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!
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.
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.
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.
Hi, this is Sam,
Just 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!
Hello, this is Jean Claude,
I recently went to Mount Tshiaberimu, a hidden corner of the Virunga National Park in eastern DR Congo, to monitor the few remaining gorillas in the area and happened to come across the silverback Katsavara who has not shown himself or his family in a while.
Katsavara is not too keen on meeting humans and has been quite aggressive toward some of the rangers in recent encounters. I guess in a way his behaviour is understandable as he is trying to protect his family since the security situation at Mount Tshiaberimu has not been the best in years. The constant fighting between military and rebels in the area – let alone the horrible act of poaching – has not only been of great danger to the gorillas but also to our local staff, and since Katsavara only has a handful of family members left he feels even stronger about protecting them.
Lucky me, I had my colleague Odilion’s camera with me, which allowed me to take the first pictures of Katsavara in 3 years from about a 100m distance. His family was nowhere to be seen but we are glad that we at least got a glimpse of the old silverback and found him safe and healthy, and who knows maybe next time I’m lucky enough to capture a new born. Until then I hope you will enjoy the pictures I took of Katsavara!
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
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