Category Archives: Uncategorized

Back to work on Mount T

JC visiting his gorilla friends on Mount T

Hi, this is Tuver,

If you’ve been reading this blog, or even reading our ‘Digit News’ newsletters, you’ll know that Mount Tshiaberimu has not been a peaceful, happy place over recent months. In fact, Jean-Claude, who is the manager of our conservation project here, tells me he struggles to remember a time when he was able to carry out his important research without feeling under threat.

But JC is as determined as ever to make sure the project carries on as well as is possible. He was recently joined by a team of rangers from nearby Mutsora. With their support, he was able to go into the forests to look at the Kikyo patrol post, which was destroyed by Mai Mai militia way back in 2011. Sadly, given ongoing insecurity, as well as funding issues, the patrol post has yet to be restored, so the patrol came across quite a sad sight.

As you can see, however, the long, tough trek up Mount T was not in vain. The patrol were treated to an encounter with Mukokya, the blackback son of missing Tsongo. They were happy to report that he looks very strong and they are confident he will soon become an impressive silverback (male gorillas get their silverbacks when they are around 12 years old).

With Tsongo still missing (and, sadly, the team here fear the very worst for him), this is encouraging. Hopefully the ‘Mountain of Spirits’ as it is known locally, will soon have the strong leader it needs to protect its precious gorilla population from threats posed by poachers and militia.

Here are some pictures taken on the patrol…

May blog post pic 2

Coming across just one of the many snares set by poachers in the forests

May blog post pic 3

The team had to walk a long way, through tough terrain, on this patrol

May blog post pic 4

Arriving at the Kikyo patrol post, which was destroyed by rebels in 2011

Communities discuss the future of Virunga National Park

Hi, this is Tuver,

Communities living on the edge of the Virunga National Park understandably have a strong interest in ongoing conservation efforts here. After all, some of them are involved in the day-to-day management of the protected area, and many more are keen to see the region benefit from a strong and sustainable agricultural sector and the growth of gorilla tourism. At the same time, however, there are those who would like to exploit the rich natural resources of Africa’s first World Heritage Site.

These contrasting views were aired at the second forum on the management of preservation of the Virunga National Park, organised by the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) and held in Goma on May 14. At this meeting, I listened with interest as community representatives, government officials and representatives of several NGOs debated ways of limiting local dependence on the park as Julian Paluku, North Kivu district’s minister for agriculture, chaired proceedings.

Though the discussions were complex – and sometimes heated! – it was generally agreed that ongoing dialogue between local communities and the authorities will be crucial in determining the long-term future of the park. Good communication between all of the varied stakeholders, then, will be key to safeguarding the forest home of the critically-endangered gorillas for generations to come.

Here are some pictures I took at the forum, and I’ll be sure to keep you up-to-date with developments here in eastern DR Congo….

Forum blog post Pic 3

Several international NGOs, including the Gorilla Organization, attended the forum

Several international NGOs, including the Gorilla Organization, attended the forum

Open and honest dialogue will play a key role in protecting gorilla habitat

Open and honest dialogue will play a key role in protecting gorilla habitat

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.

Great Apes Legislation Subject of Congressional Hearing

I was directed to this piece of refreshing news from our good friend Christine C and I believe you’d also be happy to read it.

George Miller’s House Member Office (D-CA-07) posted a Press Release on January 27, 2010 | 1:34 pm (re-posted on GovNe.ws)

Rep. Miller’s Great Apes Legislation subject of Congressional Hearing
Obama Administration strongly supports Miller Bill
Wildlife groups call the bill “critical” to saving great apes from extinction

WASHINGTON, DC – The Obama Administration and several wildlife conservation groups today urged Congress to pass U.S. Rep. George Miller’s (D- Martinez) legislation to reauthorize federal aid to help conserve great ape populations around the world.

Miller introduced the Great Ape Conservation Reauthorization Amendments Act of 2010, H.R. 4416, in early January to reauthorize federal funding for international conservation efforts of gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and other great apes. Miller’s bill was the subject of a hearing today before the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife.

“Great apes are our closest non-human relatives on the planet, but the threats they face from people are all too real,” Miller said. “We have seen the devastation of wild primate populations throughout Africa and Asia. Since the authorization of my great ape bill ten years ago, our relatively small federal investment has been matched by significant local and private funding, boosting efforts to save gorillas and other great apes. We must reauthorize the program to enable these successful programs to flourish.”

“The Great Ape Conservation Act provides an excellent example of how to produce focused and efficient means to support the conservation of species that are ecologically important and aesthetically invaluable to the American public and people around the world,” said Jane Lyder, the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Department of the Interior in her testimony before the Congressional panel. “The Administration strongly supports H.R. 4416.”

Regarding the Great Ape Conservation Act, Sally Jewell Coxe, the President of the Bonobo Conservation Initiative said in her testimony: “I can’t imagine what we would have done without it or what the prospects would be today for bonobos and the other great apes had it not been for the critical, catalytic, and timely support GACA has provided … Without intensified efforts to protect them, great apes including bonobos may be extinct in the wild in a generation. The Great Ape Conservation Act is critical to prevent this tragedy. ”

Miller authored the original legislation in 2000 to provide federal funding through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) for international great ape habitat conservation efforts, primarily in Africa and Asia.

The FWS Great Ape Conservation Fund has provided millions of dollars in federal matching grants to protect rare and threatened primates – including gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and other great apes. In 2009, the FWS awarded funds to 59 projects, many in African and Asian nations. Over $4.2 million was granted by the FWS, leveraging and additional $4.9 million from other organizations.

Miller is a long-time animal rights and conservation advocate and a leader in Congress on education, labor, the economy, and the environment. Miller is also the author of the Protect America’s Wildlife Act (PAW Act), legislation to protect wolves and other wildlife from the illegal and inhumane practice of airborne hunting.

More information about the Great Ape Conservation Fund can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/international/DIC/species/great_apes/great_apes.html

UN envoy berates Nkunda for breaking ceasefire

Although the ICCN has been able to return to the Gorilla sector of the Virunga National Park and initiate a census of mountain gorillas, the political situation and humanitarian situation remains serious. Refugees are being moved by the UN Peace keeping force MONUC from Kibati camp to Mugunga camp west of Goma, moving them away from the conflict frontline for their own protection.

On the political front things seem to be deteriorating. The UN Special envoy, president of Nigerial Olegusun Obasanjo met for a second time with Nkunda yesterday but the visit had not provided any “clear answers” on how to move forward, said Bertrand Bisimwa, spokesman for Nkunda’s National Congress for the Defense of the People, or CNDP.

According to Bloomberg website, the former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, who is accompanying Obasanjo said that direct talks were unlikely. In response, the CNDP has reiterated a threat to directly confront the government and go to war if the government doesn’t agree to talks outside the so-called Amani program.  

Nkunda has publicly requested direct talks with the DRC president, Joseph Kabila but Kabila has insisted that any talks are held within the Amani process which Nkunda agreed to in January this year.  Amani, which means “peace” in Swahili, was set up by the government after a January cease-fire deal between the government and more than 20 armed groups, including the CNDP.

During the meeting on Saturday, Obasanjo apparently berated Nkunda for breaking the cease-fire last week when he initiated a new offensive along the border with Uganda which saw over 30,000 refugees cross at Ishasha.  In the last week Nkunda’s rebels captured two border posts and a town last week.

According to this article on Associated press Obasanjo is disappointed with Nkunda’s behaviour but Nkunda continues to insist that the cease-fire does not apply to foreign forces and said he will continue to protect ethnic Tutsis from Hutu fighters who fled to Congo from Rwanda after that country’s 1994 genocide.

Volcano erupts but gorillas ok

BBC report today

 Lava from a volcano in a sparsely populated area of the Democratic Republic of Congo is threatening rare chimpanzees, wildlife officials say.

Mount Nyamulagira, 25km (16 miles) from the eastern city of Goma, erupted at dawn on Saturday, sending lava into the surrounding Virunga National Park.

About 40 endangered chimpanzees and other animals live in the area.

But the country’s famous critically endangered mountain gorillas are said to be safe as they live further east.

Nyamulagira volcano eruption congo

Innocent, Director of the southern sector of the Virunga National Park says the chances of the lava reaching people is remote and provides further news on the Virunga blog .

the World Challenge competition voting has now closed

Thank you to everyone who voted for the Gorilla Organization in the World Challenge competition for grassroots conservation. Voting has now closed.

A stream of local people came to the Resource Centre in Goma to cast their online vote for the fuel-efficient stove project in DR Congo, which has reduced charcoal consumption in areas near gorilla habitat.

The competition also generated lots of interest on worldwide websites, blogs and social networking sites, with lots of people voting for the project.

More awareness of the issues affecting the gorillas and the people living around the Virungas was also generated by television coverage of the project after it was broadcast on the BBC World News channel.

Unfortunately the ‘Jiko Rescue’ project was not one of the top-three winners, but to be chosen as one of twelve finalists out of nearly a thousand nominations is still a notable achievement. The winner of the World Challenge will be announced at an awards ceremony on 5 December.

Thank you to everyone who voted for the Gorilla Organization. If you would like to buy someone a ‘Green Gift’ for Christmas, you can purchase a fuel-efficient stove for a villager in DR Congo for only £15 ($25) at our online shop: www.gorillas.org/Shop

Meeting Titus just days before he died

Dear Friends,

This is a letter we recieved from Rusty Stewart about meeting Titus, the silverback made famous by Dian Fossy in Gorillas in the Mist.

SEPTEMBER 21, 2009

When I was at ORTPN getting my gorilla trekking permits and it was taking a long time I had an opportunity to watch a documentary about Titus, the Silverback who died last week at the age of thirty five.  He had a very interesting and tumultuous life which included being orphaned at a young age, dodging poachers successfully for years, surviving the Rwandan Genocide by moving to the very top of  Visoke to avoid rebels bent on killing gorillas, surviving the death of Digit,  the leader of his group and one of Dian Fossey’s favorites,  living in an all male group for several years and  finally taking over the group  and leading it successfully for years fathering many new babies.  He seemed to have a philosophy of life that made him charismatic and in my view very human.

With thoughts of Titus on my mind, I set off for Ruhengeri to start my gorilla trek. The trek starts at 0700 and the excitement in the folks was palpable. Each group has 8 people and our group set out with our guide to find our gorilla group.  After a short ride over a very rough road we de-camped. It was a tough 3 hour climb, steadily uphill, through a bamboo forest.  I would be lying if I suggested it was easy.  As the oldest in my group, I had a porter who helped me and I often needed his help.  Then we stopped, left our bags, poles,etc, walked on another hundred feet and there he was… our Silverback, sitting like a Buddha..

Mountain gorilla rwanda Titus

We were all mesmerized at how close we were to him.

Titus mountain Gorilla Rwanda

Our guide was able to speak gorilla which was great so if there was movement he could tell us whether we should be afraid or not.  Other gorillas started to arrive and we enjoyed a real show.  Three young gorillas and two mature females.

Titus mountain Gorilla Rwanda

Titus mountain Gorilla Rwanda


The young were intent on entertaining us, but when they came too close to us the Silverback would give what sounded like a small cough and they would run back up to him.

Too soon, our hour of excitement was over and we hiked back down the mountain.

What a thrilling experience, and certainly worth every penny!  I’ve included some of my favorite pictures so you can see how wonderful they are to see in their natural habitat.

I am just finishing Farley Mowat’s book Virunga, The Passion of Dian Fossey (Seal Books McClelland-Bantam, Inc, Toronto)  I am in I recommend it to anyone interested in her struggle to protect the Mountain Gorilla from poacher, and the encroachment of the world.

A word about why I’m in Rwanda right now.  My husband chose to spend a month here teaching anesthesia, as part of an ongoing project sponsored jointly  by the Canadian Society of Anesthesia  and  the American Society, in the university hospital programs in Kigali and Huye.  I have accompanied him and have done some volunteering for Vision Finance International the micro finance arm of the charity World Vision. We have also been accompanied by a young anesthesia resident from the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. This  project has been going on for almost two years now and is being very well received.

Today my two adult children are here and they left in the last hour for Ruhengeri to have their own gorilla adventure.  Later all of us will leave Rwanda for Kenya and a Safari.

Titus mountain Gorilla Rwanda

Thank you Rusty for sharing this story with us. Rest in Peace knowing that you changed the world Titus. 

Paula

Republic of Congo: Up To Two Gorillas Killed for Bushmeat Trade Each Week

In the Kouilou region of the Republic of Congo, up to two gorillas are being killed each week, an undercover investigation by the conservation group Endangered Species International has revealed, exposing the scale of gorilla poaching in the country. This story was given world audience by the BBC Earth News portal. It is reproduced here below.

Scale of gorilla poaching exposed

By Jody Bourton
Earth News reporter

An undercover investigation has found that up to two gorillas are killed and sold as bushmeat each week in Kouilou, a region of the Republic of Congo.

The apes’ body parts are then taken downriver and passed on to traders who sell them in big-city markets.

Conducted by the conservation group Endangered Species International, the investigation helps expose the extent of gorilla poaching in the country.

It fears hundreds more gorillas may be taken each year outside the region.

The group began its investigation by going undercover, talking to sellers and traders at food markets in Pointe Noire, the second largest city in the Republic of Congo.

Over the course of a year, investigators visited the markets twice a month, recording the amount of bushmeat for sale.

“Gorilla meat is sold pre-cut and smoked for about $6 per ‘hand-sized’ piece. Actual gorilla hands are also available,” says Mr Pierre Fidenci, president of Endangered Species International (ESI).

“Over time we got the confidence of the sellers and traders. They gave us the origin of the gorilla meat and it all comes from a single region.”

The team then undertook an expedition to travel to the source of this meat, a forested area called Kouilou, which lies along the Kouilou River around 100 to 130km from Pointe Noire.

Using the same boats that ferry the gorilla meat downriver to the city, the investigators travelled upstream, taking photographs and recording interviews with villagers which revealed the extent of the gorilla poaching.

The investigators also undertook field surveys to ascertain the size of the population of wild western lowland gorillas living in the region.

“According to interviews and field surveys, we think we may have about 200 gorillas left in the area,” says Mr Fidenci.

“But we estimate that 4% of the population is being killed each month, or 50% in a year. It is a lot.”

The poachers particularly target adult gorillas of reproductive age which carry the most meat.

With such heavy hunting, the researchers believe gorillas could disappear from the region within a decade.

“During our mission we observed killing of gorillas in the wild. In less than one week and a half in one particular area we had two adult gorillas killed for their meat,” Mr Fidenci says.

All the meat appears to be consumed in Pointe Noire rather than being exported.

“The gorilla meat goes to the nearest, biggest and most profitable place,” says Mr Fidenci.

“Our study has disclosed the horrific scale of the endangered species market in the Republic of Congo, especially endangered gorillas sold as meat.”

Overall, ESI estimates that at least 300 gorillas are sold to markets each year in the country.

Crosshead

Western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) are one of two subspecies of Western gorilla, the other being the Cross River gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli).

Western lowland gorillas are considered to be critically endangered, as their population has fallen by more than 80% in three generations.

Between 100,000 and 125,000 western lowland gorillas are thought to survive across their entire geographic range which spans several countries.

But the dense and remote forest habitat in which they live often makes it difficult to reliably estimate the population size.

Mr Fidenci hopes to go back to Kouilou to find out more about the remaining gorillas living there and to find a way to conserve them.

“We intend to stop the killing in the area by providing alternative income to locals and working with hunters not against them. We hope to conduct conservation awareness with educational programs with other NGOs and to create a gorilla nature reserve.”

“We need to tackle the problem where it starts, right there where people and gorillas live.”

Currently, little is done in the country to prevent the poaching of bushmeat, Mr Fidenci says.

“Enforcement does not exist. Even though there are existing laws which protect endangered wildlife against such activities.”

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.