Tag Archives: Uganda

News from the International Population, Health and Environment Conference 2013

Hi, This is Sam,

I recently went to Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia, where the International Population, Health and Environment Conference (PHE) 2013 was being held. I attended this annual convention along with many civil society organizations, government officials, researchers and donors from across the world. We gathered to share, learn, network and identify the needs and priorities of PHE advocates and organizers.

The conference was spread over two days and offered many interesting seminars such as “Integrating PHE in rural agricultural interventions among small holder farmers”, or “Sustaining and scaling up PHE interventions in and around national parks in Uganda”. We also discussed how we can raise the profile of our PHE efforts and results as this could increase new donor interest in our projects.

Overall, it was a pretty amazing and very informative event, and it was incredible to see PHE members from all over the world working together towards the same goal of improving PHE’s global projects. My positive experience makes me look forward to next year’s conference – but don’t worry until then I will of course keep you posted with news about other projects and events that are happening down here in Africa!

PHE_group

Meet Regina!

Hi, this is Sam,

DSCN0569Just recently I went to see my college Regina in Kisoro, a town in Western Uganda.  Regina is our Field Officer and an expert when it comes to gardening and teaching farmers about organic sustainable agriculture. Her role is very important as her training allows local communities to grow their own food, which not only enables them to feed their own families but also provides a source of income to farmers who decide to sell their crops.

Regina has been working for our organization for more than 7 years and is very passionate about her job. Over the years she has overseen the training of more than 11,000 farmers, including many reformed poachers, teaching them about the importance of agriculture and its potential to alleviate poverty in Uganda. Her dedication to the job has helped many communities around the Virunga Mountains and has made her a vital and much-valued member of our organization.

Here are a few pictures of here in action, visiting local schools and teaching students how they can grow their own organic crops in a sustainable manner rather than rely on the resources of the nearby forest, which is home to Uganda’s critically-endangered mountain gorillas. The pictures were taken by a young Englishman called Luke, who showed great interest in our work. If you too are ever in Uganda and want to see our projects in action – or just want to say hello – then do get in touch as we’d love to hear from you!

DSCN0574DSCN0636

Strategy meeting in Kampala!

 

Hi, this is Tuver,

IMG_5712

I am currently in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, attending the annual staff strategy meeting of our organization. The purpose of this meeting is to reflect on the projects and achievements of 2013 as well as to plan new and better strategies and projects to save gorillas, for the year ahead of us.

Among the attendees we had our Chairman Ian Redmond and Executive Director Jilian Miller as well as our DR Congo Program Manager Henry, and our Program Managers Emmanuel and Sam who came in from Rwanda and Uganda (see picture above).

It is really exciting to see everybody again and to work together on our objectives for 2014. The determination by my colleges to help, not only the gorillas but also the local communities here in central Africa who suffer poverty, is amazing and makes me look forward to the New Year!

Thank you all for your ongoing support and as always I will keep you updated with the latest news on our work here in Africa.

IMG_5714IMG_5716

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

Interest in pedal-powered cinema keeps on growing!

Pupils taking part of the pedal-powered cinema in Kabale

Pupils taking part of the pedal-powered cinema in Kabale

Hi, this is Tuver,

Out of all the projects and initiatives that the Gorilla Organization undertakes in Africa, the Pedal-Powered Cinema is becoming more and more popular among members of the local communities of Uganda.

The idea of having an adapted bicycle that, when pedalled, produces enough power to screen films has been drawing people’s attention and interest and the results speak by themselves!

According to our latest report, 5,581 people from the communities of the Kabale district –western Uganda- took part in the film screenings that were held in 11 schools.

Aside from educating people by screening conservation and wildlife documentaries and great apes documentaries, the communities took part in a range of different activities. At each school, 30 seedlings were supplied and planted to encourage the school community plant more trees and to launch tree planting in the schools that had no tree planting activities. A total of 30 guava, mango and orange trees were planted!

The interest of participants has been also expressed to our staff as many of them have asked about the possibility of someone coming to give them environmental talks. The success of the Pedal-powered Cinema is reflected in the following photographs where you can see a lot of pupils very keen in taking part of this activity!

The last screening took place in schools around Kabale district

The last screening took place in schools around Kabale district

 

Pupils planted guava, mango and orange trees

Pupils planted guava, mango and orange trees

 

Pupils were very keen planting on trees at the Kabale schools' district

Pupils were very keen on planting trees at the Kabale schools’ district

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 emiranda@awf.org.

Gorilla social networks

We have just learned that the Uganda Wildlife Authority plans to introduce online gorilla tracking as a new initiative aimed at the global demand for conservation tourism.

Gorilla facebook

For a minimum donation of $1, subscribers will be able track the movements of individual gorillas through a custom-made Web site. Strategically placed cameras in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest will stream video footage of gorillas to audiences worldwide.

The service – scheduled to begin this month – will also allow users to “befriend a gorilla” on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

“The project aims to bring attention to the plight of gorillas,” said Lillian Nsubuga, a spokeswoman for the Uganda Wildlife Authority, “and any money raised will be put towards conservation efforts.”

For more on this story go here

Ian Redmond – Mgahinga National Park office and GO Kisoro

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

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

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

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

Charcoal superstore beside road in Uganda. Picture Ian Redmond.

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

Not so Easy Rider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No MOP, no flight

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

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

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

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

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

Mount Nyiragongo towers over Goma, Picture Melanie Virtue.

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

Read Ian’s previous post here!

Ian Redmond – Kampala to Kinshasa

Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond.

August 25th – Have you ever tried packing while a curious young mind wants to know what each of your belongings is for?  Gladys’ son Ndhego was fascinated by the contents of my rucksack and camera-bag, and I was happy to explain but simultaneously had to convert myself into some semblance of an Ambassador for a Ministerial meeting.

My (ever so slightly crumpled..) suit and safari boots had to replace my usual shorts and sandals, but Ndhego was stomping around in my boots. We achieved a truce when I presented him with a YoG sticker and my old gilet (now replaced by the one from Park National Kahuzi Biega, courtesy of the warden).  And to further lighten my load, I gave Gladys the page proofs of Planet Ape for her conservation education work and accepted a lift to the British High Commission.  

The area in which Mountain Gorillas live has one of the densest human populations worldwide, Picture Ian Redmond.

The British High Commission had fixed up a meeting with Hon Serapio Rukundo MP, Minister of State for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, and he was his usual ebullient self, giving a great YoG interview on Uganda’s forest policy and plans for reforestation projects as well as the central role that gorillas play in the nation’s economy thanks to tourism.

Ian Redmond meets Hon S. Rukundo, Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Kampala, Uganda. Photo Ian Redmond.

After shopping for an external hard drive on which to back-up all these interviews, I was dropped at the bustling bus station.  Seeking the fastest bus to Kisoro, there was some discussion and I climbed aboard an earlier bus to Kabale rather than wait three hours for a late bus direct to Kisoro which wouldn’t arrive until 2.00am.  Crowds of people carrying all manner of luggage were jostling between the colourful buses; every so often a bus would shunt back and forth, belching black fumes in an umpteen-point turn, and yet amazingly no-one was squashed (and there were no fist-fights today!).  

Some time later than promised, our bus began the delicate manoeuvring towards the totally crowded exit and – inches at a time – we slowly escaped into the equally crowded street.  The conductor had placed me near the front, and just before we left, a young man sat next to me.  As we picked up speed leaving the traffic jams of Kampala behind, we introduced each other and I asked if he knew this was the UN Year of the Gorilla. He did! 

Brian Ahimbisibwe, student on bus. Picture Ian Redmond.

Brian explained he had heard it on the radio (in fact in a report from my press briefing the night before the Great Ape Health Workshop, which I attended for UNEP/GRASP, the Great Apes Survival Partnership) and at first had found it difficult to believe, “It was as if someone had woken up one day and announced that this is the International Day of the Hen!” he grinned.  I asked if he’d say that again on camera, and he gave a great YoG interview, going on to say how on reflection he saw that it was a good idea, and that gorillas need the attention such campaigns bring.  

Though not an accomplished flute-player yet, this Mountain Gorilla needs all the attention he can get, Picture Ian Redmond.

Over the next few hours, we got to know each other quite well and bit by bit he revealed his story. He had just finished high school and won a place at University to train as a social worker. His father had died when he was two weeks old, and his mother died a few years later.  He had been brought up by first one aunt then another, but none of his relatives could afford the fees (about £1,000 per year for three years).  His ambition is to work with children orphaned by disease, because he knows what they are going through – and something about his quietly determined manner makes me think that somehow, he will succeed….

It was getting dark as we sped along, and somehow this transformed the ‘Express’ bus into a giant Matatu (the shared taxis in East Africa that stop and pick up and drop off passengers anywhere).  It was nice of the driver to drop people off near their homes but as a result, it was nearly 11.30pm when we pulled into Kabale. My laptop battery was flat and my own batteries were flagging a bit, so I checked into the Skyline Hotel for a princely 15,000 USh (about $7) – with electricity, a clean bed, en suite shower and a loo that flushes – can’t be bad!

Read Ian’s previous post here!

Ian Redmond – Deadly Diseases

Posted on behalf of Ian Redmond.

The risk of droplet infection with new viruses is of global concern with the spread of H1N1 swine ‘flu virus, so soon after the H5N1 bird ‘flu.  Measures already in place to minimise the risk of such transmission to habituated apes include refusing a visit to anyone showing symptoms, the ‘no closer than 7m rule’ and preventing tourists from leaving any foreign objects, litter or bodily fluids (unless buried deep) in the park.

Some sites have gone further and request that tourists wear surgical masks for the time spent near the apes.  We do not know the mortality rate that such viruses might cause if they were to spread through a gorilla group, and whilst any such loss would be a blow to a small population, it is likely that most infected animals would recover and there-after be immune to that strain of ‘flu. 

The ‘worst nightmare’ scenario for all involved with the Mountain Gorillas is the possibility of an Ebola outbreak in the Virungas or Bwindi; we know from Western Lowland Gorillas that Ebola kills ninety something per cent of those infected – approximately one third of the western gorilla population has been killed by Ebola in the past decade or so.  

The 7 m rule aims to prevent spread of diseases from humas to gorillas. Picture by Ian Redmond.

The promising tourism site at Lossi in Congo Brazzaville suffered in this way when the habituated animals died of Ebola, and the evidence suggests that there is a front of outbreaks, moving northwards towards the region with the largest concentration of western gorillas (see animation by Peter Walsh, and YoG interview to follow). Ebola has not yet been reported in eastern gorilla populations, but during the Great Ape Health workshop in Uganda, August 21-23, I learned that there was a close call recently with the closely related Marburg virus.
 
A Dutch tourist fell ill a few days after returning from a holiday in Uganda last year, and sadly died. Tests in the Netherlands revealed that she had contracted Marburg, and when her itinerary was examined, virologists concluded that she had most likely picked up the virus whilst visiting the Python Cave in the Maramagambo Forest. 

This is a fantastic place for any naturalist – a collapsed lava tube with a roost of Rousette’s Tongue-clicking Fruit Bats and pythons that coil around the rocks on the cave wall to snatch bats out of the air as they pass. I have taken tours there myself, and then – just as this lady did – gone on to visit the gorillas in Bwindi.  The difference is that this poor unfortunate woman was unknowingly incubating Marburg haemorrhagic fever when she reportedly came within 5m of the gorillas (http://www.cdc.gov/eid/content/15/8/1171.htm).  

Neither Marburg nor Ebola can survive long out of the body, and fortunately, neither the gorillas nor any of the 130 or so people she came into contact with were infected. But this tragic case should act as a warning, and simple measures such as introducing disinfected boot dips and asking tour companies that plan to visit the caves, to do so after seeing the gorillas would further minimise the risk.

Cheers, Ian

Read Ian’s previous post here!