Category Archives: Outreach & Awareness

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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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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Gorilla Organization Chairman drops by the Goma office…

Ian and Henry talk gorillas at the Goma Resource Centre

Ian and Henry talking all things gorillas at the Goma Resource Centre

Hi, this is Tuver,

Just a few days ago, the Chairman of the Gorilla Organization, Ian Redmond, came to visit us here at the Goma Resource Centre, in eastern DR Congo.

Meeting with both myself and the country programme manager Henry Cirhuza, Ian was especially interested in learning about the work we have been doing in getting young people interested in conservation. Since he himself got involved in gorilla conservation while still a graduate student – remember, he helped Dian Fossey in her research! – he wanted to know all about our education programmes and how they are helping inspire a new generation of gorilla guardians!

Aside from our education and outreach efforts, Ian was also keen to learn more about what we have been doing to help the communities living alongside the gorilla habitat and how me have managed to keep going despite the recent insecurity.

Henry and I took him to see a store full of equipment we will be using to install solar power in the villages around Mount Tshiaberimu, at the northern tip of the Virunga National Park. Once this is fitted, these communities will have a reliable source of power for the first time, meaning they will be able to study and work well into the night and they’ll also be able to use mobile phones – a real lifeline for rural communities in this part of the world. What’s more, by having power, people will have less need to go into the protected forest for things like firewood and food, which is excellent news for our cousins, the gorillas, living there.

Here are a few pictures of Ian’s visit to the Goma Resource Centre. I hope you like them! And if any of you are ever in Goma, you should drop in and say hello, too…!

Ian and Henry reading maps. Can you spot the Dian Fossey picture...?

Ian and Henry reading maps. Can you spot the Dian Fossey picture…?

Ian inspecting the equipment store at the Goma Resource Centre

Ian inspecting the equipment store at the Goma Resource Centre

 

 

 

Taking to the airwaves to save gorillas – and getting rewarded for it!

Radio head: Here I am picking up my broadcasting award

Radio head: Here I am picking up my broadcasting award

Hi, this is Tuver,

As many of you may know, as well as keeping you up to speed with the Gorilla Organization’s work on the frontline of gorilla conservation through this blog, I also produce and broadcast our own radio show – Cosmos, Our World.

First broadcast in 1999, this is a great way to communicate with people living across eastern DRC, as well as in neighbouring parts of Uganda and Rwanda, and to discuss issues relating to the environment and gorilla conservation in particular. This is a project I’m really passionate about and so you can imagine my delight when I found out that the show had been named as the best programme for education for 2010-2011 by the Kivu Business & Tours Agency. What’s more, I was named ‘Best Presenter’, which is quite an achievement given that there are more than a dozen stations broadcasting here in Goma right now!

This award shows just how well regarded our outreach work is. The judges recognised that we’re slowly but surely transforming the local attitude to conservation by demonstrating to people how, by protecting the gorillas and their habitat, they can also improve their own livelihoods. For example, in recent programmes I’ve talked to representatives of ICCN (the Congolese Wildlife Authority), who told listeners that 30% of the money raised through gorilla tourism permits get put back into communities, while we also broadcast from the Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony in Rwanda, illustrating just how valuable gorillas can be to a national economy.

Now we’ve just started broadcasting eight shows a month, on two different stations, so let’s hope more and more people living on the edge of the gorillas’ protected home come to realise that it’s in their best interest to protect their endangered cousins!

Here’s a few pictures of the radio show in action…

Telling communities about the benefits of gorilla tourism is something I have a real passion for

Telling communities about the benefits of gorilla tourism is something I have a passion for

Getting communities involved with the radio programme is key to its success

Getting communities involved with the radio programme is key to its success

Here I am interviewing rangers working on the frontline of gorilla conservation

Here I am interviewing rangers working on the frontline of gorilla conservation

Gorilla conservation goes pedal powered!

Hi this is Sam at the Gorilla Organization’s Ugandan resource centre. The last couple of weeks have been very exciting for us. We have launched a brand new gorilla consrervation project in Western Uganda – Africa’s very first pedal powered cinema for conservation! This innovative cinema will be showing educational conservation films to school children and communities in some of the most rural villages on the edge of Mgahinga National Park. Prior to the launch of this project, many of the children, and even their teachers, had never seen a film before – and many had never seen images of gorillas.

Here is a photo of the pedal-powered cinema in action. The viewers take it in turns to pedal the bike, which generates enough energy to power the film!

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Madeline Westwood, the director of the Great Apes Film initiative, who is partnering with the Gorilla Organization on this project, and Colin Tonks, the “wonder technician” and inventor of the cinema, came to Uganda from the UK to set this project running.

The first film showings were amazing – at one screening as many as 800 children came along to enjoy the Gorilla Organization’s film. And they were so excited – it was wonderful to see. The bike adds an extra element of audience participation to the screenings and children where queuing up to do some pedaling and power the film!

The children were amazed at what they saw. Some were so interested in the gorillas, and are now so desperate to protect them that they wanted us to make sure that their parents could watch the film too – I have no doubt that each and every one of them went home to tell their families about what they had seen. This is a huge step for gorilla conservation – the more local people who what to protect the gorillas, the more likely the gorillas are to survive long into the future.

As well as providing invaluable conservation education, the bikes provide an entirely clean source of power. No petrol is needed, no electricity is needed and as a result there is no negative environmental impact of showing these films.

Conservation education is now reaching remote communities, villages with no electricity and a whole host of others who have never before been able to see films or access this type of education – for this we are extremely proud.  In the three weeks that the project has been running 11,600 school children, 184 teachers, 110 soldiers and 46 park rangers, all living around the Ugandan gorilla habitats, have seen the films – wow!

Here is a photo of children transfixed by the film and the bike in motion!

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Ian Redmond concludes US lecture tour for YoG

Ian Redmond, Year of the Gorilla Ambassador, has concluded his US lecture and fundraising tour. He started out on the West Coast, speaking in San Francisco, San Diego and the LA area and finished with a press event at the German Embassy in Washington DC.Ian's LA Zoo talk, Photo by Laurel Colton

Redmond’s talk is built around the fact that large mammals like gorillas and elephants are keystone species in habitats that provide ecosystem services like fresh water and clean air for the whole planet. Gorillas fertilize and disperse seeds through their dung, which regenerates the forests. Saving the gorillas will help preserve these ecosystems that directly determine human survival.

He also talked about his own experiences working with gorillas in Africa, showing videos of gorillas in the wild and describing his recent fact-finding mission to the gorilla range states.

YoG Cake, LA Zoo. Photo by Tad Motoyama.

According to Redmond, by 2030, only 10 percent of gorilla habitat will remain free of human impacts. Gorilla populations have had some recovery successes, but their numbers continue to drastically decrease. As YoG Ambassador, Redmond travels the world, talking to politicians, NGOs and addressing the public to promote the conservation of gorillas and to gather funds for projects.

We thank all organisations and individuals who helped to make this tour happen, in LA (see below) and elsewhere!!

Los Angeles Zoo event planning committee. Photo by Tad Motoyama.

YoG Ambassador speaks at Cal State University Fullerton – VIDEO

Ian Redmond, a tropical field biologist and conservationist, spoke about the dangers of decreasing ape populations at a presentation hosted by the Department of Anthropology on Thursday. Several hundred students attended to hear Redmond speak about the importance of ape conservation and their impact on the world. Redmond’s presentation was titled, “Save the Gorillas to Save the World.”

Redmond detailed the impact of gorillas, both currently and if they become extinct, on the world. According to Redmond, by 2030, only 10 percent of great ape habitats will remain free of the impacts of human development in Africa. Only 1 percent of orangutans will avoid the same impacts in Southeast Asia. Gorilla populations have had some recovery successes, but their numbers continue to decrease.

Redmond explained that gorillas are essential to the survival of ecosystems in their home countries, as they fertilize and disperse seeds through their dung, which regenerates the forests. [kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/hGhSQbqKSMo" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]Protecting gorilla habitats preserves forests, which in turn decreases the amount of carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere from a reduced number of trees and the harvesting process. Redmond concluded his talk by stating primates are keystone species in habitats that provide ecosystem services for the whole planet. Saving the gorillas will preserve ecosystems that directly determine human survival.

Read the full article here.

For more information on YoG and the projects you can support through it, go to www.yog2009.org.

Ian Redmond – San Francisco Zoo, WCN and a paddle in the Pacific

Sharp-eyed followers of the YoG Blog  will have noticed that there are a few gaps in the record of my State of the Gorilla Safari across Africa… My apologies for keeping you in suspense but I promise they will be filled a.s.a.p.  In the meantime, after a week packed with UK activities – a succesful YoG lecture at Bristol Zoo, writing some articles and email interviews, thanking all who  sponsored my Great Gorilla Run knuckle-walk, a Born Free Conservation Team meeting and some extreme lawn-mowing (our garden is on a steep hill!) – I got up at 3:00am on Friday to get to Heathrow for a 6.35 Lufthansa flight to SF via Frankfurt (an odd route I know, but Lufthansa kindly donated the flights that made the YoG US lecture tour possible).

San Francisco is on the coast, with only a couple of sand dunes to break the wind that sweeps in from the Pacific. Looking West, there’s nothing but waves all the way to Japan!  The SF zoo staff made me feel very welcome and showed me round the gorilla facility,  where they had recently successfully hand-reared a baby – Hasani, rejected by his inexperienced mother  -  for his first few months, then adopted him out to an un-related female with better mothering skills than his own mother, who now seems quite happy with the arrangement and occasionally plays with him. Sitting by the prison-like steel cages of their indoor quarters, I admitted how hard I find it seeing gorillas (and other animals) in captivity.  We discussed whether wild gorillas ever rejected their young — it has never been observed, but not only do wild infants benefit from their own mother’s undivided attention for the first four years or so of their childhood, they then get to watch their mother and other females with their babies and to practice their parenting skills by borrowing babies once they are old enough to venture out of their mother’s protective embrace.

San Francisco Zoo

It was amazing to see how Hasani’s adopted mother cared for him, and kept him clear of the silverback’s displays – he was stressed by my presence so we adjourned to the public viewing area outside, but he knew we were there and strutted across the grass and rocks blowing raspberries, which was his habit when tense I gathered.  The question of the ethics of keeping such intelligent animals in captivity will be debated passionately for many years to come, but the one thing that both sides of this debate recognise is that we don’t have the luxury of that many years to halt the decline in most wild gorilla populations. 

Silverback Western Lowland Gorilla at San Francisco Zoo - Photo Ian Redmond

This is why the YoG focuses on conservation of gorillas in their natural habitat, and why more than 100 zoos around the world are through WAZA holding YoG events to raise funds for priority projects. These projects all aid in the implementation of an  Action Plan under the CMS Gorilla Agreement, a new legally binding treaty between the governments of countries with natural gorilla populations.

The SF Zoo event was a lecture and about 50 gorilla enthusiasts ignored the glorious Autumn sunshine to gather in the education centre to hear about the SoG Safari and how trees that grew from seeds dispersed in gorilla poo (the kids always love this bit!) pump water into the atmosphere and create weather systems that travel round the globe and water the crops here in California

Across town at exactly the same time, YoG Patron Jane Goodall was telling two packed halls (one video-linked to the other) of the importance of chimpanzees as well as gorillas and environmental stewardship in general, at the annual Wildlife Conservation Network.  I caught up with her later that afternoon, perched on a stool in the sunshine with a long queue of fans clutching copies of her new book  and graciously chatting to each in turn while a photographer recorded each encounter, providing an inspirational momento that will likely become a family heirloom for every recipient.  Jane asked about last Saturday’s Great Gorilla Run and  I thanked her for sponsoring me and showed her my healing knuckle-blisters (she hadn’t realised I did most of the 7km on all fours).  

YoG Patron Jane Goodall and YoG ambassador Ian Redmond share a laugh. Picture by Tyler Shaw.

We compared schedules (I am always awed by Jane’s energy in the face of an itinerary that would exhaust someone half her age) and found that our paths are next likely to cross at the UN Climate Convention in Copenhagen, where we will both be speaking up for the Gardeners of the Forest and hoping that the next climate treaty that will follow the Kyoto Protocol (which runs out in 2012) will include the carbon in tropical forests.
 
The WCN also brought many other leading conservationists to SF, including Iain Douglas-Hamilton, fighting to Save the Elephants, Claudio Sillero, fighting to save the Ethiopian wolf, John Hare, fighting to save the Bactrian camel, Isobel Lackman fighting for the orangutans of Borneo, and Gladys Kalema, flying the YoG  flag and seeking support for Conservation through Public Health.  Mingling with this stellar display of heroes of the planet were hundreds of generous donors ranging from those contributing by buying crafts made by communities in conservation hotspots to major donors – all brought together by a determination to engage with the problem rather than hope that someone else will do something.

This was my first experience of WCN but I was beginning to see why so many consider it one of the most inspiring and important events in the conservation calendar.

Today I was surprised to find I had a few hours to  myself, so enjoyed a walk along the dark sands of SF beach paddling in the bracing Pacific surf (in the English sense of wading up to your knees, not in the canoe sense) and watching an assortment of avian waders racing the waves and probing for food with their long beaks.  A friend then took me to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass,  the free festival in Golden Gate Park, where the Chieftons had the crowd dancing to Celtic rhythmns, Earl Scruggs the father of Bluegrass celebrated his 85th birthday on stage in a stomping set, and Marianne Faithful sang to an adoring crowd as the sun sank behind the trees. 

Bluegrass festival, San Francisco

Tens of thousands of people politely crammed into the park – we really are the most gregarious primate on the planet – and a great time was had by all.  I wished that some of these musical icons had known about YoG and told the crowd about it, but maybe next year we can persuade the organisers to incorporate the theme of wildlife for the 2010 UN Year of Biodiversity – afterall, bluegrass stems from communities living close to nature, and what better way to celebrate Nature than a free folk festival in the park?   Watch this space…

Ian Redmond’s State of the Gorilla journey is over – but there is still plenty more

Ian is back in the UK, catching up with himself and preparing for his next journey, this time to the concrete jungles of LA, San Diego etc. to fundraise for YoG through a lecture tour.

As the regular reader of this blog will remember, Ian did numerous video interviews and collected other video material. Unfortunately, the files were too large to upload as he went, but we are now receiving them.

One of Ian’s first visits in the Dem. Rep. of Congo was to the Kahuzi Biega National Park, where he interviewed Head Ranger Radar Nishuli on the ever-volatile situation there and on what he thinks of the YoG. Enjoy!

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

Ian Redmond – READY, STEADY, GO – RILLA! The YoG-Jog-Blog

26th September
Knuckle-walking over London’s Tower Bridge in a gorilla suit is quite a novelty, I found today. How to describe it?  Imagine almost as many people in gorilla suits as there are mountain gorillas on the planet (more than twice as many as there are Cross River Gorillas) – no, wait a minute, no need to imagine it – just look up the photos and videos of London’s annual Great Gorilla Run.

Described as the most entertaining charity event on the planet, there was a carnival atmosphere in the City when I arrived towing my gorilla suit in a wheeled bag (yes, I know I should have been collecting donations on the Tube dressed in it en route, but my biggest concern over doing this event was thermo-regulation – whenever I’ve used ape-suits I emerge bright red and drenched with sweat after only a short time, and so I aimed to spend the minimum time possible in faux-fur!  Also, I have a policy of acting only in a species appropriate fashion when dressed as an ape, which is why I felt the need to knuckle-walk rather than run the 7km). 

Ian the gorilla supports YoG

I slipped through the dancing fancy-dress gorillas and quickly attached a Year of the Gorilla banner onto the railings over-looking the crowd, then looked for somewhere to change. No handy telephone box beckoned a la Superman, so behind a marble pillar had to do – it was only minutes to go to the advertised start time.  The inspiration for my outfit was the famous Victorian cartoon of Darwin’s head on an ape’s body, so in addition to the gorilla suit (provided when you sign up to the GGR), I’d acquired a pirate’s beard and a rubber ‘bald head’ like an old-style swimming cap. 

Darwin Ape Cartoon

I’d only tried out the costume the night before, and was disappointed to find that not only did it have an anatomically bizarre rubber chest-piece with breasts and no fur down to the groin, it had no feet.  Everyone else was wearing running shoes, but that didn’t seem right so I opted for bare feet and had brought a bottle of black food-colouring from the cake decoration box in our kitchen to colour my toes. While some of the GO volunteers patted flour on my back (the suit is all black fur, but I fancied being a silverback), I made a mess all over the plaza blacking my feet (it is water soluble, so will soon wash away, honest!) and then I was off, knuckle-walking through the bipedal throng, barely able to see a thing through the tiny eye-slits in the mask.

Jillian Miller, CEO of the Gorilla Organisation, was making a speech with TV presenter Helen Skelton, so I knuckled onto the podium and gave a hug and a chest beat, then the rubber hit the tarmac and we were off.

Quadrupedalism is difficult for humans because of our inter-membral index (the ratio of arm-length to leg length) – other apes have longer arms than legs, but our long legs, so good for striding and running, just make our bum stick up in the air when on all fours. Conscious of this, I was trying to keep my legs crouched, taking my weight on the knuckles and swinging myself to one side or the other in a slightly side-ways gait. This worked OK for a few paces at a time, alternating with straightforward quadrupedal walking, but the limited vision was a problem.  Mostly I was seeing bits of pavement, or looking up sideways to check for traffic.

Ian in costume with other runners

Then out of the corner of the gorilla-mask’s eye, I noticed some impossibly long legs with no fur at all… two shapely models in hot-pants and high-heels were being photographed (for the Sunday Sport, I later found out – a paper with an unending fascination for the female form).  Just as I took one by the hand and dragged her tri-pedally, my rubber bald-hat popped off and the photographer snapped away as these lovely leggy ladies struggled to stretch the rubber over a bearded gorillas head… I wonder if it made it into the paper?

Behaving like a gorilla can be a lot of fun on a sunny Saturday in London.  It wasn’t too long before the other six hundred and twenty or so gorillas had overtaken me, and so for most of the course I had the street to myself.  Hence, many tourists, passersby and one policewoman had their day enlivened by a Darwin-bearded gorilla.  You have to be careful with kids – some can be reduced to tears if you approach (which rather defeats the object), but others you can hoist onto your back for a ride.   Swinging from trees and railings, climbing into ice-cream vans, squeezing between courting couples, joining drinkers at out-door tables – the opportunities for fun are endless, and my only rules are that it must be within the gorilla’s behavioural repertoire and shouldn’t cause offense!

Being the last gorilla meant that as I made my way round the course, I rounded up the stewards as I went.  One witnessed me head-butting a pillar on the embankment and kindly walked with me to warn of obstacles and make sure I didn’t take a wrong turning.  I must confess I didn’t do the whole 7km on all fours, but I did do it all in character, so when I evolved a bipedal stance, it was with the kind of arm-swinging swagger I’ve seen gorillas do.  The most painful part was knuckle-walking back over the Thames on the Millennium Bridge (which has a serrated steel surface like a cheese-grater). It was just over two hours when I crossed the finishing line – I’d missed the prize-giving for the best dressed gorilla, etc.,  but there was still someone there to hang a medal around my neck and hand me a banana, a bottle of water and a ‘Grumpy Gorilla’ bar (a fruity cereal snack by one of the sponsors www.grumpygorilla.co.uk).

I got a friend to photograph me hanging under the YoG banner, then removed the mask and emptied the sweat that had pooled in the rubber gorilla-hand gloves…  apart from the not-so-bald pate,  that was probably the point when I most resembled the Victorian cartoon. Usually I don’t like to be photographed half in a gorilla suit, but I noticed Sam of the Gorilla Organization being interviewed and he invited me to join him.  I explained about the YoG and how the gorilla’s fate is tied to Africa’s tropical forests which are of global importance, and only then found that the film crew were also making a series for BBC World on climate change leading up to the Climate Convention in Copenhagen in December.  They had not yet heard anyone speak of the role of tropical forests, so once again serendipity helped get this important message to a wider audience.

Dedication

What are my lasting impressions?  Well, aching muscles and blisters on my knuckles aside, I have to agree with Bill Oddie (who sadly was unwell and missed this year’s event) that the Great Gorilla Run is the most fun fund-raising event in the calendar.  Regular readers of the YoG Blog may recall that I mentioned my intended participation a few weeks ago, hoping that curious browsers would find their way to my sponsorship page (http://my.artezglobal.com/personalPage.aspx?registrationID=281732&LangPref=en-CA ) where they’d be invited to pledge a ‘Darwin’ (the £10 note bears a portrait of Charles Darwin) but alarmingly, right up until last Monday only one person had done so. Once back in the office after the ‘State of the Gorilla’ Safari, I began firing off emails to all and sundry and to my immense relief, by Saturday the total pledged was £1,100 – just behind the top five fund-raisers.  If you had intended to sponsor me, it is not too late – and one of the projects to benefit will be the fuel-efficient stoves that are listed in the YoG projects list.  Over to you!!   And many thanks in anticipation…