Category Archives: Trackers

Introducing Leonidas: Gorilla poacher turned tracker…

Hi, this is Tuver,

At last month’s Kwita Izina, I had the great pleasure of catching up with my friend Barona Leonidas.

Now, if you take a trip to see the mountain gorillas living in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, you may be lucky enough to have Leonidas as one of your trackers. If so, you’ll see first-hand his passion for these critically-endangered creatures, and be able to benefit from the significant wisdom he is only too eager to share with tourists.

However, this has not always been the case. In fact, up until 2007, Leonidas worked as a gorilla poacher, illegally venturing into the protected national park in order to provide for his family. But then he became one of the beneficiaries of the sensitisation projects run by the Rwanda Development Board in partnership with several conservation groups, including the Gorilla Organization. Through these we teach communities and schools all about gorillas, their plight and what can be done to help them.

Not only did Leonidas come to see that working to protect, rather than harm, gorillas would provide a better future for his seven children, he realised that sustainable conservation can help to transform entire communities across the Virunga Massif.

I’m sure you’ll agree that Leonidas is a truly wonderful man. He is still taking tourists into the Volcanoes National Park and helping with research into the gorillas living there on an almost daily basis, despite now being 68 years old. His passion for gorillas is an inspiration to myself and let’s hope his example can persuade many more poachers to embrace conservation in the years ahead.

This is Leonidas, gorilla tracker and the life and soul of the party at Kwita Izina 2011

This is Leonidas, gorilla tracker and the life and soul of the party at Kwita Izina 2011

Trackers work on the very frontline of gorilla conservation in the Volcanoes National Park

Trackers work on the very frontline of gorilla conservation in the Volcanoes National Park

Sad death of Nkuhene

Hi, this is Sam, I am sorry that my first blog post is not good news.

Last week was not a happy week for Uganda Wildlife Authority staff. They mourned the death of Nkuhene – an adult female gorilla belonging to the Mishaya group, led by the silverback Mishaya.Nkuhene Bwindi

Nkuhene’s sad death was the result of a fight between the silverback Mishaya, and his former group Nshongi. Both Mishaya and Nkuhene recently left the Nshongi group but the two groups still share the same range – near Rushaga to the south of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) and North of the Gorilla Organization’s office here in Kisoro.

We think that both the dominant Silverbacks were trying to win the affections of Nkuhene but sadly she got caught in the middle.

It was earlier this year that the Nshongi group divided into two. Park rangers say that that since the split they have witnessed a lot of fighting, and until one of the groups leave the home range, they expect the fighting will continue.

Nkuhene was buried by UWA officials last week at Mukajani in Bwindi National park.

May Nkuhene’s soul rest in internal peace.

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 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 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!

Ian Redmond – Snipping through the trees with the greatest of ease

Sunday 6th September

Lopé Park entrance. Photo Karin von Loebenstein.

Up early to climb Mt Brazza, with stunning views of the River Ogoue and the mosaic of savannah and forest that makes Lopé such a distinctive environment. 

Sunrise at Lopé. Photo Fiona Maisels.

On the way, we came across a pretty little viper soaking up the morning sun with ribs flattened to the path.   Michael adeptly caught his dog, Ben, by the collar and led him past while I filmed the snake’s fascinating threat display, expanding and contracting with air. 

After breakfast, we drove down to Mikongo where the Zoological Society of London has been supporting a forest eco-tourism project for some years.  Comfortable cabins on stilts provide accommodation with a difference, and although earlier attempts to habituate gorillas have been dropped, the guides told me that a few days earlier, a group of tourists had met a group of gorillas and had nice views of the silverback.  I wasn’t so lucky this time (though it was in Lopé that I saw my first wild Western Lowland Gorilla with one of the first groups of tourists to track gorillas here in 1997).

Lopé River. Photo Fiona Maisels.

A short walk in the forest yielded some lovely examples of seedlings sprouting out of elephant dung, but although we found some old gorilla droppings, they happened to be without sprouting seeds.  

Irvingia (bush mango) in elephant dung. Photo Fiona Maisels.

Nevertheless, Justin did a nice explanation of different aspects of forest ecology, and also explained why Lopé guides all snip their way delicately through the undergrowth with secateurs whereas almost everywhere else in the world people use a machete (snipping is quieter and less damaging to the forest).

Prosper Motsaba shows correct use of secateurs instead of a noisy machete. Photo Fiona Maisels.

There was one more treat on the way back to camp;  the guides have been monitoring the behaviour of Rhinoceros Vipers around the camp, and knew where a gravid female liked to rest.  Justin explained that he had seen her there in the same spot daily for eight months, then she gave birth to live young (vipers are ovo-viviparous, where the eggs hatch inside the mother and the young emerge fully formed).

As we were about to leave, a team of men with backpacks, dripping with sweat, filed into camp and dropped their loads.   They had been in the bush for five days collecting faecal samples of gorillas and chimpanzees and agreed to do a joint YoG Blog interview. 

Nice juicy gorilla dung. Photo Fiona Maisels.

We’d finished when one of them added, “Oh yes, and we spent last night just 30m from a group of gorillas!”   I once did the same with a group of Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda, and was surprised to hear the silverback hooting and chest-beating in the midnight moonlight.   These men also reported some late night vocalisations, and I suspect that eventually – when someone finds a way to study gorilla behaviour at night – the current idea that they just build a nest and stay in it from dusk to dawn will prove to be a vast over-simplification.

Grove of Cola lizae trees, dispersed only by gorillas. Photo Fiona Maisels.

The drive back to Libreville took until midnight again, with music keeping the unstoppable Omar singing at the wheel all the way (still accompanied on air guitar and vocals by Joel – who seemed to know the lyrics to every number from rock and roll to hip-hop via soul, blues and syrupy French ballads).   I joined in occasionally from the back seat – especially with the Most-played Record, the Stray Cats’ Rock this town tonight – and wondered what the denizens of the forest made of the passing party…

Read Ian’s previous post here!

August 18 – Role models and a sexy Mountain Gorilla encounter

Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond.

Up at 4.45am! Yahaya was on time too and after hurtling along the winding road in the dawn light, we arrived at Kinigi to find the car park bustling.  The Chief Warden, Prosper, was expecting me and I was assigned to Group 13, along with an American honeymoon couple, an English couple and two blokes from Barcelona.  The throng of people began to form clusters around signs, eight to each group, and the briefings began.  Our guide, Edward, gave a bit of background to the park, the gorilla researchers over the years and began the basics of gorilla etiquette.

Ian Redmond with gorilla watchers, Volcanoes NP, Rwanda. Picture Ian Redmond.

We drove a short way to the park boundary, had another briefing on how to behave in the forest, then squeezed between a gap in the buffalo wall only to meet a couple of buffaloes!  They quickly moved off, but Edward thought it expedient for us to squeeze out of the park again and walk along the outside of the wall a ways. We passed a team of villagers repairing the wall (for free) where an elephant had recently damaged it. When we entered, I was excited to see huge washing-up-bowl-sized footprints in the mud where the elephant’s feet had sunk in deep.  

The path we followed first was familiar to me as an old coffee-smuggling route (bags would be carried across the border in whichever direction led to the highest coffee price at the time) but we soon climbed over a ridge and dropped steeply down into a crater called Kibumba.  

The gorillas were high on the opposite crater wall, and were still feeding when we reached them.  I suggested we wait a while before beginning the allotted hour because trying to watch them while they were travel-feeding on a steep slope would have made for a very difficult time for all.  Everyone was desperate to see their first gorilla, but understood why it was better to wait. When we eventually did climb up towards them, they were still feeding but not moving much, and a couple of infants delighted everyone by posing for the camera then wrestling gently.  

We then witnessed what might be called the ‘bottom line’ of gorilla conservation, and I realised that some of my videos might need a PG rating, because Agashya, the silverback began mating with one of his females.  I can tell you it was an unusual copulation, but I will save the more detailed account of this fascinating behaviour for an exclusive article in BBC Wildlife Magazine at the end of the year.

Mountain Gorillas slide down slope during copulation, Infant watches fascinated - Photo Ian Redmond.

Briefly, they started above the tourist group, then slipped and slithered down the slope, with barely a break in his rhythm, ending up against a thicket 10 metres below, watched closely by the female’s two-year old infant.   It certainly was the climax of our observations… groan… In fact, I thought we might get a few more hits than usual if we include the phrase ‘slithering sex’ in the key words for this blog!

All three eat celery after the mating is over! - Photo Ian Redmond.

We left them enjoying a post-copulatory snack of celery and slithered down the slope ourselves to the crater bottom where everyone recorded their impressions for the YoG Blog. It was a grand day out indeed, but there was one more pleasant surprise in store. 

Gorilla guide Edward is a role model for local kids, Kinigi, Rwanda - Photo Ian Redmond.

Edward had mentioned that some of the boys living around the park HQ were really interested in his work and would often ask him questions. I asked if he could round up a few for a YoG interview and he called over four delightful young lads who clearly saw him as a role model. On camera, two said they wanted to be gorilla guides and two said gorilla vets, and I couldn’t help but rejoice that in Edward, they had a better role model to follow than some…

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.

Ian Redmond: Gorilla Ambassador’s visit to Rwanda

Ian Redmond, YoG AmbassadorIan Redmond, Ambassador for the UN Year of the Gorilla, participated in the International Conference on Gorilla Conservation in Rwanda which preceded the annual Kwita Izina gorilla naming Ceremony. As well as being YoG Ambassador in 2009, he is also Chief Consultant for GRASP, the UNEP/UNESCO Great Ape Survival Partnership, aiming to conserve gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans – all of them endangered species.

During his visit, The New Time’s Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah caught up with Ian Ambassador during the 5th Kwita Izina celebrations. This is a shortened version of the interview.

FOO: Ambassador Ian Redmond, kindly share with readers the key focus areas of your ambassadorial duties.

IR: It is 33 years this year since I first came to Rwanda to work with Nyiramatchabelli – the late Dr Dian Fossey – and I have spent much of my time since then talking about gorillas, writing about gorillas, studying and filming gorillas. Thus, my ambassadorial position has simply given more impetus to the work I already do, but on a higher level. The YoG is an international campaign in support of the new CMS Gorilla Agreement, a legally binding treaty agreed on by the 10 gorilla range states (most people don’t realise that out of nearly 200 countries in the world, only 10 have gorillas, and all of them are in Africa). It is fantastic how many people and organisations have joined in to make YoG2009 a success. All over the world governments, conservation organisations and zoos are organising conferences, fund-raising events, public lectures, gorilla film shows, etc.

FOO: Do your efforts entail fundraising? If so, the global financial crisis has hit what could easily be your targeted sources. So what is your plan B if any?

Kwita Izina Crowd

IR: Of course people all over the world are feeling the pinch financially, and this affects donations to charities, but many small donations can add up to significant amounts. The various partners are welcome to use the YoG to raise funds for gorilla projects, there is a list of priority projects for any donations to YoG itself – see for details. As for Plan B – that should in fact be Plan A – there is a growing recognition that everyone on the planet benefits from the eco-system services provided by tropical forests – carbon storage, oxygen production, climate stability global rainfall and biodiversity – and yet none of us pay for them. More and more decision-makers agree this must change, and the UN Climate Conference to be held in Copenhagen this December will be where we hope the first steps will be taken by including tropical forests in the post-Kyoto climate agreement, which is currently being negotiated. If carbon finance is used to better manage and monitor tropical forests, it will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation, it should conserve endangered species such as gorillas so they continue to play their vital role in the ecology of their habitat.

FOO: How do you intend to ensure a sustainable conservation for Gorillas is as far as creating a balance between tourism and conservation is concerned in Rwanda?

IR: Rwanda seems to be striking that balance very well, with professional guides and calm, habituated gorillas giving an outstanding experience to every visitor who tracks what Dian Fossey used to call ‘the greatest of the great apes’. Our hope is that Rwanda, Uganda and Eastern DRC will be able to share their experiences with the other seven countries – perhaps by sending staff on secondment to work in, say, Gabon or Cameroon or Congo Brazzaville, or by inviting people trying to develop gorilla tourism in those countries to work here for a few weeks and see how you do it. Circumstances are different in each country, so methods will likely need to be adapted to fit, but the exchange of skills and experiences would be very valuable.

FOO: Talk about the projects centred around giving back to the communities living close to gorillas in Rwanda.

IR: The practice of revenue sharing is one of the keys to widespread acceptance by surrounding communities of the need for protecting the Virunga Volcanoes Conservation Area. We should remember, though, that it is not just about tourism dollars! Forests provide many services to everyone just by being there; water is a good example: The Volcanoes National Park is only about half of one per cent of Rwanda’s area, and yet it receives about 10 per cent of the country’s rainfall, and the forest stores that rain and releases it slowly during the dry season. Gorillas disperse the seeds of trees such as Pygeum Africana and so by protecting gorillas you also guarantee the next generation of trees and other plants that rely on them to spread their seeds.

FOO: How would you rate gorilla tracking as a regional tourism attraction?

IR: Over the years I have introduced hundreds of tourists to gorillas; some of them are wealthy people who have sailed up the Amazon, visited Antarctica and watched wildlife all over the world, and yet almost without exception they come down the mountain tired, wet, scratched and muddy saying that meeting gorillas is the best experience of their lives! At the same time, many of them say they were drawn to this region by the gorillas, but they fall in love with the people too – the friendly welcome and fabulous culture is just as important to visitors.

FOO: You are just back from Akagera, I presume to see what Rwandan Tourism has to offer. What is your take about our destination?

IR: It was wonderful to see the Akagera Lodge refurbished, and the views there are world-class. I was saddened a few years ago when Akagera was reduced in size, but from what I have heard of the government’s environmental policies today, the importance of rebuilding eco-systems outside of protected areas is well understood. Our challenge in the 21st Century is to help communities develop and improve their standard of living in a way that is compatible with a healthy planet, and that means adapting our farming methods to become more sustainable, and planting more trees (especially indigenous species, which also support bird and insect life). Tourists who fly increasingly want to offset the resulting carbon emissions; Rwanda is trying to reforest its denuded hillsides – why not put these two facts together and offer every visitor the chance to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from their travel by contributing to a community tree-planting project?

Humba group visited in Gorilla sector

Emmanuel and the rangers have finally returned to the Mikeno sector of the Virunga National Park after 14 months of absence. They are conducting a census of the gorillas and have already met the Humba family. YOu can read about it on the blog

The story has been captured by AFP which is below
Gorilla love conquers war in DR Congo

Agence France-Presse
First Posted 19:05:00 11/24/2008

RUMANGABO — It’s a striking example of how a little love can overcome a whole lot of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Rebels and the government, who have blighted lush Nord-Kivu province with months of fighting, have cut a unique deal to allow armed park rangers back into the famed Virunga reserve to care for its long-neglected gorillas.

The deal will allow ranger Innocent Mburanumwe to be reunited with a bald blackback ape that has occupied his waking dreams for the past 15 months, ever since CNDP rebels took over the eastern gorilla sector of the park in September 2007 and forced the rangers to flee.

“Kadogo’s my favorite, because of all the ones I’ve seen, he’s the only one that is completely bald. Kadogo was born bald! I can’t wait to get up there to see him again.”

Last month, the rangers had to flee again, this time from Rumangabo with their families after the rebels swept through the southern sector of the park.

“I grabbed a kid in each arm and ran,” says Mburanumwe. His wife and six children remain behind in Goma at a camp for the rangers’ families housing 1,500.

Over the next week or so, hundreds of rangers will shoulder their Kalashnikovs and head into the bush from their Rumangabo headquarters to begin a census of the apes, keenly watched by their new rebel minders.

It is a unique situation in the battleground that is Nord-Kivu, the first time that an armed group has been allowed through a front line to go about their business freely.

At least that’s the plan, painstakingly worked out between park director Emmanuel De Merode, employed by the Kinshasa government, and rebel leader Laurent Nkunda at a meeting last week.

De Merode pores over the map of the park and smiles gamely when told he’s like a player in a wicked board game, minefields at every turn, only in his case it’s Congo’s bewildering array of armed groups. There’s the Mai Mai, the Rwandan FDLR rebels, the government forces, and of course, the CNDP, his new partners in conservation.

“It’s a complicated situation and they’re all involved in natural resource exploitation. Now it’s a little simpler because the park is all controlled by the CNDP. But it’s a difficult situation,” said the Kenya-raised Belgian, above the noise of a screaming baboon.

“There’s always controversy. But the message is very clear. We are only here to do park management and we’re doing it because it’s a world heritage site and also to protect the natural heritage which is extremely important to the economic future of the country.”

But ranger Roy Nkoma Musubao said he has no room for fear, particularly of the FDLR, whose illegal charcoal trade in the park poses the biggest risk to the rangers.

“This is my job, my lifeline. Armed groups or not, the job has got to be done,” said Musaboa, 120 of whose comrades have been killed since 1997.

De Merode commands 680 rangers, including many who stayed behind when the rebels advanced, notably Pierre-Canisius Kanamahalagi, a 52-year-old who wears smart city clothes and an air of authority.

“There’s a misconception put out by Kinshasa that the rangers were chased out” says Kanamahalagi. “They were ordered out by the government for propaganda reasons!”

“I’ve been called a rebel by some because I stayed on to look after the gorillas. But the management recognizes I’m a conservationist. Even a hero. A hero,” he says, emphasizing the last word.

De Merode is too diplomatic to say, but the mysterious presence of Kanamahalagi at the park’s headquarters is part of a delicate two-step with his new partners in conservation, the price to pay for being allowed back into the park.

No one can be certain the highly vulnerable apes, which have not been seen for 15 months, have survived unscathed. The park is home to 200 of the world’s 700 surviving great apes.

But Kanamahalagi insists they are safe. “The gorillas we’ve seen are in very good health, apart from their natural habitat damaged by FARDC [army] bombardment recently. Happily it didn’t affect the gorillas.”

Tellingly, De Merode, speaking separately, said such evidence is “anecdotal” and will have to be checked out by qualified personnel.

According to Mburanumwe, the partnership is working so far. “We embraced those who were here when we got back, so the coalition is working.”