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When gorillas groups interact, anything can happen
Friday, May 20, 2016

During our daily mountain gorilla monitoring, Fossey Fund trackers and researchers often get to see interesting behaviors, all of which are recorded for our scientific database. One type of behavior that is important, since it can lead to group changes and even injuries, is an interaction between two groups.

Our trackers and research assistants take detailed notes, photographs and other information, and produce reports with moment-by-moment action like this one, from an interaction between Giraneza’s group and Mafunzo’s group, on March 10.

Silverback chest beatsOur tracker team that follows Mafunzo’s gorilla group reached them at 9:06 that morning and found the gorillas resting. But at 9:18, they saw Giraneza’s group approaching, so they called the trackers of Giraneza's team, to let them know. Giraneza's trackers reached the spot at 9:37 a.m., and within a few minutes, silverback Mafunzo approached within 7 meters of silverback Giraneza, taking a strut stance (a show of aggression). However, the females of both groups remained calm and in the background.

Then the action started, as recorded by our staff:

At 9:23 a.m., Mafunzo replied (to Giraneza’s strut stance) by hooting and chest beating.

At 9:29 a.m., Giraneza slapped the ground at Mafunzo, who replied by hooting and chest beating.

At 9:31 a.m., Giraneza took a strut stance posture at Mafunzo, who replied at 9:33 a.m., by smashing plants.

At 9:34 a.m., Giraneza smashed plants at Mafunzo. He chest beat again at him at 9:36 a.m.

At 9:36 a.m., Mafunzo withdrew and he bit young female Ubuhamya for resting.

At 9:42 a.m., Mafunzo hooted and chest beat in 30 meters from Giraneza who replied by chest beating.

At 9:44 a.m., Mafunzo hooted and chest beat in 40 meters from Giraneza who replied at 9:47 a.m., by chest beating.

From 9:49 a.m. to 10:04 a.m., Giraneza chest beat 3 times, slapped the ground twice and smashed plants once at Mafunzo.

At 9:52 a.m., adult female Nyandwi aggressed Mafunzo.

At 9:55 a.m., Mafunzo’s group started moving toward the Kupoteza area while Giraneza’s group moved down to the Munoga area.

At 10:06 a.m., Mafunzo hooted and chest beat at Giraneza from 100 meters away. Giraneza responded by smashing plants.

At 10:08 a.m., Mafunzo slapped the ground at  Giraneza  from 100 meters away.

At 10:10 a.m., Giraneza chest beat at Mafunzo.

At 10:14 a.m., Mafunzo hooted and chest beat from 200 meters away. Giraneza replied by slapping the ground.

At 10:19 a.m., Giraneza chest beat at Mafunzo.

The interaction ended at 10:25 a.m., with the two groups separated by 200 meters. When our trackers left, the groups were separated by 1.5 kilometers. Both groups were calm and feeding. During the interaction, there were no transfers, no wounds and they moved only 20 meters. But, as seen in this report, there were many displays, all of which were carefully counted and recorded by our staff.


Celebrating two births in one group
Friday, May 13, 2016

Two gorillas have been born recently in one of the groups monitored daily by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Rwanda. The first was born on March 21, to mother Pasika, and the second was born on April 10, to mother Kurinda. Interestingly, both mothers transferred to this group, led by silverback Giraneza, after an interaction caused the death of the leading silverback in their previous group.

Kurinda and infantCalculations suggest that both infants were conceived in the previous group, which could have posed dangers for the infants now living under a new silverback. However, enough time has passed by now to suggest that Giraneza has not been able to "do this math" and does not suspect he is not the father.

Now our staff hopes the infants survive the long cold and rainy season! The group now contains six gorillas and we wouldn't be surprised to see another birth some time soon, from the other female, Inziza.

Photo by Jean Pierre "Samedi" Mucyo

Saving Grauer's gorillas in Congo despite steep decline
Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Grauer’s gorillas (formerly known as eastern lowland gorillas) are found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and recent reports suggest their population has plummeted by almost 80% in the past two decades. With perhaps as few as 3,800 Grauer's gorillas left, most of them living outside of protected areas, intense conservation on their behalf is necessary, in order to prevent their potential extinction, after years of insecurity, hunting and other threats have decimated their habitat.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has been working in the core of Grauer's gorilla habitat since 2012, and is protecting a forest that contains an estimated 100 gorillas. We are now present in this forest 365 days a year with two tracking teams successfully protecting the area. In addition, we have just added a third tracking team and are in the process of hiring a fourth team to explore additional areas where Grauer's groups may be located, so that we can double the number of Grauer's gorillas we are protecting within the next few years.

Grauer's gorilla group

Since these gorillas are not habituated to the presence of humans, and should remain unhabituated for their own safety, Fossey Fund trackers follow them at one day’s distance, using nest sites, food remains, footprints and other methods to detect their presence, numbers, travel paths, diets and other important information.

In addition to our daily protection in the forest, a key feature of the Fossey Fund’s work in protecting Grauer’s gorillas in Congo is the involvement of local communities, especially traditional landowners. All of our field staff are hired from local villages, and in addition to employment, community development efforts are underway, such as small-scale sustainable farm projects to help decrease malnutrition and bushmeat hunting.

It is clear that our efforts to protect Grauer's gorillas are succeeding. There have been no reports of gorilla deaths by local community members in the area we work since our programs started. Traditional landowners are working to reduce or prevent hunting on their lands, and some wildlife, such as monkeys,  which had been rarely seen before, are now seen on a regular basis. As we expand our programs, we look forward to working with more communities to ensure that more gorillas, and all the biodiversity that shares their habitat, are protected.


Thanksgiving Coffee supports gorilla conservation
Wednesday, April 27, 2016

For more than 10 years, the Thanksgiving Coffee Company has supported the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, by raising over $58,000 for our gorilla protection work. Now, they have launched a new program, donating 25% of sales of coffee when supporters use this link: Thanksgiving Coffee.

Thanksgiving Coffee began to work with the Dukunde Kawa Coffee Cooperative in Rwanda as a way to help strengthen community development after the Rwandan genocide. Working with Rwandan farmers they helped develop sustainable alternatives to logging and poaching, which are two of the largest threats facing mountain gorillas today. Since 2004, the Fossey Fund has benefitted from a partnership with Thanksgiving Coffee, through the special Gorilla Fund Coffee, a Fair Trade certified coffee from the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative. A portion of the sales from each bag of Gorilla Fund Coffee is donated to the Fossey Fund.

By working together we are able to support Rwandan farmers as they develop sustainable alternatives to logging and poaching, raise additional funds for gorilla conservation, and support the economic development of Rwanda.

"The Fossey Fund believes that supporting the development of a sustainable economy in Rwanda is a good basis for protecting gorillas and their habitat," says Dr. Tara Stoinski, president and CEO of the Fossey Fund. Support of the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative is one way to provide this help.

This cooperative was formed in 2003, with help from the Rwandan government and the USAID-funded PEARL Project (Partnership to Enhance Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages). Since then, Thanksgiving Coffee has worked with Dukunde Kawa on a variety of social, economic and environmental projects aimed at improving the quality of the farmers’ coffee, and strengthening the Cooperative and the benefits it offers to its members. Thanksgiving gives a 20-cent per pound Fair Trade premium directly to the Coop for development of community benefit projects, with no strings attached.