Tag Archives: DRC

Gorilla missing in the mist!

Hi, this is Jean Claude,

To begin with, the entire staff and I would like to wish all of our supporters a Happy New Year from Mt. Tshiaberimu, in the DR Congo!

I was not able to write to you earlier this year as we are still working very hard on finding our lost Silverback Tsongo, from the Kipura troop. As some of you might know, he went missing around the end of November 2012 and has not been seen ever since. However, what we did find instead were about 200 snares and evidence of poaching, which sadly enough is still one of the biggest threats to gorillas’ existence.

Mwasanyinya

On one of my recent treks to find Tsongo, I came across his mate Mwasanyinya and son Mukokya (picture above) who are still in deep sorrow over the disappearance of the old silverback. It puts a strain on them, especially on the female, because the entire family is left without a leader and protector and her son Mukokya (10 yrs, picture below) is still too young to replace his father.

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Mwasanyinya’s grief over her lost mate shows how closely gorillas are related to humans as they even share similar emotions to ours. There are many studies that show that primates express themselves with facial expressions and are capable of feeling empathy and sadness. This has also shown in our latest monitoring on the female mountain gorilla as her eating habits have declined drastically since November.

It is a heartbreaking situation here at Mt. Tshiaberimu, which leaves us to hope that we will find Tsongo safe and healthy very soon. Until then we thank all of you for your ongoing support. I will write to you again soon, and hopefully with better news!

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

 

Mountain Gorillas To Get Counted in Vital Census

We have learnt that the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) will support a Mountain Gorilla census in March and April this year through the International Gorilla Conservation Project (a coalition of AWF, WWF and FFI). The Mountain Gorilla Vet Project (Gorilla Doctors) is also one of the  partners in the census. Read the announcement that is posted on the AWF Website.

KIGALI, RWANDA–The critically endangered mountain gorilla’s current status is to be revealed through a census to determine its population size in the Virunga Volcanoes area that straddles the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda in Eastern and Central Africa. The Virunga Volcanoes is one of only two locations where mountain gorillas live, whose total numbers are currently estimated at 680 individuals. Though the area is now relatively calm, recent conflict in the Mikeno sector of Virunga National Park in the DRC has left the gorillas there vulnerable. The last Virunga Volcanoes census in 2003 resulted in an estimate of 380 individuals, with the remaining individuals living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park Uganda. The Wildlife and National Park Authorities of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC will collaborate on the census, which is planned for March and April 2010.

The census is an opportunity to make an accurate count of the total gorilla population in the Virunga Volcanoes. Fecal samples will also be collected for genetic analysis to confirm the population size and for better understanding the genetic variability and health status of the population. Such monitoring is vitally important in understanding the long-term viability and measuring the effects of the recent history of conflict in the region on such a small population of critically endangered animals. Eugene Rutagarama, Director of census partner the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), stated, “The Gorilla census is an exercise enabling us to assess the impact of conservation efforts carried out by all gorilla conservation stakeholders. We are hoping that the census will confirm a continuous increase of the mountain gorilla population and guide us on how we can further contribute to the growth of this still endangered population.”

Launching on March 1st, the census will involve 80 team members. Team members, which will be drawn from the staff of the various protected area (National Park) authorities and their partners, will traverse the entire Virunga gorilla habitat range over a period of approximately eight weeks.

The census is being carried out by the Rwanda Development Board/ Tourism and Conservation, the Congolese Wildlife Authority and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The exercise will be supported by the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) through the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (a coalition of AWF, WWF and FFI). Other supporters include the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Results will be vital in looking at population trends and determining the best collaborative way forward for mountain gorilla conservation.

For more information about the census, contact Elizabeth Miranda at [email protected].

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!

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/-bwnqWvBH_Y" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Ian Redmond – Clearing the YoG-Blog-Backlog

11th September           

Greetings, oh followers of the SoG-YoG Blog,

I’m sitting next to a sleeping policeman (an officer of the law, not a speed bump) in the front seat of the Yaoundé to Limbé Guarantee Express bus, hurtling through torrential rain, most of which is being kept out by the windscreen but occasional drops make it through the side windows that need to be open a bit to stop us from misting up.  Cameroon is such a beautiful country, even when it is raining!

My apologies once again for the break in communications.   Long bus journeys, hastily convened press conferences, Ministerial YoG interviews and mini-seminars in restaurants and bus stations have filled every waking moment of late (and there haven’t been many sleeping moments either!), hence the lack of recent postings.   A change in tactics is clearly called for.  Producing long blogs a week after the event is rather missing the point of blogging, or so I gather, so I propose to keep you posted on my movements  more regularly with brevity.  In due course, and as time allows, I’ll fill in the detail, but at least those of you curious to know how the journey is going will be kept up to date.

Let’s take it from my abortive attempts to get an Angolan visa:

Tuesday 1st September:   Redmond vs. Red tape

In Kinshasa, I was helped to get around by the UNEP Post-conflict office driver.  Even with my Ordre de Mission from UNEP-CMS and a Ministerial intervention via Luanda, the staff of the Angolan Embassy felt unable to issue a visa without a letter of invitation. Telephone calls and emails to our contact in Luanda seemed to indicate one was on its way.  The Gabon Embassy was more helpful and issued one the same day.

Wednesday 2nd September     

To Angolan Embassy again, asked to wait again (though what for was not clear).   While waiting, chatting to other patiently-waiting people about bus services to Angola led to a YoG interview with an Angolan architect working in Kinshasa.   Technically we were on Angolan soil in the Embassy, and this was to be my only YoG interviewee from Angola.  Rang Luanda again and unable to catch the words, handed the ‘phone to the consular officer, who learned that the letter of invitation had still not been sent yet, which is why it was not in his fax machine…  I was running out of time, and there were no flights out of Kinshasa to any of my target countries, so I packed up and headed for the Beach to cross to Brazzaville again.  There I took a taxi straight to the airport and found a flight going to Pointe Noir on the coast of Congo.   On arrival, the Gabon Airways flight I’d hoped to catch was on the tarmac a few yards away, but it was full and ready for departure, so I’d have to wait until the next flight in the morning.

Read Ian’s previous post here!

Find out more about the Year of the Gorilla and the projects you can support.

Ian Redmond – Another delay and a new fish

August 27th – The MONUC flight to Kinshasa was on an elderly Eastern-bloc plane but was straightforward, with a two-hour stop in Kisangani.   I was swapping gorilla stories with a lady who investigates allegations against MONUC soldiers when my phone rang – it was the Korean TV company with whom I had originally expected to be travelling west to Kinshasa and Brazzaville.   They still hope to make their documentary, but the chances of their timetable overlapping with mine were dwindling with each passing day.  I do hope they make it eventually.

The United Nations Environment Programme post-conflict unit has a new office in DRC, having been asked by the Minister of the Environment to assist with development of environmental policies in this critical period of national reconstruction.   The unit kindly sent a driver to meet me at Kinshasa airport and whisk me to the Angolan Embassy, arriving at 14.02.   I hoped the Embassy might just be opening after lunch but no – it closed at 14.00 hours, and the doorman wasn’t even able to give me a visa application form.  “Come back tomorrow at 9.00am,” he said.   Next door, the Congo Brazzaville Embassy was still open and much more welcoming; the Consul recalled my earlier visits years ago, and asked if I was still working for the apes.  I gave him a YoG sticker and he gave me a multiple entry visa (how’s that for a win-win).   If I couldn’t go to Angola next, at least I now had a second option.

Whilst in Kinshasa, I hoped to meet the Minister of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism, H.E. José Endundo Bononge.  It turned out he was expecting me thanks to the head of ICCN – the DRC parks department – Pasteur Cosma Wilungula, who gave a YoG interview from his perspective, then led me upstairs to the minister’s office.  As the man responsible for the largest proportion of the Congo Basin’s forests and watersheds, Minister Endundo holds one of the major keys to future climate stability in his hands.   He spoke movingly of his personal experiences meeting gorillas, when taking ambassadors from many nations to visit Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks, and of his hopes for the Climate Conference in Copenhagen this December.

DRC Environment Minister José Endundu Bononge welcomes Ian Redmond for YoG talks, Kinshasa. Photo Ian Redmond.

Back at the UNEP offices, I was delighted to meet up with Ed Wilson, one of the founding fathers of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) as he was preparing to leave.  Our paths had last crossed some 20 years ago, and we resolved not to leave it so long until our next meeting. Among the group enjoying a farewell drink with Ed was Dr Melanie Stiassny, curator of fish at the American Museum of Natural History, who was in Kinshasa working with a group of students on the extraordinary diversity of fish in the River Congo.  There was space at the house they were using, and so I found myself waking up the next day beside the Kinsuka Rapids.

Fish and gorillas: coming up soon…

Read Ian’s previous post here!

Ian Redmond – Mgahinga National Park office and GO Kisoro

August 26th – The 5.30am bus to Kisoro was again more Matatu than Express, so it was mid-morning when we pulled into Kisoro, the nearest town to the DRC border. A throng of motorcycle taxis vied for my custom, and I squeezed past them and chose one on the edge of the pack. Mounting it with my rucksack on my back and placing my camera-bag on the petrol tank, we lurched off to the Mgahinga National Park office.

The man behind the desk seemed a bit bemused when I pulled out a video camera (but there was a YoG poster behind him, so I had to get the shot). He called for a colleague from the back office whose face split into a broad grin when he saw me. We had met eight years before, when I brought the first Discovery Initiatives (a partner of the UNEP Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) ) gorilla safari, and left a copy of Eyewitness Gorilla at the park education centre. He gave a smiling YoG interview and I said goodbye, apologising for the brevity of my visit, and crossed the road to the Kisoro Gorilla Organization Resource Centre.

Wooden scooters are an important means of transportation, Picture Melanie Virtue

The staff couldn’t have been more helpful, letting me send some urgent emails and offering much-needed tea and biscuits. They told me (and the YoG video) of their respective activities and I was pleased to pass on a copy of the BBC Natural World documentary ‘Titus the Gorilla King’ kindly provided by Tigress Films for such purposes. As a final favour, they told me to pay off my motor-cycle taxi and drove me to the Bunagana border in the elderly but much more comfortable GO vehicle.

Charcoal superstore beside road in Uganda. Picture Ian Redmond.

Entering the DRC is often a lengthy procedure, and the border officials couldn’t quite understand why, given my interest in gorillas, I was not going to see the gorillas in the Virunga NP (now that tourism has resumed, that is what most white people cross here for on day trips). I explained about the YoG and my mission, and one officer invited me into his office. Here we go, I thought, I wonder how much this is going to cost me… but once he had me seated, he explained he was concerned about the smuggling of endangered species across the border around here, and was there someone who could help him stop it? Wow! “Mais oui, bien sur!” I said, and promised to pass on his name to various colleagues.

Not so Easy Rider

Outside, the driver of the only four-wheeled vehicle in sight said he’d take me to Goma for $200, but a young motorcyclist with wrap-around shades agreed to do it for $20 plus my last few Uganda shillings and Rwandan Francs. “D’accord” I said, and climbed aboard, again with my rucksack on my back but with my camera-bag wedged between us, there being not enough room on the tank. I immediately noticed an important difference between Ugandan and Congolese motorbike taxis. In Uganda, there is usually a large rack or padded seat behind the pillion passenger – very practical. The Congolese love of style, however, means that every bike I saw between Bunagana and Goma (and Goma is now Motorbike City!) had the same swish design with all lines sweeping up to a small curved handle for the pillion passenger to hold.

Goma is a bustling city in a fertile and densely populated region. Picture Melanie Virtue.

Never mind that everyone in Africa wants to carry more than a vehicle can cope with – looking cool is more important. I struggled to perch the base of my rucksack on the handle and hang on every time my driver accelerated, but had to shift positions every few minutes as muscles complained at the ridiculous workload they were being asked to do – whilst looking cool and waving at incredulous pedestrians, of course, as we zoomed downhill.

YoG Ambassador en route to Goma via motorbike taxi, DRC. Picture Ian Redmond.

The road was end-stage degraded tarmac – bumpy, with loose gravel, pot-holes and – every time we passed another vehicle or (rarely) were overtaken by one – clouds of dust. To save fuel my driver, Jean-de Dieu, would switch off the engine on the downhill stretches and so sometimes we were almost silently coasting downhill – zero carbon motorcycling – which felt fantastic until jolted by the next pot-hole or lump of volcanic rock! I’d forgotten just how far it is from Bunagana to Goma, and after two hours or so, I felt as if I’d had a serious workout.

Goma airport was partly covered under lava in 2002, the plane on the bottom is stuck. Picture Melanie Virtue.

Never mind, I thought, it is good cross-training for the Great Gorilla Run I have signed up to do on 26th September. I’d learned about cross-training during my somewhat inept preparations for my one and only marathon five years ago . The GGR is only 7km, but involved hundreds of people running through London in gorilla suits! Please be among the first to sponsor me a ‘Darwin’ or two (note: a £10 note has a portrait of Charles Darwin on it, and in honour of his bicentenary I propose to run inspired by the Victorian cartoon which showed Darwin’s head on an ape body). I plan to knuckle-walk/run for as long as possible, but if that is too much of a Slog4YoG and my back protests, I’ll evolve a bi-pedal stance and Jog4YoG like the other runners – maybe you can place bets on how many km I manage quadrupedally?

The road took us across the now empty green plains of Kibumba.  In the mid-1990s there had been a refugee city of several hundred thousand people here and I could hardly believe how it had changed since my last visit during that time.   The exodus of so many families fleeing the Rwandan civil war and genocide made this spot an epicentre of human misery in 1994.   I was there a few days later with Dieter Steklis of DFGFI and a BBC film crew, looking for friends and colleagues to help them return home; none of us will ever forget the sight of thousands of blue UNHCR canvas shelters in pouring rain, each one housing a family. 

Kibumba, Rwandan refugee camp (population c.250,000), 15km north of Goma, DRCongo (then Zaire), near Parc National des Virungas, August 1994. Picture Ian Redmond.

On two subsequent visits to bring clothing bundles from kind donors, I was amazed by how industrious people had used jagged volcanic rocks to build semi-permanent homes, weddings were taking place, babies being born – communities making the best of a terrible situation until their repatriation.   Now, the land has been reclaimed by ICCN for the Virunga World Heritage Site, and there is little sign of the refugee city – but there is hardly a tree standing either!   It will take decades for the forest to re-grow, but it is already green; vegetation here is quick to colonise newly cooled lava flows, so there are lots of pioneer plant species to take root in the cleared ground.

Kibumba refugee camp locality in 2005, being reclaimed by the forest. Photo Melanie Virtue.

Clinging on with my left hand, I fumbled my video camera out of my jacket pocket and tried to grab a few images to compare with my 1994 photos; unfortunately the jarring was so extreme at this point the camera kept turning itself off to protect the hard-drive (where’s my trusty OM1 when I need it?).

No MOP, no flight

We finally pulled up at the entrance to Goma Airport, guarded by men in blue helmets behind sandbags. Easing my wobbly legs off the bike I paid Jean de Dieu, picked up my kit and tried to walk normally into the busy MONUC departure area. There was a flight to Kinshasa scheduled for 1500 hours and it seemed as though my timing was perfect, except I soon learned I couldn’t board without a MOP, whatever that stands for, and none of the military check-in staff with clip-boards had my name on their list. People were complaining about the flight being over-booked, and I saw army top brass being turned away, so I realised I wasn’t going to Kinshasa that day.

Eventually I was directed to an office behind rolls of razor-wire where a delightful young lady called, appropriately, Santa, found the email from UNEP-CMS, who together with UNEP/GRASP and WAZA is behind the whole Year of the Gorilla campaign, with my flight request, called up someone on high and smiled saying, “You are on the flight first thing tomorrow morning.” Who says that Santa only gives gifts at Christmas?

Goma airport, airplane trapped by lava, Picture Melanie Virtue.

She printed out my MOP (effectively a MONUC ticket) and I registered it in another office at the airport. I called Tuver (from Gorilla Org.) and he kindly agreed to drive out to the airport and bring me into town (another motorbike ride – aagh!). It was frustrating to lose half a day but pleasant, while waiting for Tuver, to sit quietly on a lump of volcanic rock by the side of the road watching other people bouncing along on motorbikes.

Several people helpfully told me how filthy my face was from the dusty ride and two separate immigration officials just had to come over to check my papers – it being almost unheard of for a lone mzungu to sit on a rock beside the road. The second was more curious than officious, and it turned out he knew many of the conservationists in town, which is how I ended up having supper with Urbain Ngobobo, who works for the Frankfurt Zoological Society project, assisting ICCN in training park guards and trying to control the illegal charcoal trade.

Mount Nyiragongo towers over Goma, Picture Melanie Virtue.

All the way to Goma I’d been passing vehicles – from the ingenious, home-made wooden scooters pushed by boys to huge trucks piled with sacks and topped by passengers – all bringing fuel for the city’s cooking fires. Some of it may be legal, but much of it is illegal and destroying the forests of the Virunga National Park. The trade is estimated to be worth $30 million per year, and unsurprisingly, the organised crime ring behind it is resisting with lethal force attempts to enforce the law– even killing several gorillas in 2007 . To find out more about a project aiming to tackle the threats of charcoal trade and deforestation, click here.

Read Ian’s previous post here!

12th August: Arboreal Gorillas and Philosophical Guardians

Posted for YoG Ambassador Ian Redmond.

The excitement was palpable on the drive up to Kahuzi-Biega National Park HQ.  For several of the Australian Network 7 TV crew, this was to be their first gorilla encounter and they had been planning for months and travelling for days to get here. The chief warden had agreed to give an interview, and I wanted to ask him to give the first of my YoG Blog interviews.   Only then would we head into the forest in search of gorillas.

The warden, Mr Radar Nishuli, was ready for us and I guess we expected a typical warden’s interview about the problems of running a World Heritage Site over-run by militias and rebels.  Standing in front of a pile of elephant and gorilla skulls, evidence of bushmeat poaching from the vicinity of the HQ during the war, the camera started rolling.  Radar didn’t disappoint, but it was pretty standard fare until he was asked why he did what he did;  he thought for a moment (English being his fourth language) and explained that he had been working in the park for 25 years and had come to know and admire the gorillas; it would be difficult to express to someone who had not experienced a gorilla encounter but – and he searched for the words – there is something about the way they behave with each other and how they use the forest, “God gave us intelligence and what do we do?  We destroy things.   Gorillas don’t have the intelligence to make cars and guns and things, but they have their families and live in harmony with nature…”   I’m paraphrasing here, but the meaning was so clear and so profound, we were all taken aback by his eloquence.   Afterwards I asked him to summarise what he thought of the UN Year of the Gorilla in the light of what he had said… as soon as I have worked out how to compress a massive HD video file down to a size that can be up-loaded to the internet you’ll see what he said.

Afterwards, I was delighted to greet one of the unsung heroes of gorilla conservation, the venerable old pygmy tracker Pili-Pili.  He began working with the Park’s founder, the late Adrian Deschryver, in the 1960s and although long retired and now showing his age, he still seemed fit – indeed after our chat he began picking weeds off the stone steps to the park visitor centre.   When I asked about his health, he told me he is usually hungry (there being no such thing as a pension scheme) but the weeds he was picking had medicinal value;  I paid him something for his weeding and asked a friend to take my photo with him – I hope someone sits down with him and takes down his oral history, for he has lived an extraordinary life.
Ian Redmond with retired gorilla tracker Pili-Pili, Kahuzi Biega, DRC. Picture by Mick O’Donnell
It was then just a short drive along the road through the park to a trail leading to where the advance party of trackers had already located Chimanuka’s Group.   Perhaps it was because we were so late starting, but the trek was long and it was mid-afternoon before we reached the gorillas.   For the producer’s and presenter’s first gorilla sighting it was pretty impressive – Chimanuka the silverback and several females and young were high up in a Myrianthus tree feeding on fruit.   As we peered upwards and dodged falling fruit, Chimanuka clambered to the main fork and carefully embraced the trunk for a controlled slither down to the ground.   At a leisurely pace the females followed, some finding more acrobatic routes down, and one reaching to a neighbouring tree with a long slender branchless trunk and sliding down like a fireman’s pole (video to follow).   So much for the wildlife books that still talk about gorillas being too heavy to climb trees – they are excellent if careful climbers and do so whenever there is fruit or other food to be had in the canopy.   The group continued travel-feeding on the ground for a while as we struggled behind untangling tripods and buckles from vines and thickets.

The vines are very thick nowadays, it is thought, because of the absence of elephants. As John Kahekwa of the Pole-Pole Foundation explained in my second YoG interview, the vines are now over-running fruit trees, bamboo and other favourite gorilla food-plants.  A few elephants were recently spotted for the first time in a decade, but before the war this part of the park was home to about 350 and it will likely be a long time before numbers recover to the point where the ecological balance is restored.  We can only wait and see how the gorillas cope with this degraded habitat.
Chimanuka, Eastern Lowland Gorilla silverback, Kahuzi Biega National Park. Picture by Ian Redmond.
Eventually the group settled down and the cameraman got some beautiful shots of Chumanuka grooming an infant (silverbacks often babysit with the kids while the females have a quiet nap – very ‘new-man’ in their approach to family life!). John explained that the infant has been named Pili-Pili after the retired tracker.

Soon after the group moved off, searching for food plants, we came across an old antelope trap just where they had passed.   Fortunately, the trigger mechanism had rotted and the pole had no noose on the end, but I cut it with my trusty panga to prevent anyone re-setting it – many young gorillas and chimpanzees have lost hands or even died from gangrene after being caught in these indiscriminate snares.  It highlighted the dangers gorillas still face, even in patrolled areas.  And as Dominique Bikaba, coordinator of PoPoF pointed out, it is also why surrounding communities need to be engaged in the protection of their park – patrols can never cut every trap if there is a constant setting of new ones – we need potential poachers to understand how the rain that waters their crops comes from the forest, and that by protecting it they will get more benefits in the long run.  As we left the park, however, we saw the dangers the local communities face too.   Right where we had left our vehicles we found broken glass and empty brass cartridge cases where only two months ago, a band of ‘negative forces’ (as militias are referred to here) ambushed a lorry.   Ten people died and many others were injured and traumatised.   It is not easy living in such insecurity, but some of my oldest friends continue to protect the gorillas and the forest despite the danger.   Their dedication is an inspiration to me – surely they need our support now more than ever?

Read Ian’s previous post here.

Baby Gorilla rescued in trafficking bust

Earlier this year we (WildlifeDirect) were approached by someone commissioned by a rich citizen of a middle eastern country, who wanted to know how to go about purchasing a baby gorilla. We were very disturbed at the request, and explained as politely as possible, the legal and ethical implications and consequences. Well, it’s obvious that there is a market for baby gorillas as has just been reported by the ICCN.

On Sunday a suspected gorilla trafficker was caught and arrested at Goma International Airport.  He arrived from Walikale with a baby eastern lowland gorilla hidden under clothes at the bottom of a bag.  This baby came from Congo which is the only place where this species is found. The baby was stressed and was “suffering from over-heating and dehydration after spending over 6 hours in transit”.

This video shows how the operation was conducted by the Virunga National Park. WildlifeDirects former CEO Emmanuel de Merode led the 3 month opearation. Congratulations to everyone at the ICCN – lets hope that justice will be served and the baby gorilla returns to it’s natural habitat.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/otKvlLEhdFA" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Read the ICCN press release here