Tag Archives: Virunga National Park

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.

News from Mount Tshiaberimu!

Hello, this is Jean Claude,

I recently went to Mount Tshiaberimu, a hidden corner of the Virunga National Park in eastern DR Congo, to monitor the few remaining gorillas in the area and happened to come across the silverback Katsavara who has not shown himself or his family in a while.

Katsavara is not too keen on meeting humans and has been quite aggressive toward some of the rangers in recent encounters. I guess in a way his behaviour is understandable as he is trying to protect his family since the security situation at Mount Tshiaberimu has not been the best in years. The constant fighting between military and rebels in the area – let alone the horrible act of poaching – has not only been of great danger to the gorillas but also to our local staff, and since Katsavara only has a handful of family members left he feels even stronger about protecting them.

Lucky me, I had my colleague Odilion’s camera with me, which allowed me to take the first pictures of Katsavara in 3 years from about a 100m distance. His family was nowhere to be seen but we are glad that we at least got a glimpse of the old silverback and found him safe and healthy, and who knows maybe next time I’m lucky enough to capture a new born. Until then I hope you will enjoy the pictures I took of Katsavara!

Photo 004    Photo 006

Kabirizi silverback is a dad again

Having met the Kabirizi family twice I feel as if they are my family so you can imagine my joy when I saw that Kabirizi has another child. that means that Miza, the orphaned baby gorilla we wrote about in “Looking for Miza” about has another sibling!

Look at this beauty!

Kabirizi baby gorilla

Thank you Innocent for bringing us this wonderful news. I know that things are still very difficult in eastern DR Congo but the gorillas look quite peaceful thanks to our former CEO Emmanuel de Merode who is now the Virunga National Park warden and his team of dedicated rangers on the ground.

ICCN wildlife officers jailed for gorilla habitat crimes

Four senior wildlife officers who had been arrested for the July 2007 killings of 5 mountain gorillas have been found guilty of a lesser charge o f destruction of flora and fauna.

Gorilla killings Virunga

There was insufficient evidence to link them to the killings of the gorillas and they were each fined US $ 5,000 and sentenced for 6 months imprisonment for the illegal charcoal trade which is said to have earned each of them up to $15,000 per month. The officers have been suspended from the ICCN.

Honore Mashagiro

The alleged mastermind of the gorilla killings Honore Mashagiro, is on trial. He is the former Director of the Virunga National Park and is accused of involvement in the illegal charcoal mafia and killings of the gorillas in July 2007.

This is the first time that the ICCN has prosecuted it’s own officers and represents a significant achievement towards zero tolerance of illegal activities by the wildlife officers.

Emmanuel de Merode, former CEO of WildlifeDirect, is the current Director of the Virunga Park. All of us at WildlifeDirect applaud Emmanuel and his team for this achievement, and look forward to continued successes in protecting the mountain gorillas.

Mountain gorilla population in Virunga has increased by 12 percent

We are all celebrating at WidlifeDirect with the good news  that the mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park have not been affected by the conflict there. In fact the population has increased by 10 new babies between August 2007 and January 2009. Five of them probaby fathered by this guy,

Kabirizi mountain gorilla virunga

Kabirizi, the head of the Kabirizi family which now numers 33 individuals.

Here is the official press release from Virunga National Park.

26 January 2009


DR Congo’s habituated Mountain Gorilla population in Virunga National Park increased by 12.5 percent from 72 to 81 gorillas between August 2007 and January 2009, according to the results of an 8-week census conducted by the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) released today. Based on a previous 2003 census, Park Rangers also estimate 120 non-habituated Mountain Gorillas in the 250 sq km Mikeno Sector of the park, the only area in DR Congo that is home to Mountain Gorillas, bringing the country’s Mountain Gorilla population total to circa 211. The worldwide population of Mountain Gorillas is believed to be 720, all of them living in the conflict-affected area between DR Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.

“The status of Virunga’s Mountain Gorillas is a triumph for conservation, and is the product of 15 years’ effort and sacrifice on the part of Congo’s Rangers, of the consistent support from international organisations and individuals, and of the sustained determination of 3 African nations to protect this globally important species,” said Virunga National Park Director Emmanuel de Merode.

Over 50 Park Rangers conducted over 128 patrols during the census, and identified 6 gorilla families in Mikeno and 3 solitary
Silverbacks. The largest family is the Kabirizi Family, with 33 individuals including 5 newborns. The Rugendo family – victim of the July 2007 massacre – now has 9 members, up from 5, including 2 Silverbacks vying for control of the group.

“Mountain Gorilla family structures change with each birth, death, interaction and migration. The Kabirizi family, our largest gorilla group with 33 individuals, has 5 newborns which is wonderful news. But we are still hoping to locate the 2 gorillas from this same family that we have not yet seen,” said ICCN Gorilla Monitoring Head Innocent Mburanumwe.

During the 16-month period from August 2007 to late January 2009 10 baby gorillas were born into 4 of the habituated families – the Kabirizi, Mapuwa, Lulengo and Mapuwa families – and 2 adult female gorillas previously non-identified (from non-habituated groups) have joined habituated gorilla families. Three gorillas that had been previously identified in the August 2007 census have not been found and are listed as missing.

Significantly no evidence of gorilla mortality was reported by Rangers, although 536 snares laid by poachers were found and removed by Park Rangers, representing a significant increase as compared to previous findings. Snares are laid to catch small antelope and other forest animals, but gorillas, especially infants, are sometimes caught in the snare and can suffer loss of limb or life.

Gorilla in Virunga

Go to www.gorilla.cd for more information and to www.gorilla.cd/press to access the Mountain Gorilla Survey Report

Six killed in Virunga fighting

Several news articles illustrate the situation on the ground in the Virungas where 6 people were killed on Friday

The Mail and Guardian here http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-01-11-wildlife-warriors-share-neutral-drc-park

And this article on CNN about the killing of a ranger http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/africa/01/11/congo.gorilla.ranger.killed/ at Mt Tshiaberimu is also carried by AP here http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5h_voPhRFmaOSJX111j2J1L-H9slwD95KAK080

This article is taken from Press TV http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=81420&sectionid=351020506

Six killed in fresh Congo fighting
Sat, 10 Jan 2009 00:18:25 GMT
Children near a camp overlooking Lake Kivu, in Kibati, 5km north of the provincial capital Goma.
Clashes between DR Congo rebels and pro-government militia in the east left six people dead as UN envoy holds talks with embattled rebel chief Laurent Nkunda.

United Nations peacekeeping spokesman Lt. Col. Jean-Paul Dietrich said his troops found the bodies of six Mai Mai militiamen after an hour of fighting Friday morning between the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) and Mai Mai militia in the village of Mabenga, about 90 kilometers north of the regional capital, Goma.

Mabenga is the site where Virunga National Park was to be constructed but is at present used as a military base by the CNDP rebel fighters. The site also marks the border between rebel-held territory and a zone designated neutral where several pro-government forces are located.

CNDP spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Seraphin Mirindi said they suffered no casualties when they were attacked by members of the Congolese Resistance Patriots, a part of the pro-government Mai Mai.

Meanwhile, the UN special envoy for Congo, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, held talks with Laurent Nkunda, who was the undisputed rebel leader until recently when he was challenged by one of his senior aides, Bosco Ntaganda who now heads a group of rebels.

After the talks in Jomba, 60 kilometers north of Goma, Nkunda told AFP that discussions with Obasanjo were focused on issues “that could move forward the negotiations in Nairobi”. He said that the UN envoy is going to talk with the presidents of the Congolese national assembly and senate by telephone and that Obasanjo has promised to help “until peace returns to the Congo”.

Direct talks between the rebels and the Kinshasa government have been underway since Wednesday in the Kenyan capital.

Years of sporadic violence in eastern Congo, which intensified in August, has displaced more than 250,000 people and has sparked a humanitarian crisis. Some 17,000 UN peacekeepers have not been able to quell the chaos.

Miza found and a sancuary for orphans is planned

The Virunga National Park website has released a video of Miza (Mutazimiza) the baby gorilla orphaned last year during the attack on the Kabirizi family, and star of our book Looking for Miza which is her story about how she survivied the ordeal. After 14 months of conflict it is a huge relief to see that she is doing so well.

Meanwhile the ICCN rangers have joined rebels in the gorilla sector of Virunga National Park – the early progress is reported by Edmund Sanders in the Los Angeles Times

“Rebels and government officials tentatively agreed for the first time last month to work together in the gorilla sector. The agreement came a month after rebels seized the park’s headquarters in nearby Rumangabo.

As he recently resettled into his office at park headquarters under the new arrangement, De Merode said he hoped to dispatch 41 park rangers to join the 30 who already work in the gorilla sector. He also planned to re-establish five 24-hour patrol posts and resume formal surveying of the families.

But it remains unclear whether the government and rebels will be able to set aside their differences.

Park officials questioned the qualifications and political motives of rangers who stayed behind.

“These rangers are not fully trained in gorilla-monitoring,” De Merode said. “They’ve been a little cavalier.”

Government officials pressured all but one international conservationist group to suspend their work with the gorillas after the rebel takeover and discouraged tourism, saying the proceeds would fund the insurgency.

“They said I was a rebel,” Kanamahalagi said. “They spoiled my name.”

Park officials also have accused the rebels of attacking some rangers, often because of their ethnicity. Tutsi rangers, who are part of the same ethnic group as rebel leader Nkunda, were allowed to remain in the park, some say, although others were chased away.

“The risk was I would be killed,” said Innocent Mburanumwe, head of gorilla monitoring, who fled after the rebel takeover. He said rangers who tried to return were robbed and attacked.

Park officials also have accused rebels of killing and eating of two gorillas last year.

Rebels contend that their soldiers are too disciplined to ever hurt gorillas. They accuse park officials of corruption and mismanagement, saying they exaggerate the threat to gorillas in a bid for international support.

“They need to lie for their fundraising,” said Babou Amani, deputy spokesman for Nkunda’s movement, National Congress for the Defense of the People.

He said control of the gorilla sector fell into the rebels’ lap during an offensive to seize strategic land near the Ugandan border. But he said they took the responsibility seriously.

“For us, gorillas are worth more than diamonds,” Amani said.

To demonstrate their commitment, rebels have been organizing visits, a kind of guerrillas’ gorilla tour for journalists and others. A recent trip suggested that rangers are well-intentioned, if not always well-trained.”

Meanwhile, help has been proposed for orphaned gorillas.  A group of international conservation organizations is building a center to rescue, rehabilitate and reintroduce orphaned gorillas back into the wild.  The sanctuary will cover 150 hectares near Lubero in the northeastern corner of Congo and will cater for up to 30 gorillas.  The center $300,000 center will cost 100,000 to run each year,

To finance this U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Agency for International Development have put up some money, and so has The Walt Disney Company, which operates a number of animal parks in the United States and promotes conservation. Hopefuly lasting peace can be achieved in the region to make this center a success. Read more about it here

Talks stall and UN accuse Rwanda of helping rebels

We’ve been closely monitoring the talks in Nairobi over the last three days. News agencies are stating that the talks have stalled, our contacts have told us that the problem is indecision by CNDP – it seems that the representatives are unable to make decisions on behalf of Laurent Nkunda. What a waste of time!

Meanwhile the United Nations have published  a report  implicating that both Rwanda and Congo have been supporting rebels.  Rwandan government and army has been found helping the CNDP – the report alleges directly involvement in the hostilities, recruiting of child soldiers, supplying artillery and even holding bank accounts for rebels. The report even claims that UN monitored phone calls between Kagame and Nkunda.

Rwanda  of course denies any involvement in the CNDP. In an interview on BBC today, Rwanda’s ambassador to the UN, Claver Gatete, denies any role of Rwanda but that as a democratic nation anyone can have a bank account in Rwanda, and he also claims that the arms that the CNDP have are not supplied form Rwanda, but are ‘found on the ground’ when they take villages and towns.

The report also claims to have evidence of the Congolese army of supporting the Rwandan Hutu militia in eastern Congo which includes some Hutus accused of carrying out the Rwandan 1994 genocide. It names foreign companies that have benefited from the FDLR through access to mines, and recommends that sanctions be imposed against them and individuals named in the report.

While there is a lot of talk going on but many are questioning the political will by nations to intervene and halt the cycle of violence.

Talks to end conflict begin but EU cool on the idea of sending troops

Talks have begun between representatives of rebel forces fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and delegates from the Kinshasa government in Nairobi, Kenya. The discussions mediated by Olusegun Obasanjo (former president of Nigeria) hope to bring an end to fighting between the the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and the army that has displaced about 250,000 people since August. Neither Kabila nor Nkunda attended the talks.

On Friday, the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda agreed  to launch military operations against armed groups operating in Congolese territory as early as 2009. MONUC the United Nations mission in the country will also provide troops. But in response Hutu rebels operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo warned that any attempt to disarm their forces could spark a “long and dreadful war.”

In a related development, the EU declined to send additional troops to Congo because though the troops are urgently needed, the countries fear that “expanding commitments in Afghanistan mean that they have no soldiers to spare for other UN missions, such as the DR Congo”. But Belgium seems to be warming to the idea reports Radio Okapi. The Belgian ambassador de Gucht says Belgium is canvassing the EU to send a special force to eastern DRC.


 Meanwhle 71 rangers and their families from Virunga have sough refuge in IDP camps in Uganda following the latest conflict in North Kivu. Their situation is poor and they are surviving on rations provided through online donations.


New babies to Mizas family, the Kabirizi group

Its amazing that the ICCN are able to conduct a gorilla census sin Vurunga National Park despite the continued conflict that is ongoing (even though most news agencies have tired of telling that story apart from Bloomberg who reports cooperative efforts between Congo and Rwanda).


Diddy at Bukima camp last year when he found Miza

Diddy and Innocent have revealed that not only have they found most gorilla families intact, but that there migraitons, and importantly, there have been some births. We are still waiting to hear about Miza and look at her photos. Her sister Mivumbi who rescued her when she was orphaned, has had an infant of her own. If you haven’t got it yet,  the childrens book Looking for Miza is a perfect Christmas gift for any child or adult.

Baby mountain gorilla named Miza in Virunga National Park in June 2007

Miza was orphaned last year and it was feard she was dying

Read more about the exciting survey and watch the videos from the field here