Tag Archives: Rangers

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!

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" /]

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.

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.

23 rangers still missing, one dead

Fears of a refugee crisis in the region is fueling the pace for Congo talks to end the crisis. Talks are hoped to lead to a ceasefire, and real progress towards a lasting peace agreement.

Meanwhile the Virunga National Park  and ICCN staff are not faring very well. It was very saddening to read Diddy post on the Official Virunga website, describing the impossible situation that some rangers are in. Some have remained in Rumangabo and are more or less cut off from communication. Others have been trying to reach Goma through a 40 km hike through the forest which is occupied by rebel forces. They seem to be separating and are appearing in small numbers in Goma, exhausted and sick. However,  as of now, 23 rangers are apparently lost. Two rangers were arrested and with Emmanuels intervention were released, 9 rangers in the refugee camp have cholera, while one ranger, Louis Kabwana, who was sick and in hospital has died. He had worked for the Park since 1971. My he rest in peace.

According to this map on Gorilla.cd Nkundas troops seem to have control of the entire park, Diddy says they are apparently moving north. It’s not clear if anyone knows what his strategy is.

An emergency fund raising effort is underway on gorilla.cd, we are also raising funds for the rangers here on WildlifeDirect to support the ICCN rangers caught in this conflict. All donations made on this blog will contrubite towards the humanitarian crisis facing the rangers in Goma and Rumangabo.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support to date.

Rebels attack Rumangabo

We are alarmed with news reports that rebel forces have taken over the military base at Rumangabo. This has forced the ICCN to begin evacuating rangers from the Virunga National Park which is critical for their safety and survival, but will leave the gorillas and forests vulnerable.

According to AFP “The Democratic Republic of Congo’s envoy to the United Nations called on the Security Council to intervene to stop what he called an “imminent” Rwandan attack on the eastern DRC city of Goma.

Atoki Ileka told AFP that DRC authorities had “observed concentrations of Rwandan troops in the Rwandan border town of Gisenyi,” and that this suggested that an attack on Goma, located just across the frontier, was “imminent.”

Goma is the capital of Nord-Kivu province, which is at the center of renewed fighting between rebel and government forces that broke out August 28 in the east of the DRC.

“We have asked the Security Council to put the necessary pressure on Rwanda to prevent a new (Rwandan) aggression against DRC,” Ileka said, adding that troops in Rwandan uniforms had seized the Rumangabo military camp near Goma early Wednesday.”

Reuters have also just reported the invasion of Congo by Rwandan troops “Congo has accused neighboring Rwanda of sending troops across the border and fighting in support of a Congolese warlord. A Rwandan military spokesman denies the allegations.

North Kivu provincial Gov. Julien Mpaluku says Rwandan soldiers backing Congo warlord Laurent Nkunda crossed into Congo three days ago and headed for the frontier villages of Tshanzu and Bunagana. He said Wednesday that Rwandan troops were fighting in Rumangabo, a small village north of the regional capital, Goma”.

virunga-map-virginia.jpg

Rumangabo is the headquarters of the Virunga National Park where our former CEO Emmanuel de Merode and his team of rangers including Diddy and Innocent are based. In a post on the Official Virunga National Park website where Samantha reports that heavy fighting had broken out between the army and Nkunda’s rebels. The fighting approached the park station (Rumangabo is the Park headquarters). Military tanks were apparently “firing on the hills where they believe the rebels to be; an army helicopter is also hovering, patroling the area”.

It is now certain that the CNDP (Nkunda’s troops) have taken control of the Rumangabo military base – a major blow to the army and a major threat to the Rangers at the station.

A post on the blog at Gorilla.cd states

“Emmanuel is doing his utmost to try and secure the station and get the remaining people out. Monuc – the UN team in DRC – thankfully knows Pierre and the others are all there and have told them not to move from the station as it is unsafe”.

This is of course terrible news for conservation as it not only puts the ICCN staff in a severely dangerous situation(over 120 rangers have died in the line of duty over recent years), but will further curtail conservation activities, patrols or management of the park. In addition, it is likely to escalate the problem of internal refugees which will deepen the environmental impact of the tens of thousands that are being displaced as they seek safety.