Category Archives: Mountain Gorillas

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.

Iwacu2

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.

Video News from the Volcanoes National Park!

Hi, this is Tuver,

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 16.31.47

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.

Celebrating as poachers give up their snares for good…

poachers pic

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…

farmers pic 2

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Celebrating the success of the Wildlife Clubs in Uganda

Pupils planting trees outside one of the schools where the Wildlife Club takes place

Pupils planting trees outside one of the schools where the Wildlife Club takes place

Hi this is Sam,

As you might know, we are celebrating the 12th anniversary of one of our key projects in Africa, The Wildlife Clubs in Uganda. It’s been 12 years since The Gorilla Organization joined forces with this project, which is aimed at educating young people on environmental issues.

The purpose of the partnership with the Uganda Wildlife Authority was to help spread the wildlife clubs in schools that surround the habitat where the gorillas live as well as to raise awareness on the importance of preserving the gorilla and its habitat.

Ever since this project was implemented, specifically in Southwest Uganda, hundreds of activities have taken place including: planting trees and vegetables in school gardens, arts, crafts, music, drama and dance lessons, screening of wildlife documentaries, discussions and competitions. It’s amazing to see the excitement of all the pupils of the clubs that have joined us as well as the development they have raised on environmental awareness, including the protection and conservation of gorillas!

So far, 78 Wildlife Clubs have been established in Uganda and more than 3,000 pupils have become members. Also members and teachers have had the opportunity to take part in excursions to the Mgahinga National Park, where they gained first-hand experience of conservation in action.

I will keep you posted with more amazing news from this project!

Social activities to raise environmental awareness on the pupils

Social activities to raise environmental awareness on the pupils

The excitement and joy of pupils after having their session

The excitement and joy of pupils after having their session

Being a gorilla for a day

Can you spot me in the photo?

Can you spot me in the photo?

Hello this is Emmanuel,

I am the Gorilla Organization’s Rwandan Programme Manager.

In just over a month, The Gorilla Organization will be holding their biggest fundraising event of the year: The Great Gorilla Run. It’s going to be the 10th year and the excitement is taking all over London more than ever where hundreds of people dress up as gorillas and run around the city to raise money for our projects out in Africa. The money also goes directly to save our lovely gorillas in the wild.

A few 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 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.

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 behaviour 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’t 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 I collected £75 in my bucket during the run!

It was definitely the greatest experience in my life and I’m looking forward to do it again. Hopefully next time I do it I will see you around there.

 

On 22nd of september gorilla runners will run 7km for our gorillas

On 22nd of september gorilla runners will run 7km for our gorillas

 

Keep your distance, gorilla!

Visitors at one of the national parks in Africa where gorillas live

Hi, this is Tuver,

When tourists have the opportunity to visit gorillas in the wild they are understandably very keen to have really close contact with them, and some of them would like to approach them as close as they can. But there are a few considerations to bear in mind regarding the proximity between gorillas and humans.

For example, did you know that the closer humans are to gorillas the higher are the chances that pathogens can be spread between humans and animals? Well, to prevent this there is the 7-metre gorilla tracking regulation which basically  aims to keep a minimum distance of 7 metres at all times from the gorillas.
It’s very important to observe this regulation because gorillas are really so very similar to us and are sensitive to catch some diseases from humans very quickly. That’s why it’s very important to observe this regulation. According to a recent study by The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project the second greatest cause of gorilla mortality is disease, specifically respiratory diseases and it’s possible for a single tourist out of the thousands that annually visit the National Parks to pass pathogens, like influenza, to the gorillas.
 It’s a mistake when tourists are allowed to get pictures close to the gorillas and unfortunately this situation happens regularly, since the rule can be quite hard to enforce, especially with curious infant gorillas or enthusiastic tourists. But, it  is important to follow and stick to this regulation to protect not only the present but the future of our gorillas living in the wild in Africa.

As another tourist at The Virungas National Park I keep my distance from the gorillas

No summer tourism for the Virungas National Park

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

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

Hello, this is Tuver,

Unfortunately the situation at the Virungas National Park here in DR Congo still doesn’t look very good. As you might know, the last couple of months have been very difficult since a militia called M23 occupied the territory, threatening the security of the mountain gorillas living in the park.

The situation has degraded further now since the Mountain Gorilla Sector not only remains occupied by the rebels but also since last week the militia has been in control of the town of Bunagana, located at the border between Uganda and DR Congo. This place is one of the main entry points to the park so it makes the situation even more difficult.

All of these problems suggest the outlook for the rest of this summer is far from good and this is having a devastating impact on the fragile but precious tourism industry here. The authorities at the Virungas National Park have already cancelled all the trips for this month and for August and the situation will be reviewed until the 20th of July.

I will keep you posted regarding the decision the authorities take for the coming months. In the meantime, I can only hope the situation gets better, especially for our gorillas living in the park.

Tourists watching gorillas in the wild

Tourists watching gorillas in the wild

Enjoying the celebrations at Kwita Izina 2012

Attendees interested in knowing more about the organization

Attendees were keen to learn more about the Gorilla Organization

Hi, this is Tuver,

Along with the main gorilla-naming ceremony, a number of exciting events took place during the last week as part of Kwita Izina. For example, a day before of the giving of the names, in a ceremony called Igitaramo, attendees ate and shared corn with the communities living along the Volcanoes National Park – a great way to get everyone involved in the celebrations!

The naming ceremony of baby gorillas was not only reserved for people living near the Volcanoes National Park and other tourists, but it was also an opportunity for the different organizations that support conservation to share information and news.

An exhibition was organised at the Kigali Serena Hotel to showcase  the efforts and hard work of several NGO’s. The main focus was on sustainable tourism for a greener economy. Different exhibitors had the opportunity to present initiatives that emphasized improving energy efficiency so as to enhance the community livelihood, ecotourism for economic growth and conservation, and other technologies.

On this occasion, The Gorilla Organization had the privilege of showing the technology of solar electrification produced by illiterate women – our incredible Solar Sisters! This project was highly appreciated by the audience and it made it one of the most visited stands during the two days that the exhibition lasted. Ms. Rica Rwigamba, head of conservation within Rwanda Development Board, highlighted the activities that the organization has promoted and developed for the gorillas and the local communities in the past 20 years of its foundation.

Here are a few pictures from that exhibition so you can see for yourselves just how interested people were in our work…

Rica Rwigamba very keen to know more about our activities

Here's Rica Rwigamba of the Rwanda Development Board learning all about our work

The Gorilla Organization's stand was one of the most visited during the exhibition

The Gorilla Organization's stand was one of the most visited during the exhibition

Attendees at the Igitaramo ceremony

Attendees eating locally-grown corn at the Igitaramo ceremony