Category Archives: Conservation

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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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

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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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.

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

Celebrating as poachers give up their snares for good…

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Hi, this is Sam,

As you are no doubt aware, poaching is one of the major threats facing Uganda’s gorillas today. Though nobody goes into the forest to harm mountain gorillas on purpose, younger gorillas in particular can get caught in snares left for small mammals, often with tragic results.

Ever since we started our work here at the Kisoro Resource Centre, we’ve recognised that the main thing causing people to become poaching is poverty. Men and women living alongside the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest often have no choice but to go into the protected area for bushmeat, as well as for firewood, either for their own families or to sell at market. That’s why we set up our sustainable agriculture programme, to give people the chance to make a living without having to depend on the resources found in the forest.

It’s been so rewarding watching people improve their own lives. But nothing has matched the excitement we felt when we succeeded in getting a group of former poachers to join the programme. While these men used to make a living out of illegally entering the forests to lay down snares, now they are learning how to live off the land.

To celebrate this exciting development, we held a special ceremony in Rubuguri County Hall. Here, the poachers handed over their snares to Pontius Ezuma, the head ranger for both the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park here in Uganda. Also present was Gideon Ahebwa, the President’s representative in this region, as well as a number of rangers and community members. As you can see from these pictures, it was a happy and exciting day for everyone involved.

We’re all confident that these men can succeed in transforming their lives, which would be good news not just for them, but for the gorillas who will, of course, have fewer poachers to worry about…

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Hi this is Tuver,

I have been travelling around some of our project sites over the past few weeks to see how people were getting on. Just recently, for example, I visited the Batwa farmers in the UOBDU project.

Since being evicted from the National Park forests in 1991, the Batwa people have struggled with landlessnesmatress pics, low productivity, and a dependence on handouts. The Gorilla Organization has been working to address these issues by giving six Batwa groups opportunities to hire land and cultivate their own crops.

When I arrived on this latest trip, I cannot tell you how pleased I was to see the successes of this project. All six groups had had a successful season, growing 73 sacks of Irish potatoes, of which, 25 sacks were sold, raising UGSH 1,395,000 ($526) for the farmers.

The Nyakabande group had had a particularly prudent season.  Although they grew fewer sacks than the Biizi group (14 sacks compared to 19), they managed to sell more than half by consuming less than almost all other groups.

They had put their profits, along with those from last season, together and purchased 19 new mattresses for their homes (seen in this small picture here). I arrived just in time to witness the deliveries, which were received amongst much joy and the group pledged to redouble their efforts for next season.

As always, it’s good to see the people making good livelihoods outside of the forests, spelling good news for both them and, of course, for our cousins the gorillas who live in peace and thrive.

 

A gorilla vet pays a visit to Mt T…

Odilon in monitoring on dec 2d-1

Here’s Odlion (a member of the GO team) and Dr Eddy checking on the gorillas

Hi, this is Tuver,

As I’m sure you know, the last few months have been tough here for us in DR Congo. Fighting and general instability made it hard for us to carry on working as normal – which is why I’ve not updated this blog for a little while…

But, the good news is that, while times were certainly hard, we never lost sight of our mission, to protect our cousins, the gorillas, and their natural habitat. In fact, right at the end of last year, our colleagues at Mount Tshiaberimu were able to welcome Dr Eddy from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP). The manager of the Gorilla Organization’s project here, Jean-Claude, showed him around the mountain and took him to see the small, but vital, population of eastern lowland gorillas living in this part of the Virungas.

Dr Eddy was also able to see some of our other work. For example, Jean-Claude showed him the education and community development projects that will play a vital role in ensuring these precious gorillas have a long-term future.

Mount Tshiaberimu is rarely free from trouble, but the team here are always alert and are dedicated to carrying on with their work, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Hopefully, with visits from leading figures in the conservation movement such as Dr Eddy, our voice will be even louder as we shout for greater protection for this isolated population of gorillas.

Here’s a couple of pictures of the recent visit that Jean-Claude sent over to me. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on all the latest news from here in DR Congo, hopefully more regularly now that the worst of the insecurity seems to have passed.

A happy new year to all our supporters, wherever you are in the world…

Dr EDY MGVP with Trackers on Dec 3ird

And here’s the team of brave, dedicated rangers who took Dr Eddy to the gorillas