Category Archives: Year of the Gorilla

How losing gorillas and elephants changes an ecosystem – VIDEO

Here’s another of Ian Redmond’s YoG interviews, this time with John Kahekwa at the Kahuzi Biega National Park. The park has lost most of its gorillas and elephants to poaching related to coltan mining and the war which started in 1994, and the absence of their ‘gardening’ activities has led to profound changes in vegetation cover and other ecosystem features.

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Go to www.yog2009.org to find out more about the campaign and how to support.

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!

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Click and save gorillas: Vote online now

In just ten seconds online you could help the Gorilla Organization to continue funding a vital project that reduces pressure on precious gorilla forests in DR Congo to preserve the long-term future of gorillas.

Out of nearly a thousand nominations, the UN Year of the Gorilla ‘Jiko Stoves’ project in the area surrounding the Virunga National Park has been selected as one of only twelve finalists in the World Challenge 09 competition.
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Online voters simply have to visit www.theworldchallenge.co.uk/2009-finalists-project04.php and cast a vote for the DR Congo ‘Jiko Stoves’ project. It takes only ten seconds and does not require registration.

The area surrounding the Virunga National Park in DR Congo, home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla, is densely populated, with most families reliant on firewood and charcoal for cooking and heating. The collection of firewood can have a detrimental effect on the gorilla habitat, and is also very time-consuming and physically exhausting for the villagers and children involved.

Partnering with local group AIDE-Kivu, the Gorilla Organization launched the fuel-efficient stove project in 2008, producing and distributing ‘jiko’ stoves which reduce the consumption of firewood and charcoal by at least 75%. Families with fuel-efficient stoves are now using on average just 1.5 sacks of charcoal a month compared to four sacks per month before.

The Director of The Gorilla Organization, Jillian Miller, says “The ‘Jiki Stoves’ project in DR Congo has shown proven success in reducing the consumption of firewood and charcoal – which is a huge threat to the critically endangered mountain gorilla. Winning the $20 000 prize money in the World Challenge competition would fund this vital project for an entire year

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…

Ian Redmond – Peter and the Gorilla

14th September 
Peter Kabi is a 28-year-old farmer with an engaging smile; he has also killed a Cross River Gorilla.  He is one of the hunters being targeted by a WCS project that retrains people who once depended on hunting for a significant part of their income.  Peter chose snail farming as his new way of life, and during my State of the Gorilla Safari visit to Nigeria, he showed me the almost complete building – a low wall with a wooden framework covered in mesh and fly-screen.  The latter is important to keep out army ants that can devastate a crop of snails in a few hours.  

Peter Kabi, ex-gorilla hunter building snail farm, Cross River, Nigeria. Photo Ian Redmond.

I asked him when he killed his last gorilla.  “Two years ago,” he replied.   My mind raced – that was much more recent than I’d expected.
 “Was it a male or a female?”
“A silverback.”
“Did you know there are fewer than 100 gorillas in Nigeria?” I asked. “It doesn’t take long to count down from 100 – maybe you brought the population to 99 or 98.  Did you know that it takes 15 years for a baby to grow into a silverback?”   He didn’t, but he did agree to do a YoG interview which you’ll soon be able to see on this site.

I was keen to hear the story of how and why he killed the gorilla, and after doing YoG interviews with the chief of the village, we adjourned to the bar and I bought a round of drinks. Bit by bit, I teased the story out of Peter.

He first began hunting at 24, using his father’s gun.  His father was the village chief.  He first shot a monkey, then bushpig, porcupine, bushbaby and so on.  Two years ago he was going to the family banana field at about 8.30am and heard what he thought was someone stealing bananas.   He hid behind a tree and watched.  When he saw it was a gorilla, he fired and hit it in the chest.   The gorilla screamed and ran away.  He was using a shotgun with small pellets – not ideal for killing large animals.   For half an hour he waited, shivering with fear and adrenaline, then he cautiously followed the gorilla’s trail.  He hadn’t gone far and when he saw it ahead he re-loaded the shotgun and carefully prodded it with the barrel – many hunters have been killed by wounded animals that appeared to be dead but weren’t.  In this case, the gorilla was dead.  The body was too big for him to move so he cut off a hand to take back and get help.

Theory of mind is the ability to see events from another person’s perspective – it is something we share with the other great apes, elephants and dolphins (and perhaps some other species).  I was struggling to put myself in his shoes, and not think of the gorillas I have known as friends and watched grow up from infancy.  I asked whether his family were pleased or were they anxious because he had killed a protected species?  They were very happy, he said, because not only was this gorilla no longer eating their crops, they now had meat to eat and to sell.   From Peter’s point of view, he was providing for his family.   I asked him who bought the meat.   He said he had sold it to passing motorists on the side of the road – many of them.  
“Did they know it was gorilla meat?”
“Yes.”
“Did any of them express concern that it was illegal?”
“No.”

Clearly we still have a lot to do in sensitising the local population!  I looked him in the eye and sought reassurance that he would never kill a protected species again.  He and everyone else I talked to in Begiagbah (self-styled ‘Land of Heroes’) were emphatic that those days are over.  I wished him luck with his snail farming and we mounted our motorcycle taxis for the muddy ride down to where the WCS 4WD vehicle had been unable to pass.

Begiagbah sign, Cross River, Nigeria. Photo Ian Redmond.

We spent the night at a guest-house build in the 1990s by WWF.   It must have been splendid when new, and the welcome we were given was warm but the house and plumbing are badly in need of refurbishing.  With a little private sector investment in infrastructure and training, this could be a delightful place for tourists and visiting naturalists.  

After supper, we were hosted by Peter Ofre, Chief of Butatong Village for a drop of palm wine and a discussion on gorilla conservation.   He and his village were most interested to hear how gorilla tourism had developed in Rwanda and Uganda, and whilst accepting the need for caution in risking introducing human diseases to such a tiny, fragile Cross River Gorilla population, he hoped tourists would come and enjoy the Cross River NP whether or not the gorillas were habituated.  The idea that the gorilla population must be allowed to recover under total protection before risking habituation for tourism seemed to be accepted, so maybe there is a future for the Cross River Gorilla in Nigeria?   

Peter Ofre, Chief of Butatong Village, Cross River, Nigeria. Photo Ian Redmond.

There is now a coalition of NGOs, including the Nigerian Conservation Foundation, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Pandrillus, Fauna and Flora International, all working with the Cross River Government and the National Park authorities to turn this critical situation around. Their efforts include better protection for the gorillas and their habitat and helping hunters find alternative livelihoods (as well as the afore-mentioned snail farming, training in bee-keeping and sustainable use of non-timber forest products are on offer) – all of which will benefit the communities living around the Cross River Gorilla habitat.

From a wider perspective, the next step is to ensure that Africa’s forests are recognised for the crucial role they play in climate stability and global weather patterns, and that the essential ecological role that gorillas, elephants and other seed-dispersing animals play in those forests is included in the decisions taken under the UN Climate Convention. These animals are not just ornaments – they are the Gardeners of the Forest, and if we value the forest, we must not shoot the gardeners! At least in Butatong, this message seems to be getting through.

Go to the YoG to find out more about the campaign and ways to donate for projects.

Read Ian’s previous post here!

Ian Redmond – Gabon’s Vice-Prime Minister speaks up for gorillas, Redmond puts his foot in it!

Tuesday 8th September
Still hoping for an Equatorial Guinea visa, I was going to take up the offer of an introduction to the Ambassador, but sadly neither of the people who had made this offer could be reached this morning.

On the other hand, Gabon’s Minister for the Environment, Mme Georgette Koko, who also serves as Gabon’s Vice Prime Minister, had agreed to fit me in at short notice before a meeting of the Council of Ministers. The Director-General of Environment showed me and Anne-Marie in to a beautifully furnished office and perched on the plush sofa, I began to explain about the Year of the Gorilla. Mme Koko responded with a long and passionate statement about Gabon’s determination to protect gorillas and their habitat that clearly came from the heart.  “That makes me both happy and sad at the same time,” I said, reaching for my camera-bag. “Happy to hear such passionate support for gorillas but sad that I didn’t get it on video.”

Gabonese parks like Lopé are home to criticallly endangered Western Lowland Gorillas. Photo Fiona Maisels.

There was an embarrassed silence, which the Director-General broke saying, “We can record a message later and send it to you…”  It was only at that moment that I realised he had not been fully briefed on my aim of recording a statement for the YoG website.  Gulp!  Protocol had been breached.  Seeing my disappointment, Mme Koko quickly consented to repeat her statement in front of the camera, which she did eloquently.  The meeting ended well, I thought, but it was made quite clear to me that pulling out a video camera without warning in front of a Vice Prime Minister was not the done thing.  Straight afterwards I wrote to apologise for my lapse and promised to clear the edited statement with the Director-General. Hopefully you’ll see it soon.

We went on to two travel agents and confirmed that there were no flights to Bangui today, and so there was barely time to get a Cameroon visa before catching the last bus north to Bitam, the town near the point where Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon meet.   Libreville does not have a central bus station, so we went from one company depot to another asking if there was still a bus heading north today.  Most leave early in the morning, it seems, and Anne-Marie was sure I’d have to wait until the next day.  As if to emphasise the point, a dog snoozed curled up beneath the back axle of the penultimate in a line of empty mini-buses parked beside a rubbish-filled storm drain. Then, to her surprise and my relief, we found that the last one was almost full and ready to leave.  It was about 3.00pm and they estimated it would leave in half an hour and arrive in Bitam by 11.00pm or midnight.  In the event, it didn’t leave until 6.00pm and it was ten to five in the morning when it finally disgorged the last of its passengers (me) in Bitam. 

During the night drive, I was surprised to overhear snippets of a discussion behind me with the words ‘gorille’ and ‘chimpanzé’ so I turned round to join in. The passengers were debating whether gorillas or chimpanzees were the more ‘mechant’ (a French word which means naughty when applied to children, and fierce when applied to dogs). Having ascertained that this ape debate was a coincidence, and that no-one knew it was the Year of the Gorilla, I set my video to ‘night-shot’ and passed around a torch with some YoG leaflets and photos of me with Pablo, a silverback I’d known since infancy, grooming him as part of my research into gorilla lice (see picture).

During parasite research, Ian redmond grooms silverback Pablo. Rwanda. Photo Lorna Anness.

Jaws hit the floor in a satisfying way, and it reaffirmed my view that such images of human-gorilla friendships are one of the most powerful tools in the conservation education toolbox, despite the fear that they might encourage tourists to want to get too close. As long as the context for such proximity is explained, I think most tourists understand why the 7m rule must be enforced.

The driver kindly dropped me last, near a couple of hotels, and I checked in to a 5,000CFA room for three hours kip.  Of course the one electrical socket was damaged so I couldn’t give my new phone its first charge, but at least charged my own batteries a bit.

Coming soon:  Wednesday 9th September – Last Great Ape in Yaoundé

Read Ian’s previous post here!

Gorilla social networks

We have just learned that the Uganda Wildlife Authority plans to introduce online gorilla tracking as a new initiative aimed at the global demand for conservation tourism.

Gorilla facebook

For a minimum donation of $1, subscribers will be able track the movements of individual gorillas through a custom-made Web site. Strategically placed cameras in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest will stream video footage of gorillas to audiences worldwide.

The service – scheduled to begin this month – will also allow users to “befriend a gorilla” on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

“The project aims to bring attention to the plight of gorillas,” said Lillian Nsubuga, a spokeswoman for the Uganda Wildlife Authority, “and any money raised will be put towards conservation efforts.”

For more on this story go here

Ian Redmond – The journalists are revolting

Monday 7th September – still in Gabon
I was still holding out some hope for an Equatorial Guinea visa. Omar said he had good contacts with the Ambassador, but all day we were unable to reach Omar to arrange a time to go to the embassy; perhaps he was partied out?

Calling a press conference at short notice can often lead to an empty room.  Thanks to the combined efforts of Michael Adande, the Secretary General, and WCS, we managed two TV channels and a reporter from the Gabon Press Agency, plus the information officer from the Ministry.  We were rather late in starting, it is true, but we wanted Michael Adande to be there from the beginning. We gave a bit of background to the Year of the Gorilla but some of the journalists were clearly unhappy at being kept waiting.  

Once the three speakers were ready, I was introduced and explained why I had originally hoped to hold this press conference at the Baraka Mission in Libreville.  It was there, in 1847, that an American missionary named Thomas Savage visited the resident missionary, Rev. Wilson.  He collected the type specimen of the gorilla which he co-described with Jeffries Wyman, a Harvard anatomist, in the December 1847 edition of the Boston Journal of Natural History. 

Gorilla and elephant skulls. Poaching is the most urgent manmade threat to gorillas in West and Central Africa. Picture Ian Redmond.

I stressed Gabon’s important historic role in this regard, as well as outlining what efforts are being made now to ensure that the home of the first gorilla to be described by science continues as a range state for the species…The Secretary General gave the Government’s strong support and ended with what might become a catch-phrase, “2009 is the International Year of the Gorilla, but in Gabon, every year is the Year of the Gorilla!”

I’d been advised that journalists attending a press event are accustomed to receiving something towards their expenses, and Anne-Marie had picked up some ECOFAC Year of the Gorilla T-shirts, so after the cameras had been packed away we handed each person an envelope with a modest contribution plus a T-shirt.  

A few minutes after we thought they had left to file their stories, the one who had been most put out by being kept waiting came back. The journalists’ revolt involved returning all the envelopes and T-shirts and complaining a lot about being given pocket money like children. Clearly this did not bode well for getting our message out to the people of Gabon, so I asked what the normal rate was.  The answer was about five times what I’d given them, but after some discussion they settled for 3 times the original amount per channel rather than per person. Honour was satisfied and although I felt like I’d just been mugged, the press conference should be broadcast the next day.

That evening I was contacted by a local NGO named PROGRAM.  We agreed to meet over supper and I learned of their project to develop a community-friendly eco-tourism project in Moukalaba Doudou National Park.

Find out more about the YoG-supported conservation projects and other YoG fundraising activities here!

Read Ian’s previous blog here!

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!

Ian Redmond – On the Road to Lopé

Saturday 5th September                      

Gabon was resuming normal activities after the disputed elections and there was a football match in the afternoon. The only train to Lopé and Franceville had left the night before and the local travel agent said there were no flights to anywhere I needed to go.  

I had a morning meeting with the dynamic Michael Adande, Secretary General of the Ministry of Tourism and National Parks. Then we were joined by Omar Ntougou, who I’d last seen at the Entebbe workshop on ape health. He’d said he would help and he did by kindly offering to drive to Lopé with me in the afternoon.  

Given that most of the population was settling down to watch the big match, this seemed above and beyond the call of duty, but we made some preparations, bought a few supplies and set off, with the car radio tuned to the commentary.  Cameroon won 2:0, but that didn’t seem to dampen the spirits in the car, where Omar and Joel sang and played air guitar (and keyboards and brass section) to keep awake.  

Gabon is home to many Western Lowland Gorillas. Though still comparatively numerous, their decline has been sharp and they need protection, especially from poaching and Ebola. Pic Ian Redmond.

It was after midnight when we pulled up outside the warden’s house.  I would have quietly found our accommodation but Omar knocked on the door until the warden emerged rubbing his face sleepily.  “Do you know it is the UN Year of the Gorilla?” asked Omar enthusiastically.  “Yeah, I’ve seen the T-shirt!” came the laconic reply.

My host for the night was agronomist Michael Allan, who served us all a delicious midnight feast and chatted over a whiskey into the early hours.  He had been hired by ECOFAC, an EU-funded programme that is developing selected protected areas across Central Africa, and had been wrestling with the difficulties of keeping local road repairing contractors on schedule. Gabon’s National Park network is still in its infancy, having been created only in 2002, but Lopé has been receiving ECOFAC support and attracting visitors for years.

Read Ian’s last post here!