Tag Archives: Rwanda

How to tell gorillas apart?

Hello, this is Emmanuel,

I recently went into the Virunga Mountains in northern Rwanda to see how our little mountain gorilla Iwacu and her family are doing. It took us about 2 hours until we found her and mother Turiho at a beautiful glade, collecting food.

As you can see from the picture below, little Iwacu, who is usually very lively, was not in a very playful mood that morning, as it is currently rainy season in Rwanda which mountain gorillas are not really keen of. Unfortunately, we could not detect any other family members, but I’m sure they are all well off and were just finding shelter from the rain somewhere.


Did you actually ever ask yourself how gorillas are distinguished and how we knew that the mountain gorillas we came across were Iwacu and her mom Turiho? Well, there are two distinct differences every gorilla has. The first one is their fingerprint. Just like humans every gorilla has a unique fingerprint, that tells their identity. However, since it is impossible to always take fingerprints of every gorilla we come across, we just tell them apart by the shape of their noses. Just like the fingerprint every gorilla has a uniquely shaped nose, which allows trackers to tell our beautiful cousins apart.

I hope you all like the picture I took of Iwacu, and I will keep you updated with more news on our lovely gorillas down here in Africa.

Video News from the Volcanoes National Park!

Hi, this is Tuver,

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 16.31.47

Just recently, I travelled to the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda to track mountain gorillas located there. On my tour I came across the Umubano family, which consists of 14 members and is led by the awesome alpha silverback Charles. The name Umubano is Kinyarwandan, which translated means neighborliness, and is the name of the other silverback in the group. He used to be in charge before Charles took over.

As you guys can see from this video the group is doing fine, spending their days grooming one another or playing around. Young gorillas are usually more active than their older companions, and like to wrestle, tumble and climb trees. They also develop much faster than human infants and begin to bounce and play at about 8 weeks.

I hope you guys enjoy the video I took and as usual I will keep you updated with the latest news on our gorillas here in Africa.

The Solar Sisters are back!

The excitement and happiness of our ladies arriving at the airport

The excitement and happiness of our ladies arriving at the airport

Hi this is Emmanuel,

After a hard six months of training, our special team of ladies, The Solar Sisters from Rwanda, are back and ready to bring electricity to their home villages!

In March 2012, the Gorilla Organization, along with the Government of Rwanda ,UNESCO and the Government of India sent a team of four illiterate women to India to receive special training at the Barefoot College to become solar energy engineers. This project will be benefiting two sectors including Musanze of Musanze district, (Northern Province of Rwanda) and Bugeshi of Rubavu district (Western Province of Rwanda).

If you remember, a few months ago, the first team of Solar Sisters from DR Congo came back from the training in India and successfully installed electricity in the Rusayo village. They also held a couple of demonstrations in Burusi and Ngitse and the plan was to solar electrify 50 houses in each of the two villages surrounding Mount Tshiabirimu (area of Virunga National Park, DR Congo).

The Solar Ladies from Rwanda arrived in mid-September at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda and the excitement took over the place as you can see in the photographs. They were so happy to come back to their families and friends, but most importantly for having learned so much bringing along a lot of benefits to their villages, like giving the children the possibility of study after it’s gone dark and their parents the chance to work past dusk.

I will be sure to keep you posted with more news and updates about this, but for now let’s congratulate our ladies for coming back home safe and sound and for their great achievement in becoming experts in solar energy!

Solar Sisters arriving at Enttebe airport in Uganda

Solar Sisters arriving at Enttebe airport in Uganda

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].

Meeting Titus just days before he died

Dear Friends,

This is a letter we recieved from Rusty Stewart about meeting Titus, the silverback made famous by Dian Fossy in Gorillas in the Mist.

SEPTEMBER 21, 2009

When I was at ORTPN getting my gorilla trekking permits and it was taking a long time I had an opportunity to watch a documentary about Titus, the Silverback who died last week at the age of thirty five.  He had a very interesting and tumultuous life which included being orphaned at a young age, dodging poachers successfully for years, surviving the Rwandan Genocide by moving to the very top of  Visoke to avoid rebels bent on killing gorillas, surviving the death of Digit,  the leader of his group and one of Dian Fossey’s favorites,  living in an all male group for several years and  finally taking over the group  and leading it successfully for years fathering many new babies.  He seemed to have a philosophy of life that made him charismatic and in my view very human.

With thoughts of Titus on my mind, I set off for Ruhengeri to start my gorilla trek. The trek starts at 0700 and the excitement in the folks was palpable. Each group has 8 people and our group set out with our guide to find our gorilla group.  After a short ride over a very rough road we de-camped. It was a tough 3 hour climb, steadily uphill, through a bamboo forest.  I would be lying if I suggested it was easy.  As the oldest in my group, I had a porter who helped me and I often needed his help.  Then we stopped, left our bags, poles,etc, walked on another hundred feet and there he was… our Silverback, sitting like a Buddha..

Mountain gorilla rwanda Titus

We were all mesmerized at how close we were to him.

Titus mountain Gorilla Rwanda

Our guide was able to speak gorilla which was great so if there was movement he could tell us whether we should be afraid or not.  Other gorillas started to arrive and we enjoyed a real show.  Three young gorillas and two mature females.

Titus mountain Gorilla Rwanda

Titus mountain Gorilla Rwanda

The young were intent on entertaining us, but when they came too close to us the Silverback would give what sounded like a small cough and they would run back up to him.

Too soon, our hour of excitement was over and we hiked back down the mountain.

What a thrilling experience, and certainly worth every penny!  I’ve included some of my favorite pictures so you can see how wonderful they are to see in their natural habitat.

I am just finishing Farley Mowat’s book Virunga, The Passion of Dian Fossey (Seal Books McClelland-Bantam, Inc, Toronto)  I am in I recommend it to anyone interested in her struggle to protect the Mountain Gorilla from poacher, and the encroachment of the world.

A word about why I’m in Rwanda right now.  My husband chose to spend a month here teaching anesthesia, as part of an ongoing project sponsored jointly  by the Canadian Society of Anesthesia  and  the American Society, in the university hospital programs in Kigali and Huye.  I have accompanied him and have done some volunteering for Vision Finance International the micro finance arm of the charity World Vision. We have also been accompanied by a young anesthesia resident from the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. This  project has been going on for almost two years now and is being very well received.

Today my two adult children are here and they left in the last hour for Ruhengeri to have their own gorilla adventure.  Later all of us will leave Rwanda for Kenya and a Safari.

Titus mountain Gorilla Rwanda

Thank you Rusty for sharing this story with us. Rest in Peace knowing that you changed the world Titus. 


Silverback Titus has died in Rwanda

Dear Friends

We are so sorry to be the bearers of bad and sad news- Titus, the star from Gorilla in the Mist has died.

 Titus Silverback gorilla rwanda

KIGALI: The world’s most famous mountain gorilla Titus, aka the Gorilla King, has died at the age of 35, the Rwandan national parks office said Tuesday.

‘He was born on August 24, 1974 and has been observed closely by researchers throughout his entire life. Tragically, he succumbed to old age on September 14,’ a statement said.

Rwanda’s oldest silverback was made famous notably by a BBC documentary broadcast in 2008 and called ‘Titus: the Gorilla King.’

YoG Ambassador Ian Redmond, who knew Titus since infancy, said: “The death of any individual who plays such an important role in his community is a sad occasion.  All who knew Titus will mourn his passing in their own way – whether gorilla or human.  For me it is like losing an old friend – he was the first gorilla I saw when beginning my work as Dian Fossey’s research assistant in 1976.   He was a playful two-year-old and I was a newly graduated biologist, so we both had a lot to learn.   But Titus’s death from natural causes at 35 is also a triumph for conservation – how wonderful that we humans have been able to leave him the space to flourish and become the most successful silverback on record, then grow old and die surrounded by his family.   The King is dead, yes, but long live the King – his son Kuryama.”

The highly-endangered mountain gorillas are found only on the slopes of the Virunga mountains on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Fewer than 700 mountain gorillas are left, according to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

Both Rwanda and Uganda have turned gorilla tracking into a major eco-tourism industry and a big foreign-currency earner.

Legendary American primatologist Dian Fossey, who until her brutal murder in 1985 lived in the Virunga, is credited with bringing the mountain gorilla’s plight to the world’s attention and most likely saving it from extinction.

Fossey’s isolated life in the mountains of Rwanda was immortalised in the 1988 Hollywood movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist.’— AFP

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 18 – Role models and a sexy Mountain Gorilla encounter

Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond.

Up at 4.45am! Yahaya was on time too and after hurtling along the winding road in the dawn light, we arrived at Kinigi to find the car park bustling.  The Chief Warden, Prosper, was expecting me and I was assigned to Group 13, along with an American honeymoon couple, an English couple and two blokes from Barcelona.  The throng of people began to form clusters around signs, eight to each group, and the briefings began.  Our guide, Edward, gave a bit of background to the park, the gorilla researchers over the years and began the basics of gorilla etiquette.

Ian Redmond with gorilla watchers, Volcanoes NP, Rwanda. Picture Ian Redmond.

We drove a short way to the park boundary, had another briefing on how to behave in the forest, then squeezed between a gap in the buffalo wall only to meet a couple of buffaloes!  They quickly moved off, but Edward thought it expedient for us to squeeze out of the park again and walk along the outside of the wall a ways. We passed a team of villagers repairing the wall (for free) where an elephant had recently damaged it. When we entered, I was excited to see huge washing-up-bowl-sized footprints in the mud where the elephant’s feet had sunk in deep.  

The path we followed first was familiar to me as an old coffee-smuggling route (bags would be carried across the border in whichever direction led to the highest coffee price at the time) but we soon climbed over a ridge and dropped steeply down into a crater called Kibumba.  

The gorillas were high on the opposite crater wall, and were still feeding when we reached them.  I suggested we wait a while before beginning the allotted hour because trying to watch them while they were travel-feeding on a steep slope would have made for a very difficult time for all.  Everyone was desperate to see their first gorilla, but understood why it was better to wait. When we eventually did climb up towards them, they were still feeding but not moving much, and a couple of infants delighted everyone by posing for the camera then wrestling gently.  

We then witnessed what might be called the ‘bottom line’ of gorilla conservation, and I realised that some of my videos might need a PG rating, because Agashya, the silverback began mating with one of his females.  I can tell you it was an unusual copulation, but I will save the more detailed account of this fascinating behaviour for an exclusive article in BBC Wildlife Magazine at the end of the year.

Mountain Gorillas slide down slope during copulation, Infant watches fascinated - Photo Ian Redmond.

Briefly, they started above the tourist group, then slipped and slithered down the slope, with barely a break in his rhythm, ending up against a thicket 10 metres below, watched closely by the female’s two-year old infant.   It certainly was the climax of our observations… groan… In fact, I thought we might get a few more hits than usual if we include the phrase ‘slithering sex’ in the key words for this blog!

All three eat celery after the mating is over! - Photo Ian Redmond.

We left them enjoying a post-copulatory snack of celery and slithered down the slope ourselves to the crater bottom where everyone recorded their impressions for the YoG Blog. It was a grand day out indeed, but there was one more pleasant surprise in store. 

Gorilla guide Edward is a role model for local kids, Kinigi, Rwanda - Photo Ian Redmond.

Edward had mentioned that some of the boys living around the park HQ were really interested in his work and would often ask him questions. I asked if he could round up a few for a YoG interview and he called over four delightful young lads who clearly saw him as a role model. On camera, two said they wanted to be gorilla guides and two said gorilla vets, and I couldn’t help but rejoice that in Edward, they had a better role model to follow than some…

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!

August 16th – Ex-Militiamen’s long way back to normality

 Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond.

16th – Gisenyi is a peaceful place for a holiday, with a golden sandy beach and luxury hotels.   Recently, Presidents Kabila and Kagame, of DRC and Rwanda, held a joint press conference on the border between the twin towns of Goma (DRC side) and Gisenyi (Rwanda side).   The event created a palpable sense of optimism that security and stability might soon return to the region.  

Part of that process involves trying to lure back the armed militias of Rwandan origin who have been living as outlaws, terrorising villagers, in the forests of eastern DRC since the genocide 15 years ago.  Today, the Network 7 crew had arranged to visit a nearby Demobilisation and Rehabilitation Centre to interview some of these ex-combatants who, in an extraordinary experiment, are being given the chance of a new life. 

The smooth tarmac of Rwanda’s roads wound upwards from the lake and we were soon pulling into a compound with several large corrugated iron buildings.  From one of them came the sound of singing and clapping – music is central to Rwandan culture – and after a short wait we entered the barn-like hall.   The 200 or so men had clearly been given a lecture, and among the Kinyarwandan words on the blackboard, one stood out – ‘jenocide’.   

The principle behind this scheme is that people show remorse for the suffering they have caused, and learn to live a normal life again.  Our driver Yahaya announced in Kinyarwanda what we hoped to do, and asked if any of those present had been involved with mining or bushmeat poaching.   Quite a few stood up and out of those prepared to talk to the camera, we selected three.  The most harrowing for me was the second, Emanuel, a fresh-faced, slender young man of 22.   Yes, he had killed people he said; he was five when he fled to Congo, and 12 when he first killed;  he had used guns, knives and machetes – whatever was to hand – and didn’t know how many people he had killed.  My heart went out to him as much as to those he had bereaved, because he was a victim too.  

Emanuel Hakizimana, former child soldier in DRC, now returned to Rwanda - Photo Ian Redmond.

The use of child soldiers to commit atrocities is one of the most chilling practices. We are social beings and when young, follow the example of those who care for us.   Children need role models, but if your role model is a murderer and heaps praise on you when you kill, you become trapped in a twisted parody of family life and then used as a tool to commit evil deeds.  I noticed he was wearing a crucifix, and he explained he had become a Christian since returning to Rwanda.  One can but hope that his new faith will help keep him on the right path.

The other two men, Samuel and Valence, were older and a little more guarded in their answers.   They had been adults in 1994 and when Grant Denyer, the Network 7 presenter, asked about whether they had killed simply said that when one shoots in a war, one cannot tell if your bullet hits someone.  As well as unknown numbers of people, all three also admitted to killing chimpanzees, elephant and, in Valence’s case, gorillas.  I asked whether it was a male or female gorilla, and he replied it was a silverback he had killed and butchered for meat.   “But Rwandans don’t eat gorillas,” I said, “Why did you do it?” “Because I was with Congolese soldiers who told me to.”  And I suppose that if he had refused, he might not be here today….

He insisted that he regretted his crimes and was grateful for the chance of a new start in life, but all three were worried about how they would make a living when they re-entered normal society.  As we pulled away and drove to Kigali, we were worried too – deep in thought about what we had heard and wondering whether their remorse was real and whether ‘normal society’ was ready to accept them, warts and all.

Read Ian’s previous post here.