Tag Archives: Threats

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.

C1069

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 – Sorry, Gabon is closed today

Thursday, 3rd September

I bought a ticket on local airline CEIBA for a flight at 1300, then took a taxi to explore the local bushmeat markets in Pointe Noir. The only animals in the first market were massive Merou fish being filleted among crowded fruit and veg stalls, so we quickly moved on. Pointe Noir main market is a warren of narrow passageways between stalls selling every conceivable product, and I struggled to keep up with my guide without knocking over the displays with my camera-bag.

Once past the smoked and salted fish section, the stalls were piled with portions of wild animals – porcupines, pangolins, cane-rats, antelopes and monkeys.  It brought to mind the game butchers where I grew up in Beverley, Yorkshire, where venison, rabbits and pheasants were usually on display. 

The difference (apart from the variety of species) was that the African bushmeat trade (link to www.4apes.com/bushmeat) has grown to unsustainable levels as commercial hunters gain access to previously inaccessible forests.   I chatted to the traders to ask what other species they sold, and whether there was still a demand for ape meat.   They were quick to explain that inspectors from the Ministry of Water and Forests came by every week to check, and that no endangered species were sold.  They had been well informed by the nearby Jane Goodall Institute sanctuary, Tshimpounga, and no longer sold chimpanzee or gorilla.  “But surely older people who have always eaten it must still be trying to get some?” I said.   “They have to change their meat!”  came the reply.   I asked if he would say that on video for the YoG website, and he said he would but felt it would be better coming from the President of the Bushmeat Traders.  When introduced, the President agreed to speak on video, and once we get these HD video files compressed and on-line, you’ll see what he has to say. Mind you, it contrasts sharply with the recent exposé by Endangered Species International, reported at http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8256000/8256464.stm

 Legal bushmeat stall, Central Market, Pt Noire, Congo. Photo Ian Redmond.

Africa’s Green Heart – a new film by Steve O Taylor, partially supported by the CMS (UNEP’s Convention on Migratory Species), which includes dramatic bushmeat sequences, will soon be available from the Ape Alliance.  It is hoped that this educational resource will stimulate discussion in schools, governments and among the various interested parties in this complex issue.

Enforcing existing wildlife law is a crucial and immediate challenge in the fight for gorillas’ survival. The YoG supports a project in Congo Brazzaville. Find out more about the project here! You can also donate for it through this site.

Got back to the airport in good time to check in, get my passport stamped and just as I was putting my pocket contents into the basket for the X-ray the word came through that Gabon was closed due to the post-electoral disturbances.  The presidential elections had been close with all three main candidates declaring victory, and the situation was tense.  The next flight to Libreville wasn’t until tomorrow evening, so not wanting to waste a day and a half, and being advised that there were more flights to other range states from Malabo (the second scheduled destination), I decided to take flight anyway.

Once we were off the plane in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea on the island of Fernado Po, a friendly young customs officer seemed to think a transit visa wouldn’t be a problem once the Comisario returned to his desk and asked me to wait.   I waited. 

I could see how busy everyone was; two women sat in the corner deep in conversation, two men stood huddled over a laptop exchanging messages with someone, somewhere (I sneaked a peek) and a young guy with a games console plugged in next to the non-functional metal-detector got to the next level, did a little dance, then grinned sheepishly at me before returning to slay whatever monsters next came his way.  

No-one seemed to have within their job description ‘assisting stranded passengers’.   Now and again I’d experiment to see where exactly ‘the point they shall not pass’ was, and I’d catch someone’s eye, or a different uniform would walk through, so I would ask if I could please have a transit visa or a receipt for my passport so I could go and find a hotel for the night.   “Attendez s’il vous plait,” came the reply. 

The Comisario was a big man and once he realised he had a room full of passengers next door he took charge.  In French and Spanish he asked, “where are you all going?“   The babble of destinations was confusing, so he told everyone going to Nigeria to sit here,  to Benin, sit there, and so on.   People obediently sorted themselves geographically as his assistant collected their passports.   That was much tidier, so he walked back to his office.   There was a moment’s silence before everyone looked at each other and burst out laughing. 

I followed him to his office – well furnished with a big desk and well-upholstered leather armchairs – and tried to explain that the tidy room full of people were just here until the aircraft sitting on the tarmac outside was ready for take-off.   My situation was different and to find the next flight to one of the countries I needed to visit a travel agent, probably tomorrow, so please could I have a transit visa and all would be well.  He eventually got the message and extracted my passport from the pile, then placed it in isolation on a separate part of his desk and asked me to wait.   

I tried the ace up my sleeve, and showed him my UNEP-CMS Ordre de Mission, which listed Equatorial Guinea and asks ‘To Whom it May Concern’ to assist with a visa for my mission.   He called the flight controller down and they conferred, then the flight controller apologised and led me past the tidy but increasingly angry passengers (now rebelling by re-sorting themselves and saying they’ll never fly woth CeiBA again), upstairs to the VIP lounge where he left me in splendid isolation.   Here I could enjoy the well-upholstered leather sofas and ornate gilded glass coffee table, upon which a hostess presented me with a cold tonic (sadly no gin), and I was left alone.   But there was power, and comfort, so I blogged until I was falling asleep, then curled up under my kikoi and got some kip.

Read Ian’s previous post here!

Ian Redmond – Fish and gorillas

August 28th – Imagine you are an ant watching the ripples of a small mountain stream flowing over pebble – that is how you feel looking at giant standing waves of the Kinsuka Rapids, formed as the smooth wide waters of Stanley Pool squeeze through the narrow exit with tremendous force, en route for the Atlantic at Banana. The Congo River is unlike any other in this regard – instead of broadening into a gentle estuary or delta in its lower reaches, this immense volume of water powers through a deep crack in the rock.   

Shovelling sand near standing waves, Kinsuka Rapids, Kinshasa, DRC, small. Picture Ian Redmond.

In the foreground, battered lorries are being filled with sand by gangs of men with long-handled shovels.  Kinshasa is witnessing a building boom as stability brings investment, and the massive sand-banks are bit by bit being converted into a high-rise city.  I asked my host Melanie if she would like to say something about the links between fish and gorillas, and with the rapids behind her, she gave a great YoG interview.  “Everything that happens in the forests of the Congo Basin ends up in the river” she pointed out, “and if you lose the forests, you lose most of the fish in the river, and also in the in-shore marine fisheries that feed so many people.  So, to save the gorillas, you save the forests… and so save the fish.  It is all connected.”   What better message for the Year of the Gorilla?  

Dr Melanie Stiassny links fish and gorillas, Kinsantu Rapids, DRC side, small. Photo Ian Redmond.

Any study in a little-known habitat is likely to yield species new to science (usually well known to local people but not yet formally described) but I had heard that Melanie had found a fish so unlike any other that it needed not only a new species and genus, but a new Family. But despite jokes about fishermen’s tales, she admitted it was quite a small fish – exciting news for ichthyologists nevertheless.

By chance, one of the ichthyologists’ neighbours turned out to be Inogwabini, one of Congo’s foremost field scientists, now working with WWF.  He gave me a lift into the WWF offices, which conveniently were in the same compound as UNEP, and he also gave a bi-lingual YoG interview.  Ino had taken part in the census of Eastern Lowland Gorillas in the early to mid-1990s which came up with the widely quoted 1996 estimate of 17,000 (+or- 8,000), 86 per cent of whom lived in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park and surrounding forests.  One of the big questions hanging over gorilla conservation in the DRC is how many of these animals have survived both the coltan boom at the turn of the century (see http://www.bornfree.org.uk/animals/gorillas/conservation-research/) and the on-going occupation of the lowland sector of the park by armed militias who fight to control the lucrative flow of minerals?  

Inogwabini, Congolese conservationist with WWF, Kinshasa, small. Photo Ian Redmond.

Thanks to the monitoring of 11 gorilla groups in the 600 square km montane sector by ICCN with support from WCS (now aided by a grant from the Spanish Government through GRASP), we know that the number in this relatively well-controlled sector was reduced by half during the conflict, but is recovering.  The lowland sector (ten times bigger) is not yet secure for census work, and the fear is that the decline will be greater than in the montane sector.

Across the Mighty Congo (and even mightier bureaucratic hurdles)

After making the best of these opportunities for meetings and YoG interviews, I tried one more time for an Angolan visa. No luck – if only this honorary Ambassador title came with a diplomatic passport, there’d be no problem and the visas would be free!

Crossing the Congo River by ‘Canoe Rapide’ takes but a few minutes; getting through the various stages of buying a ticket (there are several competing companies), having your bags checked, declaring your currency and avoiding contributing to the daily income of everyone standing within a radius of five metres, while being jostled by muscular stevedores with massive loads on their heads all shouting loudly, can take an hour or more on each side if you don’t have someone to guide you through the ‘protocol’.  It is the sort of busy scene one would love to capture on video, but the mere hint of a camera emerging from bag or pocket would add yet hours to the ‘protocol’ and likely cost an arm and a leg, so you, Gentle Reader, will have to use your imagination!

Speedboat to Brazzaville Beach, small. Photo Ian Redmond.

It was late afternoon by the time I walked out of the warehouses that serve as customs offices on the famous Brazzaville Beach.  My old friend Dr Dieudonné Ankara met me – he is the GRASP Focal Point for the Congo Government and Scientific Advisor for Congo to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), and he was the one who initiated Congo’s proposal to list all gorillas on the CMS Appendix 1 (before that, only Mountain Gorillas were listed), so in a way, the whole Gorilla Agreement and YoG campaign stem from his work.

Taking one of the ubiquitous green taxis that make getting around Brazzaville so easy, we went first to the Wildlife Conservation Society office to meet Dr Trish Reed, a veterinarian working on monitoring ape health who had been at the Entebbe workshop the week before. She had kindly offered the use of a spare room and logistical help for me to get around Congo.  Unfortunately, the timing was wrong – the director of WCS Congo, Paul Telford, was in South Africa with Minister Djombo, seeking investment for Odzala National Park, and no vehicles were heading out to projects. 

It seemed that the chances of my visiting the more remote gorilla habitats in Congo were, well, remote.  Instead, we called the newly appointed Focal Point of the Gorilla Agreement, Mr Florent Ikoli, and he suggested an immediate meeting.   Florent is also the Conservator of the Lésio-Louna Gorilla Reserve where the Projet Protection des Gorilles (PPG) is based.   

PPG is the pioneering collaboration between the UK-based Aspinall Foundation and the Ministry of Economic Forestry, which is rehabilitating confiscated orphan gorillas back into the wild. Its origins go back to the efforts of the late Yvette Leroi, who began rescuing baby gorillas from traders in the 1980s, and who I met on my first visit to Brazzaville in 1989, on an investigation into this trade for  the International Primate Protection League (www.ippl.org).

We drove over to the modest PPG Brazzaville office and I noted the minibus outside, beautifully painted with scenes of forests and gorilla families, clearly used for conservation education.  On the wall inside were posters and leaflets with the equally effective message that ‘baby apes + cash = PRISON’ – with a pair of hand-cuffed wrists to hammer home the point.  This campaign to stop the illegal trade in baby apes is also backed by other GRASP partners (JGI, LAGA and WCS) as well as the Ministry.  It is an essential adjunct to the more widely publicised and photogenic task of caring for the orphans.   To find out more about a related project on Wildlife Law Enforcement (supported by the YoG) for which you can donate through this blog, click here.

Orpans like this one, be they gorillas or chimps, need urgent help. The YoG supports a wildlife law enforcement project. Picture by Ian Redmond.

Florent gave us a brief summary of the success of the reintroduction work: so far eight babies have been born in the wild, and although sadly two have died, this is not considered unusual for first-time mothers (some studies report up to 40 per cent infant mortality in natural gorilla populations).  If all goes well, this disparate group of gorillas (including some born in Kent at Howletts and Port Lympne Zoos) will be the founders of a new free-living population in habitat that hasn’t seen a gorilla in decades.  Moreover, the communities are fully supportive of the project (perhaps now realising the value of what they had lost) and are already beginning to see benefits from the tourism that the gorillas attract.

As for visiting the site, this time I was in luck. Repairs to a project vehicle should be finished by the next morning, so I could get a lift.  And two groups of tourists were expected over the weekend, so a lift back on Sunday seemed likely too. 

My weekend was set, and I would see gorillas in Congo – just not the ones I still yearn to see up north, around Odzala and Nouabali-Ndoki National Parks, wading in and feeding on water plants while elephants and sitatunga stroll by in the bai.  Next time perhaps?

Coming soon:

29th – 31st August – PPG and PALF – Bottle-fed babies and prosecuting the traders

1st – 3rd September – Visa purgatory and visible progress towards LSD bushmeat.

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.

August 15th – Crossing Lake Kivu

Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond, Year of the Gorilla Ambassador. 

These past few days since my last blog have been an extraordinary journey, not just geographically but between the extremes of human nature – great joy and inspiration contrasting with harrowing stories of our species’ ability to inflict great suffering.  Email access has been intermittent and time short, but let me bring you up to date day by day:

15th – Lake Kivu is a beautiful lake, dotted with islands and dug-out canoes.  Crossing it on the deck of a high-speed ferry is a delightful experience on a fine day.   Inside, the passenger cabin has rows of comfortable seats on either side of a central aisle and a wide-screen TV which usually shows videos.  Unfortunately the DVD player had malfunctioned so we had to make our own entertainment (reviewing rushes with the Australian Network 7 crew).  This was a particular disappointment to me because the videos most often shown nowadays are documentaries provided by the Great Apes Film Initiative (http://www.gafi4apes.org) in association with the Gorilla Organization (GO).  

Lake Kivu ferry, DRC. Picture by Mick O’Donnell.

GAFI aims to rectify the iniquitous fact that films made about wildlife by TV companies in UK, Europe, America and Japan are unaffordable to most TV stations in the developing world where so many of those documentaries are made.  Thus, the average man, woman or child in the street in UK or USA knows more about gorillas than their counterparts in Africa.  GAFI has begun to rectify that by negotiating broadcast rights for films about great apes on TV stations in great ape range states.  And with the help of partner NGOs, also organises public screenings and provides a library of such films to education centres.  

The screenings on the Lake Kivu ferries have been a great success, educating all those able to afford the $50 fare (politicians, aid workers, businessmen and -women) about the importance of conserving Congo’s forest eco-systems.  As the steward served drinks and sandwiches, I asked if he had the GAFI films and he immediately opened the cupboard under the screen to show me the BBC’s award-winning three-part series on the Congo basin.  Shame the DVD player was broken today…

Lake Kivu crossing. Pic. by Mick O’Donnell.

As we pulled up to the Goma jetty, I was met by Tuver Wundi, a journalist who works with GO;  we did a quick YoG interview with Captain Amisi about the GAFI films (sorry, video uploading not yet sorted, so plan B is to send DVDs to colleagues at the Convention on Migratory Species – thank you, Gentle Reader, for  your patience.  If that fails, I guess I’ll try tying them to the leg of a pigeon!!).   Tuver bounced me to the border on the back of his trail bike, negotiating volcanic rocks and the famous lava flow through the middle of the town, to meet Jillian Miller, GO CEO. She was waiting in line at the DRC border-post, crossing into Rwanda, after showing a BBC World team a GO project that had been nominated for an award (see http://www.gorillas.org/worldchallenge09 ). 

Ian interviews local villagers, Kivu region, DRC. Picture by Mick O’donnell

Before I crossed, however, I wanted to visit the GO Resource Centre and interview some Goma conservationists about the Year of the Gorilla.  I rang Pierre Peron, a former Ape Alliance volunteer now working for ICCN, the Congolese Wildlife Dept, and received some shocking news.  The previous day, a patrol of Virunga Park rangers had come across some hippo poachers near Lake Edward.   The poachers had opened fire and in the ensuing fire-fight, one ranger had been killed.  Without doubt, the rangers patrolling DRC parks are among the most courageous protectors of Nature on the planet.  Senior staff were understandably busy dealing with the aftermath and unavailable for a YoG interview, so I talked to my old friend Vital Katembo and the GO team instead, before crossing into Rwanda to meet up with the Australians again.

Read Ian’s previous post here.

14th August – Miners and minors

Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond. 

The biggest threat facing all the large mammals in Kahuzi-Biega NP is illegal hunting for the bushmeat trade. In the illegal mining camps in the park, miners who spend their days doing hard physical labour need protein.  They buy bushmeat from teams of hunters who comb the forest for animals and trade meat for minerals – so much ore bartered for so much meat.  Traditionally the Bashi people of this area do not eat ape meat, but it seems that in the mining camps, traditional taboos are swept aside in the turmoil of war and the desire for profit.  And as numerous reports have observed, from NGOs such as Global Witness right up to the UN Security Council, those profits are used by the militias who control the mines to acquire weapons and ammunition.  For the miners themselves, if the choice is between ape-meat and no meat, it is hardly surprising they choose to eat – as John Kahekwa, founder of the Pole Pole Foundation is fond of saying ‘an empty stomach has no ears’.

Kalimbi artisanal mine, Eastern DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

I was keen to meet some of the miners, but the lowland sector of the park is still under the control of ‘negative forces’.   After clearing our plans with MONUC yesterday, we drove instead to Kalehe today, along the lake-side road with stunning views of islands and inlets.  The mine we had arranged to visit was extracting a tin ore called cassiterite rather than the better known coltan, but both minerals are used in the manufacture of electronic devices.  We were accompanied by a government security man from Bukavu, and after meeting the Kalehe local authorities, another one from there.  Finally we met the chief of the village near the mines, and he too decided to accompany us.  We drove a few more kilometres to a steep-sided valley with sides scarred by mining waste.  Down in the valley, the stream had been repeatedly dammed and diverted to produce small alcoves with waterfalls to wash the ore.  Clusters of people were shovelling gravel or swishing it with their hands to release the sediment which was carried downstream.  The sediment-filled water was in stark contrast to the clear mountain streams that flowed down the hill before meeting the mine tailings.

Modifying stream flow to wash cassiterite, Kalimbi, E.DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

Many of the people in the stream-bed were clearly teenagers, some even younger. Mines in eastern DRC are notorious for using child labour, but although many of these miners were minors, to be fair it was the school holidays and like teenagers everywhere they were working to earn a few bob.  The presence of mothers with babies and people of both sexes and all ages carrying sacks and washing ore gave it the feel of a sort of community mine.  There was no apparent overseer forcing the kids to work, they seemed self-motivated and cheerful despite their obvious poverty.  At my request, the village chief asked some of them if they attended school, and of course they dutifully nodded..

Woman carrying 36 kg of Cassiterite, DRC. Photo Ian Redmond.

A smallish woman came down the steep path with a fore-head strap supporting a sack of ore on her lower back.  I helped to lift it off and – impressed by the weight – borrowed a spring balance.  It weighed 36 Kg but she laughed at my surprise and said it wasn’t particularly heavy.  We followed the path up the hillside to the mines – simple holes dug into the ground by men with torches strapped to the side of their head, wielding lump-hammers and chisels. Outside the mine entrance, a boy sat pounding ore into smaller fragments and picking out the heavy bits that contained cassiterite.  The waste was tipped down the hillside, causing the scarring we had seen from the opposite side, and promising bits were put into sacks to be taken down and washed in the stream.  Jason the camera-man followed the miners down into the ground and I followed him down the steep descent, slippery with mud.  This kind of mining is known as artisanal mining, and it doesn’t get much more basic than this.  Squatting in the dark with weak batteries in their torches (another expense to come out of the meagre earnings) men were hammering their chisels into the rock face and assessing by weight and appearance the lumps they chipped off.  After taking some video of the work, I gave my camera to one of the security men behind me and gave it a go.  I used to work for a builder when I was a teenager, so using a lump-hammer and chisel was not new to me, but in the confined space it was difficult to swing the hammer, and when I did chisel off a few lumps, the owner of the tools pointed out that there was no cassiterite in them.  It may be hot, sweaty manual work, but you need to know what you are doing if you want to make a living out of it.

Miners at work underground, Kalimbi, E.DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

Back at the cars, I interviewed the president of the Kalimbi miners, Mr Safari Kulimushi, and asked him about the laundering of illegally mined minerals.  He said that the biggest problem was the insecurity – people never knew when the next armed gang would come through killing, raping and looting homes.  Because of that, it was difficult to monitor what was going on in all the mines.  Things were much better organised when there were expatriates running the mines, he opined, because they had machines  gave training.and maintained the roads better.  We both agreed that what the area needed was investment from the industries that used the tin and tantalum being mined here – then workers would get a fair wage and be taught how to mine safely (we saw not a single helmet, pit-prop or safety device) whilst minimising the environmental impact.  

M.Safari Kulimushi, President of Miners at Kalimbi, E.DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

And if the industry investment included developing a system of certification, then the use of ‘conflict minerals’ would be reduced if not eliminated.  This is what the Gorilla Organization has been trying to do with the Durban Process (so called because they first got miners, traders and end-users around a table in Durban to hammer out an agreement and develop plans to set up a model mine to show how it should be done).  Unfortunately the process has stalled due to lack of resources – there is only so much a small NGO can do.  So again, one has to ask where is the investment from the wealthiest industries on the planet – electronic goods manufacturers who use the tin in solder and tantalum in capacitors, or for that matter the media and telecommunications companies that depend on electronic goods?

Heavy metal - cassiterite tin ore, E.DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

The journey back to Bukavu was long, bumpy, dusty and – for most of it – dark. When the steel plate that protects the sump rattled loose for the second time, I got out my Swiss Army knife and cut another length of para-cord to tie it up again.  You are a sitting duck in such a situation, and indeed we were ambushed – but by kindness not bullets – as locals came out to see what was going on, and one man immediately volunteered to crawl under the vehicle to tie up the plate.  He didn’t even ask for payment, just shook our hand and wished us a safe journey, which is what we had – arriving back at the hotel at nearly 10.00pm for a late supper.

That’s all for now folks – tomorrow, on to Goma.

Cheers, Ian

Read Ian’s previous post here.

Good news from the PALF Law Enforcement Project (The Rep. of Congo)

Dear all,

An ivory dealer called Kamusu was arrested some months ago (linked with the dealer Ikama) and has been judged. The judges were very strict as Kamusu has to pay 2,000 Euros and stay 3 years in prison.

Moreover, 7 people who had stolen 195 tusks from the “Direction Départementale de l’Economie Forestière de la Sangha” were also strctly judged with several years in prison and several millions FCFA to pay.

Sincerely,
Luc Mathot
Coordinator

—————————————————

Bonjour à tous,

A trafiquant d’ivoire appelé Kamusu et arrêté il y a quelques mois dans le cadre du Projet PALF (et lié au trafiquant Ikama) a été jugé jeudi dernier. Les juges ont fait preuve de sévérité et ont condamné Kamusu à trois ans de prison fermes et une amende à payer de 2000 Euros.

Par ailleurs, les 7 responsables d’un vol de 195 défenses d’éléphants à la Direction Départementale de l’Economie Forestière de la Sangha ont été sévèrement jugés à plusieurs années d’emprisonnement ferme et à des amendes élevées.

Ces deux cas sont très encourageants et montrent clairement la prise de conscience positive des autorités.

13th August 2009: Security and sanctuary in South Kivu

Posted (with regrettable delay) on behalf of Ian Redmond.

Today didn’t quite work out as planned.  Early in the morning I bumped into the vice-governor of South Kivu province, Jean Claude Kibala, who I’d met at the Frankfurt Gorilla Conference and who was busy making arrangements for President Kabila, who was visiting Bukavu.  I asked him whether he thought the President would give a message for the Year of the Gorilla.  He thought it quite likely, given the economic importance of gorilla tourism in the region, and said he’d call this evening if it could be arranged.

Ian Redmond.

The Australian Network 7 film crew, minus the producer and me, had already set off early to Kahuzi-Biega National Park HQ to film the morning deployment of rangers and gorilla monitoring teams.  Eleven groups of gorillas are monitored daily in the 600 square kilometre highland sector of the park, despite the dangers of ‘negative forces’ (militias) they may encounter in the forest.  As yet it is too dangerous to have this level of conservation activity in the 10 times bigger lowland sector.  Rebel militias (which effectively means armed bandits) living in the forest need the same equipment as park guards, so attacks on guard posts are all too common.   The producer, Mick O’Donnell, and I intended to visit the Bukavu base of MONUC, the UN Mission in DRC, to check the security situation for Kalehe (where we wanted to film at a mine the next day) then planned to join the crew to film community conservation projects of the Pole Pole Foundation (PoPoF) around the park.  

MONUC is a large, multi-national military operation, and to cut a long story short, we were directed here, there and everywhere by people from Poland, Niger, Pakistan and Egypt without finding the person with whom Mick had been corresponding.   By early afternoon we were out at the airport base talking to a friendly Indonesian officer (who had studied at Monash University in Melbourne so spoke Australian, and came from Sumatra where he had visited orangutans).  Bizarrely, we then found ourselves listening to a conversation in Bahasa as he called his Indonesian colleague in the area of the mine we hoped to film.   Fortunately, all was calm in that area and we got the go-ahead to drive there without the need of a UN escort.  For the first time ever in Africa, I found my self saying ‘terimah kasi’, rather than ‘asante sana’ as we thanked him for his time and called the crew to meet up.

Australian TV presenter Grant Denyer watches Andrea Edwards feeding orphan chimpanzees, Lwiro, DRC. -  Photo Ian Redmond

Frustratingly, the crew by then had finished filming the PoPoF projects and were heading for Lwiro, where a small sanctuary for confiscated primates has been created in recent years.  Although sad to have missed the tree-planting and school children singing, I was delighted to visit Lwiro because it was two years since my last visit and I have both human and non-human friends there.  The Centre for Research in Natural Science in Lwiro is a fascinating place – a large and beautifully constructed complex that now sadly looks rather dilapidated.  It was built during the Belgian colonial period with labs and offices linked by covered walkways with arches, giving a cloister-like feel, as if it was a remote monastery for science.  In recent years CO-OPERA, a Spanish NGO, has formed a partnership with ICCN and PoPoF to co-manage the sanctuary.   ICCN is responsible for all wild animals in DRC and needed somewhere to keep animals confiscated from illegal traders or pet owners.   Lwiro had some old cages and was used as a convenient stop-gap until a proper sanctuary and rehabilitation centre can be built with the aim of eventual return to the wild for any animals fit enough.

Bertin MURHABALE and Jean Jaques BAGALWA, CRSN, Lwiro, DRC - Photo Ian Redmond.

The Oz crew were keen to interview Andrea Edwards, an Australian primate keeper on secondment to Lwiro from Melbourne Zoo. I was equally keen to catch up with Carmen Vidal, a Spanish vet I’d met on my last visit soon after she had arrived to take over running the sanctuary.   I was impressed by the new, bigger cages for the chimpanzees and monkeys (though suggested that weaving some visual barriers out of branches might help the inmates deal with the inevitable ‘cabin fever’ of being locked up together in such a small space).   Carmen had a surprise in store.   A short walk from the building where the new and old cages were, she showed me a new dormitory nearing completion to better house the growing number of chimpanzees – some of whom are now adult.   Excitedly, she explained the plan to enclose two hectares of forest and two hectares of grassy scrub with an electric fence.   “The chimpanzees will be out of their cages by the end of the year!” she said. 

“And is all the funding in place?” I asked.  

Carmen Vidal of the Lwiro Sanctuary, DRC. Photo by Ian Redmond.

“Not quite,” she replied, “we are not yet approved by PASA, and some supporters will not send funds to sanctuaries that are not up to PASA standards, but of course without funds it is hard to make the improvements that are needed to achieve that standard!”

Quickly I grabbed my video camera and asked her to summarise, thinking I’d post her appeal on the Ape Alliance website (there being no confiscated gorillas at Lwiro;  sadly infant gorillas are illegally traded but when confiscated they are kept at a separate facility in the region under the care of specialist gorilla vets).  You can find out more about Lwiro at http://lwiro.blogspot.com/

While the film crew were finishing their interviews, John Kahekwa introduced me to Bertin Murhabale, a primate researcher and Jean Jaques Bagalwa, head of the Biology Department at CRSN,   I had collected a segment of gorilla tapeworm yesterday, and needed to fix it in Formalin.  They took me to see their labs where, on the bench, were piles of bags of gorilla and chimpanzee faecal samples.  Unfortunately, the primatology lab has no microscope or centrifuge, and Jean Jaques admitted that the whole research centre has only one old monocular microscope.  I invited them to give a YoG-Blog interview, which you’ll see once I find a way to upload it (but if you are reading this in a lab with old scientific equipment unused in a cupboard, do get in touch!).

Filming over, we rushed back to Bukavu (well, as fast as one can rush on atrocious roads in the dark), passing in and out of telephone network coverage, still waiting for that important ‘phone call that might add the first Head of State to the YoG Blog interviewees.  But as you might have guessed, the call never came;  maybe another opportunity will arise when I pass through Kinshasa….

Cheers, Ian

Read Ian’s previous post here.

Kahuzi Biega National Park, Coltan and Militias

Posted on behalf of YoG Ambassador Ian Redmond. 

So here we are in Bukavu, and after a very positive meeting with the park warden, are preparing to visit the park and the habituated gorillas tomorrow.  

But this area faces many other problems that the world has largely ignored. We spoke to a BBC news crew this evening who have been filming the mining issue from the human rights point of view. Their presence here was triggered by the recent report by Global Witness (www.globalwitness.org) on the shared responsibility we in the developed world must recognise for on-going atrocities linked to militias controlling mining operations. When we buy electronic goods, we cannot say for sure that our money is not paying for tin or tantalum (mined here in eastern DRC as cassiterite and coltan respectively) bought from rebel militias who repeatedly rape and murder to terrorise civilians in their sphere of influence.  Coltan ore confiscated in gorilla habitat, Kahuzi Biega, DRC. Picture by Ian Redmond.

Some half a million people have fled from their homes in eastern DRC as a result, and the death toll since the war began is 5 million and rising. Humanitarian reports from this region make shocking reading, and lead one to wonder why more is not being done. If even one of the hundreds of such incidents were to happen anywhere else in the world, it would be front-page news, but few reporters cover the violence in DRC. In the face of such chilling events, why would anyone care about a few gorillas being killed for bushmeat?   

The fact is, before the war, the gorillas in Kahuzi Biega brought thousands of tourists and prosperity to the region. The DRC parks department is working towards the day when the tourists return, and already a few brave pioneers are turning up each week to enjoy a gorilla encounter. Moreover, the agriculture in this region depends on the rainfall generated by the forest; and the future of the forest depends on the seed dispersal agents such as primates, elephants and hornbills surviving to play their ecological role, sowing the trees of tomorrow.

With that thought, I will blog off and get some kip before tomorrow comes!Cheers,Ian

Visit www.yog2009.org for more on the Year of the Gorilla.

Read here how Ian’s journey began.

YoG Ambassador Ian Redmond embarks on State of the Gorilla journey

Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond.

They say a journey begins with a single step, and this one is no different, though it nearly didn’t happen.  Having picked up some YoG posters and stickers from my tiny office in the English market town of Stroud, I shouldered my rucksack, picked up my camera-bag and walked to the station.  It seemed odd exchanging greetings with people enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon drink outside the pub, knowing that I would travel through ten countries on foot, plane, dug-out and bus, through tropical forests and vibrant African cities before walking back past the same pub.  

Oddly enough, just over 24 hours later, I was exchanging greetings with people enjoying a quiet Monday evening drink in a bar in Cyangugu, Rwanda, on the border with DRC – the Democratic Republic of Congo.   Maybe it is our predilection for alcohol that unites people across the world – that, and the fact that both groups of drinkers almost certainly don’t know the UN has designated 2009 as the Year of the Gorilla, and probably wouldn’t care very much if they did, thinking it had no relevance to them.  

Rwanda is home to Mountain Gorillas and a rapidly incr. human population - Pic. by Ian Redmond

Some cynics have cast doubts on the usefulness of high-level campaigns and statements in the rarefied atmosphere of international meetings, questioning what difference it makes on the ground. One of the motivations of this journey is to find out just that.  Who knows or cares about it in the countries where gorillas live?    

Ten Gorilla Countries, 100 Interviews, Five weeks!

The aim of this journey is to gain a first-hand impression of the state of the gorilla (both species, all sub-species) in the Year of the Gorilla, and share these impressions on this YoG Blog.   The aim is also give the opportunity for about ten people in each country, from poachers to Presidents, conservationists to loggers, and the proverbial ‘man or woman in the street’, to speak on camera about what gorillas mean to them and what they think the UN YoG might achieve.  In Britain we talk of knowing the views of ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’ – well I propose to find out what the men and women think on the Brazzaville, Kinshasa or Calabar omnibus! So the target is: 10 countries, 100 interviews, 5 weeks!  

Wherever possible, I’ll travel by public transport or get lifts, and seek the opinions of the people who live in or around gorilla habitat, or whose activities in towns and cities impact on same.  In each country, I’m hoping to visit at least one area of gorilla habitat and the capital city where, with the help of colleagues and friends, we’ll generate some local media interest in gorillas, their role in the forests and the role of those forests in mitigating climate change.  This ambitious itinerary, however, has only a shoe-string budget, and so I would welcome any practical help researchers, conservationists and other gorilla-friends in the field can give.

Mountain Gorilla infants playing in a tree. Picture by Rene Nijenhuis.

Network 7 and Korean TV to the rescue

When the concept of a journey through all ten gorilla range states was first put to me, we envisaged a team effort with a videographer, photographer and reporter. Unfortunately, although there were lots of expressions of interest, no media sponsor responded to our proposal with a budget and it looked as though it would not get off the drawing board. 

Then a few weeks ago, a Korean film crew making a two-part documentary about the Year of the Gorilla entitled ‘Tears of King Kong’ contacted us. They were planning to film conservation activity in and around the Virunga Volcanoes, and then travel to Congo Brazzaville to cover activities countering the threats facing western lowland gorillas, and when they invited me to join them, I began to think some of our State of the Gorilla Journey might piggy-back on their plans. 

Soon afterwards, an Australian TV crew from Network 7 contacted me to help them make a report on eastern lowland gorillas and the threats from mining for coltan and tin, and the work of ICCN, Pole Pole Foundation and local community conservation initiatives to counter those threats.   Their offer of funding to fly out and join them in DRC clinched it – on a wing and a prayer, the solo State of the Gorilla Journey was just possible!!!

So much for today. I will try to blog almost daily over the upcoming weeks, and there should be numerous photos, movies and interviews, so STAY TUNED!

Cheers, Ian