Tag Archives: outreach

YoG Ambassador speaks at Cal State University Fullerton – VIDEO

Ian Redmond, a tropical field biologist and conservationist, spoke about the dangers of decreasing ape populations at a presentation hosted by the Department of Anthropology on Thursday. Several hundred students attended to hear Redmond speak about the importance of ape conservation and their impact on the world. Redmond’s presentation was titled, “Save the Gorillas to Save the World.”

Redmond detailed the impact of gorillas, both currently and if they become extinct, on the world. According to Redmond, by 2030, only 10 percent of great ape habitats will remain free of the impacts of human development in Africa. Only 1 percent of orangutans will avoid the same impacts in Southeast Asia. Gorilla populations have had some recovery successes, but their numbers continue to decrease.

Redmond explained that gorillas are essential to the survival of ecosystems in their home countries, as they fertilize and disperse seeds through their dung, which regenerates the forests. [kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/hGhSQbqKSMo" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]Protecting gorilla habitats preserves forests, which in turn decreases the amount of carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere from a reduced number of trees and the harvesting process. Redmond concluded his talk by stating primates are keystone species in habitats that provide ecosystem services for the whole planet. Saving the gorillas will preserve ecosystems that directly determine human survival.

Read the full article here.

For more information on YoG and the projects you can support through it, go to www.yog2009.org.

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.


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 – Dian Fossey, Gorilla hats and ecochurches

26th August –  Hi Folks! 

I’m sitting typing on a Ugandan bus, crawling up winding dirt roads towards Kisoro in the dawn light (after only 5 hours kip) with low mist in the valleys, a pink tinge in the sky behind and a distraught hen clucking in the arms of the passenger in front – I do so love Africa.   I’m a bit behind in my blogs again, so although I’m now heading out of Uganda to fly across the great congo basin to Kinshasa, let me tell you about my arrival a few days ago. 

19th August – The day after my visit to Group 13 , the British Embassy in Kigali kindly hosted a press conference on the Year of the Gorilla and why I was undertaking this journey across the ten gorilla range states.   Although called at rather short notice, it was well attended by print, radio and local TV journalists. 

After my presentation on how saving the gorillas (and other seed dispersal agents) will help to save the world (from dangerous climate change), I invited questions.  The first was typically direct, “How much of this money you are raising is coming to Rwanda?”  

Ian at press conference - Picture by Goodman.

Fortunately, I shared the platform with Rosette Rugamba of the Rwanda Development Board, who spoke eloquently of Rwanda’s plans for gorilla conservation, including the possibility being explored of developing a buffer zone of tree plantations around the park boundary, and even reclaiming some of the land excised in the 1970s by the notorious EC-backed pyrethrum scheme. 

All options were being explored, including leasing privately owned land in key areas to allow regeneration of gorilla habitat – which brought to mind the private conservancies in southern Africa, where income per square km from wildlife tourism can be greater than from farming.  The journalists took copious notes and indeed covered the issues well (see for example http://www.newtimes.co.rw/index.php?issue=13993&article=18988). 

After doing my own interview with Rosette for the YoG Blog videos (DVDs are now winging their way to Bonn so should begin to appear on-line before too long), I headed down to the bus depot and bought a ticket on the next bus to Ruhengeri, sorry, Musanze – recently renamed as part of the attempt to move away from the negative connotations of the events of 15 years ago.

Like Kigali, Musanze is changing fast, especially with the construction of new hotels as local entrepreneurs seek to cash in on the tourism boom.  I was pleased to see that the Hotel Muhabura (built in 1954, same as me) was still taking on the competition, and yesterday grabbed a quick YoG interview with the proprietor, Gogo.  Reminiscing with her, I said I was surprised there was no plaque or display noting that Dian Fossey used to stay here. 

Dian Fossey and young Mountain Gorilla - Picture by Ian Redmond.

I first stayed in the Muhabura in 1977 when Dian and I had come down the mountain for one of her occasional public lectures (yes, Dian did do outreach before the term was invented, though this is seldom remembered) and have stayed there many times since.  Dian always asked for Room 11, and I suggested this might be used to raise funds if guests who stayed there were asked to pay a premium rate which could include a donation to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the US-based NGO that continues the research and joint anti-poaching patrols (with the park guards) that Dian started.

It was dark by the time the bus pulled into Musanze, and as I stood beside my rucksack surrounded by curious faces, it took me right back to my first arrival in 1976.  Dian had written saying Ruhengeri was a small town and if I waited with my luggage, her porters would soon find me.  They didn’t, but the reason for that became clear when, as Dian had also requested, I picked up the post from the Post Office Box.  Among the letters was the telegram with the date of my arrival… so I ended up delivering my own telegram.  

This time, however, I was soon found by my good friend Francois Nkinziwikhe, conservationist, musician and choreographer, who strode out of the darkness wearing a comical gorilla woolly hat, made by women in the local community in another of his latest initiatives.  Francois is a big, energetic man and a compulsive organiser.  He trained the local dance troupe that my brother Chris and partners have twice brought to tour the UK (http://www.caribzones.com/balletinganzo.html), but there was never enough money in the shoestring budget for him to accompany them.   This evening he’d enlisted the help of local businessman Faustin Musanganya (also building a new hotel, the Gorilla Twin Lakes) to give me a lift to Virunga Lodge, where Volcanoes Safaris had kindly offered to put me up for the night.  

Eva Reed models gorilla woolly hat while tasting Virunga Honey - Photo Ian Redmond.

We had a useful meeting to discuss his various projects, one of which is eco-churches – which enlists the good environmental advice given in the Bible to raise awareness through religious communities of the need for conservation and sustainable development.  I put him in touch with a similar group in Cameroon called REAP – the Religious Environmental Awareness Programme, and would encourage any church groups able to help to get in touch. 

At the end of an affable and productive evening, I left him my single malt and he gave me one of his gorilla hats – maybe they could become the new fashion for winter sports?  Do get in touch if you can make this happen..

Read Ian’s previous post here!

August 17 – Boomtown Kigali, Rwanda

Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond. 

Kigali is booming.  High-rise buildings are popping up like mushrooms, the kerbs on the dual carriageways are painted and everyone seems to be talking on mobile phones.  

I was welcomed by Dr Tony Mudakikwa, a wildlife vet now working at the Rwanda Development Board – the government body which includes tourism and national parks – on the fifth floor of a smart glass and metal office block with a computer on every desk.  At the helm is the dynamic Deputy CEO, Rosette Rugamba, and I sat in on a meeting she had with the Gorilla Organization to discuss some of their projects.  

GO has been building water cisterns in schools for years, after surveys put this at the top of a list of community needs;  these were so well received that other NGOs began installing them, but Rosette was concerned about the lack of coordination or overall planning.  Signs were also on her agenda.  Any such projects in developing countries come with a big sign saying what it is, where it is and who funded it, usually in acronyms and logos.  Rosette felt these signs were a missed opportunity, “Why can’t they all carry a simple message beneath a picture of a gorilla – ‘Helping us to protect our forest’?” she asked.  

Mountain Gorilla habitat, Rwanda. Picture by Ian Redmond.

It seems such an obvious idea – people queue up to fill water containers so what an ideal opportunity to offer a bit of conservation awareness. For me, though, the most exciting outcome of the meeting was the confirmation that there was a gorilla permit available the following day.  An early night was called for because to be at the Volcanoes Park HQ in Kinigi at 7.00am, I’d have to be up at 4.45am!

Read Ian’s previous post here!

IGCP launches New Website in YoG

Unveiling a new era for communicating its work to practitioners and the public alike, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) has set up an entirely new website, www.igcp.org, which will go “live” today, August 25th.

Mountain Gorilla silverback Titus and family. Picture by Ian Redmond.

Opening during the UN Convention on Migratory Species designated Year of the Gorilla, the new site promises greatly enhanced interactivity, a fresh new look and improved navigation. Visitors will now be able to read the IGCP’s gorilla blog on the site, as well as follow and comment on the ups and downs, challenges and successes, passions and commitments of its staff and partners in their work to save the world’s approximately 700 remaining Mountain Gorillas, which live on the misty slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes Range and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest areas bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. The site will also integrate a variety of Web 2.0 features such as Twitter, Facebook etc. Visit now!

“More visits and more followers will greatly enhance our work at IGCP,” stated jamie Kemsey of IGCP, “and we are ready for it. I am excited to start using this new tool, which will help us keep current and keep progressing in the ever dynamic world of mountain gorilla conservation.”

For more information, contact Jamie Kemsey at [email protected]