of a wider problem. The destruction of forests right around the world is a leading cause of climate change. Over the past few years we’ve started to notice quite how a changing climate is affecting people in this part of Africa. Harvests are being disrupted and weather patterns are changing. Who knows what the next few years will bring if we don’t all act to stop climate change before it’s too late?

Thankfully, the warm reception I was given, and the interest of the young students showed me that all is not lost. Awareness of the dangers posed by climate change is on the rise here in eastern Congo and, as these students demonstrate, it’s not just us gorillas conservationists who are determined to take action. Let’s hope these inspiring young people go back to their home communities and explain how small changes can help save the forests, save the gorillas and even help save the planet.

Below are a few more pictures from this fascinating day. I hope you enjoy them!

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Planting new hope as the battle against habitat loss gains pace

 

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The biggest tree-planting project in our history is now underway!

Hi, this is Tuver!

As you can see, it’s been a few months since we updated this blog. But don’t worry, we haven’t stopped working to save gorillas. In fact, we’ve been busier than ever! As well as our usual work, we’ve been getting our hands dirty planting tens of thousands of trees, and so we’ve been spending much more time in the forests or visiting isolated villages than we have at our computers – so please accept our apologies for the lack of recent updates. We hope you understand. Here’s a little of what we have been up to…

 

It’s coming to the end of the rainy season here in DR Congo and we’ve been busy planting trees!

As some of you may know, the Gorilla Organization team here at the Goma Resource Centre recently entered into a partnership with the African Development Bank. Due to our long-standing connections with the communities here and our proven commitment to grassroots conservation and development, we were chosen to lead one of the most ambitious reforestation projects Africa has ever seen.

In all, around 500,000 trees will be planted over the next few years, most of them in the unprotected area situated between the Virunga National Park and the Kahuzi Biega National Park. This area has suffered terribly from deforestation over the past few years. As the local population keeps growing, many are chopping the trees down and using the timber for fuel and to make their homes. Worryingly, since they are so desperate due to the abject poverty of the region, many people feel they have no choice but to take the natural resources of the protected areas, destroying the precious habitat the endangered gorillas rely on for food and shelter!

This is why we have been extra-determined to get this project started as soon as possible. Over the past couple of weeks, we have been busy distributing saplings to a number of communities situated within walking distance of the Kahuzi Biega National Park.

Here you can see some pictures from our visit to villages in Kalehe Territory. Working with our Programmes Manager in the country, Henry Cirhuza, we explained to the people how planting new trees can not only save the gorilla habitat from destruction, it can also benefit them by providing them with a sustainable source of timber and firewood.

Then, with the help of our expert agronomist Bahati, we helped get the planting started! As I write this, we have already distributed tens of thousands of tree saplings. While it may take some time before we can start to reverse decades of deforestation, this is a step in the right direction!

As always, thank you for your ongoing support!

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The community came together to help save the precious gorilla habitat

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The local men were interested to hear how fast the trees can grow and how they can be used for a number of things, including firewood and timber for construction

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A whole village will now have a sustainable source of fuel and timber for generations to come – no need to worry the gorillas any more!

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Even the local children were happy to get involved with the tree planting efforts – let’s hope we have inspired some future gorilla conservationists…

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Planting thousands of new trees is hard work, but definitely worth the effort

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Families supported one another. This new green buffer of trees should mean they no longer have to trespass in the National Park for fuel

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And here’s the finished result! It may not look much now, but in a couple of years, this will be a lush forest of trees to support the local communities

 

New trees bring new hope for gorillas and people…

Hi, this is Tuver ,

Last week I was invited to a tree planting ceremony at a community in Kalehe Territory, South Kivu. The community is one of many that borders the Kahuzi Biega National Park, one of the last refuges of the endangered eastern lowland gorilla.

Like most of the small towns and villages dotted throughout this part of DR Congo, for many years now, community members have had little choice but to go into the protected forest and cut down trees. They know this illegal and they are know that the ecosystem here is fragile and must be protected at all costs. However, with near-constant war cutting them off from the rest of the country and poverty widespread, most feel they have little choice but to take the risk and enter the forest in search of food and fuel.

Almost ten years ago now, the Gorilla Organization started working with these communities, helping them plant fast-growing trees they could use for firewood. These tress serve as a valuable buffer between gorillas and their cousins in the forest.

And our efforts continue. So far, we’ve planted around 160,000 trees on the borders of Kahuzi Biega National Park, and I just recently watched a few more go into the ground.

As you can see from the pictures I took, the whole village turned out to learn about why the trees are being planted. These pictures should also give you some idea of how much forest has been lost and how we are working to address this. And let’s not forget, more trees is not just good news for gorillas needing food and shelter! It’s also good news for humans, too, as we start to feel the effects of climate change here in Africa.

The whole village turned out to hear why we were planting more trees

The whole village turned out to hear why we were planting more trees

Here are some trees we planted just a short time ago...

Here are some trees we planted just a short time ago…

But as you can see, much of the forest has been cut down to use for farming

But as you can see, much of the forest has been cut down to use for farming

And here's me, checking out the fully-grown trees that help keep the gorillas safe

And here’s me, checking out the fully-grown trees that help keep the gorillas safe

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

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!