Tag Archives: DR Congo

Solar power coming soon to Burusi and Ngitse

The Solar Sisters setting up and installing the first solar panel at the maternity ward of the Burusi health clinic

The Solar Sisters setting up and installing the first solar panel at the maternity ward of the Burusi health clinic

Hi, this is Tuver,

As you know, fighting and general unrest here can make it difficult for us to carry out our work here in DR Congo. Right now, the general insecurity and problems being experienced at Mount Tshiabirimu mean we haven’t been able to transport the solar system equipment we received earlier in the year to the villages of Burusi and Ngitse. As I write this, the equipment is still at Goma but it is secure and all ready to go once the situation gets better.

The good news is that our ladies, the incredible Solar Sisters, already held a demonstration in Burusi to show how the solar panels are put together and how they work. This demonstration was led by the mwami leader of this village and it was a complete success! This first solar panel has already been installed in the maternity ward of the Burusi health clinic, giving this important public health facility a vital source of reliable power.

Once the solar panels and the rest of the equipment arrive in Burrusi and Ngitse, the plan is to solar electrify 50 houses in each of the two villages surrounding Mount Tshiabirimu. This will give local people the opportunity to have electricity in their homes, allowing families to carry on with activities at night and in the early morning.

I would like to thank local radio stations in the area that have been broadcasting programmes explaining the work taking place through this project run by The Gorilla Organization, and I’ll be sure to keep you informed of how this exciting initiative is developing!

The Solar Sisters making sure everything is all ready to electrify the first facility in Burusi

The Solar Sisters making sure everything is all ready to electrify the first facility in Burusi

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.

ICCN wildlife officers jailed for gorilla habitat crimes

Four senior wildlife officers who had been arrested for the July 2007 killings of 5 mountain gorillas have been found guilty of a lesser charge o f destruction of flora and fauna.

Gorilla killings Virunga

There was insufficient evidence to link them to the killings of the gorillas and they were each fined US $ 5,000 and sentenced for 6 months imprisonment for the illegal charcoal trade which is said to have earned each of them up to $15,000 per month. The officers have been suspended from the ICCN.

Honore Mashagiro

The alleged mastermind of the gorilla killings Honore Mashagiro, is on trial. He is the former Director of the Virunga National Park and is accused of involvement in the illegal charcoal mafia and killings of the gorillas in July 2007.

This is the first time that the ICCN has prosecuted it’s own officers and represents a significant achievement towards zero tolerance of illegal activities by the wildlife officers.

Emmanuel de Merode, former CEO of WildlifeDirect, is the current Director of the Virunga Park. All of us at WildlifeDirect applaud Emmanuel and his team for this achievement, and look forward to continued successes in protecting the mountain gorillas.

Animated film about gorillas about to be released

The first ever animated film about mountain gorillas is about to be released it has just been announced  on the All Africa news website.

“Written in Luganda and titled Galiwango: Obulamu Bwe Kisodde, (The life of a Gorilla), the film aims to sensitise the public about the plight of mountain gorillas in Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda.

The film creater, US-based artiste Solomon Jagwe, relies on his skills and African roots to create a sombre but humour-filled animated film. His goal is to draw attention to the existence of this unique natural resource.

Galiwango is a tribute to Jagwe’s grandmother whom he says taught him how to tell stories as a young boy. “I remember sitting by her feet and listening intently as she recounted stories of Waguluddene, Wakayima and Wango.” he says.

Jagwe tells the story of the struggles and triumphs of the gorillas from a captured gorilla’s point of view. He weaves into the tale a human element of interaction with technology, war and humour.

Galiwango’s story begins in the thick tropical forests of the Virunga Mountains. Jagwe traces the gorilla’s journey after it is taken from Uganda and illegally sold to a research facility in an undisclosed Western country.

Years later, Galiwango’s journey comes full circle to Uganda.

A plane carrying equipment and a crate housing Galiwango, is shot down over the Virunga Mountains.

At the crash site Galiwango meets two other gorillas, Muwanguzi, an aging Silver Back and Lutalo, who carries a rifle. The rest of the story explores the dangers of living in a forest that is full of conflict and greed.

Close encounters with poachers and rebels drive the need by Galiwango and his friends to stay alert.

Jaggwe hopes that Ugandans can appreciate the rare gift they have in the mountain gorillas and fight against the possibility of their extinction”.

We can’t wait to see it!

China plundering Africa resources – Jane Goodall

We at WildlifeDirect have raised concern about China’s role in the accelerating elephant killings across Africa hwic his driven by China’s insatiable demand for ivory. The Government of China claim that they have excellent controls and education programs at home, and deny that China is having the impact that so many of us fear, on elephants, trees, apes and other species in Africa.

Jane Goodall has vindicated us. This news article was just published on AFP on 10th March 2009.

Primatologist Goodall: China plundering Africa resources

WASHINGTON (AFP) — China’s thirst for natural resources including wood and minerals is leading to massive deforestation in Africa and the destruction of crucial wildlife habitat, world-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall has said.

The British scientist who revolutionized research with her studies of chimpanzees beginning in 1960 warned that Beijing is pressing governments in central Africa’s Congo basin to sign over forest concessions in return for infrastructure and healthcare aid.

She said the process is helping decimate some of the largest populations of wild chimpanzees and gorillas in the world.

“These areas containing unlogged forests are very desirable to, particularly today, China, with China’s desperate effort for economic growth,” she told a Capitol Hill briefing attended by House of Representatives science and technology committee chairman Bart Gordon.

“Basically, they have almost exhausted their own supplies (of wood and minerals) so they go to Africa and offer large amounts of money or offer to build roads or make dams, in return for forest concessions or rights to minerals and oil,” Goodall, 74, said.

“I’m actually hoping (China’s growth rate) will be slowed a little bit by this economic crisis” in order to stem the deforestation, she said.

Goodall said the Chinese “have many enterprises in Congo-Brazzaville, and they’re certainly in DRC,” the Democratic Republic of Congo, two countries where deforestation and human encroachment have decimated wild primate populations despite efforts by the Jane Goodall Institute and other groups to reverse the trend.

“Their habitat is disappearing,” said Goodall, considered one of the 20th century’s leading scientists for her work with chimpanzees in what is now Gombe National Park in Tanzania.

She said it was crucial to work more closely with national and local governments in order to expand community-based conservation projects as a way to “offset offers from China.”

She also blamed the rampant bushmeat trade for helping devastate primate populations.

The trade is facilitated by foreign logging concerns building roads into once-inaccessible forested areas, and in some cases allowing hunters to ride in and out of the region on logging trucks.

Goodall’s institute is focused in part on expanding chimpanzee habitat in Gombe and working with local villages to rehabilitate denuded land and help create green corridors between Gombe and other areas with chimpanzees within the vast Congo basin.

The softspoken Goodall began her briefing in dramatic fashion, by imitating the wild call of a chimpanzee.

It could be interpreted as a cry for help — both for the primates and for the organizations working to protect them — as Goodall acknowledged that the conservation efforts could suffer a crippling blow over the next year and beyond due to the global financial crisis.

She told AFP that the downturn has made it more difficult to raise money for her work and for local governments to conduct or enforce conservation initiatives.

Births, deaths and banning ape pets

Today we are celebrating the birth of a baby by Mahisho in the Kabirizi family. Innocent took some lovely photos which can be found here at the Official Virunga website

But we are also mourning the death of 8 year old Muchana at the St Louis Zoo – she was found dead tangled in her ropes.

And 32 year old Kambula at Texas Zoo who had an untreatable condition and was euthanized

We are also deeply shocked by the savage chimpanzee attack in Connecticut. Listening to the 911 call is terrifying I am not surprised that it took this particularly horrific mauling of a woman last week by the pet chimpanzee, for the USA to take immediate action in banning trade in apes. Its not the first time it has happened, over 100 people have been attacked by chimpanzees in USA (29 are children) but this incident led to the swift drafting of new legislation and the passing of a vote to ban interstate trade of apes and monkeys. It’s a pity that it took such a tragic incident to close a loop ion US legislation which bans the importation of apes for pets, but did not ban the transport for the purpose of sale of apes once in the USA. Now that the vote has passed (overwhelmingly 323-95), and will make it difficult for people to access apes like chimpanzees and gorillas which are sought for household companions.

Hopefully this incident which led to the killing of the 14 year old chimpanzee named Travis, will discourage people from seeking baby apes for pets. One consequence of ape trade is the tragic escalation in number of orphaned apes now in captivity in at JACK, Limbe, Cercopan, Tacugama and Lola ya Bonobo.

Ironically, someone called me yesterday asking if I could help find a baby mountain gorilla for a member of the royalty in one of the Arab states who wanted a pet. I know that Vanessa would agree with me when I told them why it was such a bad idea! Somehow though, I fear that this person will try to get a gorilla through illegal means.

Great Virunga Transboundary Collaboration

Something very exciting is happening in the Virunga region. An ‘Inter-State agency’ is being created to coordinate conservation in the Virunga volcanoes called The ‘Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC)‘. The agency formalizes the ongoing collaboration between the three countries that share the Virungas, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda .

The GVTC’s will work to conserve, manage environmental resources and promote tourism in protected areas of the three countries especially the Virunga Park, which is home to hundreds of the only surviving mountain gorillas in the world. Administration of this agency will be vested in the Inter-Ministerial board, the Trans-boundary Core Secretariat and its affairs directly managed under an Executive Secretariat based in Rwanda.

With this new development, environmental management, law enforcement, gorilla census and tourism will be coordinated across the transboundary region.

We offer our heart felt congratulations to the ministers of the three countries and wish well in getting this initiative off the ground.

Russel Mittermeier on war and conservation

I just found an article in the Miami Herald titled “Protecting nature during war can aid recovery” by Russel Mittermeier and Thor Hanson which has enormous relevance to what is happening in gorilla range states throughout Africa, not least the DR Congo. It is such an important article that I’ve reproduced it in full here

Protecting nature during war can aid recovery

An urgent call to protect nature in the midst of violence and loss of human life may seem naive or misguided. But if you consider where most major armed conflicts take place, wartime conservation is one of the best hopes for wartime recovery.Our recently published paper, ”Warfare in Biodivesity Hotspots,” reveals that 80 percent of the world’s major armed conflicts have occurred in some of the most biologically diverse and threatened places on Earth. Conservation activities must remain strong during such conflicts to ensure that local people will have the natural resources they need to survive and reestablish healthy communities in the post-war period.

The world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots have within their borders more than three-quarters of the world’s most endangered species. More than half of all plant species and at least 42 percent of all vertebrates occur within the hotspots and nowhere else. Our study shows that these areas are hotspots in other ways as well. A total of 23 experienced a significant violent conflict in which more than 1,000 people died between 1950 and 2000, and many suffered repeated episodes of violence.

We must not abandon these places. Loss of healthy functioning ecosystems makes people more vulnerable to many other threats, including the spread of disease, famine and severe weather events such as massive flooding. A majority of the world’s poorest people who rely on natural resources for their daily survival live in the biodiversity hotspots, which are largely concentrated in developing tropical nations. Forests and other healthy ecosystems help cleanse freshwater supplies and provide sources of food, medicines and materials for building homes. Nature is often intertwined with centuries-old traditional lifestyles and unique indigenous cultures.

Violent conflicts have various far-reaching impacts on ecosystems. In some cases, the scale and technology has led to what has been termed ”ecocide.” Such was the case during the Vietnam War, when poisonous Agent Orange was dumped from low-flying planes, defoliating 14 percent of the country’s forest cover and more than 50 percent of its coastal mangroves — with disastrous consequences since mangroves provide some of the richest fish habitat, and they shield coastal communities from severe impacts of hurricanes and tsunamis.

Beyond the battlegrounds, indirect effects of conflict have more far-reaching impacts. In Sierra Leone, Cambodia and Congo, war money came from extensive timber harvesting, and the cultivation of illicit drugs has provided financing for violent conflicts in Afghanistan, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

War has devastating impacts on wildlife and other natural resources. Refugees are in no position to consider the environmental consequences of their actions. They hunt, gather firewood or build encampments to survive. The local proliferation of small arms leads to increased hunting for wild animals, or bush meat. And all too frequently, poaching during these lawless times leads to annihilation of wildlife, such as the loss of 95 percent of the hippopotamus in Congo’s Virunga National Park in 2006, and the deliberate slaughter of mountain gorillas in that same park in 2007.

Ecosystem protection must be integrated into military, reconstruction and humanitarian programs in the world’s conflict zones. Conservationists must work alongside these sectors in the wartime planning stage as well as during and after conflicts.

Supporting national institutions and local staff throughout the duration of a conflict is key. Local conservationists often remain to work in conflict areas because these places are their homes. Maintaining salaries and providing safe houses and funds to rebuild homes is an ethical imperative as well as a good conservation strategy. Yet very often the response of conservation organizations and other donor agencies is to pull out as soon as conflicts begin, which only exacerbates the problem over the long term.

The pattern of violence appears to be continuing into the 21st century. And while one must be cautious in speculating cause and effect, the fact that so many conflicts have occurred in areas of high biodiversity loss and natural resource degradation warrants much further attention.

Russell A. Mittermeier is president of the Arlington, Va.,-based Conservation International; Thor Hanson is an independent conservation biologist and author based in Washington state.

Nkunda arrested

It has just been reported by BBC that Laurent Nkunda has been arrested in Rwanda . Apparently he was arrested in Rwanda after he tried to resist a Rwandan-Congolese military operation.

nkunda arrested

Wonderful news to wake up to? The verdict is out on that, we are still waiting for news on why was he arrested by the very government who has been accused of supporting Nkunda and CNDP. Also, in the protracted war it has become clear that though CNDP has been ruthless, there are other militias in the area. Some believe that who may try to fill the leadership vacum. The fact that over 3,000 Rwandan troops in DR Congo is probably not an unrelated to the arrest of Nkunda.

Mountain gorilla populations have declined in Uganda

 Just two years ago we were celebrating that mountain gorilla populations were increasing especially in Uganda. However, a recent study has just poured water on these findings and suggests that that nest counting methods overestimate the number of gorillas.

Gorilla nest

Some gorillas construct more than one nest per night

According to to research conducted in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda, mountain gorilla populations may have actually declined. Researchers estimate gorilla numbers by counting the number of ‘nests’ which the animals build each night. This method suggests that there are 336 gorillas left in this population accounting for half of the worlds mountain gorillas. However, recent DNA tests from dung were conducted by Katerina Guschanski of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Liepzig, Germany, and reveal that there are actually far fewer mountain gorillas. She found evidence of 302 separate genetic codes or individual gorillas, suggesting that the nest counting method overestimates the population size because some gorillas create more than one nest. The study was reported in the New Scientist magazine. A previous genetic study put the population at 340 individuals. Dr. Guschanski’s work suggests that this population has declined by 10% and while some news reports are saying mountain gorillas are in dire sraits, scientists are more cautious and are not really sure if the populations are decreasing, or stable.

Many forget that mountain gorillas have always been restricted to montane forest habitats which are found in a very small part of Africa on the tops of mountains. Although it is unlikely that populations were ever much greater than they are today due to habitat restrictions, it is of concern that they are threatened by habitat exploitation, poaching and disease caused by greater contact with humans. Climate warming however may be one of the greatest threats which will accelerate all the other impacts. Temperature incraeses have already melted many of the glaciers on the East African mountains, and as this continues it will cause mountain gorilla habitat to recede up the mountains.

The Virunga population of mountain gorillas was estimated to number about 380 individuals in 2007 (up from 260 in 1978). These figures are  considered accuate because they are based actual sightings. We are awaiting for the outcome of an ongoing gorilla census in the Virunga National park, so far nothing alarming has been reported.

If it is true that the Bwindi population is shrinking, then this is bad news for mountain gorillas – it is estimated that there are only around 700 in existence, this work suggests at least a 5% decline of the global population.

Mountain gorilla deaths in the last 18 months have been reported on a number of blogs

10 were killed allegedly by rangers in 2007

7 died of natural causes in Rwanda

3 Eastern lowland gorillas in  Congo have also died

1 died in a tragic accident in Mt. Tshiaberimu

2 died of disease in Mt Tshiaberimu

Gorilla doctors in DR Congo, Uganda and Rwanda are working hard to monitor gorilla health and treat any injuiries or sicknesses. Read Dr.Lucy Spelmans blog for more details.