Tag Archives: Virunga

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.

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!


Volcano erupts but gorillas ok

BBC report today

 Lava from a volcano in a sparsely populated area of the Democratic Republic of Congo is threatening rare chimpanzees, wildlife officials say.

Mount Nyamulagira, 25km (16 miles) from the eastern city of Goma, erupted at dawn on Saturday, sending lava into the surrounding Virunga National Park.

About 40 endangered chimpanzees and other animals live in the area.

But the country’s famous critically endangered mountain gorillas are said to be safe as they live further east.

Nyamulagira volcano eruption congo

Innocent, Director of the southern sector of the Virunga National Park says the chances of the lava reaching people is remote and provides further news on the Virunga blog .

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.

Meeting Titus just days before he died

Dear Friends,

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

SEPTEMBER 21, 2009

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

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

Mountain gorilla rwanda Titus

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

Titus mountain Gorilla Rwanda

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

Titus mountain Gorilla Rwanda

Titus mountain Gorilla Rwanda

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

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

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

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

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

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

Titus mountain Gorilla Rwanda

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


Silverback Titus has died in Rwanda

Dear Friends

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

 Titus Silverback gorilla rwanda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Animated film about gorillas about to be released

The first ever animated film about mountain gorillas is about to be released it has just been announced  on the All Africa news website.

“Written in Luganda and titled Galiwango: Obulamu Bwe Kisodde, (The life of a Gorilla), the film aims to sensitise the public about the plight of mountain gorillas in Rwanda, the DRC and Uganda.

The film creater, US-based artiste Solomon Jagwe, relies on his skills and African roots to create a sombre but humour-filled animated film. His goal is to draw attention to the existence of this unique natural resource.

Galiwango is a tribute to Jagwe’s grandmother whom he says taught him how to tell stories as a young boy. “I remember sitting by her feet and listening intently as she recounted stories of Waguluddene, Wakayima and Wango.” he says.

Jagwe tells the story of the struggles and triumphs of the gorillas from a captured gorilla’s point of view. He weaves into the tale a human element of interaction with technology, war and humour.

Galiwango’s story begins in the thick tropical forests of the Virunga Mountains. Jagwe traces the gorilla’s journey after it is taken from Uganda and illegally sold to a research facility in an undisclosed Western country.

Years later, Galiwango’s journey comes full circle to Uganda.

A plane carrying equipment and a crate housing Galiwango, is shot down over the Virunga Mountains.

At the crash site Galiwango meets two other gorillas, Muwanguzi, an aging Silver Back and Lutalo, who carries a rifle. The rest of the story explores the dangers of living in a forest that is full of conflict and greed.

Close encounters with poachers and rebels drive the need by Galiwango and his friends to stay alert.

Jaggwe hopes that Ugandans can appreciate the rare gift they have in the mountain gorillas and fight against the possibility of their extinction”.

We can’t wait to see it!

Births, deaths and banning ape pets

Today we are celebrating the birth of a baby by Mahisho in the Kabirizi family. Innocent took some lovely photos which can be found here at the Official Virunga website

But we are also mourning the death of 8 year old Muchana at the St Louis Zoo – she was found dead tangled in her ropes.

And 32 year old Kambula at Texas Zoo who had an untreatable condition and was euthanized

We are also deeply shocked by the savage chimpanzee attack in Connecticut. Listening to the 911 call is terrifying I am not surprised that it took this particularly horrific mauling of a woman last week by the pet chimpanzee, for the USA to take immediate action in banning trade in apes. Its not the first time it has happened, over 100 people have been attacked by chimpanzees in USA (29 are children) but this incident led to the swift drafting of new legislation and the passing of a vote to ban interstate trade of apes and monkeys. It’s a pity that it took such a tragic incident to close a loop ion US legislation which bans the importation of apes for pets, but did not ban the transport for the purpose of sale of apes once in the USA. Now that the vote has passed (overwhelmingly 323-95), and will make it difficult for people to access apes like chimpanzees and gorillas which are sought for household companions.

Hopefully this incident which led to the killing of the 14 year old chimpanzee named Travis, will discourage people from seeking baby apes for pets. One consequence of ape trade is the tragic escalation in number of orphaned apes now in captivity in at JACK, Limbe, Cercopan, Tacugama and Lola ya Bonobo.

Ironically, someone called me yesterday asking if I could help find a baby mountain gorilla for a member of the royalty in one of the Arab states who wanted a pet. I know that Vanessa would agree with me when I told them why it was such a bad idea! Somehow though, I fear that this person will try to get a gorilla through illegal means.

Great Virunga Transboundary Collaboration

Something very exciting is happening in the Virunga region. An ‘Inter-State agency’ is being created to coordinate conservation in the Virunga volcanoes called The ‘Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC)‘. The agency formalizes the ongoing collaboration between the three countries that share the Virungas, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda .

The GVTC’s will work to conserve, manage environmental resources and promote tourism in protected areas of the three countries especially the Virunga Park, which is home to hundreds of the only surviving mountain gorillas in the world. Administration of this agency will be vested in the Inter-Ministerial board, the Trans-boundary Core Secretariat and its affairs directly managed under an Executive Secretariat based in Rwanda.

With this new development, environmental management, law enforcement, gorilla census and tourism will be coordinated across the transboundary region.

We offer our heart felt congratulations to the ministers of the three countries and wish well in getting this initiative off the ground.

more news and images

As if things were not complicated enough, now reports suggest that the government militias are fighting each other with the Mai Mai attacking the government forces whom they are supposedly allied to. This seems to be strengthening the position of Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP rebels which can’t be good news. Reports now show that Nkunda’s territory extends as far as Kanyabayonga as shown in this map from the Washington Post


These photos taken by Uriel Sinai  will make you want to cry – but you must look at them to understand a little better how serious the crisis is in the Congo.