Meet Regina!

Hi, this is Sam,

DSCN0569Just recently I went to see my college Regina in Kisoro, a town in Western Uganda.  Regina is our Field Officer and an expert when it comes to gardening and teaching farmers about organic sustainable agriculture. Her role is very important as her training allows local communities to grow their own food, which not only enables them to feed their own families but also provides a source of income to farmers who decide to sell their crops.

Regina has been working for our organization for more than 7 years and is very passionate about her job. Over the years she has overseen the training of more than 11,000 farmers, including many reformed poachers, teaching them about the importance of agriculture and its potential to alleviate poverty in Uganda. Her dedication to the job has helped many communities around the Virunga Mountains and has made her a vital and much-valued member of our organization.

Here are a few pictures of here in action, visiting local schools and teaching students how they can grow their own organic crops in a sustainable manner rather than rely on the resources of the nearby forest, which is home to Uganda’s critically-endangered mountain gorillas. The pictures were taken by a young Englishman called Luke, who showed great interest in our work. If you too are ever in Uganda and want to see our projects in action – or just want to say hello – then do get in touch as we’d love to hear from you!

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Strategy meeting in Kampala!

 

Hi, this is Tuver,

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I am currently in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, attending the annual staff strategy meeting of our organization. The purpose of this meeting is to reflect on the projects and achievements of 2013 as well as to plan new and better strategies and projects to save gorillas, for the year ahead of us.

Among the attendees we had our Chairman Ian Redmond and Executive Director Jilian Miller as well as our DR Congo Program Manager Henry, and our Program Managers Emmanuel and Sam who came in from Rwanda and Uganda (see picture above).

It is really exciting to see everybody again and to work together on our objectives for 2014. The determination by my colleges to help, not only the gorillas but also the local communities here in central Africa who suffer poverty, is amazing and makes me look forward to the New Year!

Thank you all for your ongoing support and as always I will keep you updated with the latest news on our work here in Africa.

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News from Mount Tshiaberimu!

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!

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Keeping our gorillas safe and healthy!

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Keeping a good distance between me and my friend!

Hi, this is Tuver,

A few couple of days ago I went to track gorillas at the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, which is located in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park currently holds 9 gorilla families of which 2 are open to tourists, who are always welcome at Kahuzi-Biega as the ongoing tourism aids the conservation of the low land gorillas that live here. However, there are a couple of things we have to consider when tracking them.

Our number one priority when visiting these great apes is to keep them safe and healthy by ensuring we keep the amount of pathogens spread between humans and animals to a minimum – just in case you were wondering why I was wearing a mask! This is also the reason why I kept a certain distance from the gorilla in the picture, as I was in fact following a rule called the 7-meter tracking regulation. This rule is very important as gorillas and humans are very closely related which means the chances of them catching diseases like influenza is very likely if we get in immediate contact with each other. Unfortunately, this is not always preventable as especially baby gorillas are always curious in getting to know tourists and trackers who come to visit them.

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Eastern lowland gorilla at Kahuzi-Biega National Park

 

And now a trustee pops by Goma to say hello…

Paul meets with Henry at the Goma Resource Centre

Paul meets with DRC programmes manager Henry at the Goma Resource Centre

Hi, this is Tuver,

Just a few weeks after we had the honour of welcoming chairman Ian Redmond to this part of Africa, trustee Paul Baldwin and his wife also paid a visit, to see for themselves the work being done to protect gorillas and improve the lives of their human neighbours.

During their trip, the couple went to see mountain gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda – they even managed to see baby Iwacu, our adopted mountain gorilla – and they also visited a number of development projects there and in neighbouring Uganda. To finish off their mini tour of central Africa, Paul and Sarah crossed the border into DR Congo, where they visited the team here at the Goma Resource Centre.

As well as myself, the Baldwins met with Henry, the programmes manager for DR Congo, and together we discussed the current status of the programmes and how the money donated by generous supporters in the UK and elsewhere in the world is being put to good use transforming the lives of thousands of people and so easing the pressure being put on the gorillas’ forest home.

Here are a few pictures of their visit. If you’re visiting this part of Africa any time, we’d be happy to welcome you to the Resource Centre as well – just get in touch before you arrive!

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Paul and Sarah talk gorillas and field projects with Henry

Gorilla Organization Chairman drops by the Goma office…

Ian and Henry talk gorillas at the Goma Resource Centre

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

Hi, this is Tuver,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian inspecting the equipment store at the Goma Resource Centre

Ian inspecting the equipment store at the Goma Resource Centre

 

 

 

Celebrating as poachers give up their snares for good…

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Hi, this is Sam,

As you are no doubt aware, poaching is one of the major threats facing Uganda’s gorillas today. Though nobody goes into the forest to harm mountain gorillas on purpose, younger gorillas in particular can get caught in snares left for small mammals, often with tragic results.

Ever since we started our work here at the Kisoro Resource Centre, we’ve recognised that the main thing causing people to become poaching is poverty. Men and women living alongside the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest often have no choice but to go into the protected area for bushmeat, as well as for firewood, either for their own families or to sell at market. That’s why we set up our sustainable agriculture programme, to give people the chance to make a living without having to depend on the resources found in the forest.

It’s been so rewarding watching people improve their own lives. But nothing has matched the excitement we felt when we succeeded in getting a group of former poachers to join the programme. While these men used to make a living out of illegally entering the forests to lay down snares, now they are learning how to live off the land.

To celebrate this exciting development, we held a special ceremony in Rubuguri County Hall. Here, the poachers handed over their snares to Pontius Ezuma, the head ranger for both the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park here in Uganda. Also present was Gideon Ahebwa, the President’s representative in this region, as well as a number of rangers and community members. As you can see from these pictures, it was a happy and exciting day for everyone involved.

We’re all confident that these men can succeed in transforming their lives, which would be good news not just for them, but for the gorillas who will, of course, have fewer poachers to worry about…

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Hi this is Tuver,

I have been travelling around some of our project sites over the past few weeks to see how people were getting on. Just recently, for example, I visited the Batwa farmers in the UOBDU project.

Since being evicted from the National Park forests in 1991, the Batwa people have struggled with landlessnesmatress pics, low productivity, and a dependence on handouts. The Gorilla Organization has been working to address these issues by giving six Batwa groups opportunities to hire land and cultivate their own crops.

When I arrived on this latest trip, I cannot tell you how pleased I was to see the successes of this project. All six groups had had a successful season, growing 73 sacks of Irish potatoes, of which, 25 sacks were sold, raising UGSH 1,395,000 ($526) for the farmers.

The Nyakabande group had had a particularly prudent season.  Although they grew fewer sacks than the Biizi group (14 sacks compared to 19), they managed to sell more than half by consuming less than almost all other groups.

They had put their profits, along with those from last season, together and purchased 19 new mattresses for their homes (seen in this small picture here). I arrived just in time to witness the deliveries, which were received amongst much joy and the group pledged to redouble their efforts for next season.

As always, it’s good to see the people making good livelihoods outside of the forests, spelling good news for both them and, of course, for our cousins the gorillas who live in peace and thrive.

 

A gorilla vet pays a visit to Mt T…

Odilon in monitoring on dec 2d-1

Here’s Odlion (a member of the GO team) and Dr Eddy checking on the gorillas

Hi, this is Tuver,

As I’m sure you know, the last few months have been tough here for us in DR Congo. Fighting and general instability made it hard for us to carry on working as normal – which is why I’ve not updated this blog for a little while…

But, the good news is that, while times were certainly hard, we never lost sight of our mission, to protect our cousins, the gorillas, and their natural habitat. In fact, right at the end of last year, our colleagues at Mount Tshiaberimu were able to welcome Dr Eddy from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP). The manager of the Gorilla Organization’s project here, Jean-Claude, showed him around the mountain and took him to see the small, but vital, population of eastern lowland gorillas living in this part of the Virungas.

Dr Eddy was also able to see some of our other work. For example, Jean-Claude showed him the education and community development projects that will play a vital role in ensuring these precious gorillas have a long-term future.

Mount Tshiaberimu is rarely free from trouble, but the team here are always alert and are dedicated to carrying on with their work, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Hopefully, with visits from leading figures in the conservation movement such as Dr Eddy, our voice will be even louder as we shout for greater protection for this isolated population of gorillas.

Here’s a couple of pictures of the recent visit that Jean-Claude sent over to me. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on all the latest news from here in DR Congo, hopefully more regularly now that the worst of the insecurity seems to have passed.

A happy new year to all our supporters, wherever you are in the world…

Dr EDY MGVP with Trackers on Dec 3ird

And here’s the team of brave, dedicated rangers who took Dr Eddy to the gorillas

 

Goma is quiet – but for how long?

Hi, this is Sam,

As I’m sure you know, the past couple of weeks have been very difficult indeed for everyone here at the Gorilla Organization, but especially for our colleagues in Goma. Here at the Kisoro Resource Centre in Uganda, we have seen a steady stream of refugees pass our windows as they flee the insecurity across the border.

But this is nothing compared to what our colleagues in DR Congo have seen and heard. They were quite literally scared for their lives – as well as for the lives of their families – when the M23 rebel group took Goma towards the end of last month. While the rebels captured the city (relatively) peacefully, there was still fighting, with rockets fired into the city from higher ground and soldiers from both sides out in force on the streets.

Now, though the M23 soldiers have left Goma itself, still the fear and uncertainty remains. How long will this fragile peace last? When will we be able to work free from fear? For now, we can do little more than wait and see how the situation develops. Fortunately, even at the Goma Resource Centre, our vital work is continuing, though, as I’m sure you can appreciate, not at full capacity. I look forward to writing to you again soon with better news.