Category Archives: Grauer’s Gorillas

Great Gorilla Run

Hello this is Emmanuel, I am the Gorilla Organization’s Rwandan Programme Manager.

This coming Saturday is the annual Great Gorilla Run in London, UK. Hundreds of people dress up as gorillas and run around the city to raise money for our projects out here in Africa – it is an amazing event.

Three years ago I was given the fantastic opportunity to travel to London and take part in the Great Gorilla Run – it was one of the best days of my life!

When I was told that I was going to London It was difficult to imagine what it would be like. And when I was told that I would be running 7kms around London dressed in gorilla suit … well, that was another point. I think my neighbours still remember seeing me running through the streets of Gisenyi, my town in Rwanda, as I trained for the Great Gorilla Run.

September arrived and I travelled more than 6000km to reach London. I was really excited to see what this town, which I have heard so much about, was really like!

The D-day arrived, and I met all the other gorilla runners at Minster Court and started putting on my gorilla suit. I was happy to wear number 700, the number of Mountain gorillas living in the world at the time.

Great Gorilla Run get ready to go

Until then, I was confident with my training, my thoughts were to win it. However, I realised that this was not going to be an easy run. As I waited at the start it was so strange seeing many different people excited about dressing as gorillas and trying to imitate their behaviours by either eating a banana, roaring or charging!

Each time, I was wondering what would happen if they saw real gorillas. Or, if those gorilla statues at Minster court were real gorillas seeing them!?!  Surely they would be delighted to see a human struggling to become a gorilla!!

Once the kick off was given, I started running following others and holding a collection bucket, which I was using to collect money from viewers enjoying the Sunday sun! I can remember being stopped by a couple, probably, they wanted to check if I was a real gorilla and to prove this I charged!!! They ran away but immediately came back and put some coins into the bucket before wishing me success!

Although I had studied the map of the run, I couldn’t locate myself between the high buildings. It was difficulty to see the sky and the sun which is how we traditionally find our way in Rwanda. I was simply following others!!

I can not remember how many bridges I crossed, I could not even remember how long it took me, what I remember is that I did it, it was amazing and raised I collected £75 in my bucket during the run!!

Can you spot me in the photo!

Hello from the Gorilla Organization

Welcome to the Gorilla Orgaization’s new blog! My name is Abi and I work for the Gorilla Organization, out of its UK office in London. We are really pleased to be looking after this gorilla blog and will be keeping you posted from our gorilla conservation projects in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo. Our African field team will be posting regularly on this blog directly from the field so please keep visiting us!!  Before I introduce the team I want to tell you a little bit about the Gorilla Organization and what we do.

The majority of our work is based in the communities living just outside the gorilla habitat. We work with local African NGOs and partners to help communities access all the resources they need outside of the national park. By giving communities access to fresh water, fuel and nutritious food, and helping them to lift themselves out of poverty we are able to relieve the national parks from human pressure and greatly reduce the damage caused to the gorilla habitat – one of the main threats to the gorillas’ long-term survival.

To support this work we run an education scheme that gets the communities involved with conservation and we also work with the wildlife authorities and a number of specialist teams of gorilla rangers. There is loads of information on our website www.gorillas.org so do have a look if you would like to find out more.

Introducing the GO team!

Henry Cirhuza

Henry Cirhuza

Henry is our Congolese programme manager and is based in Goma. He looks after projects over a large area in Eastern DR Congo spanning from Rutshuru on the edge of Virungas National Park to the communities in and around Kahuzi Biega National Park – home to one of the largest eastern lowland gorilla populations.

Emmanuel

Emmanuel Bugingo

Emmanuel manages our Rwandan programme and runs our lively resource centre in Ruhengeri, on the edge of the Volcanoes National Park and Rwanda’s mountain gorilla habitat. The projects here range from water cisterns and organic farming to wildlife clubs in schools so there is always a lot going on!

Sam Nsingwire

Sam Nsingwire

Sam heads up the Ugandan programme and is based in Kisoro on the edge of Mgahinga National Park which is part of the Virungas Massive. The projects here are all tailored to this unique area and I am sure Sam will tell you more!

Tuver Wundi

Tuver Wundi

Last but certainly not least is Tuver, who you will have met before on this blog. Tuver is the Gorilla Organization’s field communication manager and while he is based in Goma he travels throughout the region regularly, keeping on top of everything that is going on and collecting news for his weekly radio broadcast.

Right I will hand you over to the team, but do keep in touch, we would love to hear your comments!

How losing gorillas and elephants changes an ecosystem – VIDEO

Here’s another of Ian Redmond’s YoG interviews, this time with John Kahekwa at the Kahuzi Biega National Park. The park has lost most of its gorillas and elephants to poaching related to coltan mining and the war which started in 1994, and the absence of their ‘gardening’ activities has led to profound changes in vegetation cover and other ecosystem features.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/YfNLhlOk88s" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Go to www.yog2009.org to find out more about the campaign and how to support.

14th August – Miners and minors

Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond. 

The biggest threat facing all the large mammals in Kahuzi-Biega NP is illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade. In the illegal mining camps in the park, miners who spend their days doing hard physical labour need protein.  They buy bushmeat from teams of hunters who comb the forest for animals and trade meat for minerals – so much ore bartered for so much meat.  Traditionally the Bashi people of this area do not eat ape meat, but it seems that in the mining camps, traditional taboos are swept aside in the turmoil of war and the desire for profit.  And as numerous reports have observed, from NGOs such as Global Witness right up to the UN Security Council, those profits are used by the militias who control the mines to acquire weapons and ammunition.  For the miners themselves, if the choice is between ape-meat and no meat, it is hardly surprising they choose to eat – as John Kahekwa, founder of the Pole Pole Foundation is fond of saying ‘an empty stomach has no ears’.

Kalimbi artisanal mine, Eastern DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

I was keen to meet some of the miners, but the lowland sector of the park is still under the control of ‘negative forces’.   After clearing our plans with MONUC yesterday, we drove instead to Kalehe today, along the lake-side road with stunning views of islands and inlets.  The mine we had arranged to visit was extracting a tin ore called cassiterite rather than the better known coltan, but both minerals are used in the manufacture of electronic devices.  We were accompanied by a government security man from Bukavu, and after meeting the Kalehe local authorities, another one from there.  Finally we met the chief of the village near the mines, and he too decided to accompany us.  We drove a few more kilometres to a steep-sided valley with sides scarred by mining waste.  Down in the valley, the stream had been repeatedly dammed and diverted to produce small alcoves with waterfalls to wash the ore.  Clusters of people were shovelling gravel or swishing it with their hands to release the sediment which was carried downstream.  The sediment-filled water was in stark contrast to the clear mountain streams that flowed down the hill before meeting the mine tailings.

Modifying stream flow to wash cassiterite, Kalimbi, E.DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

Many of the people in the stream-bed were clearly teenagers, some even younger. Mines in eastern DRC are notorious for using child labour, but although many of these miners were minors, to be fair it was the school holidays and like teenagers everywhere they were working to earn a few bob.  The presence of mothers with babies and people of both sexes and all ages carrying sacks and washing ore gave it the feel of a sort of community mine.  There was no apparent overseer forcing the kids to work, they seemed self-motivated and cheerful despite their obvious poverty.  At my request, the village chief asked some of them if they attended school, and of course they dutifully nodded..

Woman carrying 36 kg of Cassiterite, DRC. Photo Ian Redmond.

A smallish woman came down the steep path with a fore-head strap supporting a sack of ore on her lower back.  I helped to lift it off and – impressed by the weight – borrowed a spring balance.  It weighed 36 Kg but she laughed at my surprise and said it wasn’t particularly heavy.  We followed the path up the hillside to the mines – simple holes dug into the ground by men with torches strapped to the side of their head, wielding lump-hammers and chisels. Outside the mine entrance, a boy sat pounding ore into smaller fragments and picking out the heavy bits that contained cassiterite.  The waste was tipped down the hillside, causing the scarring we had seen from the opposite side, and promising bits were put into sacks to be taken down and washed in the stream.  Jason the camera-man followed the miners down into the ground and I followed him down the steep descent, slippery with mud.  This kind of mining is known as artisanal mining, and it doesn’t get much more basic than this.  Squatting in the dark with weak batteries in their torches (another expense to come out of the meagre earnings) men were hammering their chisels into the rock face and assessing by weight and appearance the lumps they chipped off.  After taking some video of the work, I gave my camera to one of the security men behind me and gave it a go.  I used to work for a builder when I was a teenager, so using a lump-hammer and chisel was not new to me, but in the confined space it was difficult to swing the hammer, and when I did chisel off a few lumps, the owner of the tools pointed out that there was no cassiterite in them.  It may be hot, sweaty manual work, but you need to know what you are doing if you want to make a living out of it.

Miners at work underground, Kalimbi, E.DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

Back at the cars, I interviewed the president of the Kalimbi miners, Mr Safari Kulimushi, and asked him about the laundering of illegally mined minerals.  He said that the biggest problem was the insecurity – people never knew when the next armed gang would come through killing, raping and looting homes.  Because of that, it was difficult to monitor what was going on in all the mines.  Things were much better organised when there were expatriates running the mines, he opined, because they had machines  gave training.and maintained the roads better.  We both agreed that what the area needed was investment from the industries that used the tin and tantalum being mined here – then workers would get a fair wage and be taught how to mine safely (we saw not a single helmet, pit-prop or safety device) whilst minimising the environmental impact.  

M.Safari Kulimushi, President of Miners at Kalimbi, E.DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

And if the industry investment included developing a system of certification, then the use of ‘conflict minerals’ would be reduced if not eliminated.  This is what the Gorilla Organization has been trying to do with the Durban Process (so called because they first got miners, traders and end-users around a table in Durban to hammer out an agreement and develop plans to set up a model mine to show how it should be done).  Unfortunately the process has stalled due to lack of resources – there is only so much a small NGO can do.  So again, one has to ask where is the investment from the wealthiest industries on the planet – electronic goods manufacturers who use the tin in solder and tantalum in capacitors, or for that matter the media and telecommunications companies that depend on electronic goods?

Heavy metal - cassiterite tin ore, E.DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

The journey back to Bukavu was long, bumpy, dusty and – for most of it – dark. When the steel plate that protects the sump rattled loose for the second time, I got out my Swiss Army knife and cut another length of para-cord to tie it up again.  You are a sitting duck in such a situation, and indeed we were ambushed – but by kindness not bullets – as locals came out to see what was going on, and one man immediately volunteered to crawl under the vehicle to tie up the plate.  He didn’t even ask for payment, just shook our hand and wished us a safe journey, which is what we had – arriving back at the hotel at nearly 10.00pm for a late supper.

That’s all for now folks – tomorrow, on to Goma.

Cheers, Ian

Read Ian’s previous post here.

13th August 2009: Security and sanctuary in South Kivu

Posted (with regrettable delay) on behalf of Ian Redmond.

Today didn’t quite work out as planned.  Early in the morning I bumped into the vice-governor of South Kivu province, Jean Claude Kibala, who I’d met at the Frankfurt Gorilla Conference and who was busy making arrangements for President Kabila, who was visiting Bukavu.  I asked him whether he thought the President would give a message for the Year of the Gorilla.  He thought it quite likely, given the economic importance of gorilla tourism in the region, and said he’d call this evening if it could be arranged.

Ian Redmond.

The Australian Network 7 film crew, minus the producer and me, had already set off early to Kahuzi-Biega National Park HQ to film the morning deployment of rangers and gorilla monitoring teams.  Eleven groups of gorillas are monitored daily in the 600 square kilometre highland sector of the park, despite the dangers of ‘negative forces’ (militias) they may encounter in the forest.  As yet it is too dangerous to have this level of conservation activity in the 10 times bigger lowland sector.  Rebel militias (which effectively means armed bandits) living in the forest need the same equipment as park guards, so attacks on guard posts are all too common.   The producer, Mick O’Donnell, and I intended to visit the Bukavu base of MONUC, the UN Mission in DRC, to check the security situation for Kalehe (where we wanted to film at a mine the next day) then planned to join the crew to film community conservation projects of the Pole Pole Foundation (PoPoF) around the park.  

MONUC is a large, multi-national military operation, and to cut a long story short, we were directed here, there and everywhere by people from Poland, Niger, Pakistan and Egypt without finding the person with whom Mick had been corresponding.   By early afternoon we were out at the airport base talking to a friendly Indonesian officer (who had studied at Monash University in Melbourne so spoke Australian, and came from Sumatra where he had visited orangutans).  Bizarrely, we then found ourselves listening to a conversation in Bahasa as he called his Indonesian colleague in the area of the mine we hoped to film.   Fortunately, all was calm in that area and we got the go-ahead to drive there without the need of a UN escort.  For the first time ever in Africa, I found my self saying ‘terimah kasi’, rather than ‘asante sana’ as we thanked him for his time and called the crew to meet up.

Australian TV presenter Grant Denyer watches Andrea Edwards feeding orphan chimpanzees, Lwiro, DRC. -  Photo Ian Redmond

Frustratingly, the crew by then had finished filming the PoPoF projects and were heading for Lwiro, where a small sanctuary for confiscated primates has been created in recent years.  Although sad to have missed the tree-planting and school children singing, I was delighted to visit Lwiro because it was two years since my last visit and I have both human and non-human friends there.  The Centre for Research in Natural Science in Lwiro is a fascinating place – a large and beautifully constructed complex that now sadly looks rather dilapidated.  It was built during the Belgian colonial period with labs and offices linked by covered walkways with arches, giving a cloister-like feel, as if it was a remote monastery for science.  In recent years CO-OPERA, a Spanish NGO, has formed a partnership with ICCN and PoPoF to co-manage the sanctuary.   ICCN is responsible for all wild animals in DRC and needed somewhere to keep animals confiscated from illegal traders or pet owners.   Lwiro had some old cages and was used as a convenient stop-gap until a proper sanctuary and rehabilitation centre can be built with the aim of eventual return to the wild for any animals fit enough.

Bertin MURHABALE and Jean Jaques BAGALWA, CRSN, Lwiro, DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

The Oz crew were keen to interview Andrea Edwards, an Australian primate keeper on secondment to Lwiro from Melbourne Zoo. I was equally keen to catch up with Carmen Vidal, a Spanish vet I’d met on my last visit soon after she had arrived to take over running the sanctuary.   I was impressed by the new, bigger cages for the chimpanzees and monkeys (though suggested that weaving some visual barriers out of branches might help the inmates deal with the inevitable ‘cabin fever’ of being locked up together in such a small space).   Carmen had a surprise in store.   A short walk from the building where the new and old cages were, she showed me a new dormitory nearing completion to better house the growing number of chimpanzees – some of whom are now adult.   Excitedly, she explained the plan to enclose two hectares of forest and two hectares of grassy scrub with an electric fence.   “The chimpanzees will be out of their cages by the end of the year!” she said. 

“And is all the funding in place?” I asked.  

Carmen Vidal of the Lwiro Sanctuary, DRC. Photo by Ian Redmond.

“Not quite,” she replied, “we are not yet approved by PASA, and some supporters will not send funds to sanctuaries that are not up to PASA standards, but of course without funds it is hard to make the improvements that are needed to achieve that standard!”

Quickly I grabbed my video camera and asked her to summarise, thinking I’d post her appeal on the Ape Alliance website (there being no confiscated gorillas at Lwiro;  sadly infant gorillas are illegally traded but when confiscated they are kept at a separate facility in the region under the care of specialist gorilla vets).  You can find out more about Lwiro at http://lwiro.blogspot.com/

While the film crew were finishing their interviews, John Kahekwa introduced me to Bertin Murhabale, a primate researcher and Jean Jaques Bagalwa, head of the Biology Department at CRSN,   I had collected a segment of gorilla tapeworm yesterday, and needed to fix it in Formalin.  They took me to see their labs where, on the bench, were piles of bags of gorilla and chimpanzee faecal samples.  Unfortunately, the primatology lab has no microscope or centrifuge, and Jean Jaques admitted that the whole research centre has only one old monocular microscope.  I invited them to give a YoG-Blog interview, which you’ll see once I find a way to upload it (but if you are reading this in a lab with old scientific equipment unused in a cupboard, do get in touch!).

Filming over, we rushed back to Bukavu (well, as fast as one can rush on atrocious roads in the dark), passing in and out of telephone network coverage, still waiting for that important ‘phone call that might add the first Head of State to the YoG Blog interviewees.  But as you might have guessed, the call never came;  maybe another opportunity will arise when I pass through Kinshasa….

Cheers, Ian

Read Ian’s previous post here.

12th August: Arboreal Gorillas and Philosophical Guardians

Posted for YoG Ambassador Ian Redmond.

The excitement was palpable on the drive up to Kahuzi-Biega National Park HQ.  For several of the Australian Network 7 TV crew, this was to be their first gorilla encounter and they had been planning for months and travelling for days to get here. The chief warden had agreed to give an interview, and I wanted to ask him to give the first of my YoG Blog interviews.   Only then would we head into the forest in search of gorillas.

The warden, Mr Radar Nishuli, was ready for us and I guess we expected a typical warden’s interview about the problems of running a World Heritage Site over-run by militias and rebels.  Standing in front of a pile of elephant and gorilla skulls, evidence of bushmeat poaching from the vicinity of the HQ during the war, the camera started rolling.  Radar didn’t disappoint, but it was pretty standard fare until he was asked why he did what he did;  he thought for a moment (English being his fourth language) and explained that he had been working in the park for 25 years and had come to know and admire the gorillas; it would be difficult to express to someone who had not experienced a gorilla encounter but – and he searched for the words – there is something about the way they behave with each other and how they use the forest, “God gave us intelligence and what do we do?  We destroy things.   Gorillas don’t have the intelligence to make cars and guns and things, but they have their families and live in harmony with nature…”   I’m paraphrasing here, but the meaning was so clear and so profound, we were all taken aback by his eloquence.   Afterwards I asked him to summarise what he thought of the UN Year of the Gorilla in the light of what he had said… as soon as I have worked out how to compress a massive HD video file down to a size that can be up-loaded to the internet you’ll see what he said.

Afterwards, I was delighted to greet one of the unsung heroes of gorilla conservation, the venerable old pygmy tracker Pili-Pili.  He began working with the Park’s founder, the late Adrian Deschryver, in the 1960s and although long retired and now showing his age, he still seemed fit – indeed after our chat he began picking weeds off the stone steps to the park visitor centre.   When I asked about his health, he told me he is usually hungry (there being no such thing as a pension scheme) but the weeds he was picking had medicinal value;  I paid him something for his weeding and asked a friend to take my photo with him – I hope someone sits down with him and takes down his oral history, for he has lived an extraordinary life.
Ian Redmond with retired gorilla tracker Pili-Pili, Kahuzi Biega, DRC. Picture by Mick O’Donnell
It was then just a short drive along the road through the park to a trail leading to where the advance party of trackers had already located Chimanuka’s Group.   Perhaps it was because we were so late starting, but the trek was long and it was mid-afternoon before we reached the gorillas.   For the producer’s and presenter’s first gorilla sighting it was pretty impressive – Chimanuka the silverback and several females and young were high up in a Myrianthus tree feeding on fruit.   As we peered upwards and dodged falling fruit, Chimanuka clambered to the main fork and carefully embraced the trunk for a controlled slither down to the ground.   At a leisurely pace the females followed, some finding more acrobatic routes down, and one reaching to a neighbouring tree with a long slender branchless trunk and sliding down like a fireman’s pole (video to follow).   So much for the wildlife books that still talk about gorillas being too heavy to climb trees – they are excellent if careful climbers and do so whenever there is fruit or other food to be had in the canopy.   The group continued travel-feeding on the ground for a while as we struggled behind untangling tripods and buckles from vines and thickets.

The vines are very thick nowadays, it is thought, because of the absence of elephants. As John Kahekwa of the Pole-Pole Foundation explained in my second YoG interview, the vines are now over-running fruit trees, bamboo and other favourite gorilla food-plants.  A few elephants were recently spotted for the first time in a decade, but before the war this part of the park was home to about 350 and it will likely be a long time before numbers recover to the point where the ecological balance is restored.  We can only wait and see how the gorillas cope with this degraded habitat.
Chimanuka, Eastern Lowland Gorilla silverback, Kahuzi Biega National Park. Picture by Ian Redmond.
Eventually the group settled down and the cameraman got some beautiful shots of Chumanuka grooming an infant (silverbacks often babysit with the kids while the females have a quiet nap – very ‘new-man’ in their approach to family life!). John explained that the infant has been named Pili-Pili after the retired tracker.

Soon after the group moved off, searching for food plants, we came across an old antelope trap just where they had passed.   Fortunately, the trigger mechanism had rotted and the pole had no noose on the end, but I cut it with my trusty panga to prevent anyone re-setting it – many young gorillas and chimpanzees have lost hands or even died from gangrene after being caught in these indiscriminate snares.  It highlighted the dangers gorillas still face, even in patrolled areas.  And as Dominique Bikaba, coordinator of PoPoF pointed out, it is also why surrounding communities need to be engaged in the protection of their park – patrols can never cut every trap if there is a constant setting of new ones – we need potential poachers to understand how the rain that waters their crops comes from the forest, and that by protecting it they will get more benefits in the long run.  As we left the park, however, we saw the dangers the local communities face too.   Right where we had left our vehicles we found broken glass and empty brass cartridge cases where only two months ago, a band of ‘negative forces’ (as militias are referred to here) ambushed a lorry.   Ten people died and many others were injured and traumatised.   It is not easy living in such insecurity, but some of my oldest friends continue to protect the gorillas and the forest despite the danger.   Their dedication is an inspiration to me – surely they need our support now more than ever?

Read Ian’s previous post here.

The Year of the Gorilla 2009

Dear Friends,

This Gorilla Protection Blog is a collaboration between WildilfeDirect, the Gorilla Organisation, WCS, the GTZ (German Development), GRASP, CMS, WAZA, PASA and Born Free Foundation, as well as other organizations involved in gorilla conservation. The goal uniting these various organisations is to raise as many funds as possible for a selection of important gorilla field-conservation projects.

Gorillas and the forests they live in are under pressure from all sides. Most of the threats are manmade – hunting, habitat loss, mining and war – and some are natural – such as diseases like Ebola. A combination of these threats, if left unmitigated, is a recipe for extinction and will lead to the disappearance of any viable gorilla populations from the wild within only a few decades – less than a gorilla lifetime.

Time is not on our side. This is why the UNEP Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), the UNEP/UNESCO Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) have jointly declared 2009 the Year of the Gorilla. This global campaign raises awareness and educates the public about gorillas and their threatened status, while at the same time raising funds for tangible on-the-ground conservation work. The projects featured here with the kind support of Wildlife Direct have been approved by experts and are of high conservation value. By donating, you can help us ensure that our grandchildren still have the chance to see these awe-inspiring beings in the wild.

The Year of the Gorilla 2009 also supports the decision by the gorilla range states to give the gorillas better protection through a legally binding agreement concluded under CMS. What is needed now is swift and effective implementation of this promising new instrument, and the Year of the Gorilla is a first big step in this direction.

Please go to www.yog2009.org to find out more. And don’t forget to tell a friend!!