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Giraneza's group involved in another interaction
Thursday, June 20, 2013

Today the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund field staff witnessed another interaction involving Giraneza’s group.  This is the same group that lost a female (Nyandwi, who transferred out) and an infant (who was killed during an interaction) last week during an encounter with with Isabukuru's group.

Giraneza in strut stanceToday the interaction was with the Titus group. The interaction went on for three hours, during which silverback Giraneza displayed frequently to the four silverbacks of Titus group. The situation was tense and all of the silverbacks exchanged chestbeats, smashing vegetation, hitting the ground and charging at each other in a typical series of antagonistic behaviors. The silverbacks were also hooting and pig grunting loudly to threaten the opposing individuals.Female Taraja, from Giraneza's group, was still holding the corpse of her infant who was killed during last week’s interaction with Isabukuru's group.

Searching for the dispersed female Nyandwi could explain why Giraneza approached the Titus group, instead of avoiding further stressful situations. Both Giraneza and Taraja were making calling vocalizations, with long and repeated “hoooohoooohooo” sounds, suggesting a search for Nyandwi.

The interaction with the Titus group ended at 10:40 a.m., when the groups moved in opposite directions. Giraneza and Taraja were still making calling vocalizations at that time. During the interaction, Taraja tried one time to join the Titus group but Giraneza stood up in front of her, dragging her away. She finally followed Giraneza, still carrying the corspe of her infant on her back.

Jean Paul Hirwa, Karisoke Research Center assistant

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Gorilla group news: birth, interactions, infanticide
Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund field staff are happy to report that 26–year-old female mountain gorilla Mudakama, from Pablo's group, give birth for the fourth time on June 19. This birth has increased Pablo's group to 36 gorillas. It is the largest group of mountain gorillas despite the size reduction that occurred in April 2013, when seven gorillas left to form an independent group.

Mother MudakamaMudakama was born in Susa's group, to mother Cyiza. She transferred to Pablo's group in 1995 when she was 9 and gave birth to her first infant a year later. This infant was named Bikereri, after a hill in the forest where the group was ranging at the time. There was an unusually long inter-birth interval until Mudakama's next infant was born, in 2004, named Agahozo. Teta, is the third infant of Mudakama, born in 2009. Teta is very attached to her mother and often stays close to her for long sessions of grooming and physical comfort.

Mudakama has all of her offspring living together in Pablo's group. It is a very close family and it is common to see all the members resting together in close proximity to dominant silverback Cantsbee.

In other gorilla news, Fossey Fund trackers and researchers observed some intense group interactions in the forest in recent days, involving Pablo and Musilikale groups, and Isabukuru and Giraneza groups. Unfortunately, during the latter interaction, the young infant of Taraja from Giraneza’s group became a victim of infanticide, as one of the silverbacks attacked Taraja.

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Getting Ready for "Kwita Izina" Gorilla-Naming Ceremony
Monday, June 10, 2013

Billboards are going up all over Rwanda as the ninth annual Kwita Izina ceremony is rapidly approaching. Kwita Izina is a five-day celebration of the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, culminating in a ceremony in which all of the infant gorillas born in the past year are named. The infant-naming ceremony will be held this year on June 22, and the 12 mountain gorillas whose births were recorded this year, including six infants born in the gorilla groups monitored by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, will receive their names. The names are picked and voted on by those who know the gorillas best -- the trackers and park authorities.

In the days preceding the naming ceremony, community activities will take place in honor of the celebration to promote the importance of conservation. One of the most exciting activities is a caravan tour that starts in Kigali and arrives in Kinigi on the 22nd. The caravan tour will stop at many local farms and tourism sites along the way. This year, for the first time ever, the caravan will be making a stop at the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center for a tour of the facility and to learn more about how the Fossey Fund contributes to the conservation of gorillas. The theme of this year's celebration, sponsored by the Rwanda Development Board’s Tourism and Conservation Departments, is “Celebrating Nature and Empowering Communities.”

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New Infant in Isabukuru's Group Doing Well
Friday, May 24, 2013

Fossey Fund staff are delighted to report that 17-year-old female mountain gorilla Muganga, from Isabukuru’s group, and her new infant born on May 21, are doing well. Since the birth of her new infant, Muganga has displayed confidence in her parenting abilities, as she has been exposing the infant openly while breast feeding. Dominant silverback Isabukuru has been staying very close to Muganga and the new infant, protecting both vigilantly.

Muganga and new infantMuganga is the daughter of Umuhanga, and was born on March 26, 1996, into Susa’s group, where she lived until she was 11 years old. In June 2007 Muganga transferred to Pablo’s group together with three other females during an encounter between the two groups, but she only stayed in the large group for one day. When Muganga left Pablo’s group, she followed silverback Isabukuru. Two other adult females, Icyizere and Muntu, also transferred from Susa’s group with Muganga, and followed Isabukuru too.

Muganga did not stay with Isabukuru for long either -- she moved to Kuryama’s group only a month afterwards. While in Kuryama's group, Muganga gave birth to her first infant, on April 7, 2008, a female later named Rugira. However, in June 2011 Muganga returned to Isabukuru’s group, leaving the then 3-year-old Rugira in Kuryama’s group, who was then adopted by dominant silverback Kirahure. It is unclear as to which silverback is the father of Rugira, as the calculation of the gestation period falls exactly in the timeframe of Muganga’s transfer from the Isabukuru group to the Kuryama group. DNA analysis will hopefully provide these answers soon. Muganga’s new infant is already taking after the mother, and is quite large for one so young. Both mother and infant are doing well, and the infant seems very comfortable in Muganga’s big, warm embrace.

Veronica

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Conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo Resumes
Thursday, May 23, 2013

It has been a stressful couple of days.  On Monday, in my home in Goma, I woke at 4 a.m. to the noise of an attack.  It seems that the attack was  launched by the rebel troops M23 against the Democratic Republic of Congo army (FARDC) in its position in Kibati village located approximately 10km from Goma on the road toward Rumangabo and in Mutaho, a village located at the foot of the western side of the Nyiragongo active volcano.  At this moment FARDC has contained and pushed back the rebels.  There is no direct threat to Goma, yet but some shops are closed nonetheless.  Our staff are safe and keeping in contact with one another.

NGOBOBO -As- Ibungu Urbain
Program Manager, Grauer's Gorilla Conservation and Research Program

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Update on Muganga's Newborn
Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Muganga and the newbornYesterday we announced the birth of a newborn in Isabukuru's group, to female Muganga. Today we had our first good sight of the infant. Our researcher Didier Abavandimwe was there specifically to observe the newborn and collect routine behavioural data.

The infant looks fine and so does the mother. He is quite big for a two-day-old infant, which doesn't surprise us as Muganga is a large female.

This is the second birth for 17-year old-Muganga. Her first one, named Rugira, was born in Kuryama's group and was left there at age four in the care of dominant silverback Kirahure, when Muganga left the group to join Isabukuru in June 2011.

The infant will be added to the list of 12 gorillas born in Rwanda since last June -- five in research groups and seven in groups habituated for tourism --  who will be given names during the annual naming ceremony (Kwita Izina 2013) organized by the Rwanda Development Board, which will take place in Kinigi on June 22.

Veronica

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Better News Today About Inshuti, and Another Birth
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Inshuti with wounded eyeI'm happy to tell you all that Inshuti is fine. When I went up to see him today he was alert, feeding and moving normally. Phocas (long term head tracker in Inshuti's group) was with me and that may be the reason why Inshuti allowed us to stay close to him and I could have a perfect view.

Inshuti has small superficial wounds on his hands and legs, but the most serious is on his right eye, which is swollen and closed. That would be the only thing to monitor. He could not open it, so I can't exclude that he may have some  permanent damage inside and that it could get infected over time. But overall, he looks healthy.

Titus’s group was really close, but Inshuti showed no intention to interact with them again. He just looked in the direction of Titus’s group and calmly continued his activities. Female Shangaza is fine and always stays close to Inshuti. We will check on him again to make sure his eye has not become infected.

More good news today from Isabukuru's group: Muganga gave birth to her second infant, the first one since she transferred to Isabukuru’s group.

Veronica

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Inshuti: Good and Bad News
Monday, May 20, 2013

InshutiGood and bad news from the field today. The good news: We found Inshuti, after many months. The bad news is that 
he is severely injured.



Inshuti's group is still composed of just two gorillas: the silverback and 
female Shangaza. On Saturday they joined the other gorillas in the bamboo zone, where all the groups are now ranging to search for bamboo shoots. 

Inshuti met up with Titus’s group and the encounter was really intense and severe, 
as all interactions with Inshuti have been in the past. The four silverbacks of Titus’s group attacked, biting and hitting Inshuti and causing bad injuries all over his body.
 He left the site with female Shangaza, limping and bleeding.


Trackers found the group again yesterday. Inshuti, suffering from his 
multiple wounds, was weak and not moving. Lots of blood was found on 
the trail and nest.


This morning our research assistant and a Gorilla Doctors veterinarian went to see Inshuti. He looked better; despite a swollen face, he was moving and 
eating. We are waiting for a full report and pictures.

 We don't have enough staff to follow Inshuti regularly but we will do so for the next 
few days to monitor his recovery, with help from the anti-poaching patrol and the Rwanda Development Board (park authority). After that, we will decide what to do over the long term.

Veronica

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Endangered Species Day is May 17
Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May 17 marks the seventh annual "Endangered Species Day." Celebrated the third Friday in May, it was initiated by the Endangered Species Coalition and officially passed by the U.S. Senate in 2006. Since the first Endangered Species Day, many government agencies, zoos, aquariums and non profit organizations around the country have become official supporters of the day, sponsoring activities and events that promote awareness about the many endangered species around the world and issues of conservation.

As of 2012 The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated there are 3,947 critically endangered species and 5,776 endangered species. Many of the animals on the list include species found in the regions where the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund works, including the mountain gorilla and the Grauer's gorilla. Thanks to intensive conservation efforts such as our daily patrols, the population of mountain gorilla has been growing at a low yet steady rate since the 1970s, though they are still very much endangered, numbering less than 900.

To find Endangered Species Day events in your area check the official website: http://www.stopextinction.org/esd.html

The Endangered Species Coalition also suggests many ways to  participate in the days festivities and to learn more about conservation efforts online such as signing petitions, listening to podcasts, art contests, as well as resources for teachers and resources to host your own event for Endangered Species Day.

Thank you to all of our supporters for helping to save endangered gorillas!

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Muntu's Infant Did Not Survive; Titus's Group Outside Park
Monday, May 06, 2013

Muntu and her infant in AprilSadly, gorilla Muntu's infant, one of this year's newborns (born March 27), was found dead this morning by Fossey Fund trackers, though still being carried by mother Muntu.

Since the birth we have suspected that the mother's milk supply was insufficient.The infant seemed to be fine for a while, but was much smaller than normal.

The condition of the body suggests that the time of death was two days ago. The group had not been seen all weekend due to heavy rain and rivers swollen with water.

Tomorrow we will try to recover the infant's body and send it to the Gorilla Doctors for necropsy.

Muntu had transferred to Isabukuru's group in 2007 from Susa’s group (one of those habituated for tourism). At the time of her transfer she had an 8-month-old infant, who unfortunately died by infanticide shortly after the move. Muntu gave birth to two other infants in Isabukuru’s group before the one born this year, but those infants also died. They both appeared healthy up until their premature deaths, and their bodies could not be recovered in time to determine cause of death.

Herding Titus's group back into the parkOther news from the field:

Titus's gorilla group spent the night out of the park. Trackers reached the group in the morning when it was already 600 meters from the park border. They also saw the group's night nests there, 600 meters beyond the border. Trackers herded the gorillas back inside the park. Starting today, as we did last year, we are assembling an evening team and eventually a night team to monitor Titus's group if it goes outside the park again.

Veronica

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Bishushwe Settling Into Ntambara's Group Peacefully
Friday, May 03, 2013

Bishushwe feedingBishushwe has now gained a central position in Ntambara's group, as dominant Ugutsinda has taken her under his "custody." Indeed, today she she spent most of the time with the silverback, with whom she exchanged several bonding behaviours such as grooming and resting in physical contact. Among the other individuals in the group, female Tegereza and juvenile Igisubizo (Bishushwe's son) are the closest to Bishushwe.

Female Kunga initiates most of the antagonistic behaviors toward Bishushwe, who, despite being older, reacts submissively. This is possibly due to the fact that Kunga's mother, Kubaka, has the highest rank among the females in Ntambara's group, so it is better to be submissive to avoid trouble.

Interestingly, we have not observed any copulation with Bishushwe since she transferred two months ago. In addition, she was not involved in any dominance-related behavior such as displacements with other females.

We can say that, even if she appears to be well integrated in the group, Bishushwe seems to have chosen a peaceful attitude rather than getting involved in dominance or sexual struggles to raise her rank.

Veronica

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Silverback Musilikale's Temporary Group Members Return to Original Group
Thursday, May 02, 2013

Silverback Musilikale, who had been leading a group split off from the large Pablo's group (led by elder Cantsbee) was not seen today, and the six gorillas that were with him have rejoined Pablo's group.

Aging dominant silverback CantsbeeYesterday, the two groups were still separate and apart, quite distant from another. Surprisingly, this morning Fossey Fund trackers saw all the gorillas back in Pablo's group, except for silverback Musilikale, who was not seen at all. We assume he is alone and somewhere around the group.

The question now is whether Musilikale will safely re-enter the group and try again to get some gorillas to follow him?  Or will he live as a solitary silverback? And more importantly, what will happen to the group when ailing Cantsbee loses the ability to lead the group? Will the group split or will it still be compact?

For sure more surprises will come in the near future regarding all of these situations.

Musilikale was one of the best candidates to became the dominant silverback so we can't exclude that, even as a solitary male, he could re-enter the group when a time comes again to try again his fortune.

Veronica

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An Unusual Interaction: Good Sign for Outlier Silverback?
Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Kubaha playing with Mushya and Sakara

Kubaha, a 15-year old silverback in the Isabukuru group, has never had the best relationship with his fellow group members. Isabukuru, the group’s namesake dominant silverback, has a history of displaying aggressive behavior toward Kubaha, and the younger silverback is largely ignored by the group’s juveniles and infants. After Kubaha committed the infanticide of Bukima’s baby in July 2010, when Isabukuru was briefly absent from the group, the females in the group also began to shun Kubaha. But Kubaha’s poor relationship with the group is mostly evident in the distance he keeps from them, generally coming no closer than 50 to 100 kilometers away.

However, on April 24, trackers and research assistants witnessed an unusual interaction that might mean the other group members are changing their attitude toward Kubaha. He was observed resting not far from the other gorillas, and at one point he was no farther away than three meters from dominant silverback Isabukuru, who for a change did not show aggressive behavior to the group’s black sheep. While resting, Isabukuru and Kubaha began showing further signs of a good relationship by making belch-like vocalizations to one another.

After the group had finished resting and many of the gorillas had started feeding, juvenile Mushya and infant Sakara both approached Kubaha and initiated playing with him. After playing with the two young gorillas, Kubaha continued the friendly interaction by grooming them for over half an hour. This interaction between Kubaha and the two young gorillas took place in clear sight of Isabukuru and females in the group, but the other adults surprisingly showed no reaction. This might mean that Kubaha is on his way to being accepted fully into the group, though it is still too early to tell. We will continue to monitor this situation closely to see if in fact Kubaha will finally be in his group’s good graces.

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Musilikale Still Leading Newly Formed Group Split from Pablo's
Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The newly formed mountain gorilla group led by silverback Musilikale was very close to the original group (Pablo's, led by Cantsbee) this morning. The two groups were in the bamboo zone exploiting the first bamboo shoots of the season. They were still separated at the end of the day, but just 100 meters apart. We are very curious to see if the group will reunite or not.

Musilikale leads splitBased on the fresh traces of both groups, Fossey Fund trackers understood that Pablo's and Musilikale's groups spent the night about 500 meters apart and that it was Musilikale's group that moved toward Pablo's direction early in the morning. The silverback made several displays with hooting vocalizations and chest beats, but there was no response from Pablo's group.

Late in the morning, blackback Kubona from Pablo's group joined Musilikale's subgroup and started playing and resting with the other gorillas, in particular with the young silverback Turakomeje.

The two groups were still very close when trackers left and Kubona was still with Musilikale. Anything could happen later today or tomorrow.

Musilikale's group first split from Pablo's group on April 4.

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More surprises from female Umusatsi.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013

UmusatsiAfter five weeks traveling solo, Umusatsi was seen April 22 in Giraneza's group! We could tell that she had already spent the previous night in the group, because an additional nest was found with the others.

Given the very long time that Umusatsi had traveled alone, her choice to finally join a group seems to have been a considered selection rather than a casual move to the first group she encountered.

It's very interesting to see how easily she is integrating with the new group. Silverback Giraneza has displayed at her a few times and very often makes neigh vocalizations (known to express sexual interest). This morning, Umusatsi and Giraneza spent three hours resting together, and the silverback was establishing the new relationship by grooming the new female’s coat for a long time.

Among the other two females in Giraneza’s group, Taraja and Nyandwi, only Nyandwi has made any antagonistic behaviors toward Umusatsi. Those were clearly related to a dominance struggle. Taraja and her newborn baby are peaceful around Umusatsi.

Giraneza grooming UmusatsiMountain gorillas move from one group to another, and it often happens in the Virungas that gorillas who started out in the same group may meet again after many years apart. So for Umusatsi (29 years old) and Giraneza (18 years old) this is one of those cases. They lived together in Pablo's group for more than 12 years. Umusatsi was already an adult female when Giraneza was born and he became a silverback while she was in the group, so they know each other very well. In addition, Giraneza's mother, Cyiza, and Umusatsi are both originally from Susa's group (one of those habituated for tourism) and transferred to Pablo's group (previously the group Dian Fossey named Group 5) in the same period. Now, in an odd twist of fate, the kid that Umusatsi saw growing up is now the dominant male of the group she has transferred into!

Veronica

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Celebrating Earth Day
Sunday, April 21, 2013

All of us at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International want to recognize and honor the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day. The first Earth Day was launched on April 22, 1970, in the United States and is now celebrated by more than a billion people worldwide. Today, the Earth Day Network and numerous other environmental organizations work together to help secure a healthy future for the planet.

The work we do at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is aligned with the goals of Earth Day. We believe not only in saving gorillas but in protecting their habitats and helping the communities who live near them. We participate in education, science, health and direct conservation on the ground every day. We believe that a healthy environment benefits all. And we believe that every day is an Earth Day.

On this Earth Day, we especially want to thank all of our supporters and all of those who support conservation and environmental causes around the world.

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An Unusual Group Interaction Observed
Thursday, April 18, 2013

This morning Fossey Fund trackers observed an atypical interaction between Bwenge's group
and Giraneza's group. It lasted a couple of hours during which the gorillas of both groups were
apparently calm ignoring the other's presence.

Nyandwi observes BwengeThe interaction started when silverback Giraneza approached Bwenge's group at 11 a.m. The silverback stopped about 50 meters away from Bwenge, who looked at him without any kind of antagonistic reaction.

The two groups stayed nearby (but never too close) eating calmly in the same area. Bwenge was the first one to move away at 1 p.m., while Giraneza stayed in the same area but then after a few minutes moved in the opposite direction. Female Nyandwi from Giraneza's group tried twice to
move toward Bwenge but she was stopped both times by Giraneza standing in front of her.

We were surprised to notice the lack of reaction by all gorillas, considering that the two groups interacted intensely just a few week ago. Today's actions are evidence of how social interactions vary according to different contexts and unknown factors.

Giraneza's group includes 3 gorillas (1 silverback 2 females and 1 infant) and Bwenge's group has 9 gorillas (1 silverback, 3 females, 3 juveniles and 2 infants).

Veronica

 

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New Infant and Other Good News
Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Yesterday, female mountain gorilla Bukima, from Isabukuru's group, gave birth to her fourth infant. This is the third infant born this year in the groups monitored by the Fossey Fund, with two from Isabukuru's group.

In other good news, we finally located the dispersed female Umusatsi. She left Kuryama's group on March 17 and she was not seen since then. Today trackers saw her. She was feeding calmly though she ran away as soon as she saw trackers approaching. She is far from all groups. We are very happy to see that she is fine, but we can't really explain yet this unusual behavior. Why is she traveling alone? What advantage can she get from it?

About the two new groups formed this year: Musilikale group (subgroup of Pablo's group) is fine and is ranging very far away from Pablo's group.

Gushimira's group has apparently changed areas and we have not located them since March 24. We have teams looking for them almost every day,  with the support of staff from our anti-poaching teams and RDB (park management) but so far it really seems the group has moved to a new area.

We also resumed the monitoring of Giraneza's group (a group formed last year). We stopped last year when it moved to DR Congo, but now they are back in Rwanda and the gorillas are all fine including the infant.

 Veronica

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Fossey Fund Participates in Rwanda's Genocide Remembrance Week
Friday, April 12, 2013

In Rwanda, a somber week-long remembrance and commemoration period is underway, on the anniversary of the genocide that took place there this month 19 years ago. 

On Sunday, April 7 all Karisoke staff participated in a ceremony at the Busogo Memorial site, one of the 200 or so memorial sites throughout Rwanda, to honor the many lives that were lost during the onslaught. Every day this week, memorial and commemorative services are taking place at the sites throughout this small and most densely populated country in Africa.

In his speech on Sunday, at the largest genocide memorial site, located in the capital city, Kigali, Rwandan President Paul Kagame stated, “Remembrance of the genocide is an obligation for every Rwandan. It also falls on us to teach and pass on that responsibility to the youth so that they, in turn, can pass it on to successive generations.”

This sentiment has been tangibly evident all week. In addition to the daily youth marches through the streets of even Rwanda’s smallest cities, carrying purple banners with messages such as “Learning from our history to build a bright future” and “Plus Jamais -- Never Again”, and the sounds and sights of survivor testimonials which can be heard on the radio or watched on television at any time, the majority of all businesses throughout the country have been closing at 12 noon every day.

Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International staff at the headquarters in Ruhengeri, as well as the trackers in the field, have had shortened work days this week to recognize the national commemorative holiday. This allows everyone an opportunity to grieve and remember the tragic events of April 1994 with friends and family.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who attended the ceremony in Kigali on Sunday, recognized the importance of education and reconciliation in his speech: "Out of the ashes of the genocide, Rwanda has forged a new path, progressing towards a more peaceful and just society. I encourage the people and government of Rwanda to continue promoting the inclusive spirit and dialogue necessary for healing, reconciliation and reconstruction."

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Musilikale Leads Split from Pablo's Group, at Least for Now
Thursday, April 11, 2013

MusilikalePablo’s group seems to be split yet again. Musilikale, a peripheral silverback in the group who has a history of challenging both the group’s dominant silverback, Cantsbee and his son, the second-ranking silverback Gicurasi, has been spotted several times in the past few weeks without the rest of the group except for seven other gorillas, mostly females. Although at this point it is too soon to tell if the split will be permanent or not, it is definitely a topic of interest for Fossey Fund researchers and trackers, as this is the longest period of time Musilkale has separated himself from the group.

It will be highly unusual if Musilikale succeeds in splitting off from the group with several of the other members, because he has no close relatives in Pablo's group and his history with the group is short, as he only secured his place as a member in November 2012.

Everyone at the Fossey Fund is very interested to see what happens, as Pablo’s group is the largest group we track, and it is also an unusually large group in the gorilla world. Pablo’s group also has an unusually large number of silverbacks. Currently there are nine in the group, and this year two more will reach the age of 12 -- the age of full maturity that affords them silverback status. With this many contenders to take the dominant silverback position away from Cantsbee, who is now the oldest gorilla the Fossey Fund tracks, Musilikale might have some opposition coming his way. Research Assistant Jean Paul Hirwa stated “We will know if the split is permanent only if the separation lasts for two or three months. All we can do now is watch and wait to see what happens.”

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Hunt for Dispersed Gorillas Continues; Giraneza's Group Found Instead
Friday, April 05, 2013

Today the Rwanda Development Board supported the Karisoke trackers to search for the dispersed gorillas  mentioned in yesterday's blog:

  • Group Gushimira, not seen since March 24th.
  • Female Umusatsi, who left Kuryama’s group on March 17th. We assume she is travelling alone (which she did several times in the past).
  • Pablo’s group, which had split yesterday, when we saw only seven gorillas led by silverback Musilikale (six plus Musilikale).

Six teams were organized for the search: two for Gushimira's group, two for Pablo's group and two for Umusatsi, but they didn’t find any of the dispersed gorillas.

GiranezaThere was one positive development today, however: One member of the team looking for Gushimira found Giraneza’s group. Six days ago we accidentally met Giraneza’s group, which we had stopped following last year after they crossed the border from Rwanda into the Democratic Republic of Congo. Now, it's clear that they are back in Rwanda, so we are reorganizing the field teams in order to resume daily monitoring of Giraneza's group. The gorillas in the group are fine and female Taraja's newborn seems to be healthy.

Although Pablo’s group was not seen, Musilikale's subgroup was seen again. It was clear that the seven gorillas had spent another day separately from the main group.

We’ll keep searching tomorrow, hoping that Musilikale's subgroup will rejoin Pablo’s group.

Veronica

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Two New Species of Mouse Lemurs Discovered
Friday, April 05, 2013

As published in the March 2013 International Journal of Primatology, a team of international researchers has discovered two new species of mouse lemurs, using DNA analysis from skin samples.

The mouse lemurs were first discovered in 2003, when the study, the first of its kind to formally identify the mouse lemur as a separate species, began. However it wasn’t until the recent DNA analysis was conducted that the lemurs were in fact determined to be two different species. This finding brings the total number of mouse lemurs to 20 species, making them the most diverse group of lemurs.

The Marohita (Microbus marohita), one of the newly discovered species, is now considered the largest species of mouse lemurs, with a body length of 13.5 centimeters, or a total length of 28 centimeters including their bushy tails, with a weight of about 78 grams. The Marohita’s seemingly identical cousin and the second newly identified species, the Anosy (Microbus tanosi), has a nose-to-tail length of 27 centimeters and weight of 51 grams.

Lemurs are found only on the African island of Madagascar. Mouse lemurs are the smallest species of lemur and one of the smallest species of primates in the world. These nocturnal primates are mostly found in Madagascar’s eastern Marohita forest and in the southeastern Anosy region.

The team hopes this new discovery will shed light on conservation issues, such as deforestation and poaching, as the new mouse lemur’s namesake forest, the Marohita, has reportedly been “seriously fragmented and destroyed” since the study began 10 years ago. The scientists working on the mouse lemur study hope to have these two new species added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN), Red List of endangered animals.

According to the IUCN, more than 11 million hectares of the island nations forests have been destroyed over the past 20 years. The IUCN also reports that 91 percent of the nearly 100 lemur species face extinction, the worse case being the northern sportive lemur species, which has only 19 known individuals left.

The scientists in this study were: David W. Weisrock from the University of Kentucky, Anne D. Yoder from Duke University, Rodin Rasoloarison from the University of Madagascar, Daniel Rakotondravony from the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar and Peter M. Kappeler from the University of Göttingen in Germany.

The Lemur Center in Madagascar, sponsored by Duke University, is developing educational programs to reach out to the local populations on conservation issues to preserve these endangered primates and their habitats.

 

News From Three Gorilla Groups, With Some Concerns
Thursday, April 04, 2013

Musilikale with Itorero, watched by MahaneThis morning Fossey Fund trackers could not reach Pablo’s group, due to the difficult terrain in their area and bad weather. They found just a small part of the group, only seven gorillas, led by young (15-year-old) silverback Musilikale.

The gorillas with Musilikale were the older dominant female Mahane (28) with her offspring: Itorero (1), Icumbi (9) and Turakomeje (12). Musilikale is known to be close to Mahane and plays often with Itorero. With them were also the sub-adult female Akamaro and blackback Noheli.

We don’t know if the group split was intentionally done or just a temporary separation because of the difficult vegetation in the area. The main group was not found, so we weren’t able to estimate the distance between the parties. Interestingly, the trackers noticed that the small subgroup was moving in the opposite direction from the trail of the original group.

Young silverback Musilikale is one of the candidates among the six silverbacks in Pablo’s group who have been trying since last year to move up in rank, taking advantage of dominant Cantbee’s old age. In fact, this is the third time that he has split from the main group, followed by a few other members. Tomorrow we will see whether he rejoins the group.

Meanwhile, Gushimira’s newly formed group seems to have disappeared. Despite a huge effort made by the Fossey Fund gorilla program staff with the support of the anti-poaching teams and the Rwandan Development Board, the group has not been seen since March 24. We will continue the search. We are positive we can find the group, we just hope to do it soon.

Older female Umusatsi (28 years old) has also disappeared again. Considering her habit of leaving the group for many days in the past, we were initially not concerned. Now we are, as she has been missing since March 17 and she is also relatively old. We hope to find Gushimira’s group soon so we can then concentrate all our efforts to look for Umusatsi. The longest period that she spent traveling alone in the past was 21 days. Her juvenile son Rwema has stayed with the group and is apparently fine.

Muntu and her infantFinally, we are beginning to be concerned for female Muntu’s recently born infant, especially considering the premature deaths of her previous offspring. She did not develop a full breast, as is normal for a lactating female. The infant is suckling and not complaining (meaning he is not crying), so we hope he is getting something. The Gorilla Doctors who observed Muntu yesterday confirmed the concerns that her milk production may not be sufficient. On the other hand, both Muntu and the infant appear to be healthy and beautiful. We will keep an eye on them.

Veronica

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Female Bishushwe still negotiating in new group
Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Mountain gorilla female Bishushwe's position in the Ntambara group has been unclear since she reluctantly joined it after the disbanding of the Urugamba group. This was due to the sudden death of dominant silverback Urugamba in late January. When major changes occur in group dynamics, such as the addition of new gorillas, the integration and settlement of hierarchy is extremely important to their social order and group dynamics.

BishushweFossey Fund field staff coordinator, John Ndayambaje, witnessed an interaction in the Ntambara group on March 26 that tried to settle Bishushwe’s place in the new hierarchy. He watched as Kunga, a young female from the original Ntambara group, instigated an act of harassment towards Bishushwe. Acts of harassment to settle status generally involve antagonistic behavior, like screaming and physical attacks.

This incident led to further divisions in the group, with the other female gorillas taking sides. Kubaka, the oldest adult female of the original Ntambara group supported Kunga. The other female transfers from the former Urugamba group supported Bishushwe in the altercation. No major injuries were sustained by either gorilla.

It was very exciting for us to observe this interaction, though the outcome of the interaction is still unclear. We are anxiously waiting and watching to see what happens with Bishushwe’s ranking in the Ntambara group, as she has already been through so much this year, with the death of Urugamba, the dissolution of his group, and the subsequent death of her infant upon joining the Ntambara group.

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Juvenile Gorilla Released from Snare
Friday, March 29, 2013

Haguruka last yearThis morning, the Kuryama group's trackers found juvenile male Haguruka caught in a snare.  This is the second time a juvenile from Kuryama's group has been caught in a snare in 2013.  Juvenile female Dukore was also caught in February.

The rest of the group was very stressed and crowded around Haguruka, even pulling on him.  The trackers became very concerned, as young gorillas can sustain serious injuries when adults try to free them from snares by pulling on their limbs.  Fortunately, they were able to intercede to cut the rope where it was attached to the stake that anchored the snare, but a long piece still remained around Haguruka's right wrist.  Fossey Fund, Rwandan Development Board and Gorilla Doctors staff prepared to intervene to remove the rope from his wrist, but in the meantime, Haguruka managed to remove it himself. 

Fortunately, Haguruka does not appear to have been injured and the rest of the group has calmed down now.

Another Newborn, This Time in Isabukuru's Group
Wednesday, March 27, 2013

MuntuThis morning Muntu from Isabukuru’s group gave birth. With the newborn,  Isabukuru’s group has now reached 12 gorillas.

The infant seems to be in good health. Trackers estimated that the delivery took place last night.

Muntu (who is 20 years old) has lost all her four previous infants, for different reasons. One died when she was still in Susa’s group (one of the groups habituated for tourists) and three after she joined  Isabukuru’s group -- one from infanticide and the last two from unknown causes.

Our fingers are crossed for this little one! We hope to have photos soon.

Veronica

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Double Good News: Giraneza's Group Seen, With Newborn
Friday, March 22, 2013

Giraneza and Taraja, Feb. 2012Double good news from the field:  First, this morning we saw Giraneza’s group again, one of two small groups that we had stopped following last year. The last time we saw Giraneza’s group was in January, for just two days. We are happy to confirm that they are all in good health.

Secondly, Taraja, one of the two females in Giraneza’s group, has a new infant, who we estimate is less than a week old.

The group was seen interacting with Bwenge’s group, which is also ranging very far away at the moment, behind Bikereri Hill. The interaction had already started when Bwenge’s trackers arrived, and it went on until 11:45 a.m.  After the interaction the two groups moved in opposite directions without any consequence. The interaction took the form of several displays and a few physical aggressions, none of which resulted in injury.

The newborn is the second infant born to 13-year-old female Taraja and the first for silverback Giraneza since he formed his group just over a year ago, in February 2012. Taraja gave birth to her first infant, Akarusho, in Inshuti’s group. He died last year from infanticide due to separation from his group after some snare accidents.

Field Logistics Coordinator Jean Damascene Hategekimana (known as "Fundi") will try to locate Giraneza’s group again tomorrow to take pictures of Taraja and the new infant. It’s very rainy at the moment and the group is moving away fast, so we don’t know if he will succeed.

Veronica

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Update on Gushimira's and Ugenda's Groups
Wednesday, March 20, 2013

We have observed some changes in Gushimira’s newly formed group. Although field staff did not find the group on Mar. 11-13, its trails showed that it crossed somehow with the trails for Ugenda’s group around Mar. 11 and 12.

On Mar. 12, female Inziza was seen back in Ugenda’s group. Even her nest was together with the others. Dominant silverback Ugenda displayed at her a few times, but she is fine. Her juvenile daughter, Igitangaza, soon rejoined her. Ugenda’s group moved uphill and reached the top of Mt. Visoke.

Gushimira and the remaining two females were found on Mar. 14. They are fine, but Gushimira
was displaying often.

Also, Gorilla Doctors reports that Ugenda's and second-in-command silverback Wageni’s wounds, incurred when they initially lost the females to Gushimira, are healing nicely.

Veronica

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Future of Gushimira's Group Still Uncertain
Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Inziza and her juvenile daughter Igitangaza Silverback Gushimira recently formed a new group by attracting three females from Ugenda’s group, but the situation of his group still seems unstable. This morning, in fact, female Inziza was found back in Ugenda’s group, and the nest count suggested that she may have rejoined them yesterday.

Dominant Ugenda displayed a few times to Inziza, but her juvenile daughter Igitangaza was visibly happy to be with her mother again. The two females rested in physical contact and Inziza groomed Igitangaza for a long time.

Today and yesterday we were not able to locate Gushimira’s group, so we don’t know the distance between the groups. Gushimira and his three females were seen for the last time on Sunday, when they appeared to be a calm and well-established group. At that time, they were 1 km from Ugenda’s group.
 
We will keep looking for Gushimira, as we are eager to know if he will be able to keep his group together or if he will become a solitary male once again.

Veronica

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Infant Succumbs to Wounds Following Group Change
Monday, March 11, 2013

We are sad to report that Amatwara, the infant of female Bishushwe, has died from the wounds inflicted the previous week by another gorilla, most likely Ugutsinda, the dominant silverback in the group that the infant and his mother had recently joined. Unfortunately, infanticide by a silverback is not uncommon when a female gorilla with a young infant changes groups.

Our field staff saw that the infant was dead when they arrived at the group yesterday, Sunday, March 10. We did not immediately recover the body because Bishushwe was still carrying it. This morning, we found the body on the ground very close to the group, indicating that the mother had left him there that morning.The Gorilla Doctors will conduct a necropsy on the infant's body to provide more details about what had happened.

For more details see our news story here.

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Infant Amatwara Still in Critical Condition
Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Amatwara carried on his mother's backToday, the situation was still the same with infant Amatwara. He is inactive and moves by riding on his mother Bishushwe's back or just stays on the ground while she eats. While the gorillas rest, Amatwara is on his mother's breast.

The group is calm and Bishushwe keeps her distance from almost all the other gorillas. Her older son Igisubizo rests in physical contact with his mother and Amatwara, 10-20 meters from the rest. Silverback Ugutsinda approached Bishushwe a few times while the group was feeding, but just for a few minutes. He seemed to ignore Bishushwe today.

A Gorilla Doctor veterinarian and Fossey Fund researcher Jean Paul were there. Apparently Umatwara has not only a broken leg but also a hip fracture.

This evening, after a very long discussion including the Rwanda Development Board (park authority), the Gorilla Doctors and our staff, we made a final decision not to intervene.

This was done based on the following considerations:

1. There is a very low likelihood of the infant’s survival, even with an intervention.
2. The injuries were caused by a natural event.
3. The intervention could possibly disturb the group and mother Bishushwe, who would also have to be anesthetized for a veterinarian intervention and would risk being left behind by the group and being alone again.

The discussion was animated, and we took into consideration all possible scenarios and actions. We also concluded that we can't follow a general rule for interventions, but each case has to be discussed separately taking into consideration several factors and including all the partner organizations in the final decision.

Tomorrow we will all go to the group to see what happens next, and we will also accompany the Gorilla Doctors to check on Ugenda’s injuries from his recent interaction with Gushimira.

Veronica

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New Group Doing Well, Injured Infant Deteriorates
Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The new mountain gorilla group formed by lone silverback Gushimira is doing well. Our trackers had not seen them in four days and tracking has been hampered by heavy rains.

Bishushwe and infantThe trackers following Ntambara's group also had a hard day reaching their group, which was near the top of Mt. Visoke, with the gorillas taking shelter from the rain under bushes. When the rain stopped briefly, they were able to see female Bishushwe, followed closely and continuously by dominant silverback Ugutsinda. She was carrying her badly injured son Amatwara, whose condition is very poor. Since the infant's wounds were likely inflicted by Ugutsinda, and the group is already stressed due to all the changes, a medical intervention has not been attempted, although veterinarians from the Gorilla Doctors have been observing the situation and plan to visit again tomorrow to help determine if any actions would be helpful to the infant or the group.

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Wounded Infant in Ntambara's Group at High Risk
Monday, March 04, 2013

Bishushwe and her infant AmatwaraBishushwe’s infant Amatwara was found injured on Friday (although he was at first mistaken for Pasika’s infant Turate). Female Bishushwe had probably joined Ntambara's group on Thursday evening after having been on her own for a month, since Jan. 29. Other members of Urugamba's group had already joined Ntambara's group after the death of their lead silverback.

Trackers did not observe the aggressions that caused the injuries, but they were very likely inflicted by dominant silverback Ugutsinda, who displayed at Bishushwe a few times on Friday. She now stays close by his side.

Gorilla Doctors veterinarian Dr. Jean-Felix Kinani visited Amatwara on Saturday. The group was not seen yesterday because they were in a deep ravine on top of Mt. Visoke. This morning, we found the infant still in bad shape, with multiple wounds and possibly a fractured leg. Realizing that the risk of infanticide is very high, we conferred with the veterinarians and the Rwandan Development Board (park authority) about whether to intervene to treat the fractured leg.

The situation in this gorilla group is still very stressful. Bishushwe is very protective of the infant. Intervening would cause further stress and very likely Bishushwe would be left behind by the group and possibly forced to be alone again. In addition, saving the infant’s life now would not prevent an infanticide in the near future.

In the end, the decision was not to intervene at this time. Tomorrow we will return with veterinarians to further evaluate the situation.

We are very concerned about Amatwara’s chances of survival, but Bishushwe’s decision to join a group was predictable and definitely the safest one. She tried hard to protect her infant, but being alone in the forest with him was too big a risk.

Veronica

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Updates: Gushimira, Ugenda and a Wounded Infant in Ntambara's Group
Friday, March 01, 2013

Infant Sabato and two juveniles resting with UgendaToday and yesterday, our trackers did not locate Gushimira and the three females he recently acquired from Ugenda’s group (Kanama, Kurudi and Inziza). It seems that the newly  formed group had changed their ranging area. We will keep looking for them every day, hoping to find them soon.

Ugenda's group (without females) seems to be doing fine. Sabato, Kurudi’s infant, is with silverback Ugenda. Ugenda made a few non-directed displays today and yesterday, possibly addressed to Gushimira and the females.

Another issue: Infant Amatwara, now in Ntambara's group with his mother Bishushwe, was found injured today. He is limping and has several bleeding superficial wounds. Bishushwe and her infant were originally members of Urugamba's group, which merged with Ntambara's group on Jan. 28. Today’s injuries suggest that Amatwara was involved in a serious fight. Because we did not observe the fight, we can't confirm the intention or the context of it.

Tomorrow Gorilla Doctor veterinarians will go with Fossey Fund staff to assess Amatwara’s health. Ntambara’s group is on the top of Mount Visoke, so it will be a long trek!

Veronica

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New Group Gushimira Taking Hold
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

After the interaction between Ugenda's group and the lone silverback Gushimira yesterday (see previous blogs), the three females followed silverback Gushimira and moved away. The two groups nested about100 meters apart, but this morning they moved in opposite directions. Today, the distance between them was 300 meters. All the gorillas in each group seemed to be fine and infant Sabato stayed close to silverback Ugenda.

Gwiza looking up toward GushimiraHowever, further action occurred with Gushimira's group, as they interacted with Gwiza, another very well-known lone silverback. The interaction started at 10:40 a.m., when Gushimira started displaying. At 11:00 a.m., another display was heard from downhill, and it was Gwiza.

Gwiza was about 100 meters away from Gushimira but they could see each other because of the Visoke slope. Gushimira and Gwiza exchanged many displays, but they never came closer than 100 meters. Only when Gushimira moved a few meters in Gwiza's direction did Gwiza move away.

At 2 p.m. , when trackers and researcher Samedi left the site, Gwiza started moving away while Gushimira was still displaying.

So, by the end of today, we feel we can state there is "officially" a new group: Gushimira's group. We are therefore reorganizing our tracker teams in order to assure the daily monitoring of this new group along with all the others we follow.

In the past few days, because of this long interaction, we didn't have trackers looking for dispersed female Bishushwe and her infant. The last time that she was localized was on Feb. 18, when her fresh trail was seen in the same area where Gushimira, Ugenda and now Gwiza are ranging. On that day she was running away from trackers and we couldn't confirm if her infant was still alive.

Veronica

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Update on Ugenda, Gushimira and the Three Females
Monday, February 25, 2013

Gushimira todayAfter the interaction Friday morning, the lone silverback Gushimira moved away with Ugenda’s three females. The four gorillas stayed together Saturday and Sunday at about 1 km from Ugenda's group.

Silverbacks Ugenda and Wageni are gradually recovering from their multiple wounds. Over the weekend, they stayed more or less in the same area with all the infants and juveniles.

This morning (Monday Feb. 25), the two groups interacted again. During the morning both groups slowly moved toward each other’s path. The females were leading Gushimira's group. Around 11:50 a.m. the groups faced each other. Soon the females rejoined Ugenda's group, followed by silverback Gushimira.

Infant Sabato immediately moved to mother Kurudi and stayed on her back for most of the time. The other two juveniles, Ubushake and Igitangaza, also stayed close to their mothers, Kanama and Inziza.

The silverbacks exchanged many displays and moved around. Ugenda and Wageni tried to chase Gushimira, but he was still close to the group when the trackers left. Despite a few physical aggressions, no new wounds were recorded by the end of the day.

It is not clear why the interaction is still going on after so many days. Why doesn’t Gushimira move to a different area? Why do the females move with Gushimira, but rejoin Ugenda after a few hours or days with him?

We will keep you posted on the development of this interesting situation.

Veronica

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Do We Have a New Group? Gushimira-Ugenda Interaction Continues
Friday, February 22, 2013

Ugenda injuredThe interaction between the lone silverback Gushimira and Ugenda's group was still going on today.

When the trackers arrived at the group they saw Gushimira already displaying at Ugenda. They were in the same place as yesterday. Probably they all spent the night together, even if we can't confirm that because the nests were not found.

The interaction went on until 11:14 a.m., when Gushimira succeeded, again, in taking the three females. They moved away, stopping at 100 meters from Ugenda to rest.

Ugenda and silverback Wageni remained with the infant and juveniles. Both silverbacks have fresh new wounds in addition to the ones from yesterday.

Everybody in the two groups was visibly exhausted. When the trackers left, they were all sleeping. The distance between the two groups was less than 100 meters.

So, it seems that we have indeed a new group, Gushimira’s.

More tomorrow. We will see if Ugenda can gain enough energy to try again to get the females back.

Veronica Vecellio

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Ugenda Regains His Females -- For Now
Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fossey Fund trackers and research staff, as well as Dr. Dawn Zimmerman from Gorilla Doctors, went to see what had transpired with Ugenda, Wageni and group members this morning and found them very close to where they were when left yesterday. Ugenda and Wageni were weak, with very visible wounds. Ugenda has a huge cut behind his neck and on the hand, while Wageni has a big and deep cut on his arm and several small wounds.

Gushimira chest beatingAround 10 a.m. they finally started feeding. The youngsters were all close to the silverbacks. The three females were still with silverback Gushimira (see previous blog), resting together about 200 meters from Ugenda. Soon, we heard the first hooting from Ugenda. Gushimira stood up and was visibly stressed, even if physically he looked very well (only a very small wound on his hand).

In a few minutes the two groups faced each other and a very long and intense interaction started. The females went immediately back to Ugenda's group and all youngsters rejoined their respective mothers. Ugenda and Wageni showed unexpected strength (considering their status in the early morning) and they started chasing Gushimira away.

All the silverbacks made several displays charging each other, with Ugenda and Wageni literally pushing Gushimira away. The females and youngsters were following and sometimes participated in charging Gushimira with lots of screams.

 Researcher Didier collecting data of the interactionWhen we left the group the interaction had calmed down but Gushimira was still very close. All the gorillas looked very tired. It seems that Ugenda's group is back with him, but anything can still happen, especially since the lone silverback Gushimira remains nearby. Stay tuned for updates tomorrow!

 Veronica Vecellio

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Ugenda Loses Females to Lone Silverback Gushimira
Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Gushimira with Ugenda's femalesUgenda’s group interacted with a lone silverback, resulting in the loss of his three females to the outsider. The lone silverback was later identified as Gushimira, who had left Pablo’s group in August 2011. The interaction was not seen by trackers, but evidence on the trail suggested that it happened yesterday evening.

When trackers arrived they saw all of the three females of Ugenda’s group (Kanama, Inziza and Kurudi) with the lone silverback. Ugenda was badly injured and he stayed with the remaining members, including the females’ three offspring.  Sabato, Kurudi’s infant, is still very young; he will be 3 in March.

Sabato was whimpering and looking for his mother. He tried to go off to look for her, but at 20 meters from the group he changed his mind and rejoined Ugenda, probably scared to be alone. Silverbacks Ugenda and Wageni are both in bad shape, badly injured and weak.

According to the evidence, the interaction was intense: lots of blood on the trail, flattened vegetation and signs that the gorillas had walked a long distance.

Remaining with Ugenda are: silverback Wageni, subadult Iterambere, juveniles Ubushake and Igitangaza and infant Sabato.

At the end of the trackers’ observation, around 3 p.m., Ugenda was moving in the direction of Gushimira and the females had stopped 50 meters from them when it started raining.

Most of the Karisoke staff were in Musanze attending a meeting of the Rwanda Development Board with all our team leaders. Researcher Samedi was in the forest with another gorilla group and fortunately was near enough to join the lone silverback and the females in the late morning, so we were able to take some pictures and record their behavior (we could identify the silverback from his pictures).

Gushimira was there for two hours. In the morning the three females were all in physical contact with him. Kurudi and Kanama were the closest to Gushimira and they were grooming him.  They were all visibly tired and spent lots of time resting. After resting, the females started feeding, while the silverback made some displays and lots of sexual vocalizations. 

We were surprised to see Gushimira in that area, as he had left Pablo’s group with two other males in 2011 and the Visoke area where he found Ugenda’s group is not really Pablo’s range. Besides that, we had not see the three males since August 2011. It’s very interesting that he doesn’t seems to have a scratch, while Ugenda and Wageni are quite injured.

Tomorrow we will all go there and see what happens next, and we will accompany veterinarians to Ugenda’s group to check on the injuries.

Veronica Vecellio, Gorilla Program coordinator

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Gwiza Interacts With Titus’ Group; Bishushwe’s Status Still Unknown
Friday, February 15, 2013

GwizaLast week, Titus’ group encountered lone silverback Gwiza.  Gwiza began interacting by a display of chest beating, and moved toward the group, eventually stopping within 70 meters of them.  After spending some time observing Gwiza, dominant silverback Rano of Titus’ group was aided by the entire group in chasing Gwiza away. The interaction did not result in any transfers or injuries.  In fact, after chasing Gwiza for some distance, Rano took the females in another direction and left a group of young silverbacks and juvenile male Segasira to continue chasing him. Field staff report that Gwiza looked frightened and was yawning, which can be a sign of stress.

The interaction was not particularly unusual.  Gwiza has a history with the group, even following them for long periods of time.  What interested Fossey Fund staff most about the interaction was the opportunity to confirm that Gwiza is still traveling alone.  Female Bishushwe, from Urugamba’s former group, continues to travel alone with her infant as far as we know.  We have seen her trails but have not been able to locate her since Feb. 5.  Since she is traveling in the area where Gwiza also ranges, we thought it was possible she might have joined up with him.  However, from Gwiza’s interaction with Titus, we saw that this is clearly not the case.

At the end of January, another lone silverback, Tuyizere, was also seen in the area where Bishushwe has been ranging.  We wonder if Bishushwe has encountered him.  It is unusual for a female to spend much time alone in the forest, so we expect that sooner or later we will see her again in the company of a lone silverback or another group.

Gorilla Doctors Perform Necropsy on Urugamba
Friday, February 08, 2013

Urugamba, last photographed alive Jan. 24, 2013Gorilla Doctors conducted a necropsy on 21-year-old silverback Urugamba, who passed away suddenly on January 25 and determined that he had a colonic perforation (tear in the large bowel) that caused peritonitis (infection in the abdomen) and subsequent sepsis. Samples collected during the necropsy are being sent to the University of California at Davis where Dr. Linda Lowenstine, Gorilla Doctors Veterinary Pathologist, will process and examine them histopathalogically. 

 

Female Bishushwe Seen, Still Travelling Alone With Infant
Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Bishushwe and her infant AmatwaraAdult female Bishushwe has been traveling alone in the forest with her infant, 1-year-old Amatwara, since Jan. 29, when the rest of Urugamaba’s former group merged with Ntambara’s group following the death of their dominant silverback.

We were very concerned about Bishushwe, as it is highly unusual for a female to travel alone in the forest, and she was clearly very stressed.  In order to continue monitoring her, we created a special team dedicated to locating her every day.  However, once the team locates Bishushwe, they have special instructions to remain at quite a distance from her and not to continue following her as we usually do with the gorillas we monitor.  This special protocol is in place because Bishushwe appears to be stressed by human observers since she began traveling alone. 

Bishushwe was seen by trackers on Jan. 31, and after a couple of days of only finding her trails, she was again seen on Feb. 3.  She was scared and ran away from trackers, but both she and the infant appeared to be healthy.

By following her fresh traces, we can see that she has visited the site of Urugamba’s death every single day.  Field staff were always aware of a particularly close bond between the two gorillas, and we are touched and saddened to see Bishushwe’s response to his death.

 

Vets Remove Snare Rope From Dukore's Ankle
Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Gorilla Doctors veterinarian cuts the snare rope from Dukore's ankleToday, a large team visited Kuryama's group to remove the remaining rope from a snare that caught 4-year-old female Dukore yesterday.  Although Dukore had managed to escape from the snare, she was still left with rope encircling her left ankle.

The team was able to find an opportunity to dart Dukore relatively quickly this morning.  She was sedated at 10:15 a.m., and vets could soon see that although the rope around her ankle was tight, it was not affecting circulation to the foot and had not created any serious wounds. The rope was also very short and frayed at the end, indicating that she may have been trying to remove it herself using her teeth.  Veterinarians were able to remove the rope and give her precautionary doses of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs within half an hour.  When Dukore awoke, she remained alone for some time, crawling into a hagenia tree to rest.  However, she later rejoined the group, and rested in contact with her mother.   

The group was not particularly stressed by the intervention.  Only the second-in-command silverback Vuba approached the vets as they worked, but trackers were able to chase him away easily.  Fossey Fund staff note that the youngsters in Kuryama's group are relatively independent at a young age, and this makes interventions within the group easier as trackers do not have to stress the gorillas much by trying to separate a youngster from its mother to intervene.

Today's team included Gorilla Program Coordinator Veronica Vecellio, eight trackers, field coordinators John Ndayambaje and Jean Damascene Hategekimana, Gorilla Doctors Dawn Zimmerman and Jean Bosco Noheli, and Dr. Elizabeth Nyirakaragire from the Rwandan Development Board (park authority).

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International's daily monitoring and protection of endangered gorillas and their habitats would not be possible without your support. To help, take action-donate.

 

Juvenile Gorilla Caught in Snare
Tuesday, February 05, 2013

This morning, the Fossey Fund trackers for Kuryama's group discovered juvenile female mountain gorilla Dukore with the remnants of a snare around her left leg.  All of the gorillas in the group were resting near her but seemed to be calm, suggesting that Dukore was probably caught in the early morning quite a while before trackers reached the group.

Juvenile DukoreTrackers discovered two snares in the area.  Sadly, one had already caught and killed an antelope.  The other was probably the snare that caught Dukore because the rope had been cut.  Given the frayed appearance of the rope’s end, we believe that a gorilla probably chewed through it, but since we were unable to observe the event, we do not know whether Dukore or another gorilla chewed the rope.  The base of the snare was surrounded by flattened vegetation, another sign of gorilla presence.

Fortunately, Dukore is feeding and moving as normal, meaning that the ring of rope that still encircles her leg is not severely tight.  This gives us a larger window of time in which to intervene.  Since the gorillas were already stressed by the snare incident this morning, we will wait until tomorrow to go up with veterinarians from Gorilla Doctors for final removal of the snare. 

Interestingly, Dukore is one of the juveniles who was observed destroying snares in July.  Field staff noted that the technique she used was risky, as it involved some direct interaction with the mechanism of the snare itself, rather than merely breaking the stake as we have seen some adult gorillas do.  Since we were not present at the time that Dukore was caught in the snare, we don’t know for sure, but she may have approached the snare as she has done in the past and inadvertently been caught in the process.

 In any case, we are very glad that Dukore seems to be in good health after her very dangerous encounter.

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New Park to Protect Western Lowland Gorillas
Monday, February 04, 2013

The Fossey Fund is delighted to learn that another significant gorilla population will be protected by a new national park, in the Republic of Congo. Some 15,000 western lowland gorillas were discovered by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in the northern part of that country in 2008, within the boundaries of the new Ntokou-Pikounda National Park. WCS announced the designation of the new park on January 31, complimenting the Republic of Congo’s government for its leadership and foresight.

Like all gorillas, western lowland gorillas are classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, although with an estimated total population of 125,000 they are more numerous than the critically endangered mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorillas. The gorillas located by WCS live in a remote forest known as “the green abyss” because of its density, almost impenetrable to people.  The new park also harbors other endangered species such as elephants and chimpanzees, and includes wetlands that offer a habitat for fish, crocodiles and hippopotami.

The Republic of Congo, sometimes called Congo-Brazzaville after its capital, borders the Democratic Republic of Congo (capital: Kinshasa), home of the Grauer’s gorilla.

 

Silverback Inshuti Sighting Confirmed
Thursday, January 31, 2013

This morning Fossey Fund trackers confirmed that the silverback met yesterday was, indeed, Inshuti, traveling with female Shangaza. We are very happy to have finally located them after four months and to see that they are both fine. Inshuti does not like human presence and he moved fast to avoid our trackers, but we got a good view of him and Shangaza nevertheless.

Giraneza’s group was not found today, however, and Bishushwe and her infant are still alone. She was very scared of people and kept running for long distances. Interestingly her traces went to the place where silverback Urugamba died, then she kept moving up Visoke in Damu area. She and the infant are fine, but we don't know how long they can travel alone and unprotected.

Lastly, we tried to check on Ntambara’s group to see the development of the integration of Urugamba’s gorillas into the group, but unfortunately we had only a partial view of the group, due to their difficult location (crossing two deep ravines).Their nest site was complete suggesting that the gorillas are still all together moving to the eastern side of Visoke, an area normally used by Ntambara's group.

We are in daily contact with RDB (Rwandan park authorities) for coordination and RDB trackers supported us on all the extra teams needed during these unusual times. Gorilla Doctors veterinarian Jean Felix Kinani also assisted.

Veronica

News from Four Gorilla Groups
Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Silverback Ugutsinda displays as Ntambara's group meets Urugamba's survivors.Today, Ntambara’s team found most survivors of Urugamba's group -- female Pasika, her two offspring, and Bishushwe’s juvenile son, Igisubizo -- with Ntambara’s group, a sign that the two groups are indeed merging, five days after Urugamba's death.  Only female Bishushwe remained at a distance, probably trying to protect her vulnerable infant from infanticide by staying away from the silverbacks.

In other news, Giraneza's group was seen Jan. 29 for the first time since November. Giraneza was still with  females Nyandwi and Taraja.  However, Nyandwi seems to have injured her left arm, so veterinarian Jean Felix Kinani from Gorilla Doctors will assess her injury tomorrow.  On the way out of the forest after visiting Giraneza’s group, the trackers followed some fresh gorilla trails and were charged by a silverback who was with another gorilla. We suspect that they may have encountered Inshuti and his only female, Shangaza, whom we had lost track of in July 2012.

More details about all these groups here.

This information would not be possible without your support for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International's daily monitoring and protection of endangered gorillas and their habitats. To help, take action-donate.

 

Urugamba’s Survivors and Ntambara’s Group Interact
Monday, January 28, 2013

Urugamba's group and Ntambara's group interactingGorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio and Research Assistant Samedi Mucyo accompanied Urugamba’s tracker team in the forest on Jan. 28 to assess how the six surviving members of the group were coping since the death of their dominant silverback, Urugamba, on the evening of Jan. 24. 

Although we have been expecting the group to eventually merge with another group, perhaps Ugenda’s, or to encounter a lone silverback who might take over leadership, the team was completely surprised today when, in tracking Urugamba’s group, they encountered Ntambara’s group. A volatile interaction ensued between Ntambara’s group and Urugamba’s group that lasted at least four hours.
For details, see the news story here.

Studying and protecting gorillas would not be possible without your support for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International's daily monitoring and protection of endangered gorillas and their habitats. To help, take action-donate.

 

Followup with Urugamba Group
Saturday, January 26, 2013

Today, the Fossey Fund's Urugamba team, along with research assistant Didier Abavandimwe and field data coordinator John Ndayambaje, went to visit the group to check on their progress since the death of silverback Urugamba.  The team reports that the gorillas were behaving as normal, with no obvious signs of stress.  Since the group seemed calm, the decision was made to transport the body out of the forest in order for Gorilla Doctors to perform a necropsy.

Urugamba's body being carried down for necropsyThe group’s trails indicated that they had traveled as far as 700 meters from the body yesterday, but returned closer to the body to nest at night.  Today, the group remained within 50 to 60 meters from the body, but fed and rested as normal.  The infants even played together.  Sub-adult male Inkumbuza displayed once to the team, but this is not especially unusual behavior for him.  We are glad that the group seems to be adjusting relatively well to the loss of Urugamba and hope to have more information soon about his cause of death.

Urugamba Has Died
Friday, January 25, 2013

Sub-adult male Inkumbuza sits by Urugamba's bodyThe Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund staff are very sad that we must report the death of silverback Urugamba. He was the leader and only silverback in his small group of just seven gorillas and was always known for his peaceful demeanor.

After our field staff found Urugamba very weak in his nest yesterday, a team including staff from the Fossey Fund, RDB (Rwanda park authority), and Gorilla Doctors went to assess his condition first thing this morning.

We cannot say yet what caused Urugamba’s death. He appeared to be in good health on Wednesday when he was visited by trackers and researchers. His sudden illness caught us all by surprise. A necropsy will be performed by Gorilla Doctors, but we do not want to further stress the group by removing the body too soon.

Because there are no other mature males in the group, the females will eventually have to find a silverback to join. Pasika and Bishushwe are certainly experienced enough to move around the forest and find food, but they cannot protect themselves and their offspring from lone silverbacks or other groups.

Fossey Fund staff are all very concerned for the group, especially the infants, but of course we must let the gorillas determine their own path without human interference. We will be collecting behavioral data daily to see how the group responds to Urugamba’s death. Urugamba’s group was one of only two single-male groups Fossey Fund currently monitors, so this is an important and unique opportunity to learn about gorilla behavior under these circumstances.

Please see the full news story here for more details.

This information would not be possible without your support for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International's daily monitoring and protection of endangered gorillas and their habitats.  To help, take action-donate.

 

Silverback Urugamba Found Ailing
Thursday, January 24, 2013

 Silverback Urugamba, the dominant and only adult male of the his group, was found very weak this morning by the Fossey Fund's trackers. He was still in his night nest, while the rest of the group was a few meters from him feeding. During the entire morning he didn’t eat a bite of vegetation and moved less than 10 meters. The few meters he did walk were taken very slowly, in small steps.

Ailing silverback UrugambaThe other gorillas of his group were resting with Urugamba when they were not feeding. Subadult male Inkumbuza was seen grooming him, while female Pasika was at his side in physical contact.

Fossey Fund researcher Samedi, who was initially in another group, came to observe around noon and found the silverback in the same conditions described by trackers.

We are, of course, concerned as he is the only adult male of his group. The veterinarians from Gorilla Doctors were already involved in another case elsewhere (illnesses in Sabyinyo group) and were not available today, but the plan is for them to visit Urugamba tomorrow. If we are lucky, he will have improved, but if not, an intervention will be planned.

Veronica Vecellio

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Happy birthday, Dian Fossey (Jan. 16)
Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dian Fossey observing gorilla behaviorJanuary 16, 2013, would have been Dr. Dian Fossey’s 81st birthday.  The anniversary of her untimely death on Dec. 26, 1985, occurred only a few weeks earlier, so it is heartening at the start of a new year to remember how much she was able to accomplish.

Fossey developed a love for animals at an early age. She joined her high school horseback riding team, worked on a ranch in Montana one summer, and even considered becoming a veterinarian. Instead, she earned a degree in occupational therapy and worked at a hospital in Kentucky, where she lived on a farm and helped the owners with animal care.  A friend’s visit to Africa inspired her to dream of visiting that continent some day – a dream she pursued with determination until the opportunity finally arose. After taking out a bank loan to supplement her savings, she set off for Africa in 1963.

During this first trip to Africa, where she visited several countries, she met with the great paleontologist Dr. Louis Leakey at his archeological site in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Leakey told Dian about Jane Goodall’s work with chimpanzees, and the importance of long-term field studies of great apes. Later, in Uganda, a hotel owner who was an advocate for gorilla conservation recommended that she contact Joan and Alan Root, who were photographing the mountain gorillas for a documentary.  The Roots allowed Dian to camp behind their cabin and took her into the forest to search for gorillas.  As it is for so many, her first sight of mountain gorillas was a life-changing experience for Fossey, sealing her determination to return to study them.

"It was their individuality combined with the shyness of their behavior that remained the most captivating impression of this first encounter with the greatest of the great apes. I left Kabara with reluctance but with never a doubt that I would, somehow, return to learn more about the gorillas of the misted mountains," Fossey wrote in Gorillas in the Mist.

Three years later, Fossey set up camp on the Congo side of the Virungas and began to study the gorillas, until a civil war forced her to leave. Refusing to give up her dream, she started over on the Rwanda side, founding the Karisoke Research Center and later the Digit Fund, which is now the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. In the 1970s, she spent four years traveling between Africa and Cambridge University to earn her Ph.D., and toward the end of her life finished what would become a best-selling book (and then a movie), Gorillas in the Mist.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund continues her work of daily gorilla protection and study – now in the Congo as well – and has expanded its mission to include studying other species that share the gorillas’ ecosystem and working with communities that neighbor gorilla habitats. But it all started decades ago when a remarkable California woman dreamed of Africa. We are proud to honor her memory every day.

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Two New Gorilla Orphans Complete Health Checks
Friday, December 28, 2012

(L to R) Caregiver Gilbert Kavusa, orphan Baraka, Urbain NgoboboTwo gorilla infants that have been cared for by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and its partners for the past three months since they were rescued from poachers have completed their final quarantine exams. However, DNA tests must be completed before clearance can be granted for the two orphans to move from the Senkwekwe sanctuary run by the Congo park authority (ICCN) in Rumangabo to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) center further to the west. The DNA testing will confirm their subspecies as Grauer’s  gorillas (the Senkwekwe sanctuary harbors mountain gorillas, while GRACE receives only Grauer’s). ICCN is expected to issue a permit shortly for the DNA samples to leave the country for analysis. Veterinary care is provided by the Gorilla Doctors.

The orphans, named Isangi and Baraka, are doing well, according to the Fossey Fund’s Congo Program Director Urbain Ngobobo. “The caregiver Janvier Kayivumba says that he and the other three caregivers are happy that their charges have recovered their health and energy, especially Baraka, who was in very bad condition when she arrived. However, it will be tough on them to see the little gorillas leave. He says the infants and their caregivers have developed an in-depth bond similar to that between gorilla mothers and their infants. In fact, the caregivers say gorilla infants show more affection than human babies do, and many memories of Isangi and Baraka will stick in their minds after they are gone.”

Isangi is a female about 10 months old. Baraka, also a female, about 7 months old, was found to be anemic and malnourished when she was first examined, but an iron supplement corrected the anemia and her appetite has improved. She also received medication for two episodes of diarrhea.  Both infants will continue to be closely monitored, including daily temperature and weight checks. The caregivers ensure that the infants’ stress levels are low, so they can recover from the trauma of capture and seeing their family members killed (as almost always occurs when poachers take an infant gorilla) and that they engage in activities that help them develop.

IsangiIf the genetic testing confirms that both are Grauer’s gorillas, as expected, they will be joined in their journey to GRACE by Ihirwe, another orphaned Grauer’s gorilla in care at the Fossey Fund’s quarantine facility in Kinigi, Rwanda. GRACE currently houses 11 other Grauer’s orphans of various ages. There, they live in a wooded setting where they can develop skills such as foraging and nest building and, most importantly, learn to live in the kind of social group that helps gorillas survive in the wild, with a view to their eventual release in the forest.

GRACE was created at the urging of ICCN on land donated by the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology, adjacent to the Tayna Nature Reserve in eastern Congo. The center was initiated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; design and construction assistance from The Walt Disney Company’s Animal Programs; and technical expertise from Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA). GRACE is currently overseen by GRACE Governing Council members including The Walt Disney Company, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Dallas Zoo, Denver Zoo and Houston Zoo.

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Congo Update: Activities Resuming
Thursday, December 20, 2012

Last week, our Grauer’s gorilla research and conservation program in the Democratic Republic of Congo was able to launch gorilla patrols again. Our trackers experienced a longer absence from the field than expected due to the security situation in Goma, the provincial capital city.

While the M23 rebel group was in control of Goma, banks and microfinance institutions were shut down and airport traffic was stopped, making it impossible for us to purchase the supplies and equipment necessary for our teams to go back into the forest or to transfer money to the field.  Fortunately, we are happy to report that our teams in the REGOUWA, COCREFOBA, and RGPU nature reserves were all able to resume their work beginning last week, and will return from the field just before the holidays on Dec. 23.

Taking supplies to a new field station in the CongoUrbain Ngobobo, the Fossey Fund’s director of the Grauer’s gorilla program in Congo, says, "The results of our last patrols were extremely encouraging, as we found ample evidence of the presence of Grauer's gorillas in all three reserves where we work and were able to collect data that will help us establish more information about the size and demography of the population.  Our field teams are excited to return to the field to carry on their work.  We look forward to seeing what they find when they return later this month and we plan next steps for the Grauer's gorilla program."

The Fossey Fund is not alone in resuming its activities in Congo.  ICCN, which manages Congo’s national parks, has recently been able to resume some monitoring of mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park, which abuts Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and makes up a large and important part of the Virunga protected forest area.  In July, ICCN had to stop their monitoring as violence worsened in the region.  On their blog, ICCN reports a happy surprise after months of absence during which gorilla conservationists across the region worried about the safety of the groups in this park.  After locating all but one habituated group, they found many new gorilla infants. Unfortunately, ICCN also reports that they discovered rampant signs of poaching, especially many snares, drawing attention to how essential the rangers’ presence in the park is for keeping gorillas—and especially all these new infants—safe.

Over the past year, gorillas that the Fossey Fund monitors in Rwanda have crossed over to the Congolese side of the forest or ranged very close to the border.  Karisoke Research Center Director Felix Ndagijimana says, “Historically, the Fossey Fund has played a role in cross-border patrols of the Virungas along with RDB [Rwandan park authority], ICCN [Congolese park authority], and UWA [Uganda Wildlife Authority].  Given the recent insecurity in Congo, we have not been able to participate in cross-border patrols in Virunga National Park but look forward to resuming our participation in the future.  The return of ICCN rangers to Virunga National Park is a great first step in continuing to protect the entire population of gorillas in the Virunga region.”

All of us at the Fossey Fund hope for calm conditions in eastern Congo as the country and its allies work toward a peaceful resolution of the most recent crisis.

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New Study Looks at Changes in Gorilla Food Plants at Volcanoes National Park
Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Female mountain gorilla Umutuzo feeding. Photo by Cyril Grueter, Ph.D./DFGFIA new study looks at changes in the abundance and distribution of the mountain gorillas’ favorite food plants in selected areas of Volcanoes National Park over a 20-year period, to shed light on the resources available to the growing gorilla population. The authors note that although the Virunga gorilla population doubled since the 1970s, this is the first study of how this change in density may have affected changes in their food supply during the past 20 years.

The study, “Long-term Temporal and Spatial Dynamics of Food Availability for Endangered Mountain Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda,” appeared in the latest issue of the American Journal of Primatology.  The project was led by Cyril Grueter, Ph.D, a post-doctoral researcher with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. A number of other Fossey Fund staff participated in the study, including Katie Fawcett, Ph.D., former director of the Karisoke Research Center, Ferdinand Ndamiyabo and Didier Abavandimwe. The study was a collaborative effort between the Fossey Fund and the Max Planck Society for Evolutionary Anthropology.

The Virunga gorillas depend on a small number of plant species, so conservationists are concerned that they may reach the limit of their food supply, or the park’s “carrying capacity.”  While they did not find definitive answers to questions about the relationship between the gorillas and their food sources, the study yielded findings that suggest the importance of continued monitoring of these plants to help conservation planning

The researchers surveyed a 6 km2 area to measure the biomass of five foods that make up roughly 70 percent of the gorillas’ diet: gallium, thistles, wild celery, nettles and blackberries.  The results were compared to those of surveys done on the same plant species in the same portion of the habitat in 1988 and 1989.  Researchers anticipated an overall decline in plant biomass from overharvesting by the gorillas, but declines were only observed for two of the five species and the other three species actually increased in biomass.  Gallium, which is the food species most consumed by gorillas, declined in biomass by 50 percent.  Although the results are mixed, they demonstrate that the plant composition of the forest is changing, perhaps as a result of the increased number of gorillas, and the need for continued monitoring.
 
“Having a long-term research presence at Karisoke enables us to do this kind of study, which provides data that are incredibly important for the long-term conservation of the gorillas,” says Fossey Fund Vice-president and Chief Scientist Tara Stoinski, Ph.D. “Our plan is to continue monitoring vegetation changes in the gorillas’ habitat at roughly five-year intervals.”
 
The authors observe that the gorillas monitored by Karisoke have incorporated new species of plants into their diet since the first studies were conducted in the 1970s, so they may be able to adapt to changes in the availability of the foods they currently favor. Only further observations will tell.

This information would not be possible without your support for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International's daily monitoring and protection of endangered gorillas and their habitats. To help, take action-donate.

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Fossey Africa Staff Carries On Holiday Tradition in Rwanda
Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On Dec. 13, the Fossey Fund continued a tradition begun by Dr. Fossey herself of throwing an annual holiday party at our Karisoke Research Center.

Musical chairas at Fossey 2012 holiday party AfricaOur staff from our programs in Rwanda and DR Congo all gathered at the Fossey Fund's new regional research center building in Musanze for a celebration of the year's achievements.  We played team-building games like musical chairs and relay racing, and some of the staff played drums, sang, and danced. 

Prosper Uwingeli, chief park warden of Volcanoes National Park, and Abel Musana, research and monitoring warden of Volcanoes National Park, joined in the festivities.  This year we had a couple of special reasons to celebrate.  Field logistics coordinator and data technician for Ugenda's group, Jean Damescene Hategekimana, was recognized for completing 20 years of work with Karisoke, and we also took the opportunity to give a warm send-off to post-doctoral fellow Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D., who just completed the fieldwork for her study on stress in mountain gorillas.

Outgoing Gorillas Live Longer, Says New Study
Monday, December 10, 2012

Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., with  Ozzie, who at 52 is the oldest captive gorilla in the world and also scored high for extroversion. Photo courtesy of Zoo Atlanta.Many scientists have found that certain personality traits may help people stay healthy and live longer, though they have yet to understand how this works. Now, the phenomenon has been observed in gorillas, and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Vice President and Chief Scientist Tara Stoinski, Ph.D. was one of the researchers. Stoinski studies gorillas both at the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda and at Zoo Atlanta, where she also holds a staff position.

The report, “Extraversion predicts longer survival in gorillas: an 18-year longitudinal study,” was published this month in the U.K.’s prestigious journal Proceedings of the Royal Society. A team of four scientists, from Edinburgh and Chicago as well as the Fossey Fund, looked at the personality dimensions of 283 captive western lowland gorillas in 42 zoos and their survival histories over an 18-year period. Of the four traits considered: dominance, extraversion, neuroticism and agreeableness, extroversion was associated with longer survival – regardless of other factors such as gender, age, and whether the gorillas were born in the wild.

“We know that for some other primate species elements of personality are associated with better health outcomes — for example, more sociable rhesus macaques have a better immune response under stressful situations.  Now, we find the link between health and personality is true of captive gorillas as well,” says Stoinski. “We can only speculate at this point about how the association works. We don’t know if, as in the macaques, extroversion strengthens immune response, or if it helps the animals form social ties that buffer them from stress, or if it reduces cardiovascular disease – the main cause of death in captive gorillas.”

No association was found between length of life and the gorillas’ degree of neuroticism, dominance or agreeableness. The study concludes that the association between extroversion and long life may have been present in the common ancestor shared by humans and gorillas.

Stoinski and other Fossey Fund researchers are also engaged in ongoing studies of wild mountain gorilla personalities, which examine the relationships between individual gorilla personality and a variety of behaviors and life history patterns.

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All Gorilla Groups Located Today at Karisoke
Thursday, December 06, 2012

Today, the Fossey Fund gorilla trackers located all of the gorilla groups we normally follow in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, after several days of catching up with their trails, following the short interruption on Sunday and Monday. For most of the groups, we even obtained their complete travel path,which means that we did not miss any part of their moving pattern during the recent days and have a complete understanding of where they have been.

Our tracking operations were halted Sunday and Monday, after an attack on one of our anti-poaching camps early Sunday morning.

Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program coordinator at Karisoke Research Center

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Fossey Fund Trackers Find Most Gorilla Groups
Wednesday, December 05, 2012

After resuming daily monitoring yesterday, following a two-day interruption due to the attack on our anti-poaching camp, the Fossey Fund’s gorilla group trackers have begun to find most of the groups that we regularly follow. The tracking has been difficult due to heavy rains.

Four groups were located today: Ugenda, Isabukuru, Titus and Bwenge groups were as seen, as well as fresh trails from Pablo, Urugamba and Ntambara groups. Kuryama group is the only regular group whose trace could not be updated from where our trackers last saw it on Saturday. Tomorrow we will assign extra staff to locate this group.

Today, four trackers from the Rwanda park management (RDB) supported our teams and the same is planned for tomorrow, with a special focus on locating Kuyrama’s group.

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Fossey Fund Gorilla Monitoring Resumes After Camp Attack
Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s regular monitoring of mountain gorilla groups in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park resumed today, after a two-day interruption caused by an attack on one of its anti-poaching camps on December 2, in which the camp was destroyed and one of our rangers killed.

As the day started, Felix Ndagijimana, director of our Karisoke Research Center, met with all of the trackers, and reported proudly that morale was high and everyone was eager to resume duty. All of our gorilla tracking teams were ready, with five people each. Trackers from our anti-poaching team and from our biodiversity programs were also included.

Once in the forest, all of our trackers started off the morning from the locations they had last left the gorillas on Saturday. However, the traces of the gorilla groups were now several days old and had been washed away by heavy rains, so most could not be easily located that way. Of eight gorilla groups we currently follow, only two were able to be located today, but we are confident we will be able to locate most of them within the next couple of days.

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Anti-poaching Camp Attacked, Patrol Member Esdras Nsengiyumva Killed
Monday, December 03, 2012

Anti-poaching team at the camp in SeptemberThe Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is deeply saddened to report that one of its anti-poaching camps in Rwanda, near Volcanoes National Park, was attacked in the early morning of Dec. 2, 2012 by the DR Congo-based FDLR (according to Rwandan officials), and a member of our anti-poaching team – Esdras Nsengiyumva – was killed by gunfire. The other rangers escaped and one suffered injuries due to a fall while getting away.  Various equipment, such as food, radios and camping gear were stolen, and larger items were damaged or destroyed, such as solar panels and a water tank. We are assisting Nsengiyumva’s family, and we are determined to rebuild the camp and continue with our important work protecting the mountain gorillas. For full story click here.

A Tribute to Esdras Nsengiyumva

The Fossey Fund is deeply saddened to have to add the name of Esdras Nsengiyumva to the list of those who have lost their lives while trying to protect the endangered mountain gorillas, a list that includes Dian Fossey herself. Esdras Nsengiyumva began working with the Fossey Fund in March 2009 as a tracker for Titus’ group.  His very high score on the recruitment exam proved to be a good indicator of the dedicated and talented tracker he would become.  He later  joined Isabukuru’s team until January 2012, when he began working with our anti-poaching team. For details click here.

Studying and protecting gorillas would not be possible without your support for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International's daily monitoring and protection of endangered gorillas and their habitats. To help, take action-donate.

Monitoring Security Situation in Goma
Monday, November 26, 2012

It is unclear what the upcoming days will bring for Goma and surrounding areas in DR Congo, given political developments over the weekend between rebel and government forces.  The Fossey Fund remains vigilant and prepared, given the precarious nature of the security situation.

Today, the Fossey Fund office in Goma is open and despite the uncertainty, our indomitable staff are working to catch up (after remaining in their homes last week). The office has power as well as a backup generator. Staff are working on reports and data collection, as well as writing a scientific paper for publication. In addition, they are doing much-needed maintenance on the Land Rover vehicle that was just driven on a 1,000-mile trip on dirt roads to check on all of our Congo program sites and some other areas. They returned just in time to avoid the fighting around Goma.

For safety reasons, the staff are leaving the office earlier in the day than normal, and do not venture out of their homes at night. We remain in constant contact with them.

We remain vigilant, as tonight ends a 48-hour deadline given to rebels to abandon Goma. It seems they will not do so, and it remains to be seen if there will be any consequences.

Our programs and staff in other areas of DR Congo continue with normal operations.

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AP news story on Goma:

Goma Office Re-Opens
Friday, November 23, 2012

Our office in Goma, DR Congo, re-opened yesterday, as businesses there begin to resume some normal operations. With the border open again, our top staff from Congo plan soon to join our weekly meeting at our Karisoke headquarters in Musanze, Rwanda.

Throughout this crisis in Congo, our operations there have remained in place in all locations, and we continue to pursue our planned objectives. We plan to have several Grauer’s gorilla patrols in December, and continue to provide round-the-clock caregivers for two rescued orphan Grauer’s gorillas in Rumangabo since their arrival in September, and for another rescued gorilla in Kinigi. At the GRACE gorilla rescue center near Kasugho, we continue normal operations.

We are grateful to our donors and other supporters who have provided us with funds to strengthen, equip and supply our teams on the ground with upgraded communications and other supplies needed to weather these kinds of crises.

Goma Under Rebel Group Control
Tuesday, November 20, 2012

We remain in close contact several times a day with our staff in DR Congo, as the security situation there continues to evolve. Although the political/military status in Goma, DR Congo, has changed as of today and a rebel group occupies the city, our Congolese staff there remain safe and in their homes, preferring not to evacuate. Our Goma office remains closed for the time being. Our head staff reports that the fighting there calmed down this afternoon.

Our gorilla protection, research and community programs in other areas of DR Congo continue and are unaffected by the current situation in Goma, carried out by our Congolese field staff.

Monitoring Security Situation in Goma
Sunday, November 18, 2012

As fighting worsened this weekend around the city of Goma, DR Congo, we are taking precautions to protect our Congolese staff who are based there, and making plans for their evacuation, including their family members, if needed.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund currently has four Congolese staff based in Goma and all have reported in safe, in their homes. One other staff person from a different area of Congo is also currently in Goma. Our top staff person in Congo is carefully monitoring the situation and remains in continuous communication with our chief operating officer, who is located across the border in Rwanda.

The Fossey Fund does not have any expatriate staff in DR Congo at this time, following increased security issues in various areas that began earlier this year.

However, our gorilla protection, research, and community programs there have continued without interruption, carried on by our Congolese staff. All our field staff elsewhere, including those at the GRACE gorilla rescue center, are unaffected by these recent developments and have reported in safe.

It is our greatest hope that the coming days will lead to a peaceful resolution to this situation.

Clare Richardson, president and CEO

Silverback Cantsbee Reaches 34th Birthday
Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cantsbee, the dominant silverback of Pablo’s group, turned 34 years old yesterday.  Ordinarily we do not write about gorilla birthdays, but Cantsbee is a special case.  Not only is he one of the last living gorillas named by Dian Fossey, but he also presides over the largest group of mountain gorillas that the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund monitors.  At 34, he is still very strong, out-competing his son Gicurasi, the second-ranking silverback in Pablo’s group, for dominance.  Although Gicusrasi occasionally challenges Cantsbee, there is no doubt that Cantsbee remains dominant in the group.

Silverback Cantsbee now 34There are very few mountain gorillas for whom we have documented dates of birth and death, but of the few individuals for which we do have this information, the oldest male gorillas the Fossey Fund has monitored died at the age of 35.  These two silverbacks were Pablo and Titus.  Given how powerful Cantsbee still is we hope he will push this record and live for several more years.

Cheers from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund staff worldwide!

For more about Cantsbee, click to the news story. 

Thank you for your continued support in helping us protect the gorillas and provide special information like this! For ways to help, click here Take Action-Donate

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Bwindi Mountain Gorilla Population Shows Large Increase
Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Bwindi mountain gorilla. Photo: International Gorilla Conservation ProgramThe Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is delighted by the just-released results of an important gorilla census undertaken in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, which shows a minimum of 400 gorillas, up from 302 counted in the last census (2006), reported today by the Uganda Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and the Uganda Wildlife Authority. This now brings the total world population of mountain gorillas up to a minimum of 880, when the 480 from the Virungas are added.

Bwindi is home to a population of mountain gorillas that is separate from the mountain gorillas of the Virungas and were once thought to constitute a separate subspecies. The latest census of the Virunga gorillas, in 2010, also showed a significant increase. The new Bwindi census began in September 2011, and the Fossey Fund provided three experienced trackers from its Karisoke Research Center to assist.

"We are very happy to hear about the increase in the Bwindi population of mountain gorillas and proud of our staff's contribution to the census,” says Karisoke Director Felix Ndagijimana. “Besides the fact that Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and the Virunga Volcanoes are the only forests on earth where we can find mountain gorillas, the differences in these two separate populations provide important clues to the evolutionary history of these great apes and to the species' adaptations to different types of forest habitats.  It's very encouraging to hear that the conservation efforts both in the Virungas and in Bwindi have been so successful thus far, and we would like to congratulate our Ugandan partners and colleagues in gorilla conservation on the fantastic results of this census."

In this census, night nests and feces were documented to generate a current estimate of the population, and fecal samples were collected. Teams did two sweeps, one in September and one in November 2011, followed by genetic analysis of the fecal samples.By measuring samples of dung found in the gorillas' nests, the team could identify how many individuals were in the group and their ages.

John Ndayambaje, the Fossey Fund’s field data coordinator at the Karisoke Research Center, helped with the Bwindi census as an assistant team leader. He describes Bwindi as being a very difficult and sometimes dangerous place to track gorillas, with rough terrain, frequent heavy rainstorms, and many unhabituated gorillas. One night, says Ndayambaje, his team's entire camp was destroyed due to heavy rains, and they had to replace much of their food and equipment.

The 2011 Bwindi mountain gorilla census was conducted by the Uganda Wildlife Authority with support from l’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature and the Rwanda Development Board. The census was also supported by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International, and WWF), the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Conservation Through Public Health, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, the Institute for Tropical Forest Conservation, and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
This census was funded by WWF-Sweden with supplemental support from Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe e.V., the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 

For more about the new Bwindi gorilla census, click to news story: http://gorillafund.org/news--events/news_121113_bwindi-gorilla-census-shows-large-increase



Lucky Infant Turate Loses Snare
Monday, November 12, 2012

TurateWhen Urugamba’s team found the gorilla group on Thursday morning, the trackers saw that the infant Turate had a piece of rope encircling his ankle, indicating that he had been caught in a snare. They tracked backward along the group’s trails in order to locate the snare. When they found it, the trackers could see that it had already been destroyed. 

Although there was flattened vegetation surrounding the snare, it is still unclear how Turate was freed. There are several possibilities. It may have been his own doing, if he was able to chew through the rope, or he may have been freed with the help of other gorillas in the group. Finally, he may have been lucky in that the snare could have been old and easily broken. Fortunately, the rope that remained on Turate’s ankle was not very tight, allowing him to move, feed, and play normally.  

We hoped that Turate or an adult gorilla would be able to get the remaining rope off without an intervention, since it was so loose. However, a team prepared to intervene, should Turate be unable to remove the rest of the snare from his ankle himself. Drs. Dawn Zimmerman and Jean Felix Kinani from Gorilla Doctors went to visit the group on Friday with Fossey Fund staff, including post-doctoral fellow Winnie Eckardt and experienced trackers.

Fortunately, when the team arrived, the snare was already gone from Turate’s ankle and no intervention was necessary. We are always happy when gorillas manage to remove snares themselves, as interventions can cause further stress to the group.

GRACE: A Second Chance for Rescued Gorillas
Friday, November 09, 2012

Over the past few months, the Congolese wildlife authority (ICCN) has been facing increased illegal trafficking of infant Grauer’s gorillas. When authorities rescue these young gorillas, they cannot be returned to their natal groups and are now both orphaned and separated from their natural habitat.

Rescued female Grauer's gorilla Amani at GRACEUrged by ICCN to find solutions for the orphaned gorillas, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and partners established the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) center several years ago, to rehabilitate these young gorillas and one day hopefully return them to the wild in new groups.

GRACE is now overseen by a governing council that includes The Walt Disney Company, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the Dallas Zoo, the Denver Zoo and the Houston Zoo. In addition, GRACE is also a conservation project of the Fossey Fund's Gorilla Council, which includes  Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Sedgwick County Zoo as supporters. Other Gorilla Council members include Zoo Atlanta, Birmingham Zoo, Apes in Conservation, The Gorilla Run Calgary, Indianapolis Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo, Partners in Conservation at Columbus Zoo, Virginia Zoo, Topeka Zoo, Dickerson Park Zoo, and Parque Zoological de Leon.

GRACE faces many challenges to carry out its mission in 2013 and beyond. This fall, two more Grauer’s gorillas were rescued from poachers. These two and one more young gorilla are in a temporary location and will be transferred as soon as security conditions allow. When they arrive, they will require special attention until they can be integrated into the existing gorilla group, and the youngest orphan already there will join them too. Four new individuals meeting such a large group could be complicated, but so far all 11 gorillas now living together have accepted each other as housemates and playmates. After that, GRACE will be just about at its current capacity, until funds can be raised to build more housing and hire more staff.

GRACE is dedicated to the care, rehabilitation and reintroduction of rescued Grauer’s gorillas that are confiscated by authorities due to illegal animal trafficking. Through conservation education and community outreach, GRACE works with local communities to build a sustainable future for wildlife, forests and communities neighboring gorilla habitat.

For more on GRACE, click to news story: News_121109_GRACE-second-chance-for-rescued-gorillas

Titus Groups Sleeps Outside of Park, Extra Protection Required
Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Last fall, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund field staff faced a new challenge in monitoring gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.  Two groups in particular, Titus’ group and Kuryama’s group, began leaving the park regularly to feed on eucalyptus in the agricultural areas surrounding the park, and then choosing to sleep outside of the park rather than return.  Although gorillas had ventured out of the park in the past, they had not slept outside of the park before last November.

Titus group out of parkFor most of the year, gorillas usually range well inside of the park, where there is plenty of vegetation for them to feed on, but during seasons when bamboo produces shoots, which are rich in protein, they are drawn down toward the edges of the park.  Once they reach the bamboo zone, they are close enough to the park boundary to leave the park entirely. 

Bamboo shoots become available from May to June and from October to November.  After last November, we expected to see gorillas ranging out of the park again in May and June when the next bamboo shoot season would begin. But May and June passed with few out-of-park events, giving us hope that the gorillas had been discouraged from leaving the park since Fossey Fund staff regularly herded them back inside the park boundary when they ventured too far.

However, Titus’ group left the park this past Sunday, choosing to sleep outside of the park rather than return to the forest.  Fortunately, they came out near where our anti-poaching camps are located, allowing the Fossey Fund’s anti-poaching teams to keep an eye on the gorillas for the night.  Then, yesterday evening, Titus’ group again ventured outside of the park, this time travelling as far as 1 kilometer from the park boundary—just a 10 minute walk from the nearest road!  Concerned for their safety, the anti-poaching team attempted to herd the group back inside the park boundary and was successful. 

Gorilla groups who sleep outside of the park face a number of risks to their safety. The land surrounding the park is used for agricultural purposes, meaning that many people and domestic animals spend time in these areas.  When gorillas visit the agricultural fields, they can easily contract diseases from the animals and people.  Moreover, the gorillas like to feed on eucalyptus, which is an important crop to the local people.  By eating the eucalyptus, they begin interfering with the livelihoods of communities around the park.  For the safety of both people and the gorillas, the Fossey Fund must provide special monitoring teams to spend the night with gorillas who sleep outside of the park.  This is both expensive and logistically difficult as we must hire additional temporary staff and supply them with food and equipment for the night. 

After Titus’ group’s ventures this week, we have made the decision to hire temporary staff for this season to provide, for the second year in a row, round-the-clock monitoring of all Fossey-Fund monitored groups who sleep outside of the park.

Grauer’s Gorilla Again Listed as Endangered; Fossey Fund Addressing Threats
Friday, November 02, 2012

Grauer's gorillaThe Grauer’s gorilla is again included on a list of the world’s 25 most-endangered primates, released for the period 2012-2014 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) earlier this month. The Grauer’s gorilla was included on the previous list as well. The “Red List of Troubled Species” takes into account various threats to species, such as destruction of their forest habitats, illegal wildlife trade, and commercial bush meat hunting. 

“The inclusion of the Grauer’s gorilla on the IUCN’s list is a sobering reminder of the challenges to protecting this endangered ape,” says Tara Stoinski, Ph.D, vice president and chief scientist for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. “Our organization has been working on various ways to address these threats to Grauer’s gorillas, including working with community-based reserves and national parks, establishing a rehabilitation center for young gorillas rescued from poachers, and setting up a Grauer’s Gorilla Conservation and Research Program to begin direct monitoring and protection.”

According to the Grauer’s gorilla entry on the IUCN’s Red List website, “Due to high levels of exploitation, and loss of habitat and habitat quality as a result of political unrest and expanding human activities, this subspecies is estimated to have experienced a significant population reduction in the past 20-30 years (one generation is estimated to be 20 years), and it is suspected that this reduction will continue for the next 30-40 years.”  There is no current census of their population numbers, but by some estimates there may be as few as 4,000 Grauer’s gorillas left in the wild. They are found only in a vast forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Although it highlights the imperiled status of the Grauer’s gorilla, the subspecies’ continued inclusion on IUCN’s 25 most-endangered primates list is also a call to action, which the Fossey Fund hopes will garner further support for conservation activities in DRC.

“What does the inclusion of the Grauer’s gorilla on the list mean for our program?” asks Stoinski. “It underscores the importance of our work in this region. We hope to be able to stop the trend of decline as we have done with mountain gorillas in the Virungas, the only great ape population to have increased in recent decades.  We hope that the continued focus on Grauer’s will help secure the resources needed to do this.  Significant resources are needed each year to protect the mountain gorillas, and the Grauer’s’ habitat presents an even greater challenge due to its size and remoteness.”

Despite the ongoing crisis in the Congo, which flared up again this past May, the Fossey Fund has developed its infrastructure and on-the-ground presence in Grauer’s gorilla habitat, focusing on community-based nature reserves, which are not under the protection of the Congolese wildlife authority (ICCN) but form an important ecological corridor between Maiko and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks.  This year, the Fossey Fund established the Biruwe Research Base, a central operating facility for the Grauer’s Gorilla Conservation and Research Program, and three mobile bio-monitoring posts.  The program has also completed 30 explorations to identify gorilla groups suitable for long-term monitoring.

“Our first-hand experience working in Grauer’s gorilla habitat is consistent with the IUCN’s assessment of the threats to the species.  We hope that through the efforts of our Grauer’s Gorilla Conservation and Research Program and our partner organizations in the DRC we will make strides toward protecting this important subspecies,” says Stoinski.

New birth in Ntambara's group
Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ntambara’s mountain gorilla group has just received a new addition to their family.  Tegereza, a female who is nearly 13 years old, just gave birth to her first infant. Fossey Fund trackers saw the infant for the first time on Oct. 14 and  both Tegereza and her infant appeared to be in good health. 

Tegereza and first infantUntil the birth of her infant, Tegereza was a “nulliparous female,” meaning a sexually mature female who has not yet given birth.  Her first birth is on the later end of the spectrum, with some gorillas giving birth as early as 7.9 years old.  New mothers can be fun and sweet to watch as they navigate the delicacy and needs of their infants.  Some seem immediately adept, while others struggle a bit to get the hang of it.  It will be interesting to see how Tegereza takes on this new challenge. As always, we will be monitoring both the mother and infant closely in these first weeks.

This latest infant brings Ntambara’s group up to 12 gorillas.  There is just one other infant in the group currently, Kubaka’s infant female, Urahirwa, who is about 2.5 years old.  Umuganda, Nahimana’s son, just turned 3.5 years old, making him a juvenile.

We are happy to see Ntambara’s group grow, and look forward to watching the development of Tegereza’s infant.

Additional Anti-Poaching Team is Strengthening Gorilla Protection
Friday, October 12, 2012

New anti-poaching team members (l to r) Eustache Hitayezu, Kevin Irakoze, Fabrice Tuyisenge, Eustache Nahimana, Jean Claude IyamuremyeThe Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is very happy to introduce our new, additional anti-poaching team, which began its first patrols in Volcanoes National Park this week. This new team will supplement the team we already have in the field, in order to better protect the gorillas and to respond to specific challenges posed by the increase in the number of gorilla groups we monitor and their expanding range.

The demographics and ranging patterns of the Fossey Fund’s research groups have changed significantly since 2007, when the three groups we monitored -- Pablo, Shinda, and Beetsme -- began splitting off into as many as 10 groups. In 2007, when we monitored just three groups, we maintained two anti-poaching teams, who patrolled the park seven days a week, supplementing the efforts of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB, park management) to ensure that the forest was free of illegal activities. However, as we began to monitor new groups, we had to assign the members of one anti-poaching team to monitor the new gorilla groups that were forming, reducing the number of people in the field specifically devoted to anti-poaching activities.

Although we are happy to see the gorilla population continue to grow, we have faced an ongoing struggle to provide adequate protection for them. Our groups range over a large expanse of forest, often spreading thin the efforts of our anti-poaching team. As Karisoke Research Center Director Felix Ndagijimana explains, “For example, when we had one team and they would do cross-border patrols or shock patrols [with RDB], some areas of the park where gorillas were ranging could not be covered. So the idea is to have one team that can work with RDB for the shock patrols and the cross-border patrols, but also have one team that can go where our groups are.” 

Recently we have found high numbers of snares in areas like the bamboo zone, which are visited by gorillas seasonally. This is because our anti-poaching team must focus on areas where gorillas are currently spending most of their time. When the gorillas return to these seasonal ranging areas after a period of absence (along with our trackers and anti-poaching teams), we often find that poachers have been active in the meantime.  For example, Pablo’s group spends the majority of its time high up in the sub-alpine and alpine zones of the park, but comes down to the bamboo zone to feed on bamboo shoots when they are available. Unfortunately, when the migration occurred most recently, the group encountered many snares in the bamboo zone. This suggests that poachers know where gorillas (and therefore trackers) are and that they set their snares in those areas that are not being regularly patrolled, to increase the probability of their snares not being found and destroyed by our field staff.

Disarming a snareNdagijimana says, “When the gorillas are back, and we don’t know the status of the area snare-wise, there’s high risk that gorillas will end up in snares before the snares are destroyed.” With this new, additional team, we hope to be able to patrol both where the gorillas are ranging presently and in the areas that they use less frequently, so that when they do begin using them again, they have already been checked for snares.

The new anti-poaching team is made up of five members, who were chosen from an applicant pool of over 400. Although the extremely high number of applicants made the decision-making process difficult, it is also exciting to see this level of interest in the Fossey Fund and in field positions.

The new members of the anti-poaching team are Eustache Hitayezu, Kevin Irakoze, Fabrice Tuyisenge, Eustache Nahimana, and Jean Claude Iyamuremye.  Our most experienced team members are now in the process of training them in the field.  We are happy to know that the mountain gorillas now have greater protection as the new, additional anti-poaching team begins its work.

Newest Grauer's Orphans Doing Well, Medical Assessments Underway
Friday, October 05, 2012

The newest confiscated gorillas with caregiversThe two Grauer’s gorilla infants who were confiscated in September in the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to improve under the care of Fossey Fund caregivers and Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) veterinarians at the Senkwekwe Sanctuary.

They have received names, and we are pleased to introduce them as Isangi and Baraka. Isangi, the first orphan to be confiscated, is named after the village where she was located before her rescue. Baraka, meaning “blessing,” is the second and younger confiscated infant.

One of the major challenges that we face in this early stage of the care and rehabilitation process is to ensure that the infants are in good health after the trauma of their capture by poachers, as well as to make sure that they are free of and vaccinated against any diseases that could be spread to other gorillas.

As part of the medical assessment and rehabilitation process, both infants will receive three major examinations, during which they will be vaccinated and tested for TB. They received their first set of vaccinations on Sept. 26. The veterinarians have not reported any major medical problems, which is quite a relief. Their next two examinations are planned for Oct. 24 and Nov. 21.

Orphan care suppliesBaraka and Isangi are being housed together during the quarantine period and are bonding well with their caregivers. Provided that the infants remain in good health, after their third examination they will be ready to travel to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) center for confiscated Grauer’s gorillas, where they will be carefully introduced to other Grauer’s gorilla orphans.

Second Infant Grauer's Gorilla Confiscated from Poachers
Monday, September 24, 2012

Grauer's gorilla infant confiscated Sept. 20A second infant gorilla, presumed to be a female Grauer’s gorilla, has been confiscated recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She was recovered on Sept. 20 by Virunga National Park law enforcement.  Law enforcement agencies and the Congolese parks authority, ICCN, have since placed the second gorilla in the Fossey Fund’s care at the ICCN’s Senkwekwe Sanctuary for mountain gorillas in Rumungabo, where the first is also in our care (see previous post).

The new infant is younger than the first; veterinarians estimate her to be less than 6 months old — an incredibly delicate age for a gorilla to be without her mother. The tiny gorilla was being held in Goma by a man who was trying to sell her.  After she was confiscated, Fossey Fund Grauer’s Gorilla Conservation and Research Program Manager Urbain Ngobobo-as-Ibungu, along with others involved in the confiscation, went to the courthouse to make an official statement regarding the confiscation and obtain documents placing the infant in the Fossey Fund’s care for the time being.

We are honored to be charged with this gorilla’s care, and will do everything we can to help her adjust to her new life. See the full story on our Web news page.

 

Infant Gorilla Confiscated in Congo, Now in Care
Friday, September 21, 2012

An infant Grauer’s gorilla was confiscated from members of an armed militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this week.  A Fossey Fund partner organization, Jeunesse pour la Protection de l’Environnement (JPE), received information that some individuals were in illegal possession of an infant gorilla at the end of August Grauer's gorilla infant confiscated in Congoand worked for weeks to determine its location.   On Sept. 12, JPE and Congolese law enforcement collaborated to recover the young gorilla.

Once the infant was in the care of JPE, it was taken to Kahuzi Biega National Park where ICCN (Congolese park authority) staff and veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) received it and assessed the infant’s condition.  The infant appears to be approximately 1 ½ years old, and seems to be in relatively good condition.  It did show signs of fatigue and dehydration, which we suspect were caused by travelling long distances between villages before it was confiscated.  It is believed that the gorilla originates from a village in North Kivu Province in DRC, though it was confiscated in South Kivu Province.

A couple of days later, the gorilla was transported to Goma and then to the Senkwekwe Sanctuary for mountain gorillas, in Rumangabo, where it will spend some weeks in quarantine before being transferred to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) center for Grauer’s gorillas. 

The Fossey Fund has hired gorilla caregivers to look after the infant and try to manage its stress. The Fossey Fund's Grauer's Gorilla Conservation and Research Program Manager Urgain Ngobobo explains, "We provide food and non-food items necessary for its stay in the sanctuary as well as for its caretaker, such as food, covers, towels, boots, uniforms and salaries for the caretakers. Every day we are assessing how things are going while we are waiting to take it to GRACE."

GRACE, where the infant will eventually reside, is a 350-acre facility where Grauer’s gorillas live in a social and environmental setting that mimics conditions in the wild.  The land for the facility was donated by the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology and is operated by the Fossey Fund in partnership with the Walt Disney Company. 

The Fossey Fund is proud to be a part of the team that rescued this young Grauer’s gorilla.

Young gorilla dies of injuries after changes in groups
Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We are sad to report that 3-year-old male mountain gorilla Akarusho has passed away, due to a variety of wounds suffered since he left his mother’s group on July 10. A medical intervention with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project was conducted on Sept. 10. 

On Sept. 9, our trackers at the Karisoke Research Center had reported that Akarusho’s condition had deteriorated.  This was a sudden turn of events because until then, his health had appeared to be improving and he was feeding normally, despite his wounds.  Veterinarians Dr. Jean-Felix Kinani of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and Dr. Elizabeth Nyirakaragire of the Rwandan Development Board returned with Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D. and our trackers today to again assess the infant's condition and intervene if necessary. 

Akarusho was found alone, about 30 meters from one of the gorilla groups, but too weak to follow them.  By the time the team arrived, the group was already about 200 meters away.  Akarusho was underneath a hagenia tree, which offered him shelter from the rain, but he showed signs of being cold and in severe pain.  He was not moving at all and was whimpering periodically.  The decision was made to intervene, to assess the infant's wounds up close and provide care. The team found that the youngsters wounds covered many parts of his body, including head, face, nose, both hands, and foot. 

We suspect that the sudden severity of his condition might have been precipitated by heavy rains on Saturday night and the fact that he had been moving quite a bit.  Moreover, the vegetation is thick, so it was hard for anyone to visually assess the extent of the wounds and monitor them until the intervention. Until yesterday afternoon, he had been feeding normally and his condition did not seem to be worsening. 

The veterinarians sedated Akarusho and administered antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and some fluids, and dressed his wounds.  It took quite a long time for Akarusho to wake up again from sedation, although this is not uncommon for young gorillas.  They put him on a plastic sheet which is used during interventions, and tried to cover him with it to help keep him dry and warm.

 In addition, a special team was organized stay with him overnight in the forest, but given his condition he was not expected to survive the night. Unfortunately, our worst fears were realized and he passed away during the evening of Sept. 10.

Fossey Fund Showcased at International Primatological Society Congress
Monday, September 10, 2012

(L to R) Stacey Rosenbaum, Ph.D.; Deogratias Tuyisingize, Cyril Grueter, Ph.D.; Martha Robbins, Ph.D.; Jean Paul Hirwa; Bernadette Arakwiye; Tara Stoinski, Ph.D.; Dieter Steklis, Ph.D.; Netzin Steklis; Felix Ndagijimana   The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund enjoyed an especially high profile at the International Primatological Society’s (IPS) 2012 congress, held in Cancun, Mexico in August. Because 2012 marks the 45th anniversary of the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center, our staff organized a symposium to feature current and previous Karisoke scientists, including four Rwandan scientists, who presented an overview of the Center’s contribution to the field of primatology and its current research on the mountain gorillas and other biodiversity in the region. In addition, Biodiversity Program Coordinator Deogratias Tuyisingize presented research on Karisoke’s work with golden monkeys, in a separate session.

The IPS congress, held every two years, brings together primatologists from all over the world. Its theme for 2012 was “Primatology’s Legacy and Future Challenges,” which was especially relevant to Karisoke.  The symposium: “Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla beringe beringe) Then and Now: Celebrating 45 years of Research at the Karisoke Research Center” was organized by Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s vice president and chief scientist.

“Since Dr. Dian Fossey established Karisoke to gain insights into the evolutionary origins of humans, the center has helped advance our understanding of a broad range of topics, including social behavior, population dynamics, feeding ecology, reproductive strategies, life history decisions and conservation,” says Stoinski. “The symposium touched on many of these. In addition, a common theme connecting the individual presentations was the importance of Karisoke’s long-term datasets for answering questions about the social and ecological adaptations that have shaped primate evolution.”

Dieter Steklis, Ph.D. and Netzin Steklis, a former Karisoke director and researcher, respectively, opened with “Forty-five Years of Research at Karisoke: Its Influence on Primatology.” The eight talks that followed focused on highlighting the variety of work currently being done at Karisoke.  The majority of talks focused on gorilla research and included topics such as inbreeding avoidance; female reproductive success; home range patterns; sibling relationships; long-term partner preferences; socioecological influences on females’ energy gain and expenditure; and individual gorilla personalities.  The symposium ended with a study of female relationships among golden monkeys, to highlight research that is being done on other biodiversity in the Virunga region.

Adult Female Icyizere Dies
Thursday, September 06, 2012

Icyizere in 2011We are sad to report that an adult female from Isabukuru’s group, 12-year-old Icyizere, was found dead this morning.  Last week, our trackers reported that she seemed to be losing hair on her belly, but otherwise, she was behaving and feeding as normal.  On Tuesday, however, she went missing, prompting our staff to form a special team that recovered her body today.

Icyizere leaves behind a juvenile male, Mushya.  Fortunately, at approximately 4 ½ years old, we believe his chances for survival are good despite the loss of his mother.  The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) will conduct a necropsy on Icyizere’s body, so we hope to learn more soon about the cause of death.

Fossey Fund Honored as One of Rwanda's Best Taxpayers
Wednesday, September 05, 2012

(L to R) Beth Waithera, Felix Ndagijimana, Juan Carlos Bonilla, Chief Warden, Volcanoes National Park Prosper UwingeliThe Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has been recognized by the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) for being one of the best taxpayers in the Northern Province, where Volcanoes National Park and the Karisoke Research Center are located.  

Although exempt from corporate income tax due to its non-profit status, the Fossey Fund's speed and accuracy in processing payroll taxes placed it on RRA's "best taxpayer" list along with much larger companies such as banks and national utilities. We were the only international non-profit to be so recognized.  We were also recognized by the RRA in 2006.  Congratulations to our administrative team!

The award was given on Sept. 1, which is National Taxpayer’s Day in Rwanda, at a special event in the Musanze stadium, attended by Rwanda’s Prime Minister, Dr. Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, and many other important Rwandan and international guests.  Our Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Africa Programs Juan Carlos Bonilla received the award on behalf of the Fossey Fund.  Karisoke Research Center Director Felix Ndagijimana, Director of Finance and Administration Beth Waithera, and Finance Assistant Elias Basile Ntabashimwa were in attendance as well.

The speeches given at the event stressed that for Rwanda, bringing individuals and organizations on board as taxpayers is particularly important so that the country can acquire the funds to provide further infrastructure and services to its people.  The Fossey Fund has a long history in Rwanda, not only protecting its mountain gorillas, but also supporting and implementing programs which help its people.  We were honored to be recognized by the RRA as an exemplary taxpayer, in keeping with our commitment to play a positive role in the community surrounding Volcanoes National Park.

Dakota Straub, field communications intern

Pablo's Group Welcomes Newborn
Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Our trackers who follow Pablo’s group noticed today that the gorillas were crowding around 11-year old female Ishema.  They all looked at her curiously, including her 3-year old youngster, Imfura.  Soon trackers discovered the source of all the excitement—Ishema was holding a new infant.  Trackers watched as Ishema cleaned the newborn, licking off the fluids from the birth.  That Ishema was still cleaning the infant leads us to believe that it was born sometime this morning. 

Ishema with new infantThe new infant is Ishema’s second.  Fossey Fund field staff have been wondering whether Ishema might be pregnant, since her first infant, Imfura, was weaned quite some time ago.  It is difficult if not impossible to tell when a gorilla female is pregnant without doing a laboratory test.  Their typically large bellies hide any visual signs.

This new birth brings Pablo’s group up to 44 members.  Pablo’s is by far the largest group currently monitored by Fossey Fund.  We are thrilled to welcome the new infant into the world and will keep a close eye on both the infant and Ishema, as infancy is the most dangerous period in a mountain gorilla’s life, and the first few weeks are critical in determining both the mother's and the infant’s health.  We look forward to seeing Ishema’s infant named at next year’s Kwita Izina ceremony in June.

An Interesting Interaction: Giraneza and Bwenge's Group
Friday, August 24, 2012

GiranezaOn August 20th, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund field staff reported that Bwenge’s group interacted with a lone silverback while they were ranging on a mountainous ridge between Karisimbi and Bisoke.  Unseen by Bwenge, the silverback entered the group and approached Akaramata, a 4-year old juvenile female.  He began making displays at her, causing her to scream, after which he hit her. Bwenge ran to her assistance and chased the lone silverback, but without making any physical contact with him.  The rest of the group hurried after Bwenge.  However, the interaction was not over yet.  The lone silverback and Bwenge’s group stopped a couple of minutes later, and the two silverbacks began exchanging displays for about half an hour.  No further physical contact was made, and eventually Bwenge led his group away from the other silverback in peace.

The trackers who observed the interaction were not able to identify the lone silverback at first.  It was only later, by following his trail through the forest, that we were able to confirm that the lone silverback was in fact Giraneza.  Giraneza's group’s trackers were having trouble locating him that morning, and when they did reach him in the afternoon, the interaction with Bwenge had already ended and he was back in the company of his females Taraja and Nyandwi.  By using the trails to reconstruct the course of events, we believe that Giraneza must have left the two females behind before trackers found them, in order to interact with Bwenge.

Bwenge’s group was an interesting choice for Giraneza to target.  Bwenge has only three adult females, all of whom are currently caring for unweaned infants.  In general, females who have not yet had their first infant or whose offspring are weaned are more likely to transfer out of their groups than those who still have dependent offspring.  To persuade one of these females to transfer would require a new silverback to kill her infant.  Because of the potential for infanticide in Monday’s interaction, Fossey Fund field staff are relieved that no infants were injured, and that the interaction resolved itself without physical contact between the two silverbacks.

Although it seems odd in some ways that Giraneza would leave his females behind temporarily to interact with Bwenge’s group, given that none of Bwenge’s females are particularly likely to transfer, over the last month Giraneza and Bwenge’s groups have been linked in several occurrences.  A couple of weeks ago, Giraneza’s two females, Taraja and Nyandwi, seemed to be following Bwenge’s trail, and we wondered if they might try to join Bwenge’s group.  A couple of days later, Taraja’s infant Akarusho, who had been missing for some time, turned up in Bwenge’s group.  It is difficult to know whether these encounters are just casual, as a result of ranging in the same area, or whether there is more to them that we aren’t able to piece together yet.  In any case, the relationship between these two groups is definitely a fascinating one to follow.

Register Now for the 2012 Calgary Gorilla Run (Oct. 14)
Monday, August 20, 2012

If you can be in Calgary, Canada this October, be sure to register for the fabulous 2012 Calgary Gorilla Run, which starts at 8 am on Sunday, October 14. The Gorilla Run is an exciting race that raises funds for gorilla conservation and protection initiatives both in captivity and in the wild, including special donations to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to help protect mountain gorillas, and to the Calgary Zoo. This is the most fun way to contribute to wildlife conservation.

The race, which goes alongside the Calgary Zoo grounds and the river, features a warm start from the Karsten Discovery Centre and North entrance, with full amenities. Exclusive pre-opening admission is included, and participants return to the Zoo’s Katamba Café for post-race festivities.

For full details and to sign up for the race: gorillarun.com

The Calgary Gorilla Run is a member of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Gorilla Council

Ape Conservation Effort to Host Gorilla Golf Tournament Sept. 11 in Roswell, Georgia
Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ape Conservation Effort, Inc. (ACE) will host the second annual Gorilla Golf Tournament on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012 at the Brookfield Country Club, 100 Willow Run, Roswell, Georgia 30075. Each of the 32 golfers will raise a minimum of $500 to participate in the tournament, and all proceeds will benefit the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Registration begins at 9:15 and includes a continental breakfast and buffet lunch. Awards will honor the top three golfers, the longest drive and a “closest to the gorillas” contest.

Anyone can help by sponsoring a hole during the tournament. A $100 tax deductible donation will purchase a sign with the donor’s name on one of the holes at the golf course, and donors can sponsor more than one hole. Individuals and businesses can also donate promotional items for the golfers to enjoy, or sponsor a golfer.

ACE is a Georgia not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation comprised of volunteer members who share a passion for animals and a commitment to saving the great apes (bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans), all of whom are endangered. Members of ACE hope to raise awareness of the plight of the great apes and support for their conservation.

For more information on the Gorilla Golf Tournament and how to sign up, click here or contact gorillagolf@apeconservationeffort.org.

Kanama Recovers
Monday, August 13, 2012

KanamaThe day after the intervention on Thursday to help Kanama, whose extremely swollen tongue was preventing her from feeding, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund post-doctoral fellow Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D., visited Ugenda’s group with Dr. Dawn Zimmerman from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP), to assess Kanama’s condition.  Although Kanama appeared to be stronger early Friday morning, when Eckardt, Zimmerman, and Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund trackers reached the group, her tongue was still swollen and protruding from her mouth, and she still could not feed.  As the morning went on, Kanama seemed to grow weaker and more fatigued, and Zimmerman and Eckardt were concerned that the treatment given during the intervention was not going to be enough to save her life.  

The team returned from the forest in the afternoon, but could not stop thinking about Kanama.  Staff from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Rwanda Development Board (RDB, park management), and MGVP kept in touch over the next 24 hours to consider further steps that could be taken to help Kanama.  Eckardt and Zimmerman even consulted outside sources to see if anyone could brainstorm the cause of Kanama’s symptoms, which would allow veterinarians to consider other strategies for treating her.  We were grateful for the interest these outside sources took in trying to help Kanama.

On Saturday afternoon, as if by a miracle, Dr. Jean-Felix Kinani from MGVP, who had joined the Ugenda group’s trackers in the field, reported that Kanama’s tongue appeared to be back to its normal size and she was now feeding.  The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, MGVP and RDB staff were incredibly relieved to hear the news.  Just to be sure that she was remaining in good health, Zimmerman visited Kanama once more this morning to do a short visual assessment of her condition.  Zimmerman reported that Kanama looked fairly close to her normal self, though she continues to stick her fingers in her mouth, suggesting that her tongue may still be a bit swollen, or that the lesions veterinarians observed during the intervention on Thursday still cause her a bit of pain.  Nevertheless, Kanama is feeding well, and Zimmerman expects that her abdomen should fill out to its healthy size in a few days.  

The veterinarians still cannot be sure of what caused Kanama’s condition.  Zimmerman believes it is possible that a foreign object or allergen caused the tongue to swell initially and that the irritant itself was dislodged before the intervention, but the tongue continued to remain swollen for some time.  However, she also notes that there are possible chronic conditions that could cause Kanama’s symptoms, and that she will need to be observed carefully in the future in case the symptoms flare up again.

For now, we are all very relieved that Kanama seems to be making a full recovery and are immensely grateful to all of the Fossey Fund, RDB, and MGVP staff who have participated in observing Kanama and in Thursday’s intervention, as well as to our colleagues elsewhere, who offered their ideas and advice as to what Kanama might be fighting and how best to treat her.

Intervention helps gorilla with swollen tongue
Thursday, August 09, 2012

A 17-year old female, Kanama, in Ugenda’s group has been struggling to feed for several days now, a condition which has been accompanied by increasing swelling of her tongue.  Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund field staff and veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project have kept in close contact with Rwanda Development Board (park management) over the last couple of days as they monitored Kanama’s condition.  After confirming that the condition was not improving on its own, and unable to assess the cause from observations alone, the three partner organizations came to the decision to stage an intervention today. 

Kanama with swollen tongueOn Tuesday, trackers reported that Kanama’s tongue was protruding from her mouth and that she seemed to be having difficulty swallowing.  They did not see her eat successfully all day, and she seemed to be weak and lethargic, with weight loss becoming apparent in her belly and face.  In order to confirm the report, Dr. Dawn Zimmerman from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project trekked to the group on Wednesday to assess Kanama’s condition.  Indeed, Dr. Zimmerman reported that although Kanama appeared to have an appetite and attempted to feed, she had difficulty swallowing her food.  She was hypersalivating, and her tongue seemed to be swollen.  In attempts either to push food farther back into her mouth or to dislodge an obstruction from the back of her throat, she was observed sticking her fingers inside of her mouth several times.  Dr. Zimmerman also noted that Kanama’s abdomen, which in a healthy gorilla would be round and full, was by this time fairly flat.  After receiving Dr. Zimmerman’s report, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, Rwanda Development Board, and Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project made plans to stage an intervention if Kanama did not show any signs of improvement today.

A team made up of veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and Rwanda Development Board as well as post-doctoral fellow Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D., Research Assistant Samedi Mucyo, and trackers from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, hiked to the Mitikukawuka area of the park, where Ugenda group has been ranging, in order to assess Kanama once more and make a final decision about whether to intervene.  After following Kanama for approximately 2 hours, the team saw no improvement.  She was still struggling to feed, spitting the food out after putting it into her mouth.  At about 11:15 a.m., the veterinarians sedated her.

Kanama tongue interventionThe intervention went very well.  The rest of the gorillas in the group seemed not to notice the intrusion, which is ideal to minimize stress.  The veterinarians examined Kanama thoroughly for more than an hour, even giving her a second dose of sedative as they struggled to understand her ailment.  Although the tongue was very swollen, with several lesions, the symptoms left everyone at a loss to understand the cause. Kanama was given a glucose injection as well as fluids to rehydrate her, as she was clearly very dehydrated and hungry, anti-inflammatory medication, and antibiotics.  We hope that this will address the source of Kanama’s ailment and help give her the strength to recover on her own.  Within the next 24 hours, a change in her condition should be noticeable.  Dr. Zimmerman will visit her again within a day to observe how she responds to the treatment.

Unfortunately, while examining Kanama, veterinarians were able to observe that she seems to have miscarried recently.  The infant would have been her second.   We don’t know what might have prompted the miscarriage and it may not be related to her problems feeding.  However, between the miscarriage and her swollen tongue, Kanama has been under a tremendous amount of physical stress recently.  We do hope that the treatment she received today will help her recover, and that we will see her become a mother again before too long.

Giraneza's females and young male found
Monday, August 06, 2012

We reported on Friday that Giraneza’s two females, Taraja and Nyandwi, were found alone in the forest unaccompanied by Giraneza.  On Sunday, the females--who had last been seen following the trail of Bwenge’s group--were found again reunited with Giraneza.  However, in an interesting turn of events, a lone infant was discovered in Bwenge’s group the same day.  The infant is thought to be three-year old Akarusho, who has been missing since July 10 when he left his mother Taraja in Giraneza’s group, presumably to go looking for his father, Inshuti.  The appearance of Akarusho was a big surprise to everyone at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.  Given how young he is and how long he has been separated from his family, we had presumed he was dead.

While Akarusho was in Bwenge’s group, Bwenge exhibited behavior quite common for a silverback toward an unknown infant—dragging Akarusho and even biting him twice.  Akarusho did manage to escape, and tracker Jean Damascene Zirimwabagabo followed him for some time.  The fact that Akarusho has survived for this long in the forest without his family is promising, and Fossey Fund field staff and researchers-- though concerned about his condition--were thrilled to discover him alive. 

That Akarusho appeared in Bwenge’s group so shortly after his mother Taraja was observed following Bwenge’s trail has led Fossey Fund staff to wonder if perhaps Taraja could smell the infant and knew he was in the area.  We will never know for sure, but it is certainly an interesting hypothesis.  Reuniting with his mother, Taraja, might be a possibility for the infant, but it is a bit risky given that he is not related to silverback Giraneza and already left the group once.  Ideally, Akarusho would be able to find Inshuti and rejoin that group, since Inshuti cared for the infant for several months after Taraja emigrated to Giraneza.  Unfortunately, Inshuti’s recent movements make that unlikely, as Inshuti began ranging on the Congolese side of the Park on July 29, and has not been seen on the Rwandan side since then.  

 Today, the anti-poaching team made special efforts to locate Inshuti’s group, in case he has returned to Rwanda, but they did not have any luck.  A group of trackers also went searching for Akarusho in the forest again, starting at the place where Jean Damascene Zirimwabagabo left him yesterday.  Lone infants are very difficult to track because they do not leave the same trail of trampled vegetation and large knuckle prints that adult gorillas leave, as they can often slip through vegetation without damaging it much.  Although they made an incredible effort to relocate Akarusho today, we were not surprised to learn that our trackers were unable to find him.

Giraneza's group females alone in forest
Friday, August 03, 2012

Yesterday, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund field staff found Giraneza’s two females, Taraja and Nyandwi, alone in the forest.  The team looked around, assuming that Giraneza must be close to them, but he was nowhere in the vicinity.  This was a bit unusual but not entirely surprising since Giraneza’s group is quite new and unstable still, and the females have tried to leave Giraneza before. Our trackers and research assistant Samedi Mucyo, who was accompanying them for data collection that day, thought that the females might be trying to leave Giraneza again. 

Taraja and Nywandi in JulyTwo trackers set off in search of Giraneza, while Mucyo and the other trackers stayed behind with the females, who seemed to be feeding normally without showing signs of distress.  The two trackers followed the gorillas’ trails from the day before and found the nests where the gorillas had slept—three nests indicated that the females had spent the night with Giraneza.  The nest sites were found not far from where Taraja and Nyandwi now fed, about 20 meters away.  This discovery began to puzzle the team.  If the females had not strayed away from the nests, they had probably not strayed far from Giraneza, and the simplest conclusion was that the silverback had left the females behind.

A silverback leaving his only females is a highly unusual occurrence.  It is possible that Giraneza was involved in an interaction with a solitary male, but there was no evidence to support that hypothesis.  Indeed, with Giraneza nowhere to be found, by the time that the two trackers rejoined the team who had stayed with Taraja and Nyandwi, the females had begun to show signs of distress.  They displayed frequently, chest beating and hooting, behavior that gorillas sometimes use when they are searching for other individuals.  The females also began to move as they fed, surprising everyone by starting to follow the trail of another group that had been ranging in the vicinity, Bwenge’s group.

When our team left Taraja and Nyandwi for the day, they were still en route to Bwenge's group and getting closer—only about a kilometer away.  Fossey Fund staff are really curious to see how this story will end, as Giraneza fought hard to take Taraja and Nyandwi from Inshuti earlier this year and has been persistent in retaining them despite Inshuti’s attempts to take them back.  It is hard to understand what could have separated Giraneza from the females if it was, as we suspect, not the original intention of the females to leave him.  Moreover, Bwenge is the sole silverback in a group of three females.  If Taraja and Nyandwi attempt to transfer into the group, it will be interesting to see how the hierarchy between the females gets sorted out.  As it happens, Nyandwi and Taraja are familiar to some of the females in Bwenge’s group.  In particular, Maggie, an old female in Bwenge’s group, is Nyandwi’s aunt.  She also spent a few days with Taraja when Taraja temporarily transferred to Pablo’s group.  We can’t be sure what it is gorilla females see in Bwenge, but it is interesting to note that he has had the unusual good luck of acquiring females in multiples.  Usually silverbacks acquire mature females one by one. 

Fossey Fund field staff tried to locate Giraneza and the two females today, but none of them were found.  If the two females were following Bwenge, they have not joined him yet.  We will continue searching for Taraja, Nyandwi, and Giraneza to find out what happens to each of them.  Check back soon to see which group Taraja and Nyandwi decide to join—as gorilla females don’t usually spend long in the forest without a silverback—and to find out where Giraneza has gone and what might have pulled him away from the group he worked so hard to attain.

Increased Presence of Snares Demands Attention from Fossey Fund Anti-Poaching Teams
Monday, July 30, 2012

Over the past two weeks, 29 snares were found by Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund anti-poaching teams and trackers.  We are very concerned because the snares have been found in the Kinege area, a region of Volcanoes National Park that is central to the home ranges of all the groups we monitor.  Most recently, Kuryama’s group and Bwenge’s group have both been found in this area of the park.

The first six snares were found by the Kuryama group’s trackers on July 17. Two of these snares were those destroyed by gorillas, including the juveniles Dukore and Rwema (see July 17 blog post, below).  Over the following weekend, 14 snares were found and destroyed by the anti-poaching team.  Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund field staff have been closely monitoring this area since it appears to be a high-risk zone for snares this month and in fact, just today, five more snares were found. 

We are currently trying to organize a "shock patrol" comprised of both Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and Rwandan Development Board (park authority) staff to target the Kinege area.  Shock patrols are normally used in cases like this when we have already discovered evidence of snares in a specific region of the park and need to be sure that the area is thoroughly searched.

Veronica

Trackers search caves for missing young gorilla
Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Today our trackers did an amazing job trying to locate the body of the dispersed infant Ikuze. Evidence showed that very likely the infant had fallen into a deep natural underground cave, which is very deep and dark, and connects to the surface via two narrow holes.

Narrow holes lead  to underground caveNests and gorilla traces, made by flattened vegetation, were observed all around the ground holes. In particular one nest was made on the edge of the hole. Unfortunately these were just evidence of another heartbreaking death. The traces around the site suggest that gorillas were there for a long time, spending the night a few meters away and revisiting the site on the following day.

Today the group was not far from that site and was calm. Mother Bukima has very swollen breasts due to the sudden termination of lactation. Trackers tried hard to locate the body of the infant but it was impossible. Two trackers went actually down the hole and walked in the cave for a while but they could not find anything. It was much deeper than they could go and there’s water inside.

Even though the fallen infant gorilla would not be alive, retrieving corpses can be very valuable to fully understand what happened and for the ongoing gorilla skeletal project.

In better news, our trackers finally found Inshuti's group again today, led by head tracker Phocas Nkunzingoma. Inshuti had only female Shangaza with him but they were doing fine. But there are still no signs of youngster Akarusho, presumed to have succumbed to snare injuries from several weeks ago.

Veronica

Missing Gorilla Infant and Other Mysteries
Monday, July 23, 2012

IkuzeOne-year old infant female Ikuze from Isabukuru’s group was not found today. Yesterday trackers saw the infant and she was fine. No special behavior was observed today from mother Bukima or any gorilla of the group.

We don’t know what has happened. As she is too young to travel alone, she may be a victim of infanticide or an accident. We have to find her or the body to find an explanation. Today trackers went to look for her but they were not successful. Tomorrow they will try the same, walking back along all the traces from yesterday.

Two meters from the gorillas' nest site, trackers found a natural tunnel in the ground. They could not estimate its depth but they could see that there is water inside. Tomorrow they will try to climb down it in case the infant may have accidentally fallen into it. This is just a guess. We hope to have more information tomorrow.

Kuryama’s group was not located today due to their trail having been mixed with those of other groups. The trackers will try again tomorrow. Inshuti’s group has also not been found yet. It has been missing since July 16th.

Veronica

Young gorillas observed destroying snares for first time
Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Today our field staff observed several young gorillas from Kuryama’s group destroying snares!

We knew that gorillas do this but all of the reported cases in the past were carried out by adult gorillas, mostly silverbacks. Today, two juveniles and one blackback from Kuryama’s group worked together to deactivate two snares and how they did it demonstrated an impressive cognitive skill.

Young gorillas destroying snaresJohn Ndayambaje, our field data coordinator, reported that he saw one snare very close to the group; since the gorillas were moving in that direction, he decided to deactivate it. Silverback Vuba pig-grunted at him (a vocalization of warning) and at the same time juveniles Dukore and Rwema together with blackback Tetero ran toward the snare and together pulled the branch used to hold the rope. They saw another snare nearby and as quickly as before they destroyed the second branch and pulled the rope out of the ground.

Four other snares were also removed by our trackers in the same area.

Our battle to detect and destroy snares from the park is far from over, however, and the recent death of juvenile Ngwino, caused by snare injury, has given us all further motivation.

Today we can proudly confirm that gorillas are doing their part too!

Veronica

 

Juvenile gorilla dies of snare injuries
Sunday, July 15, 2012

This morning our  trackers found the deceased body of young gorilla Ngwino on the group trail, very close to the  place where they left the group yesterday. The group was within 100 meters. The nests were not far from the body, so we determined that Ngwino died yesterday afternoon.

The body was recovered and is going to be transported to the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project office for necropsy.

This is the second victim of a snare this year. The other was the infant in a non-habituated group, found by the anti-poaching team in February. We are sure Ngwino's injuries were very painful and hope that the intervention on Friday gave her at least some relief on her last day of life.

Infant Akarusho is still missing and somewhere alone in the forest. We will intensity the search for him tomorrow.

Veronica

Medical Intervention Team Strives to Save Severely Wounded Juvenile
Friday, July 13, 2012

The intervention team at workToday was a very intense day in the forest for our field staff. An intervention in Inshuti’s group was organized to help juvenile female Ngwino, who had been reported to be very weak and suffering from a several-days-old snare injury. Silverack Inshuti’s aggressive and unpredictable temperament made the decision to intervene very difficult, as somebody could have been seriously hurt.

The Fossey Fund's Karisoke Director Felix Ndagijimana went up together with veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) and the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) to coordinate the operation. They were supported by our staff from the Karisoke Research Center and RDB trackers, making a team of 17 people.

When they reached the the gorilla group, the trackers accompanied the MGVP vets for a first assessment. It was clear from first sight that the infant needed an immediate intervention. The decision was made to sedate Inshuti first, to allow the vets to operate on Ngwino safely. Inshuti was sedated, and after a few weak pig grunts he fell asleep in a few seconds.

Ngwino and her mother Shangaza moved away to avoid the people. The field staff found them 30 minutes later and the vets soon darted Ngwino. The infant screamed and immediately Shangaza came close to try to rescue her. Trackers formed a line to keep Shangaza away, and it worked.

Ngwino's woundIt was soon clear that Ngwino’s health was critical and hopes of a recovery were few. The snare was very tight on her leg, which had caused advanced gangrene in the foot. In addition to that, she had a deep, severe injury on her shoulder, with a completely dislocated bone. Very likely this second injury was caused by the other gorillas’ attempts to free the juvenile from the snare. Even worse, the advanced infection and gangrene had also spread to Ngwino’s arm and thorax. The injury is very serious, and vets and the field staff consider it a miracle that she made it up to now. All of the field staff reported that they have never seen a gorilla with such a severe injury.

The veterinarians gave her a dose of fluids and antibiotics and cleaned the infected parts very well. They also stitched up the shoulder wound. They considered the option of amputating both her right arm and left foot, but after a consultation with the park authority they decided not to do it.

After the surgery, the juvenile was placed close to silverback Inshuti so they would wake up on the same spot. Inshuti was just starting to wake up and was trying to react with pig grunting to the people around him. Soon Ngwino was darted again with a drug that reverses the anesthesia, in order to speed the waking up process. After that, most of the field team left, to avoid further stressing the gorillas while they were waking up. Just a few trackers from Inshuti’s group remained and could report that mother Shangaza went up close to Ngwino, grooming her for several minutes. All members of the gorilla group then started resting close together.

Despite the still critical situation, the intervention went very well. The vets did everything possible to save Ngwino’s life. It was a very delicate situation and all of the participants did an extremely good job. We are keeping all our hopes up for her to recover.

Inshuti anesthetizedNdagijimana said: “It was extremely sad to see Ngwino suffering from such a huge wound. She must have been in horrible pain over the past 10 days and maybe more. I have never seen anything like that, and I wish I could have done something before to prevent the pain. It was an unfortunate sequence of events that prevented us from seeing her for many days. I still hope we did save her life today. The next couple of days will be critical for her recovery. In a situation such as today’s I feel extremely proud to be part of this dedicated team which included all the different partner organizations that put our strengths together to save the gorillas with incredible expertise and passion."

We are waiting for the full medical report from Dr. Dawn Zimmerman of MGVP for more specific details about Ngwino's health. The other infant of the group, Akarusho, is still missing. The anti-poaching team went to look for him but were unsuccessful.

We want to credit the full team that performed the intervention today: Felix Ndagijimana (Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund), Dr. Dawn Zimmerman (MGVP), Jean Bosco Noeri (MGVP), Dr. Eddi (MGVP), Dr. Elisabeth Nyirakaragire (RDB), five Fossey Fund trackers from Karisoke including John Ndajambaye and Fundi Hategekimana, and two RDB trackers.

Veronica

One youngster found but ailing
Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ngwino ailing on July 12Missing juvenile female Ngwino was finally found today, back in her group, led by silverback Inshuti. However, she is not doing well. She is very weak and limps on her right leg. We also noticed a smell coming from her, possibly due to advanced infection.

Our field coordinator, Fundi Hategekimana, was there and collected information, reporting that Ngwino was often alone, while Inshuti and Shangaza were eating about 20 meters away. Inshuti and Shangaza approached Ngwino from time to time, even pushing her gently to encourage her to move, but the juvenile didn’t react. Ngwino still  has the snare rope on her leg, but because of the limited visibility Fundi could not see how tight it is.

Tomorrow our field staff, along with veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and the Rwanda park authorities (RDB)  will go to the group to assess the situation and prepare for a possible intervention.  If silverback Inshuti is near Ngwino, the intervention will be very delicate and diffiicult, due to his unpredictable behavior and we will have to manage the situation carefully, using the expertise of our best trackers.

 

Veronica

Two young gorillas still missing
Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Today 18 trackers (10 from Karisoke, seven from the Rwandan Development Board and one local defense worker) worked together to try to locate the dispersed juvenile Ngwino and the infant Akarusho, who was alone yesterday. Five trackers went to Giraneza’s group and looked in the surrounding area. Four others went to Inshuti’s group, while nine other people divided into three teams to look in the area between the two groups. Unfortunately, the searches were unsuccessful and the two young gorillas were not found.

Ngwino disappeared on July 9, with rope from a snare still on her ankle when last observed. Akarusho left Giraneza’s group yesterday morning and was travelling alone toward his natal group, Inshuti’s, but was still very far from it. Today, Inshuti’s group (now composed of silverback Inshuti and female Shangaza) was moving back on the trail they had taken on previous days, decreasing the distance to the area where infant Akarusho was seen yesterday. Inshuti was still making lots of hooting (calling) vocalizations, which could make it easier for the infant to find them.

Giraneza, with his two females Taraja and Nyandwi, is moving in the opposite direction, toward the Susa area. Giraneza also made several hooting vocalizations.

Tomorrow we will follow the same strategy to monitor the two groups and continue to look for Ngwino and Akarusho.

Veronica

Concerns for two young gorillas
Tuesday, July 10, 2012

With the continuing changes going on among the Inshuti group and the Giraneza group, we are especially concerned about two youngsters. Three-year-old Akarusho, who stayed with silverback Inshuti when his mother transferred to Giraneza earlier this year, went back to Giraneza's group yesterday but now seems to be having problems there (not unexpected, since Giraneza is not his father).  This morning he was observed running away from Giraneza, with his mother Taraja and another female at first following behind. By the end of the day, Akarusho was located mid-way between the two groups, alone.

Also, for the second day, 3-1/2-year-old Ngwino could not be located and we are extremely concerned because of the snare rope still around this youngster's leg upon last observance.  We are awaiting full reports from our researchers and trackers, who have been assigned specifically to follow these dispersals and group interactions. Tomorrow we will get help from the Rwandan park authorities (RDB) to increase the search for Ngwino.

Veronica

More News from Inshuti's Group: Snares and Interaction
Monday, July 09, 2012

Akarusho with silverback GiranezaThe situation of Inshuti’s group was really confusing last week. The reason is that the group was extremely far away, and the observation was limited to a few seconds at a time because silverback Inshuti was very upset and charged the trackers whenever they tried to get close. Now, the situation is becoming clearer but it is still worrying.

Apparently, both of the group’s infants, not just Akarusho (as we reported) got caught in snares last week. One is 3-year-old Akarusho, who possibly was misidentified as the one who was released on July 3. He is limping with his arm, which is visibly sore, but fortunately no rope remains on it. However, 3.5-year-old Ngwino is carrying a piece of rope on her ankle. It is very likely that Ngwino was the one released from a snare by the trackers on July 3.

Trackers and the anti-poaching patrol found 10 snares in the area where Inshuti’s group was ranging, including the one that caught the infant on July 3 and one found two days before, which was already destroyed. Evidence showed that it was the gorillas who destroyed it.

On Saturday, Inshuti and his group came down to a much more accessible area on Bikereri hill. This helped a lot! Inshuti calmed down and tolerated the trackers, so they could finally see that both infants were struggling: Ngwino with a piece of rope on her ankle and Akarusho with a limp in his arm.

On Sunday, July 8, Inshuti interacted with Giraneza’s group for a whole day. Giraneza’s is the group formed in February when the lone silverback took two females from Inshuti’s group, including Taraja, Akarusho’s mother. Inshuti was really determined to get back the two females and ran after Giraneza. The two silverbacks had several physical fights. When the trackers left the groups at 3 pm, they were still together, exchanging displays.

This morning (July 9), the two groups are apart, but infant Akarusho had transferred to Giraneza. He is now with mother Taraja and the other female, Nyandwi. As he is still an infant, there is the risk of infanticide. Giraneza aggressed him twice, but later Giraneza was seen grooming Akarusho while the group was resting. The infant still limps, but he seems to be out of danger. Dr Dawn Zimmerman of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project visited to assess the health of both infants.

Inshuti is now far from Giraneza, and (surprisingly) with only female Shangaza. He is upset and hooting a lot (making calling vocalizations). Ngwino was not found, which is the most worrying fact of the day, because she is the young juvenile who still has some rope on her ankle. Tomorrow we will send a larger team to look for her.

Veronica

A Birth in Isabukuru's Group
Friday, July 06, 2012

Isaro and her newborn. Photo by Keiko MoriThis week in the field was particularly dense with events involving the gorillas monitored by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Karisoke Research Center. One of those events was the happy news reported by the trackers for Isabukuru’s group on Tuesday, July 3 when they saw female Isaro with a newborn.

The birth was a surprise, as Isaro’s previous infant, Keza, is just 3.2 years old, which is a pretty short inter-birth interval, considering that the average is 3.5 years. Isaro is doing very well, carefully carrying her new infant, who seems to be healthy and of good appetite.

Isaro is a young female, 13 years old. She lost her first infant in 2008 on the day it was born. One year later, she give birth to Keza, a sweet infant female. Since the birth of her new sibling, Keza has spent all her time close to mother Isaro and the infant, suspending, for the moment, all her play activities with other youngsters.

Isabukuru’s group has increased to 12 gorillas. The dominant silverback can be very proud of his growing group, which now includes four infants and six females. Isabukuru has demonstrated a strong paternal instinct with all his offspring, spending considerably more time playing with them than has ever been observed in the silverbacks in other groups.

Veronica

Another Visit to Inshuti's Group; Good News about Maggie
Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Today the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund trackers tried to approach Inshuti again. Field Coordinator Fundi Hategekimana (the most experienced of our field staff at the Karisoke Research Center) was there as well. The group had moved more than 2 kilometers since yesterday. They are obviously distressed and they were still on the move when the trackers finally reached them after a six-hour trek!

Dominant silverback Inshuti was very upset and charged at the trackers, screaming many times. It wasn’t possible for the trackers to see Akarusho, the juvenile who was freed from a snare yesterday. He is definitely with the group but we don’t know if he has still the rope on his ankle.

We decided to have the trackers try again tomorrow, with the same soft approach. Before doing anything we have to wait for Inshuti to calm down.

Another snare was found and destroyed in the same area.

Our best hope for Inshuti's group would be that they will soon move back to an area that is more accessible and less risky in terms of snares. It is clear that Inshuti chose that area to avoid other groups, after having lost two females in February. To monitor Inshuti’s group on a daily basis has become our major challenge.

Very good news -- Female Maggie, who wasn’t found yesterday, is back in Bwenge's group. She is fine! Maggie is 32, one of the oldest gorillas and particularly beloved by the field staff because she is one of the gorillas named by Dian Fossey and has a very tough personality.

Veronica

Young Gorilla Caught in Snare
Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Three-year old mountain gorilla Akarusho was found by our trackers caught in a snare today, as they followed Inshuti’s group. The nest site was not far away so we believe he got trapped early in the morning. He was hanging from his ankle upside down when we found him, and may have been in that position for hours. He was not crying or screaming but was lethargic on the rope. Trackers approached him and he was obviously scared. They cut the rope with machetes and soon the infant ran under a bush. He did not move for several minutes. The group was 40 meters away and when Akarusho gained some strength he ran toward them with a limp, a small piece of rope still on his ankle. He moved close to silverback Inshuti, who then proceeded to charge the trackers, screaming at them and forcing them to move away.

Our anti-poaching team was supporting Inshuti’s trackers on their long trek today. They found two snares in the area in addition to three others found the day before yesterday.

Young Akarusho has been without his mother since February, when she transferred to lone silverback Giraneza. Since then Akarusho has always stayed near Inshuti.

Tomorrow our trackers will go and try some more observation of the infant. We prefer to give silverback Inshuti time to calm down before organizing an intervention. Inshuti is a very aggressive gorilla and we don’t want to overstress him.

Veronica

Pablo's Group Found
Monday, June 25, 2012

Today a team of 22 people was organized to look for Pablo’s group, which had not been monitored for eight days. They found the group! All the gorillas are fine. In particular, Cantbee is in good health and was leading the group to the Munyinya area, west of the Ibizumu ravine. They are still in the alpine zone, moving west on the Karisimbi volcano.

This is the first time we have found Pablo’s group so far west from their usual range. We are thinking about temporarily moving the Pablo’s trackers team to another campsite for the next few days.

Today’s team included Fossey Fund staff, Rwanda Development Board staff and community members. They did an excellent job with very long and hard tracking.

Veronica

Infant Turate Not Using Arm
Friday, June 22, 2012

Turate on his mother's back, not using right armTwo-year-old infant Turate, a member of Urugamba’s group, has not used his right arm since June 12. After several days we have not seen any improvement. His upper arm is swollen and twisted. But despite his visible discomfort while walking and eating he manages to do everything without using the arm. I also saw him climbing a tree yesterday. It’s amazing how such a young gorilla is fighting the pain. He also still depends on his mother Pasika to carry him on her back for long distances. He manages pretty well to hold onto her back. We are talking with the veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project to try to understand what happened to his arm. There is nothing we can do at this stage, considering that Turate is doing well despite everything. We will keep monitoring him, hoping for a natural and fast recovery.

Veronica

Pablo/Cantsbee Group Ranging in Ravine
Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ibuzimu ravineSince June 16, our trackers have not been able to locate Pablo's group (led by silverback Cantsbee) because they are ranging in a very deep ravine that we cannot get into. Our trackers tried to see if the gorillas had crossed the ravine by going to the other side of the ravine, but no traces were found there. However, trackers believe the group is still there, since the ravine is huge and very deep. It should contain plenty of food for the gorillas and we will have to wait for them to climb back up.

We are still somewhat concerned about the health of Cantsbee, however, who was sick last week though was looking OK when we last saw him on June 15. We are planning a big team to search on Saturday with help from the Rwandan park authorities (RDB) to conduct a bigger search on the other side of the ravine.

Veronica

Fossey Fund Hosts Soccer Competition During Rwanda's Kwita Izina Celebration
Friday, June 15, 2012


The Bisate School team celebrates their victoryThe Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center participated in Rwanda’s annual Kwita Izina week’s festivities by hosting a soccer competition among local schools. Kwita Izina is a naming ceremony for all the mountain gorillas born during the past 12 months, but the event has grown to a week-long celebration that includes many other activities in the local communities. Four school teams, representing the four districts around Volcanoes National Park (Musanze, Nyabihu, Burera and Rubavu) began the soccer competition last week. The finalists, teams from the Rubavu and Musanze districts, competed for the championship today.

The game was well attended by the local community, government officials and staff from local conservation organizations. Decked out in brand new yellow and white uniforms, the teams played a good game. (Terrance Harps, a member of the Fossey Fund’s Board of Trustees, provided Bisate’s white uniforms). Ultimately, Bisate School from the Musanze district - which scored 2 goals versus Rubavu’s 0 - went home with the gold Kwita Izina trophy and a check from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International for 200,000 Rwandan francs. But the Rubavu district students did not leave empty handed. They were awarded with a check for 100,000 Rwandan francs for being  finalists.

After the 90-minute game came to a close, select guests made speeches,  including  Karisoke Research Center Director Felix Ndagijimana and the governor of Rwanda’s Northern Province, Aime Bosenibamwe. Ndagijimana spoke eloquently, saying “If Dian Fossey were alive today, she would have been very happy to see all of the events and effort to help raise awareness for the conservation of mountain gorillas.”

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Legendary Silverback Cantsbee on the Mend
Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cantsbee recovered, with juveniles and femalesThe Fossey Fund is extremely happy to report that Cantsbee, the ailing dominant silverback of Pablo's group, appeared to be strong and healthy today. A large medical intervention team, composed of 13 Karisoke trackers, two Rwandan Development Board (RDB) trackers, Veronica Vecellio (Karisoke’s Gorilla Program Manager) and four veterinarians (Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and RDB) trekked high up to the Ibizuma ravine on Kimbagira where the group is ranging early this morning. It took nearly five hours for the team to reach the group, but when they arrived Cantsbee was behaving as normal, feeding and moving about with the other gorillas in his group. Although there were still small traces of blood in his feces, there did not appear to be any active bleeding. The veterinarians believe that the culprit could be hemorrhoids, a condition that affects only humans and gorillas.

This intervention could have been very dangerous for the team, so the Fossey Fund is breathing a collective sigh of relief that Cantsbee appears to be rebounding and an intervention was not necessary after all.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Oldest Karisoke Gorilla Ailing
Wednesday, June 13, 2012

CantsbeeCantsbee, the oldest gorilla monitored by the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center, at 33 and 1/2 years old, is gravely ill, reports the field staff. The aging dominant silverback of Pablo's group appeared lethargic and was lying down while the rest of his group actively moved around him. Some of the gorillas were lingering near him, staring at him curiously. The field staff reports that he is bleeding from his colon and could have internal issues.

Drs. Mike Cranfield and Jean Felix Kinani from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project will trek to Pablo's group to assess Cantsbee’s condition tomorrow morning. A team of Fossey Fund field staff, with support from the Rwanda Development Board (park authority) trackers, will escort the veterinarians, prepared to perform a medical intervention if necessary. Felix Ndagijimana, Karisoke’s director, will provide logistical support for the team and Winnie Eckardt, PhD, will join the team to collect data for her study on stress in the mountain gorillas.

There has never been a medical intervention carried out on the dominant silverback of a Karisoke group. Pablo's is the largest group we monitor, at 44 gorillas, and this will not be an easy task. In fact, Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio says “this will be the most important intervention ever done." Cantsbee’s subordinate gorillas could be seriously stressed should their leader have to be anesthetized for medical treatment.

Cantsbee has been the leader of Pablo's group since 1994 and has held the position of dominant silverback longer than any other male in the Karisoke research groups. He has also been the leader of the largest group of gorillas ever monitored (the group reached its peak, an astounding 65 individuals in October 2006). Needless to say, Cantsbee is a very special gorilla, indeed a living legend, and the field staff is extremely concerned about him. More to come soon.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Turimaso Freed from Snare
Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Turimaso freed from snareToday, a team was assembled to trek to Pablo's group to assess the condition of 9-year-old female Turimaso, after she was caught in a snare. The 18-person team (composed of Karisoke staff, park authority staff (Rwandan Development Board) and veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project) was organized by the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center and came ready to intervene this morning.

We urgently looked for Turimaso when we reached the large group of gorillas. It took some time to identify each individual in the group, but after a while we found her sitting very close to Gicurasi, the group's beta silverback. The conditions didn’t allow us to see her right arm immediately.

In the rainy, misty weather, we continued to monitor her and after some time noticed that she was no longer carrying the rope segment that had been attached to her right arm. She had likely removed it herself sometime during the night. Needless to say, this was a relief to everyone on the team. When it stopped raining, she started moving with the other gorillas of her group. Her arm seemed to be painful for her and she was not using it to feed at all.

Turimaso is normally quite playful and active in the group, but following her recent stressful event she has chosen to isolate herself somewhat, to recover from the incident.

The Karisoke anti-poaching team was also a part of our group this morning. They came to check for the presence of snares in the area where Pablo's group was ranging the previous day. The team removed two snares in that area and we are doing our best to intensify patrols to minimize illegal activities in the park.

We also continued our observation of adult female Mukecuru, who has been weak since the death of her 10-day-old infant. Today, she was staying close to the dominant silverback Cantsbee.  Mukecuru was seen moving normally but we were not able to achieve a long observation, as silverback Cantsbee was aggressive and charging the team, a behavior that likely stems from the recent stressful two days for Pablo's group.

Jean Paul Hirwa, Karisoke research assistant

Pablo's Group Female Caught in a Snare
Monday, June 04, 2012

Turimaso's arm in the snareWhen the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center field staff reached  Pablo’s group this morning, 9-year-old female Turimaso was caught in a snare, screaming and pulling frantically at the rope wrapped around her right arm. The rest of Pablo’s group had moved on to an area 200 meters away, but beta-male Gicurasi remained behind with the trapped female. He was highly agitated and aggressive toward the trackers, charging them every time they tried to approach. According to the traces interpreted by the field staff, Turimaso had been caught in the snare sometime yesterday evening, and the other gorillas had moved on to create their nests away from the frantic female. It is possible that Gicurasi stayed with her through the night, but there were no nests located nearby.

Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D, who was with the field staff, reported that it was “a very tense situation.” Around 9:30 am, Turimaso succeeded in freeing herself from the snare by cutting the rope with her teeth. She fled immediately and the field staff was unable to determine whether she had successfully removed the remnant of rope from around her wrist. They chose to leave the group for the day, deciding that the gorillas were already under a lot of stress and needed time to calm down. The Fossey Fund’s Karisoke anti-poaching team has joined the Pablo trackers to do a thorough search of the area, in case there are other snares set nearby.

Dr. Jean Felix Kinani, of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP), will accompany the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke trackers to Pablo’s group tomorrow to assess the situation and determine if an intervention will be necessary to remove the rope. The intervention team will be comprised of Karisoke’s most experienced trackers; the last snare-related intervention in Pablo’s group led to silverback Gicurasi biting a tracker. If the beta-male’s aggressive behavior today is any indicator, the intervention tomorrow will be difficult. Dr. Eckardt will join the team to collect data for her study of stress in mountain gorillas.
 
This is the second time that Turimaso has been trapped in a snare. During the first occurrence, in December 2009, the trackers were able to cut the rope with a machete and the MGVP veterinarians intervened the following day to remove the remaining segment of rope.

There is another female in Pablo’s group who worries the field staff today as well. Mukecuru, who recently gave birth but 10 days later lost her third infant in a row (on May 21), appears weak and lethargic. She is lagging behind the group and the field staff is concerned that she could be suffering from a post partum infection. On June 3, Dr. Elisabeth Nyirakaragire (Rwanda Development Board veterinarian) and Dr. Jean Felix Kinani (MGVP) injected Mukecuru with a dose of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. Unfortunately, with the snare incident today, Mukecuru was not located. Tomorrow, it is hoped that a thorough search for the female will determine her progress.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Lone Silverback Rukundo Makes Rare Appearance
Thursday, May 31, 2012

RukundoToday, the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center trackers saw the lone silverback Rukundo for the first time since April 2011. We saw him at 8 a.m. when we were still 70 meters from the edge of the forest on our way up to find Pablo’s group. He was already out of the forest but very close to the wall.

When we approached to identify him he avoided us, then he immediately went back inside the forest. We followed him in the forest and he stopped after 40 meters for feeding, where we briefly had a good view of him and could take pictures.

He seemed totally healthy with nice hair, more than strong, and he was feeding energetically on bamboo shoots. He was also totally fine with our presence, still a nice silverback. His re-appearance made our morning full of joy and relief! We left him at 8:40 to track Pablo's group.

Rukundo is the oldest surviving offspring of Maggie, who is the oldest living female followed by Karisoke and one of three remaining gorillas named by Dian Fossey. He became a lone silverback in March 2010 when he left his natal group, Pablo’s. He is rarely seen, so the encounter was a welcome surprise.

Jean Paul Hirwa, Karisoke Research Assistant and Veronica Vecellio, Gorilla Program Coordinator

Save Vanishing Species Stamp: Up for Reauthorization
Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A special U.S. stamp issued last September that allows everyone to help save gorillas and other endangered species whenever we buy stamps at the U.S. post office or order stamps online is now up for reauthorization, as the original legislation making it possible was passed two years ago.

The “Save Vanishing Species” stamp, with the image of a tiger, sells for just above the usual cost of postage. The extra proceeds help fund the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders Multinational Species Conservation Funds that support conservation of great apes, elephants, rhinos, tigers and marine turtles. The stamp has already raised $1.15 million, from 10.7 million sold.

The U.S. House of Representatives has held hearings on its reauthorization bill, HR50. On the Senate side, S3208 was introduced Monday, May 21 and has yet to be referred to a committee.

“This is a great opportunity to support valuable conservation efforts at no cost to taxpayers,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), one of the bill’s sponsors. “I’m glad it has broad, bipartisan support and hope it will be taken up by Congress soon.” Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), another sponsor, says: “The postage stamp is a symbol of who we are as Americans, and the popularity of the tiger stamp is another example of our commitment to preserving wildlife.”

The Fossey Fund has received critical support through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Great Apes Conservation Fund. The part of the stamp price that goes to the funds is tax-deductible.

 

Mukecuru Loses 10-Day-Old Infant
Monday, May 21, 2012

MukecuruThe Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center is saddened to report that the latest infant born into the research groups, after only ten short days of life, has died. The passing of this infant marks the third youngster that mother Mukecuru has lost in the last four years.

Yesterday afternoon, Karisoke's Pablo’s group trackers notified the staff that Mukecuru’s infant appeared to be in distress. The youngster was still suckling (or attempting to) but crying out constantly. With Mukecuru having lost her last two infants after a very short time, and her new infant exhibiting behavior that suggested he/she was not able to nurse, there is concern about the mother’s ability to produce milk. Unfortunately, neither of the previous infants’ bodies were recovered for a necropsy and valuable clues that could have been obtained from the findings were lost.

In November 2007, after raising three offspring successfully, Mukecuru lost her fourth infant at 1 day old. Following the infant’s death, the mother carried the body with her until it was fully decomposed. In October 2009, Mukecuru lost her fifth infant after just ten days. Again, the infant was observed crying the day prior to its death and Mukecuru left the group with her ailing offspring. Two days later, she rejoined the group, carrying the deceased infant. The mother carried the body for a week through the forest, leaving it in an undetermined location sometime during the night.

Veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project trekked to Pablo’s group this morning to evaluate the infant’s condition. Unfortunately, the infant had already passed away. Mother Mukecuru is carefully carrying the tiny corpse around, so the Karisoke field staff is unable to recover the body for a post mortem analysis at this time.

There were heavy rains in northern Rwanda last night, and the weather, coupled with the infant’s weak condition and lack of sustenance, could have been the perfect storm.

Veronica Vecellio, Gorilla Program Manager


Gorillas Know No Borders
Thursday, May 17, 2012

The current political turmoil in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has affected a portion of the area where mountain gorillas live.  Their habitat – the Virunga mountains – spans three countries: Rwanda, Uganda and Congo.

Karisoke anti-poaching patrol in RwandaThe unrest in Congo recently has included active fighting in the “gorilla sector” of the Virunga Park, DRC, which is normally patrolled by rangers from the Congolese park authorities (ICCN). We are saddened to learn that one of them was killed this week in the line of duty, as he was caught in this fighting. Thus, protection of this part of the park is limited, difficult and subject to frequent change.

The gorilla groups in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and operations at the Dian Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center are not affected by the turmoil in Congo, and we continue our normal daily protection and monitoring of some 10 groups of gorillas.  Likewise, tourist visits to the Rwanda gorilla groups are also unaffected and operating normally.

At Karisoke we conduct daily anti-poaching patrols and we also participate in trans-border patrols with the Rwandan, Ugandan and Congolese park authorities.  A recent such patrol on the northern side of Mt. Visoke in Congo, by ICCN and Karisoke trackers, found 105 snares in just six days!

We are very concerned about the safety of the mountain gorillas that range in Congo at this time, as well as for the people there. Gorillas know no borders and we hope they will remain out of harm’s way. And our hearts go out to all those people in need.

Clare

Crisis in Congo Impacts Fossey Fund Operations
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

For several weeks, there has been a heightened level of political unrest in several areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where we work, and there has been active fighting in DRC's Virunga National Park, where a portion of the mountain gorilla population lives.

The Fossey Fund works throughout eastern DRC.  We have offices in Goma (near the Rwandan border), new gorilla monitoring/protection stations northwest of the fighting, and we have shared responsibility, as one of the Governing Council members, for GRACE, the gorilla rescue and rehabilitation center, further north in Kasugho. The unrest in Congo is making  our work more difficult and it is dangerous for our staff on the ground, with many of them in remote forest locations where gorillas live.

When a major insurrection such as the rebel invasion of Virunga Park occurs, scarce army and other security forces are diverted to address the crisis, leaving other areas bereft or under the control of rebel groups. This is now the case in Kasugho, for example.  To date, we have been operating under high alert, curtailing staff travel and postponing some of our gorilla monitoring and protection work.  However, two gorilla monitoring teams are still in the field, working as usual.  

In such an atmosphere, the ability to send and receive messages and have easily accessible emergency transportation options is essential, both to keep our work going or to execute evacuation plans if need be. Our staff are the most important element of our efforts to protect gorillas, so we must first do everything in our power to protect THEM. 

Please stay tuned for updates and thank you as always for your support.

Clare Richardson, President and CEO

To help, please click on this link: Crisis in Congo

Changes Continue in Pablo's Group
Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Two gorillas have left Pablo’s group, bringing the number of the largest group of mountain gorillas down to 44 individuals. Isura, a subadult 7-year-old female and offspring of Mukecuru (the older female who gave birth to her sixth infant last week) transferred to Karisimbi’s group, which is one of the groups monitored by the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) and used for tourism. Additionally, 12-year-old Mafunzo dispersed to become a lone silverback, in the hopes of acquiring females and assembling his own group in the future.

Isura with  her new friends in the Karisimbi group. (Photo by Keiko Mori RDB)                              On Wednesday May 9, Karisoke Research Center trackers were unable to locate Isura in Pablo's group and Mafunzo had gone missing two days prior. Initially, the female was not thought to have transferred. The group was ranging in dense bamboo in the Gashinga area, on the bottom of the slopes of Mount Karisimbi. Due to the dense vegetation and heavy rains, the field staff suspected that she could be hidden somewhere close by.

The Karisoke trackers assigned to Pablo's group made an intense search the following day when, again, neither gorilla was located and the field staff began to believe that the two gorillas had left together. After several days of searching, on Sunday, May 13 the team found a trail (of one of the two gorillas) coming from Pablo’s group. The trail led in the direction of the Karisimbi group, directly to the nest of a silverback.  The Karisoke trackers called the RDB staff in charge of monitoring the Karisimbi group to inquire if they had observed any unfamiliar gorillas near their group. The RDB trackers had in fact seen an unknown female arrive in the group a few days prior.

With this news, Karisoke's Pablo trackers trekked to the Karisimbi group and successfully identified the unknown female as Isura. They reported that she is fine and perfectly integrated into her new group. She was often observed close to Ruhuka, a female that transferred from Pablo's to Susa’s group in 2009, grooming and resting in close physical contact. The two females are familiar with each other from the years they spent together in Pablo's group.

Even Getty, the group’s dominant silverback, was seen resting close to Isura, meticulously grooming her. Although he displayed once towards her, he quickly calmed down and began to warm to the new female. “Even if the dynamic of the transfer is still not clear, the staff of the Karisoke Research Center was happy to see Isura healthy and well established in the Karisimbi group” says Karisoke Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio.  “A missing gorilla, especially if it is a female, always raises concerns and requires a massive effort for a search to be carried out on top of the routine daily tracking of all gorilla groups.”

As for the dispersed silverback Mafunzo, the field staff was unable to locate him. He is a silverback and, even if he is on the young side, he is still within the normal age range to strike out on his own. In fact, Mafunzo had left and rejoined the group twice before this last disappearance. It is likely that the nest found close to the Karisimbi group was in fact his nest, if he was on the trail of Isura before she made the final transfer. Mafunzo’s decision to become a lone silverback is not surprising, as he is the brother of Pablo's group’s dominant silverback, Cantsbee, and related to most of the Pablo group's gorillas, including sexually active females.

As of this afternoon, the field staff reported that Pablo's group has split into two subgroups once again, with Cantsbee leading 16 individuals and Gicurasi leading 26. The entire group nested together last night in the same location where Cantsbee's subgroup is ranging at the present time. Because the bamboo is a limited resource, it is very likely that Gicurasi led another group to an area with more food availability, to avoid overcrowding.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer



Pablo Female Gives Birth, Largest Group of Gorillas Rises to 46
Friday, May 11, 2012

Pablo's group became 46 individuals today when the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center trackers arrived at the group and noticed that Mukecuru, an older female estimated to be between 26 and 32 years of age, had given birth. The Karisoke field staff have suspected for several months now that Mukecuru was expecting. Her belly has been exceptionally rotund and she was frequently observed moving slowly, appearing lethargic and uncomfortable. At her age, this will be one of her last offspring to be born. As she lost her two previous infants in 2007 and 2009, the field staff is hoping this new baby will survive.

MukecuruMukecuru transferred from the Susa group to Pablo's group in 1995, and at the time she was estimated to be 16 years old. She gave birth in 1996, just one year after her transfer. Although it can not be said for sure, it was likely that Mukecuru was nulliparous (had not given birth yet) when she transferred into Pablo's group, in which case this would have been her first infant and she could actually have been as young as 10 years old. If Mukecuru is in fact closer to 32 years old now, this may be the last infant she will bear. Based on the long-term research at Karisoke, female gorillas tend to live longer than males and can remain reproductively active until their death, unlike humans.

Mukecuru’s new infant is her sixth. The baby joins siblings Mitimbili (a 16-year-old adult female) and Isura (a 7-year-old subadult female) in Pablo's group. The infant’s third surviving sibling, 12-year-old Umwe, transferred to the Susa group in 2007.

According to Karisoke’s copulation records, Mukecuru was copulating primarily with Gicurasi, the beta-male of Pablo's group, nine months ago. The field staff reports that Mukecuru spends much of her time with this silverback. “It will be interesting to see how both Gicurasi and [dominant silverback] Cantsbee react to the infant” says Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio. It will be at least six months before the Karisoke researchers are able to collect viable DNA samples to determine paternity for this youngster, though. At least five fecal samples will be collected and shipped to the Max Planck Institute in Germany when the time comes. 

It is possible that Mukecuru gave birth yesterday, because the team was not able to reach Pablo's group that day due to rain, flood waters and rising rivers. The Karisoke trackers reported that the baby appeared healthy this morning, but because of the inclement weather at this time of year it’s a difficult time for a youngster to be born.

Anti-poaching News

In the second mixed patrol of 2012 conducted by the Congolese park authority (ICCN) and Karisoke trackers, 105 snares were found in the last six days. This patrol covered the trans-border area on the northern side of Mount Visoke, called Kaniampereri. It has been some time since this area was combed for snares and other illegal activities, but this alarmingly high number is cause for concern for the gorillas that range along the border between the Democraatic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Endangered Species Day to be Held May 18
Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Events will take place across America to raise awareness of endangered species on Friday, May 18. Although Endangered Species Day focuses on American species, it brings attention to issues such as habitat loss, which also affect the gorillas the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International protects in Africa. All gorillas are listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List,” and  mountain gorillas, which the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center protects in Africa’s Virunga mountains, are considered critically endangered as they still number only about 800 (up from 250 in Fossey’s time). The other subspecies of eastern gorilla we are helping to protect, the Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are more numerous than the mountain gorillas but their forest habitat has been severely affected by armed conflict and competition for mineral and other resources. No one knows their exact numbers -- currently estimated at anywhere from 6,000 to 26,000 -- but conservationists agree that their population has declined significantly in recent decades.

Started by the United States Senate and supported by a coalition of several hundred organizations nationwide, Endangered Species Day includes special events held at parks, wildlife refuges, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, libraries, schools and community centers. They include festivals, field trips, park tours, community cleanups, film showings, classroom presentations, a youth art contest and other educational activities. Last year, 115 events were held across the country.

An Endangered Species Day tool kit is available for planning an event and special educational materials are available for teachers. Individuals and families can check out the “Top 10 Things You can Do at Home to Protect Endangered Species,” for ideas to use on May 18 and throughout the year.

More information, ideas for events, how to help, and useful links to all of the above resources are available at www.endangeredspeciesday.org 

Silverback Inshuti Retreats to Karisimbi
Friday, April 27, 2012

Midway through the spring rainy season, when all of the Karisoke-monitored gorilla groups move down to the bamboo zone along the Volcanoes National Park border, one renegade silverback consistently leads his group farther up to the cold, misty, highest reaches of the volcanoes.

Dominant silverback InshutiWhy is it that Inshuti, year after year, chooses not to lead his group to the prolific bamboo shoots along the border? Though it’s only speculation at this point, perhaps it is because he is the only male in his group and thus has no “backup” in the event of an interaction with another group. This leaves him more vulnerable to lone silverbacks and other males looking to steal his females. Heading down to the bamboo zone during the shoot season, the gorilla groups are forced into close proximity with one another and it is a time when inter-group interactions are on the rise and anything can happen.

In previous years, no outstanding event precipitated Inshuti’s retreat up to the higher elevations. This year, however, his decision to move up the slopes of Mount Karisimbi - an area where the research groups normally do not range - can be easily explained. The silverback has kept his group up on Mount Karisimbi ever since all the turmoil and drama that led to the loss of two of his females in January and February 2012. Inshuti was an injured, weakened silverback with no beta male. Considering all of the aggressions that he had endured in the previous months, it is not hard to understand his motive: move higher up in order to avoid lone silverbacks prowling for females and safely keep what is left of his former six-member group.

Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, PhD, trekked to Inshuti’s group on Thursday, April 26th, aware that they were ranging at least four hours from the park border. With three Inshuti trackers, Phocas Nkunzingoma, Simon Havugimana and Gustave Busheja, the team climbed up Mount Karisimbi’s slopes to almost 3,800 meters (12,467 ft.).

Spanning the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mount Karisimbi is the highest volcano in the Virunga range at 4,507 meters (14,783 feet) and the fifth highest mountain in Africa. The subalpine and alpine zones are teeming with Rubus (blackberries) and Dendrosenecio. Along the trek up, the team passed what Dian Fossey described as many “barren, moon-like alpine meadows of Karisimbi” and continued to climb higher in elevation.

The field team found the group’s night nests at 3,680 meters, but continued upwards to find the four gorillas that remain in Inshuti’s group. The team moved quickly from the start, knowing that Inshuti's group was ranging far, confident in their many hours of experience on the mountains. But the quick ascent backfired, and Eckardt reported that altitude sickness had set in by the time the team reached the nest site. An unsettling nausea gripped the hardened gorilla researcher and her legs felt as if they had turned to stone.

It’s extremely cold, windy, misty and wet at this altitude and the gorillas too struggle in such difficult conditions. The field team reported that infant Akaruso, after losing his mother when she transferred to Giraneza’s group in February, continues to sleep with Inshuti. The silverback had built a deep, thick nest to deflect the cold wind. Another equally deep nest where Shangaza and infant Ngwino had slept was nearby.

In her book Gorillas In The Mist, Fossey described other gorillas retreating to Karisimbi’s slopes during her research. Lone silverbacks Bartok and Brahms both chose ranges on Karisimbi. And, when Brahms was shot in the chest by a poacher’s bow and arrow in 1971, he retreated up Karisimbi and stayed for an entire year before he successfully obtained two females and formed his own group.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Gorillas Huddle in Rain; Silverback Kirahure Comforts Infant
Friday, April 27, 2012

Silverback Kirahure with infant RugiraIt's the rainy season in Rwanda. On the high altitudes of the Virunga volcanoes rain is falling abundantly and the air became extremely cold. Mountain gorillas sit gathered together, crouching under the pouring rain.  Youngsters joined their mothers and family members sit all together.

In Kuryama’s group, juvenile orphan female Rugira finds warm comfort in dominant silverback Kirahure. Her mother Muganga transferred to Isabukuru’s group last June, when Rugira was just 3 years old, the age when gorilla infants are weaned and start to be independent of their mothers. She formed a special bond with Kirahure who helped her to cope with the premature separation.

Veronica

Karisoke’s Biodiversity Program Manager Shares Skills with Rwandan Students
Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Deo Tuyisingize teaches Rwandan university students how to measure small mammals.Students from Rwanda’s National University in Butare are visiting the Karisoke Research Center this week, working under Biodiversity Research and Monitoring Program Manager Deo Tuyisingize. Tuyisingize recently completed a two-month training in small mammal studies at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago under Julian Kerbis, Ph.D.

Upon arrival at Karisoke yesterday afternoon, the students mingled with Irish, American, Brazilian and Australian master's degree candidates from the University of Dublin and sat in on the visiting students' presentations.

Today, the 15 third year zoology students visited Volcanoes National Park to practice data collection for bird ecology and the behavioral ecology of the endangered golden monkeys.

This afternoon, the zoology students found themselves examining skeletal remains of small mammal specimens back at Karisoke. Their training will be concluded tomorrow with large and small mammal surveying, trapping and identification. In addition, the botany students will undergo training in sampling and identification for plant phenology.

Tuyisingize explains why the training is important: “Small mammal communities have become indicators of environmental health and faunal diversity. However, at the current time, Rwanda does not have a single natural history institution or zoological department that is capable of processing (collecting, preparing, identifying, cataloguing) these small mammal specimens."

During Tuyisingize’s time in Chicago, he acquired important skills to develop his expertise in biodiversity conservation and traveled back to his home country equipped with dissection material, field data sheets, live traps and other necessities to carry out small mammal research at Karisoke. But Tuyisingize’s relationship with the Chicago Field Museum doesn’t end there. Dr. Kerbis will continue to collaborate with Tuyisingize on his research and plans to visit Rwanda in October 2012 to share his knowledge with the Karisoke and Rwandan Development Board staff in mammal ecology and conservation. In addition, all of the specimens collected in Rwanda have been sent to the Chicago Field Museum for analysis.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Pablo's Group in Subgroups Again
Thursday, April 19, 2012



Pablo's group, the largest gorilla group monitored by the Karisoke Research Center, was split into two subgroups when the field staff arrived yesterday morning. It is not the first time for such an event to occur within this group, but it still raises concerns of an impending change.



When we reached the group at 8:50 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, the gorillas were spread out, engaged in various activities, some feeding, some playing, some resting. This is normal for a group as large as Pablo's and the team assumed that we had reached the entire group.

 However, when we began monitoring each individual’s location, as well as his/her health condition (as is customary when we reach each gorilla group), we were only able to locate 12 individuals: three silverbacks with Musilikale as the dominant one among them, three adult females (who of whom had infants), three blackbacks and one subadult male. Missing from the group was dominant silverback Cantsbee and his beta male Gicurasi.



We immediately began to search for the others, but all of the surrounding trails led back to Musilikale’s subgroup. The team then decided to expand our search but continue to monitor  Musilikale's subgroup for further information. The field team split and half searched for the missing gorillas, beginning where the entire Pablo group was seen the previous day. The second half of the team stayed with Musilikale’s subgroup to record behavioral data.



Monitoring Musilikale’s subgroup



We did not arrive in the group till mid-day, during the resting or feeding time, and Musilikale was unsettled; he was displaying a lot toward the members of his subgroup and aggressing them periodically. Most of the time, all of the gorillas showed their submission to the silverback by making appeasement vocalizations. Interestingly, he was interacting socially with the two infants, grooming and also playing with them. 

Around mid-day, the other two silverbacks and three blackbacks started moving around. They made hooting vocalizations as if they were aware of the missing gorillas of their group. Musilikale and the three adult females remained calm, feeding and resting as normal.



Searching for the missing Pablo's group gorillas



Once we returned to the group’s previous day’s location and followed the trails out, the nest sites were found and it was noted that the two subgroups had spent the night separated by a distance of three kilometers. Around 2 p.m., the other subgroup was found four kilometers away. All of the missing individuals were together with Cantsbee and Gicurasi, doing well and behaving normally.



This is the third time for Musilikale to make his own subgroup. In 2007 he formed a subgroup for several days but he was not successful in maintaining his group because his females ended up transferring to another group and he went back to Pablo's.



This subgrouping between Musilikale and Cantsbee is surprising primarily because when Pablo's group splits into subgroups, we usually see Cantsbee lead one subgroup and beta male Gicurasi lead the other. However, in this instance, Gicurasi stayed at Cantsbee’s side. Gorilla Program Coordinator Veronica Vecellio says “this occurrence confirms the unpredictability of Pablo’s group in the near future. Cantsbee is getting old and one of the younger silverbacks will soon take charge. The question is, who and how?”



Jean Paul Hirwa, Karisoke Research Assistant

Rwanda: "Learning From Our History To Build a Bright Future"
Friday, April 13, 2012

It has been 18 years since one of the horrific genocides of the 20th century rocked the East African country of Rwanda, claiming the lives of almost a million people in just 100 days.

Delphine Uwimana, Fossey Fund administrative staffer, gives radio interviewFor the past week, the people of Rwanda have been participating in a genocide commemoration which culminates in a final day of mourning on Friday April 13th. Speeches have been made, testimonials given, memorials conducted, films were screened, flowers laid at grave sites and this year, over 10,000 genocide victims from a mass grave were given proper burials in the southern province.

Purple banners bearing the message “Learning from our history to build a bright future” were draped all across the city of Kigali. Small purple commemorative ribbons were pinned to shirts and, the Rwandan youth’s “Walk to Remember” was carried out all over the country. Healing and education are the two primary objectives of the annual commemoration weeks, and this year, Rwandan academics were encouraged to commit their testimonies to paper, to further the documentation of the 1994 genocide. “Plus Jamais - Never Again” still rings true in Rwanda. It is clearly important to older Rwandans that the younger generation understand how it happened, that they understand the history. They know that this is the only way to ensure that it will never happen again.

On Tuesday, Fossey Fund staff from the Kigali office and the Karisoke Research Center traveled to a village in the Ndera Sector, one hour south of Rwanda’s capital city, to visit a community of genocide survivors. In this remote village, perched on the top of a ridge and overlooking Rwanda’s lush green hills, live 39 individuals who comprise 18 families. This swath of land was gifted to them by the Rwandan government in 2008. Previous to 2008, these survivors were living all over the region, some as refugees, some with friends within the country. Every person, however, was one of the few remaining members of their families. Some were left utterly alone.

 These individuals have banded together to create a small, successful community; they have built a family where there was none. A villager proudly announced that three of their community members graduated from university last year, with degrees in information technology and economics. Two recently married.

The Fossey Fund gave a gift of 18 goats (one for each family unit) and distributed t-shirts, shared drinks and snacks and listened to the community members' testimonies.

Twenty-eight-year-old genocide survivor Ildephonse Ugiringabire spoke at length about the healing process since the genocide and the growth of his nation in the last 18 years. “I believe I can change my country with my knowledge -- help my people to believe that they have a good future, can get married, study at university, grow old...” Despite everything that these survivors have been through, on this bright, sunny Tuesday afternoon in the remote farmland of Rwanda, everyone was all smiles.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Fossey gorilla program to be on CNN Inside Africa
Thursday, April 12, 2012

Our own gorilla program coordinator at Karisoke – Veronica Vecellio – will be featured in a story on Rwanda’s gorillas on CNN’s Inside Africa program this weekend and into next week. We have the show times but you will need to adjust for your time zones and find it on your cable channels. The times below are in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is four hours ahead of U.S. eastern time.

After the show time on Monday, it will be available online, at CNN.com/InsideAfrica.

Inside Africa Showtimes (all times GMT)
Friday: 16:30
Saturday: 10:30, 17:30
Sunday: 03:30, 14:30
Monday: 04:30
Wednesday: 07:30

 

Orphan Ihirwe is a Grauer's Gorilla
Monday, April 09, 2012

Orphan Ihirwe's genotype results have come in, identifying her as a Grauer's gorilla. Since her rescue from poachers in December she has been cared for by the Fossey Fund and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project in a temporary facility in Kinigi, Rwanda. She will join other Grauer's gorilla orphans at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE) in the Congo after the required paperwork is completed. See our April 6 blog for more information about Ihirwe.

Pablo's and Isabukuru's Groups Interact in the Bamboo Zone
Monday, April 09, 2012

Both Pablo’s and Isabukuru’s groups were ranging in the Masunzu area, which is in the bamboo zone of Volcanoes National Park, on Thursday, Apr. 5. I had already planned to trek to Pablo’s group that day. After I received information early that morning from the Isabukuru trackers that their group was interacting with Pablo’s, my team and I immediately made our way to the reported location of the interaction.

Silverbacks confront each other in strut stanceWe arrived at the site at 9:25 a.m. and found both groups together, with the silverbacks of each group in strut stance position. I questioned Leonard Nsengiyumva (the data technician from Isabukuru’s group) about which individuals had participated from the onset of the interaction and what had happened before we reached them. Nsengiyuma reported that at 8:50 a.m. he observed dominant silverback Isabukuru in a strut stance. He surveyed the scene to see if he could determine the reason for the silverback’s aggressive posture and saw one other silverback assuming a similar position about 10 meters from Isabukuru. Two minutes later, many other gorillas (including three silverbacks, females, infants, juveniles and sub-adults) made their appearance and he knew that it was Pablo’s group.

It is always interesting when these two groups interact, because Isabukuru, before splitting off to form his own group in 2007, was a member of Pablo’s group and is actually brother to dominant silverback Cantsbee. Their two groups have interacted many times over the past years, sometimes with physical aggressions, but this interaction was significant because of its lengthy duration (three hours), during which silverbacks Gicurasi, Musilikale and Mafunzo seriously aggressed Isabukuru twice. The trio bit Isabukuru several times, but fortunately the field staff did not observe any serious wounds, only some hair loss. Ikaze and Muganga, two adult females from Isabukuru’s group, showed support to their dominant silverback during the fights, with screams directed at the Pablo group’s silverbacks. Muganga and Muntu, two females who do not currently have small offspring, didn’t show any interest in transferring to Pablo’s group. Instead, they willingly moved away from the interaction when Isabukuru turned back to avoid the fighting. Isabukuru and his females fled and were then obscured by the bamboo, but second-ranking silverback Kubaha  stayed behind, facing Musilikale and Mafunzo. Once Isabukuru and his females left, Pablo’s group’s beta male Gicurasi followed them for a while. At 9:44 a.m. he and the other individuals decided to cease their chase and settled down to feed. Only Musilikale, Mafunzo, Urugwiro and Dushishoze continued to interact with Kubaha.

At 9:41 a.m., Isura, a sub-adult female from Pablo’s group, approached Kubaha. Silverback Musilikale immediately chased him away and Isura went back to Gicurasi quickly. Urugwiro and Mafunzo gave up at 10:33 a.m. and rejoined their group, but Musilikale and Dushishoze continued to follow Kubaha. Their chase continued until they approached Isabukuru and females at a 30-meter distance. Isabukuru abruptly ran at the two silverbacks and succeeded in chasing them away.  The interaction ended at 11:48 a.m., when Musilikale and Dushishoze reached their group.

The three-hour interaction was characterized by many displays from both groups. Throughout the interaction, the gorillas walked almost 300 meters from where they had originally met. Cantsbee, the dominant silverback of Pablo’s group, and silverback Kureba were not involved. The observation was particularly difficult because of the prolific bamboo and lots of rain.

Observers included Theodette Gatesire (research assistant), Samedi Mucyo (research assistant), Emmanuel Nzabonimpa (data technician) and Leonard Nsengiyumva (data technician).

Theodette

Ihirwe Genotyped, Soon to Transfer
Friday, April 06, 2012

Ihirwe and caregiver

The day has almost come for infant gorilla orphan Ihirwe, who has been waiting patiently in Kinigi, Rwanda, to join other youngsters of her kind. Ihirwe has been at the Kinigi rehabilitation facility in the care of the Fossey Fund and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project since she was confiscated from her captors in early August 2011, when the poachers attempted to cross over the border in Gisenyi, Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The youngster has come a long way from the sickly and frightened animal she once was. In fact, on my recent visit to Kinigi, I was pleasantly surprised to see her tottering around independently and ascending to the highest reaches of her climbing structure, confidently beating her little palms against her chest. I watched as she curiously examined some brightly colored new toys, donated by Zoo Atlanta, and mustered up the courage to extract the small bananas hidden inside. Her shiny, black coat, round belly and clear, attentive gaze are a striking contrast to the lethargic and frail little orphan she was at the time of her rescue.

Ihirwe chest-beatsThe Fossey Fund recently received word from the Max Planck Institute, where Ihirwe’s DNA samples were sent for genotyping, that her subspecies should be revealed soon. Now that Ihirwe has been genotyped, MPI scientists will look for informative genetic markets that will indicate whether she is a mountain or lowland gorilla, which will determine her future home. Should she turn out to be a Grauer’s gorilla, she will join 11 other orphans at the GRACE center in DRC (the rescue and rehabilitation center founded by the Fossey Fund for gorillas confiscated from poachers). If Ihirwe is a mountain gorilla, she will join four other orphans who were confiscated by poachers and live at the Senkwekwe center, a facility developed by the Congolese park authority (ICCN) for rescued mountain gorillas in Rumangabo, DRC.

For more information about Ihirwe’s story, click here.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Bamboo Season Begins
Wednesday, April 04, 2012

With the onset of the rainy season comes the prolific growth of bamboo shoots in Volcanoes National Park. The Fossey Fund field staff at the Karisoke Research Center are already beginning to observe the gorillas they monitor moving down in altitude in anticipation of the bamboo season, and in some cases  making short excursions outside of the park boundaries in search of bamboo in the surrounding farmland.

Interestingly, Pablo’s group - consisting of 45 individuals and usually ranging high up in the Kimbagira region on the slope of the Karisimbi volcano, due to their large size - moved down into the bamboo zone on Sunday, where they have remained since. Today, Research Assistant Jean Paul Hirwa observed three male gorillas from Pablo’s group, silverbacks Kureba and Mafunzo and blackback Noheli, venturing outside of the park. At this time, there are very few bamboo shoots to be found within the bamboo zone, but that doesn’t stop them from searching. With every bamboo season begins a competition for the best bamboo patches among the groups, and it appears that Pablo’s group is getting a head start this year.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Wandering female returns to group, again
Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Female mountain gorilla Umusatsi and her juvenile son Rwema have just rejoined Kuryama’s group after 15 days of independent traveling.

Wandering female UmusatsiMother and son approached the group on the morning of April 2. Silverback Vuba hit the female twice but soon went back to normal routine, ignoring Umusatsi. Juvenile Rwema was playing with other juveniles, catching up after so much time spent alone with the mother. Dominant silverback Kirahure was 20 meters away from them ignoring the situation.

Umusatsi's behavior is becoming an “unusual routine” in Kuryama’s group. She has left the group several times, spending many days and nights alone with her son. It started in 2010 when she left the group three times, just for one day each time. She gained confidence in 2011 when she left the group six times, with durations from one to 20 days. In February 2012 she spent two weeks alone, and now just returned from 15 days away.

We do not understand the reasons for such unusual and potentially unsafe behavior and are extremely curious to see how many more times she will leave the group before either giving birth or maybe transferring to another group.

Veronica

 

Newborn Infant Suffers Infanticide
Thursday, March 29, 2012

Drama and action in the recently formed mountain gorilla group Giraneza:  infanticide, interaction and a transfer opportunity!

At 10:20 a.m. March 29 in Giraneza’s group our trackers found a newborn infant dead, with evidence of infanticide. Mother Nyandwi, one of the two females of the group, was carrying the dead infant; dominant silverback Giraneza was close to them but he didn’t show any particular behavior and they were on the move.

NyandwiThere was blood on the morning trail of the group following the nest site. That led us to assume that the infanticide occurred this morning very likely right after the delivery. At 11:10 am, Giraneza’s group was on the trail of Titus's group and Giraneza moved quickly to interact with the group.

Titus’s group, led by dominant Rano, faced the approaching group with displays and postures by Rano, the other two silverbacks Pato, Turakora, and blackback Urwibutso. Then the two groups started moving, with Giraneza following Titus’s group and displays from both sides.

Nyandwi dropped the dead infant on the ground and followed the group. The infant corpse was then recovered and transported, for post-mortem analysis, to the office of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project. During the interaction, Nyandwi showed interest of changing groups, as she moved to silverback Turakora (the beta male of Titus’s group) while all other gorillas were still interacting. Later on she went back to Giraneza.

The interaction went on for several hours and the two groups were still close to each other by the time of this writing. Trackers and data technicians are still there collecting data.

Some demographic information to explain the infanticide:

Nyandwi transferred to Giraneza forming the new group on Feb. 8, 2012, so just a few weeks before giving birth. It was too short a period for Giraneza to consider the infant his own, leading him to probable infanticide.

Nyandwi is a 9-year-old female born in Pablo’s group from mother Puck. She transferred to Inshuti’s group on Aug. 21, 2011. The calculated conception date is about the second half of July when Nyandwi was still in Pablo’s group. So the transfer to Inshuti’s group occurred at the first month of pregnancy and the transfer to Giraneza’s group during the 7th month of pregnancy.

What does not make sense is the decision of Nyandwi to transfer at such an advanced pregnancy stage, unless she was not aware she was pregnant, which is reasonable considering this was her first infant.  We did not know she was pregnant either, since outer signs are not visible.

Veronica Vecellio, Karisoke Research Center

Gorilla rescue attempts continue in Congo
Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Fossey Fund is currently working, in a coordinated effort with the Congolese nature conservation authorities (ICCN), to rescue three orphaned infant gorillas in the Walikale territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo. These confiscations would bring the total toll up to seven rescued orphaned infants within the last 11 months in this region of eastern Africa.

Rescue Attempts In An Unstable Region


The first young gorilla was allegedly held captive in a Congolese man’s home for 12 weeks, while he searched for an interested buyer. During his search, the suspect contacted a Congolese government police inspector who informed the man of the consequences of perpetuating the illegal trade of endangered animals. The suspected trafficker agreed to surrender the infant to a gorilla conservation organization.


With support from the Fossey Fund, a team was assembled consisting of of ICCN rangers to orchestrate the confiscation -- a risky endeavor due to the instability of the region. The first confiscation attempt in February was unsuccessful because of local fighting among rebel groups. The team then traveled to Luvungi, one of the Mpofi villages in the Wanyanga sector (around 65 kilometers from Walikale) to attempt the rescue mission. Unfortunately, the village was pillaged by rebels and the infant gorilla was taken to another village when his captor fled.

The mission did yield some positive results however. An infant chimpanzee was rescued, and is now in the care of ICCN staff in Goma. The ICCN agent also documented bushmeat being sold in the Mpofi market. “This clearly shows the urgency of the anti-poaching investment we have been advocating,” says Fossey Fund Vice President of Africa Programs Juan Carlos Bonilla. Additionally, the report included a recommendation for a “conservation radio station” in the Walikale area, to improve communications and help strengthen conservation efforts.

One week after the infant was reported in Mpofi, the Fossey Fund was notified that a second and third orphaned infant were being held captive in Masisi, some 150 kilometers from the Mpofi area. Confiscation attempts of all three infants have so far been unsuccessful because of civil unrest in the region. The Fossey Fund will continue its efforts to rescue these gorillas, and to address the problems with great ape poaching and trafficking.

Peaceful interaction between Bwenge's group and lone silverback
Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Today, Karisoke researcher Stacy Rosenbaum and Bwenge group trackers observed a peaceful interaction between lone silverback Tuyizere and the Bwenge group gorillas. The field staff met the lone silverback when he was 100 meters from the group. The bachelor slowly and calmly approached the group until he was around 60 meters away. Due to the close proximity, it can be assumed that the group was aware of the lone silverback’s presence, but none of the gorillas showed any indication and they continued feeding quietly. Tuyizere followed on the trail of the group for several hours and then moved off in the opposite direction.

Lone silverback Tuyizere. Photo by Keiko Mori.Dominant silverback Bwenge and lone silverback Tuyizere are brothers, both sons of the late Titus, and grew up together in Beetsme group. Since the two males know each other, perhaps that was the reason that neither silverback seemed bothered by the other’s presence. More likely however, is that none of the three females in Bwenge’s group is in estrus and therefore prone to transfer.

Tuyizere has been making appearances in the Karisoke research groups fairly often as of late. He interacted with Titus group in November 2011 in an attempt to take female Ubufatanye (Fat). And during the series of interactions with Inshuti’s group in January 2012, Tuyizere was one of the lone silverbacks that was observed hassling the injured silverback. Tuyizere left Titus group at 14-years-old and has been a lone silverback for four years now.

In addition, Umusatsi and offspring Rwema have gone missing yet again from Kuryama group. The mother’s night nest was not located this morning and the anti-poaching team has been dispatched to search for the missing pair.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Trackers Witness Gorilla Birth in Titus Group
Thursday, March 15, 2012

Today, mountain gorilla female Imvune from Titus group gave birth. This was a special birth because our Karisoke trackers were in the group when it happened. Usually we don’t observe births first-hand  and only find newborns with the mother in the morning when we arrive in the group.

Imvune gives birthThe trackers reached the group at 8 a.m. this morning.  Imvune and the other gorillas of the group were doing well without any unusual behavior. However, Imvune started showing strange behaviors at 9:24. She seemed to be unsettled and started making many nice (comfortable) resting spots.

The other gorillas of her group, who were more than 6 meters away, with Rano, the dominant silverback of the group leading the way, approached her and kept following her, even checking and smelling the areas she was working in.

After making four different areas, Imvune moved quickly to a distance of 5 meters. All the gorillas followed her. The second-ranking silverback of her group prevented trackers from getting closer at this point. Then the other gorillas surrounded Imvune in a circle for almost one minute.

When all the gorillas moved away a bit from the circle site,  we observed traces of blood where she was. We were concerned about a possible illness, and tried to keep an eye on her. At 9:28,  we saw that she was holding an infant!

She cut the umbilical cord with her teeth and then ate the placenta-like substances. The infant cried briefly twice after the delivery.  Imvune started cleaning and grooming her infant using her mouth and all of the group members were curious -- everyone passed in front of the mother and infant  to watch, and Rano was always sitting close to her. Rano displayed to the other adult males, trying to chase them away but they didn’t give up.

Then Imvune started moving around and around, building many resting sites and then leaving them; seemingly she wanted to find a safe place but all group members were still following her. This kept happening even during the resting time; Imvune was surrounded by every gorilla of her group.

Imvune was doing well when we left for the night. The infant seemed well too but we did not observe it suckling. Imvune was very protective, trying to be close to the silverbacks (especially Rano and Pato). All group members including even our trackers were interested in seeing the new infant, after a long time without a birth in that group.

Jean Paul Hirwa, Karisoke Research Center

Research Shows Gorillas Are Closer to Humans
Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Dian Fossey’s keen interest in studying gorillas in great depth was a smart one, because recent research just published in the journal “Nature” found that in some ways, gorillas are more closely related to humans than was previously thought.

The new research is based on sequencing of the western lowland gorilla genome. Gorillas are the last of the great apes to have this study done (with humans, chimps and orangutans already completed).  The research shows that with some of our genes, we are more like gorillas than chimpanzees, though overall the chimp-human relationship is closer.

When we look at human evolution, there’s generally an emphasis on chimpanzees, and other great apes are often overlooked, so we are happy the research on gorilla genetics is now becoming clearer. This research is important for understanding human evolution and further emphasizes the need to conserve our closest relatives.

The genome work was done on a western lowland gorilla and compared with two other western lowlands and one Grauer’s (eastern lowland) gorilla and led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, U.K.

We wish Dian Fossey was still here with us, to see for herself  the complete genome of her beloved gorillas.

Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., VP/chief scientist

Helping Marginalized Community in Rwanda
Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Today, I had the privilege of accompanying Ildephonse Munyarugerero, Fossey Fund Conservation Education and Community Development Program manager, to deliver a check to the Gahunga sector office in Rwanda. The money will be used to complete a housing project for an historically marginalized community of people.

New Batwa housing development in RwandaSpeckling the land around the base of Mount Muhabura, the newly constructed red buildings are already housing such families. With a central building serving as the kitchen and new latrines constructed to help with sanitation efforts, Munyarugerero says that this is a “huge leap forward from their previous living conditions." Next in the construction process will come new windows, cement floors and fresh paint.  
 
This community traditionally sustained themselves on hunting game in the forest. In the late 1980s, they were evicted from Volcanoes National Park for conservation reasons, but have since struggled to adapt to the agricultural lifestyle of Rwanda.

It is the Fossey Fund's hope that supporting historically marginalized communities will help to relieve some of the pressure put on the Park and its natural resources.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

A Staring Contest with Buffalo
Friday, March 02, 2012

Bwenge's group staring at buffalosBwenge’s group encountered a herd of buffalo today in the Kupoteza area of Volcanoes National Park (in the saddle between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Visoke), report Karisoke researchers Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D. and Stacy Rosenbaum. When the two researchers arrived at the group this morning, the gorillas were huddled together and staring intently at something. Rosenbaum’s first thought was “lone silverback." but as it turned out it was a herd of 14 buffalo - calves, mothers and old males, staring right back at the curious black creatures.

After a considerable staring contest ensued, the adult gorillas lost interest and resumed feeding.  The youngsters of the group, determined to “defend” their family, confidently strut-stanced back and forth in front of the ambivalent bovines, periodically chest beating to make their message clear.

Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D. watches the gorillas watching the buffalosTwo-year-olds Gasore and Ubuhamya, along with 4-year-old Ntaribi, continued their posturing for a while, slowly inching closer to the buffalo until Nzeli (mother of Ubuhamya) sauntered up and grabbed her infant, bringing her back to the group. Eckardt, who is studying stress in mountain gorillas, said that the group “didn’t seem to be stressed or bothered by the buffalos' presence at all. They were definitely interested in them." After an hour had passed - and both species had ruled each other out as a potential threat - the animals went their separate ways from the meadow.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Long-time Karisoke Staff Member Retires
Monday, February 27, 2012

One of the Fossey Fund's longest-serving employees, Ladislas Rwabukamba, a dedicated Karisoke staff member for over 24 years, will retire this month at 65 years of age.

Rwabukamba, son of Rukarata and Nyirandihano, was born on Jan. 1, 1947 in the former Kinigi Commune. He joined the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center team on Nov. 1, 1988 and worked as a ranger on the anti-poaching team for six years. In April of 1994 he began working as a cook for the field staff and has spent the last several years as a cook assistant at the Bisate Patrol Post. Field Operations CoordinatorJean Damascene Hategekimana says that Ladislas has been “a very dedicated and courageous employee. Truly a great person to work with.”

After so many years of service, Rwabukambas’ final day will be Feb. 29, 2012. When asked how he might spend his impending abundance of free time, he says he looks forward to spending it with family, with his 15 children and 22 grandchildren.

“Ladislas has seen our organization grow and change and evolve through the years and we are grateful for his years of dedicated service” says Karisoke Director Felix Ndagijimana.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Silverback Updates: Inshuti and Gwiza
Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Giraneza in strut stanceAfter having gone missing for three days, dominant silverback Inshuti was located today by the Fossey Fund field staff. A life-altering series of interactions with lone silverback Giraneza last week left him with severe injuries and minus two of his females.  Still traveling with Inshuti is 31-year-old female Shangaza, her offspring: 3-year-old Ngwino, and 2-year-old Akarusho (whose mother, Taraja, left to join Giraneza).

Karisoke director Felix Ndagijimana trekked to Giraneza’s newly formed gorilla group today to assess the group and the trackers assigned to it. Ndagijimana reports that Giraneza is still establishing his power over the females through displays and strut stances. Additionally, he reported that both females in the group, Taraja and Nyandwi, solicited copulation with the silverback and Giraneza was observed copulating with Taraja on one occasion.

“Even though the group is doing fine, it is clear from Giraneza’s power displays that they are still in a transitional phase” says Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio. Karisoke has now established a team of trackers specifically for Giraneza’s group, after an initial team of temporary staff was assembled to meet the new group's needs.

Gwiza still seems to be ranging outside of our tracker’s patrol areas and has yet to be located after his intense interaction with Ugenda’s group last Wednesday, when the 24-year-old lone silverback sustained severe injuries. Just because the field staff has not located the bachelor does not necessarily mean that he is critically wounded, but it could be some time before Gwiza is strong enough to attempt another interaction and make an appearance within a Karisoke research group.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Missing Female and Infant Rejoin Group
Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mother mountain gorilla Umusatsi finally rejoined her group again today, with her young son Rwema. They had been out of the group and not located since Feb. 2. However, they have engaged in this behavior before, so we were not surprised this time. Group silverbacks Kirahure and Vuba made frequent displays at Umusatsi upon her return.

Our trackers and anti-poachers are still finding a lot of snares. Today 10 snares were found in the core area where the gorilla groups we monitor range. Four of these were found by Bwenge's group trackers and six by the anti-poaching patrol. Yesterday eight snares were found in the same area.

Veronica

Lone Silverback Gwiza Badly Wounded by Ugenda's Group
Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Today a severe interaction occurred between lone silverback Gwiza and Ugenda’s group.

GwizaGwiza silently approached the group at 12:40. As soon as dominant Ugenda saw the intruder he literally jumped on him and strongly bit him. Several other individuals (including the second silverback Wageni, females and juveniles) supported Ugenda and all of them together piled onto Gwiza, who was screaming.

Gwiza had no choice but to run away. He was severely injured as result of the aggression and as he ran he left a long and abundant blood trail behind.

Field Operation Coordinator Jean Damascene Hategekimana (“Fundi”) was there and observed and documented the scene closely. He also tried to follow Gwiza for a while but the lone silverback was moving too fast.

We had not  seen Gwiza since the multi-day interaction that he had with Titus’ group, which ended on Dec. 1.

Veronica

New Group "Giraneza" Proceeding
Monday, February 13, 2012

Today in the newly formed group led by silverback Giraneza, our trackers noted female Nyandwi staying very close and eventually observed the two copulating. Giraneza is still in the stage of showing his "power" to his two females, which includes making displays and also showing some physical aggression.

Meanwhile, silverback Inshuti is doing well with his greatly reduced group. Young Akarusho remains in physical contact with him, and female Shangaza and her infant are close by. The weather was very cold so the group rested all day. 

A veterinary observation on Friday by the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (with head field veterinarian Dr. Jean Felix Kinani) reported that Inshuti's wounds are healing OK, although one wound behind his ear is subject to re-opening due to its position.

Unfortunately, for the third day in a row, our trackers have not been able to locate group Urugamba, even with three teams searching for them.


Veronica

Now a New Gorilla Group to Track
Sunday, February 12, 2012

As of Sunday morning, Feb. 12., it seems we have an extra mountain gorilla group to track at the Karisoke Research Center -- that of formerly lone silverback Giraneza and two females he gained from silverback Inshuti (see previous blogs for details on this).  At the same time, this morning missing female Shangaza and her offspring re-joined Inshuti, so he still has a group of his own, though much reduced in size.

Both groups seem fine and healthy, and Inshuti's wounds, a result of fights with lone silverbacks in recent days, seem to be healing OK.

Perhaps almost as complicated as all these changes among the gorillas in recent days is that we now have to cope with the logistics of forming an extra tracker team to do the daily monitoring of the new group Giraneza. This requires hiring temporary staff and increasing the rotation of current tracker staff.

Also requiring exta attention right now are the disappearance of female Umusatsi and her infant Rwema again (she has left and re-joined her group before) and our not being able to locate group Urugamba today. Each time such things occur, we have to form extra teams or increase our team sizes to do the extra searching....

More details to come!

Veronica

Saga Continues with Inshuti's Losses and Lone Silverback Successes
Thursday, February 09, 2012

Infant Akarusho joined silverback Inshuti this morning. The infant is fine but obviously distressed, after a night spent alone. He cried when he saw Inshuti and from that time he was very close to him for the whole day. Inshuti is still dealing with his wounds (from attacks by lone silverbacks) but he moves and feeds abundantly. There is a large wound on his head.

Wounded Inshuti with young Akarusho"Lone" silverback Giraneza is still with females Taraja and Nyandwi. We reached them late this morning after a long time tracking. Following their traces from yesterday, we found two interaction sites and lone silverback Turatsinze by himself, 300 meters down Bikereri hill, while Giraneza and the females were up top. 

Giraneza is clearly interested in Taraja, as he was making frequent sexual vocalizations and looking at her everytime she moved. Giraneza displayed twice to her. Nyandwi was following the two. In general the small group seemed to be doing fine and started moving downhill. (Inshuti is also on the bottom of Bikereri, about 1 kilometer away.)

Female Shangaza and her infant Ngwino were still not found today. Tomorrow the anti-poaching team will try again to find them. We really hope they will be with Inshuti, which is the safest place for them at the moment.

Veronica

Is This the End of Inshuti’s Group?
Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Today we found silverback Inshuti. He was alone and appeared weak. He was moving slowly but feeding abundantly, in the Tamu area on the bottom of Bikereri hill.

One kilometer away on the slope of the hill were the lone silverback Giraneza with female Nyandwi, the same as yesterday. But surprisingly, they were not alone! The lone silverback Turatsinze was there too, with female Taraja and her infant Akarusho (who will turn 3 in May).

Trackers were observing the interaction. There was a big fight between Giraneza and Turatsinze. Soon after the fight, female Taraja moved to Giraneza, while infant Akarusho moved alone and was not seen  for the rest of the day. In addition, a third lone silverback was displaying at 400 meters from that site.

When the researchers arrived at the interaction site, Giraneza was with Taraja and Nyandwi. He was making frequent hooting vocalizations and the females were feeding. At that time Turatsinze was 200 meters away, following Giraneza. Two fresh snares were removed from a site very close to Giraneza and the females.

Female Shangaza and her 3-year-old infant Ngwino were not found today. They are the only remaining individuals from Inshuti’s group still dispersed.

Tomorrow,  the Karisoke Research Center's anti-poaching team will support the gorilla tracking teams. We will follow the situation of Giraneza, Nyandwi and Taraja with a large team of trackers in case the two females have separated; visit Inshuti; and look for Shangaza, Ngwino and Akarusho. In addition, veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project will visit Inshuti on Friday to check on how well he is healing from the wounds he suffered from the lone silverbacks last week.

Today it looked like this may be the end of Inshuti’s group and the beginning of another. But all can still change! It is clearly a situation to monitor attentively, while avoiding any further stress to the gorillas.
 
Veronica

Lone Silverback Gains Female from Inshuti Group
Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Nyandwi, one of the females of Inshuti’s group, was found today with the lone silverback Giraneza, one of the lone silverbacks that interacted with the group on Feb. 2. The two gorillas seemed fine but they ran away from trackers, so it was not possible to get a good observation of their activities/behavior. Nyandwi is a young female (almost 9 years old) born in Pablo’s group. She transferred to Inshuti’s group on Aug. 21, 2011.Tomorrow we will try to approach them again.

The rest of Inshuti’s group has not been found yet (see previous blog). Now we think that the reason they disappeared is because of an interaction with Giraneza and the subsequent transfer of Nyandwi. Tomorrow we will continue the search for this group, aided by temporary staff, Karisoke anti-poaching staff, and RDB (Rwanda park authority) staff supporting the effort.

Veronica

Trackers Searching for Missing Gorillas
Monday, February 06, 2012

The Karisoke research gorilla group that has been hassled for weeks now by various lone silverbacks has been reported by field staff to be missing for the third day in a row. Inshuti’s group was last located on Thursday, Feb. 2.  Two patrol teams, with the support of the anti-poaching rangers, were dispatched to search for the missing group Saturday, Sunday and Monday, but unfortunately they were unable to find a trace of them. Tomorrow, the teams will thoroughly comb the five Basumba hills where Inshuti’s group normally ranges.

The Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center staff is extremely concerned about the group’s health and safety after the dramatic sequence of lone silverback interactions that has stressed the group recently. It is likely that another lone silverback interacted with the group sometime Thursday evening, pushing them into an area where they do not normally range. The field staff hopes to find the group tomorrow, with the members intact and free of injuries.

Also missing are female Umusatsi and her offspring, Rwema (from Kuryama’s group). The pair has been missing since Friday. Due to limited staff, the decision has been made to prioritize the search for Inshuti’s group. Inshuti has several serious injuries that he sustained from an attack by two lone silverbacks 11 days ago. The silverback must be located so staff can continue to monitor his condition.

Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio says "this is not the first time that Umusatsi has spent several days traveling alone with her son. She disappeared last November, but was found three weeks later in good condition."

Field Data Coordinator John Ndayambaje phoned into the Karisoke Research Center this afternoon to report that 16 snares were found and destroyed by anti-poaching rangers today. A Congolese man suspected of laying the traps was also discovered in the forest. The man was arrested and is currently being escorted down out of Volcanoes National Park to the police station in Kinigi. More to come soon.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Lone Silverback Drama Continues for Inshuti
Friday, February 03, 2012

The lone silverback drama involving Inshuti and his group has continued on through the end of this week, reports the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center field staff. The dominant silverback truly cannot catch a break from the lone males ranging in the forest tenaciously seeking out females to steal. Yesterday, Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, PhD. and research assistant Samedi Muyco  witnessed an interaction that lasted from early morning to late afternoon and had the females of the group shaking with fear. This particular interaction involved Giraneza, an impressive lone silverback who split from Pablo’s group four years ago when he was just 13 years old.

But Giraneza wasn’t the only lone silverback threatening Inshuti’s group on Thursday. Also on the trail was Tuyizere, the lone male who has been making frequent appearances in the Karisoke-monitored groups throughout the last several months. When the field team arrived, Tuyizere was interacting with the group, but was quickly deterred by the team’s presence and lingered about 100 meters from the rest of the gorillas for the duration of the afternoon. Giraneza more than made up for Tuyizere’s reluctance with a constant onslaught of displays toward the group leader. The mammoth Inshuti responded with intimidating displays of his own and charged Giraneza multiple times throughout the data collection period.

Young female Nyandwe “was very interested in going with Giraneza” said Eckardt. "She was frequently looking at the lone silverback. Inshuti had the hardest time to move her up and away” from the intruder. Eckardt reported that the group leader was working hard to move his females higher up the mountain for most of the day, but Nyandwe took her time and was noticeably lagging behind. Eckardt observed one instance where Nyandwe was keeping an eye on both males. When she saw that Inshuti had moved higher up with the rest of the group, she started making her move towards Giraneza. But, Inshuti caught her and moved quickly back down to guard his female. Nyandwe feigned disinterest in the lone silverback and followed Inshuti back up to the group. And it wasn’t only Nyandwe that had an eye for Giraneza. Female Taraja was also very interested in going with him, but with her young offspring still in tow, she likely reasoned it wasn’t a good idea to attempt to transfer at this time.

Field Data Coordinator John Ndayambaje reported that Inshuti’s group was peaceful this afternoon and no lone silverbacks were found on their trail. Hopefully this will mark an end to the incessant intruders and Inshuti will have time to heal from his wounds.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Group Leader Isabukuru Turns on Beta Male
Wednesday, February 01, 2012

IsabukuruDominant silverback Isabukuru fought Kubaha Monday, reported Karisoke Research Assistant Jean Paul Hirwa. The researcher noticed that Isabukuru was clearly uncomfortable with Kubaha’s presence yesterday morning when the field staff arrived at the group, and the dominant male was keeping a close eye on the beta male. Kubaha lingered about 10 meters from the group for a short while before Isabukuru confronted him.

When Isabukuru approached Kubaha, the beta male “pig grunted” towards him in warning, but Isabukuru advanced on him, initiating a short bout of “kick-hits." It was clear that Isabukuru had “defeated” Kubaha when the dominant silverback had him pinned to the ground screaming, with Kubaha assuming a cowering posture. Kubaha attempted to make his escape, but Isabukuru held him down, mouth open wide and teeth poised above his opponent. The females of the group were equally aroused and Ikaze bit Kubaha in a moment of excitement.

Isabukuru rounded out the incident with a vigorous display towards Kubaha, then “kick-hit” him before allowing him to go. Kubaha immediately started moving away from the group and was feeding very far from Isabukuru’s group when the observation and data collection period came to a close. The Fossey Fund field staff was unable to detect any serious injuries on Kubaha, however a wound was seen on his right arm from Ikaze’s bite. Karisoke researcher Stacy Rosenbaum made plans to trek to the group the next day to collect data and report on the group dynamic. More to come.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Silverback Inshuti Faces Another Lone Silverback
Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Silverback Inshuti is not getting much of a  break from lone silverbacks! Today he interacted with lone silverback Tuyizere. This lone silverback followed the group forcing Inshuti to travel a long distance. Inshuti charged him twice to prevent him from going any closer to the females in the group. Fortunately, the dominant silverback appeared to have recovered enough from last week’s attack to deal with the intruder.

Inshuti seems to be slowly recovering from injuries inflicted by two lone silverbacks on Friday (a large wound on his head is still open but dry).

On Friday, we were not able to identify the two lone silverbacks but on Saturday trackers got a closer look and identified one of them as lone silverback Turatsinze. So we can probably assume Tuyizere was with him on Friday and  together they attacked Inshuti. This makes sense considering that we also saw these two males together in November, during an interaction with Titus’s group.

Tuyizere’s advances led the group to travel over 600 meters today in an effort to escape. The lone silverback persisted for 4.5 hours until, at 1:30 p.m., he gave up his chase. Although there were no actual displays observed during the interaction, Inshuti did charge Tuyizere twice, sending the loner retreating back into the vegetation. Tuyizere was 100 meters away from the group when the observation period came to a close.

Veronica Vecellio and Jessica Burbridge, Karisoke Research Center

Injured Silverback Inshuti in Stable Condition
Saturday, January 28, 2012

Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D., accompanied the team assembled to assess the condition of injured dominant silverback Inshuti this morning. Eckardt reported that “although his injuries are indeed severe, the group leader appears to be toughing it out -- in typical Inshuti style” and a medical intervention was not necessary. She added “overall, the group appears to be exhausted from the incident and was traveling slowly, stopping frequently to rest.” With Inshuti injured, adult female Shangaza took the initiative to lead the group away from the one lone silverback who was still on the trail of the group.

Inshuti grooming himself.Karisoke trackers were able to successfully identify this remaining lone silverback as 21-year-old Turatsinze -- the same male that participated in an interaction with Titus group last November in an attempt to acquire female Ubufatanye (Fat). Turatsinze has been a lone silverback since 2006 when he dispersed from Pablo group on Oct. 18 of that year. It appears that he has traveled solo long enough -- and is anxious to start his own group.

And Inshuti is all too familiar with Turatsinze’s struggle. Interestingly, Inshuti is one of the few lone silverbacks observed by the Karisoke Research Center to build a group “from the ground up,” gradually acquiring one female after another. Eckardt reflects that he was “incredibly tenacious and tough. He wasn’t going to give up until he had formed his own group.” It appears that same strength and tenacity has served him well in keeping his group together.

Inshuti was observed directing “neigh vocalizations” towards female Taraja three times this morning. This could provide some insight as to what lured the lone silverbacks to his group. Over the last week, Inshuti was seen copulating with the female, which could indicate that she may be able to conceive again. Inshuti’s “neigh vocalizations” could have been an attempt to strengthen the bond between the pair, and deter her from leaving his group to accompany the lone silverback.

Inshuti was feeding very little today and his condition must be monitored closely throughout the next several days by Karisoke field staff. MGVP veterinarians will visit the group again Tuesday to ensure that he is recovering smoothly. As for Turatsinze -- the lone silverback was 700 meters from the group when the team left this afternoon and moving in the opposite direction. Trackers will continue to search for the missing lone silverback for identification purposes.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Silverback Leader Inshuti Attacked by Two Lone Silverbacks
Friday, January 27, 2012

Two lone silverbacks joined forces and attacked 24-year-old dominant silverback Inshuti today, reports Fossey Fund Field Data Coordinator John Ndayambaje. Inshuti sustained three large bite wounds on his head and one on his neck. Veterinarians Dr. Dawn Zimmerman and Dr. Jean-Felix Kinani (of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project), along with a team of Karisoke trackers, will trek to the group tomorrow to assess the damage and potentially carry out a medical intervention. Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, PhD., will join the team to collect behavioral data and fecal samples for her ongoing study on stress in the mountain gorillas.

Ndayambaje reported that the interaction began in the Tamu area between Mount Visoke and Mount Karisimbi at 11:24 a.m. and lasted almost 2-1/2 hours, until the pair of silverbacks retreated from the group at 1:49 p.m. The unidentified silverbacks displayed 19 times throughout the first half of the interaction, pushing Inshuti and his group to travel over 1.5 kilometers through the forest, in an attempt to get away from the intruders. Inshuti displayed three times before the physical interaction began, when he sustained the bite wounds.

With the absence of any other males in the group to help Inshuti, the three females, Shangaza, Taraja and Nyandwi, participated in the interaction in defense of their infants and injured leader. The two infants remained on their mother’s backs throughout the entire interaction -- which the field staff found particularly interesting because, at almost 3 years old, both offspring are at an age that they would not normally need to travel on their mothers' backs.

Females Shangaza and Taraja reportedly charged the two silverbacks twice. On the first occasion, they charged both silverbacks jointly, causing the males to turn and retreat. Next, they charged only one of the silverbacks, at which point, the other male charged the females, who then retreated. During this time, Inshuti attempted to display, but was too weak to chest beat and was only able to display with hooting vocalizations. Inshuti group trackers report that the pair of silverbacks are 350 meters away from the group at this time. Inshuti is said to be in critical condition and appears to be in quite a lot of pain.

Although the attackers are not yet officially identified, the field staff believes these two silverbacks could possibly be 15-year-old Gushimira and 14-year-old Twihangane, the gorillas that dispersed from Pablo group on August 16. However, there are currently six lone silverbacks that are monitored by the Karisoke Research Center in this area and realistically, the aggressors could be any of them. Along with the medical intervention team for Inshuti, another team of trackers will enter the forest tomorrow morning to track the silverbacks and attempt to identify the individuals.

Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio says that “this is not the first time that Inshuti has been involved in such an aggressive interaction -- he suffered serious wounds from both Beetsme and Pablo (late silverbacks) in the past. He is a strong individual and he will likely bounce back from this.”

Our Karisoke staff is, of course, enormously concerned and hopes that Inshuti will recover from these injuries. Without Inshuti, this group would be in disarray, with the two infants of the group in an extremely vulnerable position.

An account of tomorrow’s observations and possible medical intervention will be reported promptly.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Snare Removal Total At 195 in January So Far
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Yesterday our anti-poaching team made a routine patrol on Mount Karisimbi’s eastern slope (not far from the old Karisoke camp) and they found 26 snares. Today, anti-poaching team leader David Sindayigaya organized a "shock" patrol in the same area with the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) and they found 38 more snares. Tomorrow we are going to do the same patrol in the surrounding area.

Unfortunately, this follows a trend we are seeing at this time of year, with espeically high numbers of snares being found. Snares are generally set for other animals in the forest (such as antelope) rather than gorillas, but they are a danger to the gorillas, who may step into them accidentally. Gorillas can break the snares, but if caught within them, can have dangerous ropes wrapped tightly around a leg or arm.

See news story on anti-poaching here.

Also, Pablo’s gorilla group has now moved very far again. They are now close to the Ibuzimu Ravine up in the highland of Kimbagira (which is extremely hard to reach, basically inaccessible). Trackers could see the gorillas in the distance but they could not get any closer. Tomorrow they will try again, hoping that the gorillas will not cross the ravine.

Veronica

Some Interesting Dynamics in Kuryama's Group
Friday, January 20, 2012

Vuba displaying to the femalesYesterday I observed some interesting dynamics in Kuryama's group which made me think. Silverback Vuba, notoriously the second silverback of the group, was showing off his physical power to the females with strong and frequent displays to them. The displays always ended with him resting, surrounded by all group members, while the dominant Kirahure was a few meters apart in the company of only juvenile Rugira.

Obviously this isolated episode does not lead to any conclusion about dominance challenge, but for sure it shows how flexible are the dynamics and relationships among the females and the two adult males. A few months ago we also observed Vuba leading the group during moving, while Kirahure was behind him trying unsuccessfully to pass in front.

Veronica

Rwandan Researcher at Karisoke To Receive Special Training in Chicago
Tuesday, January 17, 2012

With primatologist Felix Ndagijimana being named the first Rwandan director of the Karisoke Research Center yesterday (on what would have been Dian Fossey’s 80th birthday), it is fitting to follow up with another achievement in capacity building this week. Deo Tuyisingize, the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Biodiversity Program manager, will be traveling to Chicago, IL, for a small mammal training period at the Chicago Field Museum for the months of February and March. Funded by the Field Museum and IDP Foundation, Inc., African Training Fund Awards, Tuyisingize will work in collaboration with Dr. Julian Kerbis, an expert in small mammals of the Albertine Rift region.

Tuyisingize says that their primary focus for the study are specimens that are poorly known and thus, difficult to identify, such as mice, bats, voles and shrews. These small mammals are important indicators of environmental health and biodiversity, play a pivotal role in floodplain food webs and can provide important insight into the spread of pathogens from animals to humans.

“Currently, Rwanda does not have a single natural history institution or even a zoological department that is able to process small mammal specimens,” says Tuyisingize. “Rwanda does not have the technical expertise in documenting, collecting, preparing, identifying, cataloguing and publishing data from small mammal communities.” Examining and processing these African specimens at the Chicago Field Museum alongside experienced scientists will provide knowledge and technical expertise that Tuyisingize can bring back to his country to empower fellow Rwandan scientists.


Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Lone Silverback Giraneza Interacts with a Group
Thursday, January 12, 2012

GiranezaToday we witnessed a brief interaction between Kuryama’s gorilla group and the lone silverback Giraneza. Kuryama’s group is one of nine groups we monitor daily from the Karisoke Research Center. We also record encounters with lone silverbacks, though we are not able to follow them individually. Giraneza is one of several lone silverbacks we run into from time to time, so he is fairly well known to us.

Today, Giraneza appeared and tried a “shy” entrance into the group with few displays. As soon as he arrived a few meters from the group, group silverbacks Vuba and Kirahure ran towards him and chased him. Giraneza then ran away quickly and did not try again to gain access.

Still, we are excited to have seen Giraneza, because it has been many months since we last saw him (in July 2011). Giraneza was seen three times in 2011 and each time he was interacting with the Kuryama group, which we find very interesting!

In Titus’ group,  all dynamics are revolving around female "Fat," who is definitely in her receptive time for mating. She often solicits mating with dominant silverback Rano, who today copulated with her three times in three hours. During the same period of time she also mated with young silverback Pato. That act was curiously tolerated by Rano,who was a few meters away and did not intervene. On the other hand,  Rano ran off silverback Turakora, making loud pig grunts, when Turakora was trying to have a sexual approach with Fat. Turakora gave up and run away.

Veronica

Gorilla Group Reaches Top of Mountain in Rwanda
Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Ntambara's group, one of the nine mountain gorilla groups we follow daily from the Karisoke Research Center, reached the top of Visoke volcano today, at very high altitude. They are right on the slope of the crater lake, which makes it difficult for our trackers to go close, but the landscape is beautiful, even magical in scope.

Also today, four snares were found and removed by trackers who follow Pablo's group, very close to the group in the Kimbagira highland. The anti-poaching team will go to survey the area tomorrow.

Veronica

Karisoke Staff Celebrates the Holidays in Rwanda Today
Friday, December 30, 2011

Dr. Dian Fossey’s love for the Christmas season was well known by colleagues and friends here in Rwanda. Hanging a Christmas wreath that read “Howdy” on her cabin door, she opened up her home in the Virunga rainforest every December to host an elaborate Christmas party for her fellow researchers, field staff and their families. The guests feasted alongside one another and shared mugs of "urwagwa," the local banana beer. Fossey decorated the entire Karisoke campsite every year, complete with candle-lit trees and tinfoil and popcorn garland. Standing tall in Fossey’s cabin was the “big tree,” with mounds of beautifully wrapped gifts (gathered from her trips overseas) for her staff and their families. Their celebration would continue late into the night. Christmas carols, sung in Kinyarwanda, French and English, would ring out in the cool night air of the rainforest and her field staff would perform their own song-and-dance routines, accompanied by traditional drumming, describing the events of the previous year with the mountain gorillas.

Karisoke trackers watch dancingThe Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International continues to honor Fossey’s love of the holiday season and every December, throws a holiday celebration at the Karisoke Research Center. Today, more than 110 Fossey Fund trackers came down from the Volcanoes  Park to Ruhengeri (the current location of Karisoke) to celebrate with the researchers and administration staff. Fossey Fund Karisoke Deputy Director Felix Ndagijimana delivered an uplifting and inspirational speech reflecting on our growth in 2011 and future plans as we move into the new year.  He commended everyone on all of their hard work in 2011 and passed a message of best wishes for the coming year from the Fossey Fund’s Atlanta headquarters. Field Data Coordinator John Ndayambaje spoke on behalf of the trackers and expressed his gratitude to the organization and their collective enthusiasm moving into 2012. He concluded with a promise that all of the trackers would continue their hard work and maintain a strong commitment to the Fossey Fund’s objectives and goals. 

Following the speeches, the music was turned up and everybody met on the grassy dance floor. True to tradition, there was lots of music, food, drinks, laughing and dancing. Dr. Fossey would have been very proud.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer, Karisoke Research Center, Rwanda

Infant's Condition Caused Concern, but Vets Find Her Doing Well Today
Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Urahirwa with lesionOn Tuesday, one-and-a-half-year-old infant Urahirwa from Ntambara' s group was found to be lethargic, not moving much and, worst of all, not suckling. Mother Kubaka was carrying the infant on her back. Urahirwa had a severe skin lesion around her nose and mouth. She had been fine on Sunday, and on Monday the group was not monitored because the gorillas were in a deep ravine on the slope of Mt. Visoke.

On Wednesday three veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and the Rwandan Development Board visited the group to assess the infant’s health, carrying an intervention kit just in case. Our Karisoke trackers were also there to support the vets in case of an intervention, which wouldn’t have been easy because the group has three silverbacks.

Fortunately, Urahirwa was fine. She was perfectly normal apart from the skin lesion. She was eating, climbing a tree and playing with another infant and her brother Kwiyongera. So there wasn’t any need of an intervention.

Veronica

Gorilla Trek Winner Reflects on her Adventure
Tuesday, December 13, 2011

(The last post of a five-part series)

Tomorrow I have a long ride back to Kigali to catch the first of three flights to get home.  I’m sad to be leaving Africa, my second home! Although this trip has been short it was certainly full of excitement.  Animals, travel and Africa are my passions, so this trip did not disappoint. 

And so, here are some things for which I am grateful regarding this trip:

  • Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!!  If you are looking for a unique Christmas or birthday gift or if you just want to support a charity that does wonderful work please consider donating.  You can even symbolically adopt a gorilla.
  • Baobab Expeditions, who donated the prize package for the Fossey Fund contest.  This is my first time traveling with this company and they did not disappoint.  They have expeditions around the world so check them out online at http://www.baobabexpeditions.com/gorillas_-_rwanda if you are looking for a little adventure.  Richard will set up a great trip for you.
  • The amazing animals that allowed me into their world once again.  I know it is not everyone’s dream to come to Africa to hang out with animals but don’t knock it until you’ve stood about five feet away from a silverback gorilla!!  Awesome! This was my third and fourth gorilla trek and each one has been so special.
  • The wonderful, warm-hearted people of Rwanda.  They are always quick with a smile and a wave.  The children are adorable especially when they run after the vehicle yelling "Muzungu."  Muzungu is a Swahili word that means “someone who roams around aimlessly” but in this context they basically mean “whitey."  Funny!
  • All of the guides, rangers and trackers for doing a bang-up job…and for rescuing me [when I fell]!
  • My family and friends who support my desire to follow my dreams of stepping foot on all seven continents (Antarctica, I will see you in one month) and seeing animals in the wild, which is where they belong.  Also for following me around the world through the internet.

    Tomorrow I depart at 7:30 a.m.  Hopefully the roads are intact or I just might have to stay a while longer.  Hmm, wouldn’t that be nice?! 

Kathleen C. Rautiainen

Pablo's Subgroups Reunite After Six Days
Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On Dec. 7, Karisoke field staff observed subgrouping again in Pablo group. Silverbacks Gicurasi and Cantsbee again instigated the split, with 26 individuals following Gicurasi and 19 following Cantsbee. Our trackers were unable to locate all of the night nests that day and believed that the group did not nest together. The groups were 500 meters apart when a researcher and the trackers arrived that morning and they continued their separation for six days.

But yesterday, Pablo’s subgroups reunited after having spent six days separated. The two nest sites of the morning were two km apart from each other, but the subgroup led by silverback Gicurasi moved toward the one led by dominant Cantsbee and the two met in the morning. All gorillas are fine and surprisingly they all came together without any particular behaviors, just as though nothing had happened.

During the split, the Karisoke anti-poaching trackers supported the Pablo’s tracker team in order to have enough staff to monitor both subgroups and to collect behavioral data without interruption.

It remains to be seen whether this split will happen again or what other changes may occur.

Veronica

Trek Winner Visits the Golden Monkeys
Monday, December 12, 2011

[This is the fourth of a five-part series]

Sabyinyo lodge has a vegetarian soup for lunch and supper and two main course options, one of which is vegetarian.  The food has been fantastic!  I’m sure all the calories I burned off trekking will be made up by the delicious food!

Golden monkey. Photo by Kathleen C. RautiainenToday was a trek to see golden monkeys.  The golden monkey is found in four national parks in Central Africa.  It is restricted to highland forest, especially near bamboo.  Due to the gradual destruction of their habitat and recent wars the golden monkey is listed as endangered.

After my Susa trek yesterday I was praying for an easy day.  Thankfully my prayers were answered.  We walked for about 45 minutes through farmland and then came to the stone wall that borders the national park.  The forest looked dense beyond the wall.  Was I up for the challenge again?  Well, it turns out that the little darling monkeys came to me this time!  There they were right at the stone wall.  They were in the trees, which made taking pictures difficult.

We decided to climb the wall and go into the bamboo forest.  We found a couple of monkeys with less foliage around them but it was pretty dark for photos.  It was still pretty incredible to see them leaping above, eating and playing.  After a while we decided we would try our chances on the other side of the wall again.  It’s a good thing we did because there they were sitting on the wall.  They just posed for us…and did a little bit of monkey mating too.  It was amazing to see them so close.  They are strange looking little monkeys but beautiful just the same.  Then it was another 45-minute easy walk back to the jeep.  NICE!!

Kathleen C. Rautiainen

Thanks to Fossey Fund supporter Baobab Expeditions for donating Kathleen’s gorilla trek.

Trek Winner's Second Day with the Gorillas
Friday, December 09, 2011

(This is the third of a five-part series.)

Here is a little info to start off Day Two.  The mountain gorillas are in the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda.  These mountains have eight major volcanic peaks.  The six in the middle are extinct and the other two remain active, with notable eruptions in 1912, 1938, 1948, sometime in the 70’s and 2002.  Conservation protects the mountains’ alpine vegetation as well as wildlife including the gorillas and golden monkeys.

Now, here is some info about trekking.  For those of you who don’t know, trackers follow the gorillas and relay messages to the rangers.  When you trek, a ranger and a tracker with a gun (to scare off the scary buffalo) walk with you.  They know the general direction of the gorilla family you are visiting and your path is tweaked according to the messages received from the trackers.  Sometimes the gorillas are on the move so it might throw a little curve at you such as having to double back. 

You are only allowed one hour with the gorillas.  You are supposed to stay seven meters away from them but apparently the gorillas don’t know metric.  Sometimes they wander right by you.  Some of the rangers are very strict and if a gorilla is approaching they will make you move back slowly.  Others, from what I hear, are not that strict and tourists have been touched by gorillas.  Sadly, I was with the strict rangers both days, haha!
 
Kathleen C. Rautiainen with the Susa gorilla groupAnd so, I mentioned in my last email that Day One of the trek was easy for me and that perhaps I would try for a longer trek on Day Two.  When I started reading about mountain gorillas years ago, I always wanted to see the Susa group in Rwanda. [Editor's note: The Susa group is habituated to the presence of tourists.]  Well, be careful what you wish for.  I was put in the Susa trek today and I paid dearly for it.  It took three hours to get to the gorillas…AND IT WAS ALL UP HILL.   I thought I was going to die a couple of times.  You have to have some major cardio/respiratory fitness to do it.  Many people were commenting about how hard it was to catch their breath and that their legs felt super heavy.  I didn’t really pay much attention to anyone else.  I was too busy contemplating how they might get me down via stretcher! 

Going down wasn’t much better.  Sure, your heart and lungs aren’t working nearly as hard but down is hard on the knees and hips.  The mud was very slippery and almost everyone took at least one fall. I was the only one who hired a porter so I slipped lots but never actually fell because he saved me every time.  Unfortunately, one of my slips caused a knee and a hip to give out.  So much for being pain-free!  When you are done with your trek you are awarded a certificate that says what group of gorillas you saw.  I’ll be framing the Susa one! 
 
The Susa group has 33 members with three silverbacks and loads of lovely ladies.  One of their claims to fame is the fact that they have two sets of twins.  Twins are rare enough but even rarer when both twins survive.  One set is seven or eight years old and the other set is five months old.  Usually if a twin dies it is much younger than five months so the rangers feel they will both survive.  Imagine how difficult it is for a mother gorilla.  She walks on all fours so it is very difficult to manage two babies.  Typically the mother will abandon one twin. 
 
You can’t imagine our relief when we finally reached the gorillas.  When I saw Kwitonda yesterday, 17 of the 22 gorillas were all together.  We got to stay in the same area for our hour.  We would trade off positions so everyone could see but otherwise it was easy.  Well, Susa couldn’t be easy now could they? 

After the crazy trek up to see them I was very much hoping they would be hanging out all together.  They weren’t!  We would visit one little “pod” of gorillas and then we’d climb up, down or around to another pod.  Then we’d move on again.  Reaching each new location was more difficult than the last.  We worked hard for this viewing.  And as a note, the porters can’t go in to see the gorillas.  You leave your backpacks, porters and walking sticks a short distance away.  All you can bring is your camera equipment.  It was difficult without a walking stick but a very tall tracker helped me.
 
Each pod had a different cast of characters. One pod had the number two in command silverback, a couple of ladies and some kids.  Another had the alpha male and a juvenile.  You get the picture. It was nice to see some different interactions.  At one point a baby, probably about six months-ish decided to come over to check me out.  I was excited that it was coming straight for me (I was crouched down) but of course I had the strict rangers.  I was immediately told to stand up and step back.   In reality that is the smartest thing to do…especially when mom is so close.  She came over and scooped up the baby and let out a shriek. Good mother!!
 
I have to thank the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund once again for this amazing trip. Tomorrow I trek for golden monkeys.  Will my body hold up to the challenge?  Of course it will.  If there are monkeys to see I will get there!!

Kathleen C. Rautiainen

Thanks to Fossey Fund supporter Baobab Expeditions for donating Kathleen’s gorilla trek.

Gorilla Trek Winner: Her First Day with the Gorillas
Thursday, December 08, 2011

(This is the second of a five-part series.)

I’m typing in the dining room while enjoying a glass of delicious white wine.  There is a roaring fire behind me keeping me toasty.  Sabyinyo Gorilla Lodge gives money back to the community. The lodge is beautiful and run by a husband and wife, Nars and Tracey.  Nars is from South Africa and Tracey is from Zimbabwe.  They are very friendly and kind.  My cabin is beautiful with a fireplace, bathtub and separate shower, change room, etc.

Today was my first day of gorilla trekking.  I was in a group with six other people (maximum of eight per gorilla family).  Everyone was from my lodge so we all knew each other. The group asked for a gorilla family that was as close as possible.  I suppose I was happy about that because I wasn’t sure how my joints would do.  It turns out that I wouldn’t have any trouble at all.

It was pouring rain at breakfast so we thought we were in for a bad day.  By the time we started trekking the sun was out and it was hot.  I was stripped down to my t-shirt in no time.  It was muddy from the rain but the lodge provided gaiters so that kept me clean from the knee to the shoe. 

And so, the trek was great.  It was much easier than the ones in Uganda.  It was difficult at times but completely manageable.  I took the prescription arthritis medication that the doc gave me and I was fine.  Yay!  I am seriously contemplating doing a longer trek tomorrow.  Maybe I won’t request the farthest group but perhaps a medium group.  I do love to tempt fate, you know!

I hired a porter for $10.  He carried my backpack. which freed me up to just enjoy the hike and not worry about falling on my camera.  Nars told me that many of the porters are ex-poachers who are now making an honest living from the gorillas.  Habituated gorillas are 100 percent wild but they are used to humans.

We were assigned the Kwitonda Group.  This is a migrant group from Democratic Republic of Congo.  It has 22 members including four silverbacks ("president," "vice-president," "prime minister" and "secretary of state").  Of course the "prez" is in charge.  There are many females and babies.  The youngest is four weeks old.  Too cute!  We spent a fabulous hour with Kwitonda.  We saw 17 out of 22 which was a treat. 

The silverback, “prez,” didn’t concern himself with us much.  There were some juveniles who romped around, played, beat their chest and all that wonderful gorilla behaviour.  The adults were kind of lazy but we were lucky enough to have a mamma and four-week-old baby show up.  It was very difficult to get a photo though (mine is a bit blurry) because she was, of course, very protective.  For me, it was AWESOME.  We were extremely close to these amazing great apes.  It’s an absolute privilege to be in their presence, in their home.  They are beautiful, loving animals.  I loved every second of my time with them and I was humbled to be there.

Kathleen C. Rautiainen

Thanks to Fossey Fund supporter Baobab Expeditions for donating Kathleen’s gorilla trek.

Gorilla Trek Winner Shares Her Experience
Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Kathleen C. Rautiainen of Canada won the drawing for a free gorilla trek, donated by Fossey Fund supporter Baobab Expeditions, when she registered for our new website last year. Our only condition when we awarded the prize: That the winner send us notes that we could share with the rest of you on our blog. Here are some highlights from her Dec. 3-6 trek, starting with her thoughts on the plane to Africa:

Kathleen C. Rautiainen and gorillaWork and theatre have been so busy lately that I didn't have any time to get myself organized.  I literally packed the night before (last night) and finished up this morning. For the first time, I actually started feeling stressed about the whole thing until I reminded myself why I was travelling to Rwanda.  It was to see my favorite animals...primates!  Mountain gorillas don't care if I keep wearing the same pair of pants!  Chimpanzees don't care if I'm having a bad hair day (which is frequent now that I'm growing in the post-chemo hair).  Golden monkeys certainly don't care if my shoes match my...well, you get the idea.  So, I stopped stressing, I threw a bunch of things in a bag and off I went. 
 
Anyone who loves animals as much as I do (is that even possible?) would be extremely excited about going on this type of trip.  Seeing any animals in their own environment, healthy and thriving, is amazing but being lucky enough to visit an animal that is barely 800 strong is special.  Mountain gorillas are in the wild only in Uganda, Congo and Rwanda.  Their numbers are looking brighter thanks to the work done by organizations like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.  Looking into the eyes of these great apes is enough to make anyone melt.  You would think that you were looking at a human.  Hmm, it sounds like I am speaking from experience, right?  Well, I was fortunate enough to see these gorillas in Uganda in 2007.  I went two days in a row and both experiences were amazing.  It was the toughest trekking that I have ever done but that quickly went away when I saw them in person, especially the little babies. 

Standing about 10 feet, if that, away from a silverback is awesome!  Dealing with wild animals means that you have no control over anything.  They go wherever they dang well please with no regard for how difficult it might be for us two-legged beings!  Even though I saw two different groups of gorillas, each group decided to go the farthest away of any groups on the days that I was assigned to them.  I'm hoping that my two groups this time will be far more cooperative.  I am, after all, four years older, post cancer treatments and full of arthritis in both knees and both hips (that's another story!).  I will push myself to get to the gorillas but I just might tell the guides to leave me behind instead of enduring the climb down!  Maybe my "monkey whisperer" vibe will work on them and the gorillas will adopt me!  :)
 
I also went to Rwanda in 2007 but I actually didn't do any animal excursions.  I went for the culture, to learn about the genocide and to see how this beautiful country and amazing people have come through.  I can't wait to get back there. . .  My heart, mind and eyes are wide open to the adventures that await me in the land of a thousand hills.  In about 10 hours I will touch down on my favorite continent.  I will work through exhaustion and pain to do what I love best...living!

Kathleen C. Rautiainen

To be continued. . .

Is Lone Silverback Gwiza Giving up on Attempt to Join Group?
Friday, December 02, 2011

Lone silverback Gwiza, who has been relentlessly pursuing Titus group for two weeks (attempting to either acquire female "Fat" or join the group) has now vanished. The Fossey Fund Karisoke trackers discovered his night nest amidst the group’s on Thursday morning, but since then they have been unable to locate him. 

Interestingly, the Titus group’s dominant silverback Rano showed very little interest in Fat prior to Gwiza’s interaction with the group and has not been observed copulating with the female in a very long time. However yesterday, with Gwiza absent from the group, Rano took the opportunity to seal his dominance over the female. 

With the many different scenarios that could have played out from this interaction, no one thought that Gwiza would give up and strike back out on his own after expending so much effort. It is of course possible that Gwiza is ranging nearby and will attempt to re-enter the group sometime in the coming days. 

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Top 5 Reasons to Adopt a Gorilla This Holiday Season
Wednesday, November 30, 2011

1. Ensure our anti-poaching patrols work 365 days a year in 2012.

This year some of the gorilla groups we monitor spent long amounts of time outside the protected park, feeding on seasonal bamboo and other plants at the lower altitudes. Without the money raised from adoptions, we would not have been able to protect them around the clock as they wandered around.

2. Ensure the continued growth of the mountain gorilla population.

Fewer than 800 mountain gorillas remain on the planet. However, the mountain gorilla is the only type of gorilla growing in population. Help keep this momentum going!

3. Receive an adoption certificate and profile about your gorilla.

Have the unique opportunity to learn more about one of the gorillas we monitor on an intimate level. Each adoption comes with a profile that includes detailed information written by our expert field scientists about your gorilla. You’ll also get special access to a gallery of Karisoke and GRACE center gorilla photos, stories and profiles.

4. Gorilla adoption makes the perfect gift for hard-to-buy-for friends.

Stumped about what to get a friend, family member or colleague? A gorilla adoption makes the perfect feel-good gift this holiday season.  Here’s what Fossey supporter, Cindy Broder, says, about her Adopt giving:

“This past holiday season I was thinking about gifts for friends and my husband’s clients, and I wanted to express our love and appreciation for them in a more meaningful way. So, I read about the gorilla adoptions, with their different choices and levels of giving. I chose to give silverback adoptions because they are so awe-inspiring that I think they make the best introduction to the gorillas.

"The response was incredible! There wasn’t one person who didn’t write and say it was the best thing anyone had ever done for them. Some of their children drew pictures of the gorillas on the thank-you cards. One friend joked that he was adding on a suite to his house so his silverback and family could come visit! It just touches peoples’ hearts in such a different way, no matter how many incredible experiences they have had.”

5. Know you are part of the solution.

The top threats facing the mountain gorilla population are all from humans: poaching, habitat destruction and disease. Be a part of the group of people that helps counter these threats and saves an important species from extinction.

Don’t let this holiday season go by without doing your part to save the gorillas you care about...

ADOPT a Gorilla today!

Holiday special -- free DVD of PBS/Nature special "The Gorilla King" with all Adopt orders (except Green adoption). Free shipping too!


Female Umusatsi Returns to Group With Young Son
Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Good news! Today female mountain gorilla Umusatsi (27 years old) and her son Rwema were finally back in their group (Kuryama’s). Even their nests were found there, meaning that they rejoined the group sometime yesterday evening.

This discovery came at a good time, as we were organizing a large patrol to look for them and greatly concerned about their well being. Umusatsi and her juvenile son Rwema left the group on Nov. 10, traveling independently since then. They were accidentally encountered on Nov. 18, but Umusatsi was was distressed and they ran away from our trackers.

It’s hard to give a satisfactory explanation for this kind of behavior. This is not the first time that Umusatsi has left the group, only to come back after several days,  and we have observed this with some other females as well. We can speculate on the possible factors involved, but in our minds none can really balance the risks of traveling alone.

Veronica

Many Possible Outcomes for Gwiza’s Behavior in Rano’s Group
Monday, November 28, 2011

GwizaAfter the 17th day of interaction between Gwiza and the Titus group of gorillas, led by silverback Rano for the past two years, the situation’s outcome remains unclear. According to the Fossey Fund’s Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio, many different scenarios could unfold. The gorillas have already begun to group together and then regroup, resulting in several different formations as both Gwiza and Rano have assumed the role of lead silverback.

The field staff observed Gwiza leading all but two silverbacks (who remained with Rano) at last week’s end. Today however, the group members are rejoined with Rano while Gwiza and female Fat are resting, feeding and nesting together, 15-20 meters from the group. It is possible that the couple could split off on their own, starting a new research group of gorillas.

Unfortunately, infanticide is yet another possible outcome of this situation and the field staff are concerned about pregnant female Imvune. If Gwiza decides to stay, moving into the dominant silverback position, and Imvune gives birth, it is likely that Gwiza will kill the infant (who was clearly sired by another male).  Fossey Fund Karisoke researchers plan to conduct another pregnancy test on Imvune to ensure that she has not miscarried from the high amount of stress the group has been under during the last several weeks.

More to come soon!

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer



Important Congolese Conservationist Has Died
Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Fossey Fund has just learned of the passing of Mwami Alexandre Muhindo Mukosasenge II, an important figure in conservation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with whom we have worked for many years.

Mwami Mukosasenge was a leading figure in the creation of community nature reserves in Congo and helped lead their association, the Union of Associations for Gorilla Conservation and Community Development (UGADEC). These reserves are home to the endangered Grauer’s gorilla (formerly called eastern lowland gorillas) and other endangered species.

He was also instrumental in the founding of the first of these reserves, the Tayna Nature Reserve. The reserves are a remarkable and successful community conservation effort, begun by local leaders like Mwami Mukosasenge, a traditional leader and chief in the region, who devoted their ancestral land to conservation.  Grauer’s gorillas are found only in this part of Congo, and the work of conservationists like Mukosasenge is critical to their future.

We are grateful for the pioneering conservation work of Mwami Mukosasenge, and that the Fossey Fund could become a part of this important community conservation effort in Congo. We are deeply saddened by his passing.

Clare

Seventh Day for Gwiza in Titus's Group; Irakoze Still Missing
Monday, November 21, 2011

On Saturday, lone silverback Gwiza was still interacting with Titus's group (for the seventh day in a row). Karisoke Research Center tracker John Ndayamba reports that Gwiza followed the group all day, sometimes 5-10 meters away, sometimes 30-40 meters. Trackers found his nest in the morning and it was clear that he had slept within the group. Gwiza displayed four times towards Rano, but no real aggression was observed. Rano ignored the displays completely. Female Fat still seems reluctant to go with Gwiza. They group traveled more than 700 meters that day.

Kuryama's group was out of the park from 6:30am - 10:45am. They were 500 meters from the edge of the park at 6:30am when trackers began the push. The group slept within the park borders.

Irakoze was reported still missing from Pablo's group on Saturday. His night nest was not found. We hoped to send out trackers to search for him Sunday, as the anti-poaching team was on an overnight shock patrol and was not expected to return until late Saturday afternoon.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Update: Gwiza Still in Titus's Group, Kuryama's Group Still Wandering, Gorillas Lost and Found
Friday, November 18, 2011

It’s day six of Gwiza’s interaction with Titus’s group, and the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center field staff are starting to bet on whether he will ever leave or stay. It seems that the last say will belong to female Fat (Ubufatanye), who doesn’t yet seem to have made up her mind about what to do. Gwiza spent the night with the others. During the daytime Fat is sometimes with Gwiza 30 to 50 meters from the group but she then moves back toward the group, followed by Gwiza. All the gorillas must be exhausted, as they walk long distances every day - today three kilometers up and down hill from Bikereri to the Basumba area.

Kuryama’s group has explored almost all the eucalyptus fields that neighbor the park from east to west in the last two weeks, between the slopes of the Karisimbi and Visoke volcanoes. Today once again they were outside the park, walking for almost a kilometer along the buffalo wall from the Muntu area going west, 400 meters downhill from the wall. Field staff rotate to be with them until evening.

Also outside the park: Ugenda’s, Bwenge’s and Ntambara’s groups, but all for less than an hour before going back inside on their own. The previous day, Ugenda’s group had been outside the park for more than four hours and had to be herded back inside by trackers. This was the first time this had been done for Ugenda’s group. Silverbacks Wageni and Ugenda made many pig grunts at the trackers, but the operation was successful.

It’s the second day for male Irakoze to be missing from Pablo’s group. We are wondering if he has rejoined the two companions from his former bachelor group. We hope to find him (or them) soon, to confirm whether or not that’s the case.

Female Umusatsi and son Rwema were accidentally found by Pablo’s trackers today. She is far from any gorilla group. The closest group is Bwenge’s but it is still far from her. Her own group, Kuryama’s, is kilometers away. She seems very confident in her travelling, but she was distressed by the trackers and run away. We are happy to have found her healthy and we are confident that she will end up in her group or in another one soon. We don’t have staff available on a daily basis to follow her, as the anti-poaching patrol is involved in overnight patrols with the Rwandan park authority (RDB). We will try to track her as soon as we have a minimum of three field staff available.

Veronica

Goodbye to Western Black Rhinos in Africa
Thursday, November 17, 2011

We were saddened to learn of the extinction of the African western black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis longipes)  last week, as announced by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It was also reported that two other types of rhinos were close to the end as well.

At the Fossey Fund we fight every day to prevent the extinction of endangered gorillas, and although we know many species are fighting for survival, it is still a shock to absorb news like this. Perhaps stronger conservation measures could have saved them, as they have with the southern white rhino, or at least postponed their demise.

IUCN reports that some 25 percent of all mammals are at risk of extinction, as well one in eight birds and one in three amphibians. More information on all endangered species, including the entire list of threatened species, is available on their website. www.iucnredlist.org/

Ugenda’s Group Encounters Bees; in Titus's Group, Gwiza Interaction Continues
Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ugenda's group on the park wallUgenda’s group is now joining the other gorillas in their out-of-park excursions. But today, the gorillas encountered something outside of their protected forest that sent them running for the hills. Fossey Fund researcher Winnie Eckardt, PhD. and the Fund’s Karisoke Research Center field staff think that the group may have stumbled upon a swarm of bees.  There are many bee hives in the farmlands around Volcanoes National Park, maintained by the local communities. A multitude of Karisoke researchers have been stung in the line of duty over the years.

By 8 a.m. the group had already traveled 300 meters down from the park border. The team observed the gorillas crest a hill and disappear from view briefly before they all turned and came running back, screaming and aggressing one another.  Eckardt reported that the youngsters were squealing at their mothers, trying to cling on to them for the ride. The group kept moving up the slope and came to rest in a bamboo patch about 80 meters from the park border. At 9:50 a.m., the group moved back into the park.

Gwiza and Turakora. Photo by Keiko MoriSilverback Gwiza, who has been interacting with Titus’s group for several days now, continued his relentless pursuit of female Fat (Ubufatanye) today. He continued to display towards her, attempting to get her attention and win her back. Field staff reported that dominant silverback Rano displayed and charged the lone silverback, with Turakora and blackback Pato backing him up, but Gwiza is not easily intimidated. He spent much of the day staring at Fat, but the female remained close by Rano, safe within her group, obviously where she intends to stay. Rano led his group about one kilometer up into the park before coming close to Inshuti’s group. There was an auditory interaction between the groups, but Rano did not proceed further. It seems he feels he has enough on his plate with Gwiza already!

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Newborn is a Male; Groups Still Exiting Park
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The infant just born in Urugamba's group has been observed to be a male. Mother Bishushwe is taking good care of him, holding him carefully and protecting him from the cold. This is Bishushwe's sixth offspring, so she is very experienced.

Bishushwe and new male infantIn other gorilla groups, Titus group is still dealing with lone silverback Gwiza, and the ongoing interactions are tiring out the group. Gwiza is focused on female "Fat" from the group, though she is trying to avoid him.

Kuryama's group is really of concern now, as they are repeatedly coming outside of the park. Fossey trackers are able to herd them successfully back into the forest, but then the group comes out again shortly thereafter. This is resulting in the need to provide protection all day and all night as well, to protect both gorillas and the community.

Veronica

Kuryama's Group Out of Park Again, Interacts with Lone Silverback Gwiza
Monday, November 14, 2011

Fossey Fund researcher Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D. joined the Karisoke Research Center trackers to observe Kuryama’s group today as they were again herded back into the park. The group slept within the borders of the park, albeit quite close to the edge, and immediately exited the park after leaving their night nests. Umusatsi and Rwema were not with the group again today and their night nests were not among the other group members’ nests. When Dr. Eckardt reached the group this morning, the gorillas were already 300 meters from the park border. After a brief resting period, the group clearly intended to move further down from the forest in pursuit of more of the irresistible eucalyptus bark. The decision was made to begin to herd the gorillas back up the slope at 8:05 a.m. The trackers stopped the “push” at 9:40 a.m. when it was clear that the gorillas were headed back into the forest. But 20 minutes later they re-entered the park, where they remained for the rest of Eckardt’s four-hour observation period.

After some initial discrepancy in the identity of the lone silverback who had been traveling for four days with Ubufatanye (known as “Fat”), it was determined that he is in fact 24-year-old Gwiza, a male who parted ways with Shinda’s group in 2003. The Karisoke trackers had difficulty identifying the silverback due to distance, dense vegetation and the gorillas’ aggressive behavior. Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio says “The identification of a lone silverback is not always an easy task and it can be done by very few people. Part of the difficulty is due to the fact that they are not seen on a daily basis and their features may change with time. But with attentive observation, we are able to identify all of them. Photographs are extremely helpful in the identification process because it allows our staff to magnify the facial area and examine the noseprint.”

The lone silverback has been working hard to form his own group since he left Shinda’s group eight years ago. Not surprisingly, Gwiza is not going to give up his recently acquired female without a fight and the interaction that began yesterday (when Fat attempted to rejoin Titus’s group) is still playing out today.  Fat has been causing a lot of trouble for Titus’s  dominant silverback Rano in the past few weeks. Interestingly enough, Rano has not shown any interest in copulating with the female in quite some time, but still is not willing to let her leave the group.  Gwiza has reportedly been following closely all day, periodically entering the group to display fervently. Rano led the other males in his group in aggressive displays in reaction to the lone silverback’s behavior while Fat retreated further into the group where, evidently, she wishes to remain. The group has traveled over 700 meters today, zig-zagging through the park in an attempt to avoid Gwiza. When the trackers left the gorillas this evening, the lone silverback was still in hot pursuit of his female, suggesting that this interaction could carry on into the coming days.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

MIssing Gorillas Found, New Infant Born
Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Fossey Fund field staff is very happy that both of the dispersed females and their infants rejoined Kuryama’s group this morning. The group spent the night outside of the park once again, but were herded back in promptly after the trackers arrived in the field. Umutekano and her infant, Dukore, rejoined the group at 10:30 a.m. Although dominant silverback Kirahure initially reacted with aggression toward the dispersed female, the behavior was brief and her infant soon joined the other youngsters in the group for a play session.

By the time Umutekano and Dukore rejoined their group, trackers were already on the trail of the additional dispersed female and her infant. The pair were located 150 meters from the group, with the mother exhibiting stress behavior. The trackers were careful not to approach too carefully and eventually, the mother and infant rejoined the group as well in the early afternoon.

As expected, female "Fat" and the lone silverback are currently interacting with Titus group. (The lone silverback that we believed to be Turatsinze is now thought to be 19-year-old Twizere, a silverback that dispersed from Shinda group in 2007. Closer observation tomorrow should confirm his identity.) The Karisoke Titus group trackers observed Fat approach the group around 10:30 a.m. with the lone silverback close on her heels. As soon as he entered the group, all of the gorillas attacked him without hesitation, with dominant silverback Rano leading the aggression. Both Rano and the lone silverback are reported to have sustained superficial wounds thus far.

Saving the best for last....
26-year-old Bishushwe of Urugamba’s group gave birth last night. This brings our smallest monitored group of gorillas up to 6 individuals!

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Trackers Herd Kuryama's Group Into Park, Continue Search for Missing Gorillas
Friday, November 11, 2011

Today Kuryama’s group was still outside the park, and trackers “herded” them back into the park borders again. This time it took more than three hours, with trackers forming a line to prevent the gorillas from moving downhill, and lots of waiting as the gorillas slowly made their way up to the park. Titus group, which had also ranged out the park recently, was not located at all today, and apparently are in the dense bamboo area of Cundura hill, crossing the trail of another group and making tracking difficult.

There was good news today when trackers found mother Mahirwe safe and sound with her new infant in the group. However, they have still not located females Umusatsi and Umutekano, who both have infants and were not in their group as of yesterday. A large team searched for them today, without success, and a count of night nests showed they were not in the group overnight either. Umusatsi has been known to go off on her own before, and her youngster is already 4 years old. But Umutekano’s infant is only 2 years old and could be susceptible to infanticide if they meet up with a lone silverback or end up in another group.

Lone silverback Turatsinze still has female “Fat” with him, and they were followed all morning, although Turatsinze did not allow the trackers to get close enough for detailed behavioral observations.

Veronica Vecellio, Gorilla Program Manager

Three Gorilla Groups Exit Park Again
Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lots of news from the field today, as the mountain gorilla activities have been especially “intense.”

Titus group was again found outside the park this morning, in Kinege area. They were about  400 meters down, in a eucalyptus field. Since they were continuing to move further from the park, staff decided to “herd” them back into the park. This went fairly quickly, as both the trackers and the gorillas have done this several times before.

As we were observing Titus group though, we soon realized that female Ubufatanye (Fat) was missing. (She recently transferred in  from Ugenda’s group.) A check of the night nests showed that she left the group on the previous day. Trackers, led by Telesphore Nsengiyumva, went to look for her and located her in the late morning. She was with the lone silverback Turatsinze, who interacted with the group last week.

Initially the two gorillas were scared and ran away from trackers. But later the trackers were able to approach and collect some behavioral data. They were resting in physical contact and Turatsinze groomed Fat twice. No aggressions or displays were observed -- just a sexual vocalization by the silverback. The decision of Fat to leave the group did not come as surprise considering that she had also showed her intentions during lone silverback interactions last week.

Kuryama’s group was also found very early outside of the park, in Mudakama area. They were about 800 meters from the park when trackers decided to herd them back in. It was the first such experience for Kuryama’s group so this took some time.

Unfortunately, as Kuryama’s group was finally about to move inside the park, they encountered Isabukuru’s group, which had just exited the park. The two groups interacted for 20 minutes exchanging displays all in the same place. After that the two groups moved to different areas but they stayed outside close to the park border. They all moved inside around 11 a.m. 

Trackers observed that t hree females -- Mahirwe, Dukore and Umusatsi  with their infants --  were missing from Kuryama’s group. A support team came late in the morning to help search for them.  The group nest site was not located so we cannot tell if they were missing  since yesterday or just this morning.

Tomorrow a larger team, supported by Rwanda park (RDB) staff, will try to locate these missing gorillas. There are concerns especially about the 1-week-old infant of Mahirwe.

An additional team will follow Fat and Turatsinze, collecting data on them.

Submitted by Veronica Vecellio, Gorilla Program Manager

Anti-poaching Team Member Jean Damascene Kamufozi Passed Away
Wednesday, November 09, 2011

It’s with great sadness that I am writing to inform you that our colleague Jean Damascene Kamufozi,Jean Damascene Kamufozi a member of the Karisoke Research Center's anti-poaching team and one of the longest serving Fossey Fund staff members, passed away this morning, Nov. 9, at Ruhengeri Hospital. He fell sick last week and was transferred to Kinigi Health Center and last weekend to Ruhengeri Hospital.

Kamufozi was born in 1959 in the former Cyabingo Commune and joined the Fossey Fund in 1988. He was a very dedicated employee and a great person to work with. He leaves behind a wife and eight children.

The funeral services will be held tomorrow at his residence in Kinigi.

May his soul rest in peace.

Felix

Gorilla Groups Interact in the Bamboo Zone
Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Two interactions took place today in the bamboo zone.

The first was with Ntambara’s group and Umubano’s group (one of the groups used for tourism). Two silverbacks from Ntambara’s group exchanged many displays with the males from Umubano’s group. Surprisingly, dominant silverback Ntambara was not seen today. The nest count shows that the group was complete during the night, but he may have walked far from his group in the morning. We can’t know if his absence is related or not to the interaction or if it was due to the presence of a lone silverback in the same area.

The second interaction was between Pablo’s and Kuryama’s group, while both were ranging in the bamboo zone of Mudakama. From Pablo’s group, only the silverback Musilikale was involved. He walked toward Kuryama’s group and exchanged displays with the two silverbacks Kirahiure and Vuba. Both interactions ended without consequences.

Missing from Pablo’s group are the black back Irakoze, who had recently rejoined the group, together with female Nyabitondore and her infant. The nest count showed that all members of the group were together during the night. The three gorillas moved away in the morning. It is possible that they are just hidden somewhere nearby in the dense vegetation of the bamboo zone.

Tomorrow we will be able to tell for sure whether  the missing individuals left the group or were just not seen by the field staff.

Veronica

Pablo's Group Members Found Safe
Tuesday, November 08, 2011

The Fossey Fund field staff is happy to report that all of the gorillas that were missing from Pablo’s group yesterday were found safe and sound amidst the group today. Irakoze, the adult male who attempted to re-enter Pablo group yesterday morning (meeting resistance from silverback Musilikale and receiving a bite from dominant male Cantsbee) is still in the group, where it appears he will remain.

The anti-poaching team was dispatched to search for silverbacks Twihangane and Gushimira (who disappeared with Irakoze in August) in the surrounding area, but were unsuccessful in finding the two bachelors.

See blog from Nov. 7 for earlier details.

Jessica S. Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Titus Group Sleeps Outside of Park Again
Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Last night, the Titus group of gorillas slept outside of the Volcanoes National Park for the second time in the history of the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center monitoring. The group was persistent in their desire to range outside of park borders yesterday and trackers organized to “push” the gorillas back into the park twice during the day. The first “push” occurred at 10 a.m. and took 45 minutes to successfully guide them back into the forest. But, the gorillas quickly came back out into the surrounding farm land and were again herded back into the park at 12 p.m. Fortunately, the group went more willingly and it took the trackers only 20 minutes to guide them back across the park border. (See blog post from Oct. 20 to learn about the tracker’s herding method.)

Titus group out of parkHowever, Fossey Fund field staff were dismayed to find the gorilla’s night nests in a bamboo patch about 200 meters outside of the park boundaries this morning. The gorillas had clearly slept outside of their protected forest. Today, the field staff is organizing a rotation of tracker teams to monitor the group both day and night. 

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Irakoze Tries to Re-enter Pablo's Group
Monday, November 07, 2011

IrakozeWinnie Eckardt, Ph.D., a researcher for the Fossey Fund's Karisoke Research Center, was shocked to discover blackback Irakoze, who has not been seen for almost three months, amidst Pablo’s group during her data collection session in the Mapfundo area of the bamboo zone this morning. Eleven-year-old Irakoze was one of the
three bachelors that linked up and left the group on August 16th, vanishing without a trace. Field staff suspects that the other two silverbacks, Twihangane and Gushimira, may reappear shortly, considering that Irakoze seems to want back in to Pablo's group.
 
Eckardt reported that the large group of mountain gorillas were widely spread out through the bamboo and initially, Irakoze seemed to be peripheral to the group. However, around 12:15 p.m., he began to move toward  the center of the group, possibly seeking protection from dominant silverback Cantsbee. Musilikale, a 13-year-old silverback, had already spotted the deserter and was mounting a vigorous display against him.

Irakoze’s first two interactions with Cantsbee were peaceful and uneventful. Irakoze followed Cantsbee for a brief time, hoping to find safety in his company. However, when the dominant male turned to move up the hill with several group members in tow, he suddenly spun on his heel and ran back down towards Irakoze, pinning him down on the forest floor and biting him on his upper back. The field staff suspects that this behavior was intended to establish his dominance. “The aggression did not mean to hurt him but was just intended as a reminder of who is in charge” said Fossey Fund Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio. Trackers did not see any distinguishable wounds on Irakoze’s shoulders or back after the incident.

Quite a few group members were not located today during the observation period: silverbacks Gicurasi and Kureba, blackback Urugwiro, subadult Agahozo, female Mudakama and infant Teta. The Fossey Fund field staff suspects that the individuals were not located because of the dense vegetation in the area. An extra team will be dispatched tomorrow morning to examine the surrounding area and search for the missing gorillas.

Gicurasi, Cantsbee’s second in command, is not likely to be pleased with the new male addition to the group. The Fossey Fund staff is anxious to see whether Irakoze will be allowed back into his former group. With the support of Cantsbee, his chances look good. However, with silverbacks Musilikale and Gicurasi campaigning against him, his fate is still undetermined. More to come soon!

Jess Burbridge, Fossey Fund Field Communications Officer

Two Lone Silverbacks Move in on Titus Group
Friday, November 04, 2011

After several days of dramatic interaction between lone silverback Tuyizere and the Titus gorillas, it all came to a head yesterday evening when the entire group turned on the loner, screaming and mounting an all out physical attack. 

Lone silverback Turatsinze just arrived on scene.Dominant silverback Rano had maintained his protective stance between Tuyizere and his group members throughout the day, in particular, guarding his two females, 7-year-old Ubufatanye (who recently transferred to Titus group on Oct. 9) and 11-year-old Imvune. 

Tuyizere has been following Titus group for three days now, forcing the group to walk a long distance to avoid him. The Fossey Fund Karisoke trackers found the group late yesterday morning, several kilometers into the bamboo zone between the Mudakama and Muguri area. Soon after they arrived, the lone silverback silently slipped into the group, sending silverback Rano into a territorial frenzy. Assuming his impressive strut stance posture, Rano began displaying and charging, with Tuyizere mirroring his behavior with equal intensity. Turakora, the second silverback in command, and blackbacks Pato and Urwibutso joined in on the interaction, screaming and displaying aggressively to prevent Tuyizere from coming any further into the group. 

Fossey Fund trackers were surprised to see the two females (who had previously been seeking protection behind the males) come forward and join in on the interaction. Female Ubufatanye assumed her strut stance and moved towards Tuyizere, reaching out and touching the silverback. Rano quickly intervened, placing his massive body between the two. At that time, all seven members of the group moved in on Tuyizere, screaming and biting him. It seemed to be a violent attack and Tuyizere sustained several superficial wounds on his back before he was able to break away from the angry onslaught, still displaying in frustration about 50 meters away from the group.

The trackers left the group late yesterday afternoon once the gorillas seemed to calm down and Tuyizere had maintained his distance, deterred from his intrusion attempt for the time being.

Rano has experience with this scenario, since he himself rejoined Titus group after two years as a lone silverback (and a persistent campaign to get back into the group). Rano moved into the group’s lead position after the death of his father and former dominant silverback Titus. Interestingly enough, Tuyizere, also the son of Titus, left the group to become a lone silverback in September 2008. It seems he wants back in, and may be after his brother Rano’s high ranking position. 

Today, the drama continued and Tuyizere and Titus group were approached this afternoon by yet another lone silverback, who was not immediately identified. It seems that Tuyizere was temporarily successful in his attempt to gain a female companion and the Titus trackers observed that Ubufatanye was no longer with her group around 3 p.m., but near Tuyizere, about 50 meters away. With the threat of the additional lone silverback, Tuyizere and Ubufatanye were following the group this afternoon, searching for protection against the new intruder. 

Around 4 p.m., the Titus gorillas abruptly broke into an all-out run through the bamboo back towards Cundura hill, with Tuyizere and Ubufatanye on their tail and the unidentified silverback in pursuit of them. Trackers reported that Tuyizere stopped suddenly and turned to face this silverback, prepared for a fight and mounting a vigorous display. With Tuyizere distracted, Ubufatanye took the opportunity to escape and continued running through the bamboo towards her group. When the trackers left the group, Ubufatanye was still with her other group members, leaving the two lone silverbacks to fight it out in her wake.

Photo and databased work later determined the identity of the "unknown" silverback to be Turatzinze, a silverback who became solitary in 2006 and is known to us. More to come soon!

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

PHOTO by Keiko Mori

Lone Silverback Tuyizere Reappears, Causes Commotion
Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Tuyizere. Photo by Keiko MoriTuyizere, a 17-year-old lone silverback that has not been seen since February of this year, made a dramatic appearance on Cundura hill today. Bwenge's and Isabukuru's group were ranging close by at the top of the hill (but never made visual contact), with Fossey Fund researcher Stacy Rosebaum, Ph.D. and trackers in tow. Rosenbaum reported that chest beats and display vocalizations simultaneously erupted from all around at 8 a.m. Titus's group was just down the hill and had come into contact with the lone silverback. Rano, the dominant male of Titus's group, faced Tuyizere, keeping a 50-100 meter distance as they displayed towards one another on either side of the valley. The gorillas of Bwenge's and Isabukuru's group joined in on the display vocalizations and cacophony ensued. The interaction itself lasted approximately an hour and a half, but the display vocalizations and chest beats continued on for over four hours.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Pablo Group Comes Down to Lower Altitudes
Tuesday, October 25, 2011

After a month of cold temperatures, frequent rains and thick mist on Kimbagira, the 45 gorillas of Pablo group have finally moved down into the bamboo zone.  It was a beautiful day for their arrival into the lower altitudes of the park; the sun shone brightly and the gorillas appeared to relish the warmer weather. Fossey Fund Karisoke researcher Dr. Winnie Eckardt was with the group when they arrived in the bamboo belt at 12:30 p.m. this afternoon, with dominant silverback Cantsbee in the lead. Eckardt reported that the gorillas fanned out, in search of the best patches of bamboo shoots. The youngsters of the group were busy engaging each other in games of chase and other playful activities and the adult gorillas happily feasted on succulent shoots nearby. The scene was a stark contrast from the previous week’s observations - when every gorilla was huddled and shivering in the cold rain, high up on Kimbagira.

Umuiyanama, a young member of Pablo's group.Yesterday evening, Karisoke researcher Stacy Rosenbaum reported that the group was on the move and covered a substantial distance in a short period of time, stopping only intermittently to rest. By the time her four-hour data collection period came to an end, Pablo group was closing in on the bamboo zone. It was clear that their two-day journey down into the lower level of the park was driven by a single motivation: bamboo.

The group’s closer proximity to the edge of the park gives a much needed reprieve for the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke trackers of Pablo group, who have trekked hundreds of hours of steep terrain in the last month in order to monitor the gorillas every day. Without a doubt, gorillas and field staff alike will enjoy the break from the frigid weather of the higher altitudes in the coming weeks.

However, the bamboo belt is a limited area, and with the addition of a large group such as Pablo, the Fossey Fund anticipates an increase in intra-group interactions. Three groups, Kuryama, Isabukuru and Bwenge, are all ranging near the Pablo gorillas at the moment, bring the total to 101 gorillas moving within a close proximity to one another. We hope that the remainder of the bamboo season is free of aggressive incidents, but acknowledge that this is highly unlikely. The Fossey Fund’s Karisoke field staff will be monitoring the situation closely. Please stay tuned!

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Is Your Halloween Candy Safe for. . . Orangutans?
Monday, October 24, 2011

No, we aren’t worried that you will hand a trick-or-treating orangutan an unhealthy snack. We just want you to be sure to choose candy that’s made by companies that participate in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). This is an international organization that works to develop sustainable ways to produce this popular ingredient found in candy, cookies, cosmetics, and lots of other products.

Orangutans are suffering greatly from habitat loss as land is cleared for palm oil production, at the rate of 300 football fields per hour. Unsustainably produced palm oil is driving orangutans rapidly towards extinction, but developing sustainable palm oil production methods can help slow this process. Companies that cultivate palm oil in a sustainable way plant on degraded farmland instead of rainforest land, avoiding logging and uncontrolled burning. These growers make a commitment to produce palm ail in a way that minimizes its impact on wildlife, indigenous people, and the planet.

For a list of companies that are members of the RSPO and are committed to using certified sustainable palm oil: http://www.cmzoo.org/docs/halloweenGuide2011.pdf

Please do your part to help orangutans by supporting candy companies that are trying to help make a difference!

Infant Gasore Freed from Snare Rope
Friday, October 21, 2011

Gasore rides his mother's back with the snare rope dangling and Bwenge close by.Today’s intervention to remove a snare from 1-and-1/2-year-old male infant Gasore was a success. The intervention team was comprised of Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, PhD.; Drs. Jean-Felix Kinani and Jan Ramer of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project; Dr. Elizabeth Nyirakaragire and three trackers from the Rwanda Development Board; and seven Fossey Fund Karisoke Research Center trackers.

The team located Bwenge’s group outside of the Volcanoes National Park border this morning, in the Muntu area, around 8:25 a.m. The remnants of the snare still dangled from Gasore’s right foot, although he did not seem to be too distracted by the long length of rope trailing him everywhere he went. While outside of the park, the infant stayed close to dominant silverback and father Bwenge.

After an hour had passed, the group began to move back into the park of their own volition and settled in the bamboo belt near the border. The intervention team lingered by the group, waiting for an opportune moment to dart (preferably when mother and infant were peripheral to the group), however that moment never came. Dr. Eckardt reported that mother Maggie was “very alert in the bamboo. She kept an eye on us the whole time.” Eckardt added “Maggie is almost like a second silverback in the group - a very confident female. It is common for her to leave the group or travel peripherally.” The team was hoping to take advantage of such an occurrence to safely dart the mother and her infant.

At 11:35 a.m. the entire group was resting fairly close together, but Drs. Kinani and Ramer decided to proceed with the intervention. Maggie and Gasore were about one meter apart. Darts were fired simultaneously. Immediately after, the mother grabbed her infant and ran with the rest of the group. Silverback Bwenge charged the intervention team, screaming loudly, but changed his mind and retreated with the rest of the gorillas up over the crest of a hill.

Removing the ropeThe team waited 10 minutes for the sedative to take effect and then moved to find the gorillas. The trackers discovered Maggie lying face down on the side of the slope, on top of her infant. The team quickly moved the mother off her baby and realized that Gasore had not been darted. The vets then injected the infant directly into his back and he was anesthetized shortly after. 

During the intervention, the customary samples were taken, physical exams conducted and the snare rope was removed from Gasore’s leg. Bwenge’s group stayed at least 50-100 meters away from the team as they worked, so there were no interactions with the trackers. Although both mother and infant woke up prematurely and had to be sedated a second time, the entire intervention was completed in an hour and the team was pleased. Maggie and Gasore both received the sedative reversal and, once they regained their strength, rejoined the rest of their group at 12:38 p.m.

This is the third intervention for Bwenge’s group in less than a month. The Fossey Fund staff is relieved that this intervention went smoothly and we hope that Bwenge’s group will have a reprieve from any dramatic incidents in the coming weeks. The anti-poaching team combed the area for additional snares today, but none were found.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Titus Gorillas Herded Back Into Park Again
Thursday, October 20, 2011

Continuing their roaming pattern, the Titus group was again outside of the Virunga National Park boundaries when Veronica Vecellio, Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Gorilla Program Manager, and trackers arrived bright and early this morning. Vecellio reported that the group was moving east, “possibly to find an area where they can go out undisturbed.”
 
Herding Titus group back toward park.Around 8 a.m., the group began to move towards a patch of eucalyptus, some 300 meters from the park border. Vecellio made the decision to have three trackers, led by Titus team leader Telesphore Nsengiyumva, herd the group back into the forest. The trackers selected long bamboo sticks and alternated between waving them in the air and smacking the ground around them.

Vecellio said “the response was immediate and the gorillas began moving uphill slowly.” Although several gorillas let out the occasional pig grunt, they were not particularly scared or stressed. Only 11-year-old blackback Pato made a clear sign of his frustration, and charged the team twice, both times screaming loudly. Undeterred, the trackers carried on and within 30 minutes, Titus group was back in the safety of the park - where, thankfully, they have stayed for the remainder of the day.
 
 
Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Young Gorilla Caught in Snare Rope
Thursday, October 20, 2011

This morning an infant in Bwenge’s group was found with a snare rope around his leg. The infant, Gasore (son of Maggie), must have gotten caught in the snare either last night or earlier this morning, because when our Karisoke trackers arrived in the morning, he was already dragging the rope along, which is attached to his right ankle.


Luckily, the rope is not yet tightly wound onto Gasore's leg, and the group was calm and everybody is fine. However, this type of human-caused incident usually requires an intervention, so tomorrow veterinarians from MGVP and Rwandan park authorities will join our staff to assess the situation and plan for a possible snare-removal intervention.


This incident occurred in the area of Cundura hill, a place commonly used by the gorilla groups we monitor at Karisoke. Anti-poaching staff will go there for further control of the area.


Veronica

Silverback Cantsbee Found in Good Health
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Karisoke researcher Stacy Rosenbaum brought great news down from the mountain today: Our elderly silverback Cantsbee seems to be just fine, feeding and behaving normally again.

When the field team reached Pablo's group this morning, Cantsbee was in a new, leafy day nest about 200-250 meters up from where Dr. Eckardt’s team had left them yesterday. The 32-year-old silverback had evidently risen from his night nest and traveled up the slopes to meet the rest of his group yesterday evening. Rosenbaum reported that when she arrived she saw Cantsbee, along with all of the other gorillas, hunched over and shivering, apparently miserable from the extreme cold and constant rain.

At 12:45 p.m. the rain ceased and it warmed up slightly, but the sun didn’t come out from behind the dense clouds. With the slight reprieve from the cold, the gorillas resumed normal behavior and feeding, Cantsbee being the first to rise from his nest. The silverback fed continuously until 2 p.m. As the data collection period was coming to a close, beta male Gicurasi slowly led the majority of the group further up the slope. However, when Cantsbee let out a loud hoot vocalization, the big group of gorillas turned to head back downhill and follow the dominant silverback.

Everyone at the Fossey Fund is thrilled that Cantsbee seems to be in good health and hopes that he will take the opportunity to lead Pablo's group a little further down the slopes of the Karisimbi volcano, where they can enjoy warmer temperatures and perhaps bask in some sunlight!

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Titus Group Successfully Herded Back to Park
Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The gorillas of Titus group, who have been spending more time outside of the park lately, were successfully herded back into their protected forest yesterday evening by the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center field staff.

Titus's group eating eucalyptus. Photo by Keiko MoriAfter the gorillas made nests and spent the night in the farmland that borders the park three nights ago, staff from the Rwanda Development Board, the Fossey Fund and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) met in Kinigi to discuss their game plan for responding to this new development. After consulting the data on gorillas venturing outside of the park boundaries, they determined that the gorillas have been consistently leaving the park through the years. However, the length of time that they spend outside in the surrounding farmland has been steadily increasing. As concerning as it may be, this is still a natural behavior and an intervention is deemed necessary only in a case such as Titus's group.

The Titus gorillas slept within the park boundaries the night of October 17, but emerged the next morning at 7  a.m. They spent the day eagerly feeding on bamboo and eucalyptus bark outside the park, with a host of curious locals and amused tourists looking on. At 5:30 p.m., 10 Karisoke trackers formed a line and employed a “soft approach” (shouting and brandishing sticks) to herd the group back into the park. Moving slowly, the gorillas began to retreat into their protected habitat, without exhibiting any obvious signs of fear or stress.

The group again slept within the park borders the next night. However, when Karisoke trackers arrived this morning, the gorillas were already out of the park, feasting on bamboo. They moved out from the border as far as 200 meters, but at 1 p.m. three trackers were able to successfully herd the group back inside the safety of the forest.

The MGVP veterinarians will begin an internal parasite assessment (through fecal sampling) to compare the parasite loads of gorillas that spend time outside of the park with those that do not. As the ones that leave the park are in close contact with humans and domestic animals, it is a concern that they may be more affected by parasites. We hope that results from this analysis will help to determine the future approach to this annual dilemma.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Concerns About Elderly Silverback Cantsbee
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Born in November 1978 and famously named by Dian Fossey, Cantsbee is the oldest mountain gorilla monitored by the Karisoke Research Center at 32 years old. The dominant silverback is beginning to show signs of his age and remained in his night nest throughout the entire day today. This behavior is clearly a cause for concern for all who have grown to love this benevolent leader of Pablo group (named after late silverback Pablo).

Cantsbee in night nestThe Pablo gorillas have remained high up on Mount Karisimbi, in the Kimbagira area, for well over a month now. At such a high altitude - and with the rainy season in full swing - the temperatures have dropped to a bone-chilling low and the heavy mist has settled in all around the largest group of Karisoke research gorillas. Despite October’s tempting bamboo growth at lower altitudes, this group is thought to remain high on Karisimbi primarily due to their large numbers - and the lack of any other gorilla presence - which enables them to avoid possible aggressive intra-group interactions.

Fossey Fund’s Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D., along with Pablo trackers, hiked the four strenuous hours up the steep and muddy Karisimbi slopes to observe the group today. Throughout the data collection period, most of the individuals moved very little and held themselves tightly, preoccupied with keeping warm and shielding themselves from the constant rain. Eckardt was concerned to see that dominant silverback Cantsbee had not left his night nest when she arrived (although the rest of the group had) and in fact, did not move from his nest throughout her entire data collection session. Cantsbee reportedly stayed in a huddled position the majority of the time and did not feed at all. Meanwhile, beta male Gicurasi led the rest of the group 70-100 meters higher up Karisimbi. Several males lingered behind however, unwilling to leave Cantsbee.

Dr. Jean-Felix Kinani of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project will accompany Karisoke researcher Stacy Rosenbaum up to Kimbagira tomorrow to make an assessment of Cantsbee’s health condition. The silverback’s deceased sister, Intwali, is in the back of everyone’s minds, as she (suspectedly) succumbed to hypothermia last year. Dr. Eckardt is cautious about making any assumptions about his condition though, saying “we will only know tomorrow whether Cantsbee’s health is truly in danger. Because he is the oldest, he simply may struggle more than the others to fight the cold temperatures.”

Please stay tuned for details of tomorrow’s observations and Dr. Kinani’s medical assessment.


Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Titus's Group Spends the Night Outside the Park
Monday, October 17, 2011

For the first time in their memory, the Karisoke Research Center’s field staff who monitor mountain gorillas  have observed an entire gorilla group sleeping outside of Volcanoes National Park.

Blackback Pato of Titus's group, outside the parkTitus's group, composed of five males and two females, began to spend a significant amount of time outside of the park boundaries last week. In fact, the group was observed out of the park three days in a row, often as far as 800 meters from the perimeter, spending an average of two to six hours in the surrounding farmland and bamboo patches.

The monitored gorilla groups are being lured out of the protection of their park because the bamboo grows much better in the surrounding, open farmland. Free from the densely vegetated forest, the rhizomes can spread out and send up numerous fresh shoots - an irresistible treat for the gorillas.

On Sunday afternoon, October 16th, Titus group’s dominant silverback, Rano, led the other gorillas almost 400 meters out of the park to an area that he had discovered at the beginning of the month. The plot of land, running from Cundura hill down into the Susa area, is a mixed bamboo and eucalyptus field where the tasty shoots are growing prolifically; it is a gorilla’s paradise. Silverback Rano and his group have been methodically consuming all of the bamboo and eucalyptus from top to bottom.

As of Monday, the group was nearing the bottom of the plot and they settled in for an afternoon of feeding. But at 6pm, after four hours of feeding, the trackers were astonished to see the gorillas begin to build their night nests - far from their protected forests. The Fossey Fund’s anti-poaching team and trackers chose to camp close to Titus’s group and are continually monitoring the situation to ensure that both gorillas and the people nearby are kept safe.

Silverback Rano in a field outside the parkUnfortunately, Rano is undeterred by the human presence outside of the park and resistant to any of the field staff’s attempts to coax his group back into the forest. According to Karisoke Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio, “all of the extreme cases of gorillas moving out of the park were done by Titus’s group, led by Rano.”

The people living around the park are understandably frustrated with the gorillas foraging in their fields. The Rwandan Development Board (RDB) and Karisoke field staff must remain vigilant and show an increased presence in the area. With the gorillas, local people and their livestock all intermingling in the landscape, a serious problem could arise.

The Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Deputy Director, Felix Ndagijimana, is in contact with Prosper Uwingeli, the Volcanoes National Park's chief warden, to determine the appropriate course of action to take in the coming weeks. Additionally, an emergency meeting in Kinigi has been arranged for staff from the Fossey Fund, the RDB, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and the International Gorilla Protection Programme to meet and discuss possible solutions. The meeting will address both complaints from tourists (who are disappointed because they are not able to see the gorillas in their natural habitat) and complaints from the community members (whose crops are being raided by the gorillas). Ndagijimana says that they hope to form a team of people who can make recommendations on a case-by-case basis. We will report the results of the meeting as well as any strategies implemented.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Taking Local Students to Volcanoes National Park
Friday, October 14, 2011

Joseph Karama teaching students in the field.I had the great pleasure recently of taking 80 local fifth grade students on a guided tour of the forest in Volcanoes National Park. Because of their age I couldn't take them to see the gorillas, but they saw the vegetation in the park, learned what gorillas eat, saw other animals or their droppings, and visited Lake Ngezi inside the park, among other things. The park guides helped conduct the tour.


The students came from four primary schools that participated in the Disney-designed conservation lessons that we delivered in six schools in September 2011 (an increase from four schools last year). They were selected based on their score on term exams, which also motivates them to do well in school.

A student enjoying the field tripAn article in New Times, Rwanda’s only English language daily newspaper, quoted Prosper Uwingeri, the park’s warden and a former Karisoke Research Center staff member, as saying “An enlightened generation will not only depend less on park resources such as wild meat, but also help fight illegal harvesting of park resources.”


Joseph Karama, Education Manager, Karisoke Research Center

Female Kubyina Found Dead
Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Kubyina in April 2011I am sorry to again report sad news. This afternoon trackers found elderly female Kubyina’s dead body, in the same area where her traces were seen for the last time on Sept. 8. A member of Ugenda’s group, she was over 30 years old.

The corpse was in advanced decomposition.  Tracker Jean Damascene Hategekimana, known as Fundi, identified her from her body’s shape and location. It was very close to Ugenda’s group’s trail from September. She was lying back down and some internal parts as well as hairs were on the ground, which Fundi could only guess was the result of a dog attack after she had died.The body will be recovered tomorrow and transported to the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project for further analysis.

After the dramatic sequence of events that saw adult females Notobo, Ginseng and Kubyina die in the past few weeks, we don’t have much hope for female Umwana, who left her group on Oct. 8. We will keep looking for her.
 
Veronica

Ginseng Did Not Survive
Friday, October 07, 2011

We are saddened to report that our trackers at Karisoke found elderly mountain gorilla Ginseng dead this morning. Her body is being carried down the mountain now by trackers and porters, so a necropsy can be performed by MGVP and park veterinarians.

Considering her condition of the past two days (see previous blog) we were prepared for this to happen. Hopefully the necropsy will give us some answers as to the true cause(s) of her death.  We will report final results when they become available.

Veronica

Gorilla Ginseng Declining Despite Medical Attention
Thursday, October 06, 2011

Bwenge’s gorilla group has had a tough time of it lately, as two individuals have required a medical intervention within the last month. Staff from the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) and the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) conducted an intervention Tuesday on Ginseng, a 31-year-old female mountain gorilla.

Ginseng has been ranging peripherally from the group for some time now, and periodically during the last several weeks, she has been traveling alone. This unusual behavior has recently been observed in several other females, including Umusatsi, Kubyina and Kwiruka. On Oct. 1, Ginseng rejoined her group and subsequently sustained several injuries on both hands and feet as a result of aggression from the group’s dominant silverback, Bwenge. She has remained with the group, but has been trailing a considerable distance behind and Karisoke trackers have discovered her previous night’s nests to be at least 100 meters from those of the rest of the group.

Ginseng was moving very slowly, resting frequently and appeared to be very sore and weak during the veterinarian’s observation period several days ago. Some of her wounds, such as an open cut on her right ankle, were suspected to have become infected and her behavior led all involved to decide a medical intervention was necessary.

The intervention team was composed of Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D., veterinarians Drs. Jan Ramer and Julius Nziza of MGVP, Dr. Elizabeth Nyirakaragire of RDB, and Karisoke and RDB trackers. The team found Ginseng the morning of Oct. 4 in the saddle region between Mt. Visoke and Mt. Karisimbi. She appeared to be lethargic and was not feeding regularly.

Taking advantage of Ginseng’s initial 800-meter distance from the rest of Bwenge’s group, the team was able to safely and successfully carry out the intervention. The veterinarians' assessment determined that, although her heart rate and respirations were normal, Ginseng had lost some weight and had a low temperature. She also had blood in her nostrils and a deep wound on the knuckle of her left hand middle finger. A physical exam was conducted, samples were collected and antibiotics, anti-inflammatory and deworming medications were administered during the intervention.

With the medications that Ginseng received, there was hope that her health would improve. However, over the last two days, the Karisoke trackers have observed a gradual decline. When the staff reached Ginseng this morning, it was evident that her death would probably be imminent. Although she has been separated from the rest of her group by more than a kilometer during the last 24 hours, this afternoon trackers reported that silverback Bwenge is now moving his group closer and closer to Ginseng’s location.

Continuing the recent pattern of female mountain gorillas opting to travel solo, today is the second day that Umusatsi and her 3-year-old infant Rwema were reported missing from Kuryama’s group. While this is not unusual behavior for Umusatsi, Fossey Fund Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio says she is “concerned because of all the past experiences of females going missing, only to find them in very poor health several weeks later.” A Karisoke anti-poaching team will be dispatched tomorrow morning to search for Umusatsi and her infant. The Fossey Fund will monitor both Ginseng and Umusatsi’s situation closely.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications

New Bisate Clinic Ward Opens
Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Program Manager Ildephonse Munyarugero in the new wardThe Fossey Fund is very pleased that the new men’s ward at the Bisate Clinic is now complete and open for new patients! The new ward provides a private room for male children and another for male adults, as well as a pharmacy and an injection room.

Friday, I had the pleasure of accompanying Ildephonse Munyarugero, the Fossey Fund’s Ecosystem Health and Community Development Program manager, to the clinic. We toured the new facility and I watched as Ildephonse proudly walked from room to room, testing the mattresses, admiring the new furniture and equipment and generally beaming at the fruits of his labor. The program manager has spent many months planning and orchestrating this clinic addition.

For more information about the recent work at Bisate Clinic, click here.

Jesssica Burbridge, Fossey Fund Field Communications Officer

Zoo Atlanta Honored for Outstanding Gorilla Program
Monday, October 03, 2011

Congratulations to our partner Zoo Atlanta, which just received the prestigious Bean Award for its outstanding gorilla program. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums gives this award to member programs that have demonstrated excellence in reproductive success, research, conservation, husbandry and management. The award was announced at the AZA’s recent annual conference, held at Zoo Atlanta.

We are especially glad that Zoo Atlanta’s work with gorillas has been recognized  because in the mid-1980s, during the time when former Director Terry Maple, Ph.D. was renovating the zoo and moving famous silverback Willie B. from a cage to a natural setting, Maple also offered the Fossey Fund office space so we could move our administrative and fundraising headquarters out of a supporter’s home. We have enjoyed our Atlanta offices – in a former orangutan house – ever since.

This year, 2011, marks the 50th anniversary of Willie B’s arrival at Zoo Atlanta and the launch of their gorilla program, which Maple greatly improved. Now, the zoo houses the nation’s largest collection of western lowland gorillas. They also have the second largest number of captive-born, mother-reared gorillas among AZA member zoos, including the only twins; are committed to housing and managing male gorillas; and have an impressive legacy of research and leadership in the Great Ape Heart Project.  Our Pat and Forest McGrath Chair of Research and Conservation, Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., also works for Zoo Atlanta, studying their gorillas as well as the wild gorillas followed by our Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda.

We look forward to more years of partnership with Zoo Atlanta and their prize-winning gorilla program.

Clare

Fossey Fund Scientist Named to Indianapolis Prize Committee
Friday, September 30, 2011

Tara Stoinski, Ph.D.I am very pleased to tell you that Tara Stoinski, Ph.D. has been named to the 2012 Indianapolis Prize Nominating Committee, a dynamic and knowledgeable group of individuals who are all dedicated to the welfare of the Earth’s wildlife and wild places. Tara, a primatologist, is the Fossey Fund’s Pat and Forest McGrath Chair of Research and Conservation.

This prize is the world’s leading award for animal conservation. It was created to honor a conservationist “who has made significant achievements in advancing the knowledge of and sustainability of an animal species or group of species.” The prize of $100,000 will be awarded at a gala event on September 29, 2012.

The Nominating Committee will select six finalists from a group of 29 exceptional conservationists who have been nominated by their peers. Nominees will be announced this fall and the finalists will be determined in spring 2012.

Tara will be in very distinguished company, and I am sure she will make a significant contribution to their deliberations. Thanks for representing us, Tara!

Clare

Update on Injured Infant Igitangaza
Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Today I visited Ugenda’s group to see how infant Igitangaza is recovering after the injuries caused by an unidentified lone silverback 10 days ago who intruded into Bwenge’s group (see Sept. 20 post). As the 3-and-1/2-year-old tried to follow her mother Inziza, she was bitten by the silverback, resulting in the loss of one finger and other wounds on her right hand.
 
Ingitangaza licking her injured handShe is definitely getting better, climbing trees and eating abundantly. She avoids using the injured hand but she keeps up with the group’s speed without a problem. She is always with her mother, following her and whimpering if Inziza gets too far ahead.
 
The wounds are still open but not infected, as Igitangaza appropriately cleans them. 

Veronica

New Stamp Benefits Gorillas, Other Endangered Species
Thursday, September 22, 2011

I’m delighted to report that you can now help save gorillas and other endangered species when you buy stamps at the post office or order stamps online!

The “Save Vanishing Species Stamp” went on sale this month, for a price just above the usual cost of postage. The extra proceeds help fund the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife Without Borders Multinational Species Conservation Funds. These important funds support conservation efforts that help great apes, elephants, rhinos, tigers and marine turtles survive. 

The money raised will be divided equally among the conservation funds to support a wide range of projects. These include community conservation, anti-poaching, outreach and education programs, among others. The Fossey Fund has received critical support through U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. This is an easy way to give a little more to our cause. The part of the stamp price that goes to the funds is tax-deductible.

For more details and to order these special stamps, go to:

https://shop.usps.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10001&storeId=10052&productId=10007728&langId=-1

Clare

Infant Igitangaza Injured In Lone Silverback Interaction
Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Late Saturday morning, the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center trackers Fidele Habimana, Vincent Gisanabagabo and Lambert Nshimiyimana were winding down their peaceful morning of observation and monitoring in Ugenda’s group, when a brief but severe interaction erupted.

IgitangazaInziza, a 17-year-old female, and her infant were trailing behind their group when an unidentified lone silverback burst onto the tranquil scene near the Susa River. It is possible that the lone silverback’s attempt to acquire Inziza might have occurred without bloodshed, because the female reportedly showed little reluctance to follow him. However, when Inziza’s 3-1/2-year-old infant Igitangaza attempted to follow her mother out of the group, the lone silverback reacted aggressively, turning his fury on the youngster.

Ugenda’s beta male, Wageni, heard the infant’s screaming and, running back towards the river, bit the lone silverback. Dominant silverback Ugenda maneuvered himself between the intruder and his females and when both Ugenda and Wageni began their chest beat displays, the lone silverback retreated back into the forest.

Igitangaza bore the brunt of the lone silverback’s aggression and was reported to have suffered the most substantial injuries of the group. The young gorilla lost her entire ring finger and has several deep lacerations across her right hand, leaving it with a “mangled” appearance.

Veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, Fossey Fund and Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, PhD, and the trackers who regularly follow Ugenda’s group trekked up Mount Visoke’s western slope early Sunday morning, prepared to do a medical intervention on the infant if necessary. Once the party reached the group, it became evident that other members had also sustained smaller injuries from the interaction. Fifteen- year-old-female Kanama had a deep
cut on the back of her right hand; 16-year-old silverback Wageni had an open wound on his neck; and 7-year-old female Kubana was sporting a short cut near her left eye.

The MGVP veterinarians felt that, although Igitangaza’s wounds were severe, the
bleeding had subsided and a medical intervention was not necessary.  Igitangaza was feeding periodically and did not have a problem keeping pace with the group. The youngster must have been in a considerable amount of pain as she alternated between licking the wounds and cradling her injured hand. She was observed shivering occasionally, but her decreased activity and slight decline in food intake are thought to be the cause. Overall, Dr. Eckardt says that she seems to be coping relatively well, considering the circumstances. The researcher also reported that she kept close to dominant silverback Ugenda and mother Inziza, attempting to suckle at various times throughout the morning’s observation.

Inziza is in the process of weaning Igitangaza, which can be a stressful time for a young gorilla. The injuries that the youngster incurred undoubtedly add to her stress and both the MGVP and the Fossey Fund will be monitoring the situation
closely for any signs of infection or decline in her health condition. We will provide updates when available.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Mountain Gorilla Awaiting Medical Intervention
Thursday, September 08, 2011

Twenty-year-old female Ntobo appeared very weak and lethargic when our Karisoke trackers arrived in Bwenge’s group today. Veronica Vecellio, the Fossey Fund’s Gorilla program coordinator reported that Ntobo’s breathing was extremely labored and she was panting considerably.

NtoboBecause mountain gorillas are highly susceptible to life-threatening respiratory diseases, both the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) and the Fossey Fund consider it extremely important to access Ntobo’s situation immediately. After observing Ntobo tomorrow morning, veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) and Fossey Fund staff members, with permission from the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), will carry out a medical intervention to fully access her health and condition if necessary.

If further intervention is deemed necessary, Drs. Jean-Felix Kinani and Jan Ramer of MGVP will anesthetize her and conduct the physical examination and medical assessment, administering antibiotics if necessary and collecting samples for further testing. In order to protect the veterinarians from the silverback and other potentially agitated members of Bwenge’s group, the Fossey Fund will organize a large team of trackers to form a protective shield around the doctors while they work. Dr. Jean-Felix said that silverback Bwenge is already aware of Ntobo’s deteriorating health condition as he was observed displaying and gently pushing her when she did not keep up with the group’s pace today.

Ntobo is mother to 3-1/2-year-old infant Ntaribi. Considering the age of her infant, Vecellio notes that it is a possibility that Ntobo could be pregnant again. An account of tomorrow’s observations and results of a possible medical intervention
will be reported promptly. Stay tuned!

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Ten Reasons to Become a Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Member TODAY
Wednesday, September 07, 2011

“Helping people, saving gorillas” isn’t just a motto. We are devoted to the preservation of not only the gorillas, but also their land and the people they share it with.

Here are 10 reasons why you should become a member of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International today:

1.    Help fund crucial anti-poaching patrols 365 days a year.
2.    Support community development programs for the people devastated by war and poverty in the areas bordering gorilla habitats in Rwanda and the Congo.
3.    Support our Ecosystem Health Program that provides intestinal parasite prevention and treatment, clean water access, education and community development projects.
4.    Ensure that we can care for and rehabilitate orphaned gorillas confiscated from poachers.
5.    Help us support staff of the Rwandan and Congolese national parks, including training on long-term management of the wildlife and forests they care for.
6.    Further scientific research on gorilla behavior, ecology, and habitat.
7.    Help us provide conservation education for the communities near the gorillas.
8.    Receive a 10 percent discount in the Gorilla Fund e-store (get your holiday shopping done early!).
9.    Get exclusive access to full profiles of  the Karisoke gorillas and their rich historical background.
10.  Send fun gorilla eCards while showing your support of gorilla conservation efforts.

We hope you’ll take a stand and support our important mission to save the fewer than 800 mountain gorillas remaining today. Please join us and BECOME A MEMBER today.

Lone Silverback Twizere Interacts with Kuryama’s Group
Friday, September 02, 2011

TwizereToday and yesterday the trackers from Kuryama’s group met the lone silverback Twizere. Today he was on the trail of Kuryama’s group, with whom he interacted yesterday. The interaction was relatively easy and ended up very quickly when silverback Vuba made several displays, forcing Twizere to move away.

Twizere became a lone silverback in August 2007, leaving Shinda’s group, which was one of the three large multi-male groups that Karisoke had been following. Since then we rarely saw him. He was seen another time this year in April, again interacting with Kuryama’s group.

Silverbacks who travel on their own will approach established groups in hopes of attracting females and starting their own group, but the groups’ males guard their females. Only one lone silverback we have followed in recent years has succeeded in starting a group.

Veronica

Largest Gorilla Group Facing Changes
Monday, August 22, 2011

The largest group of mountain gorillas, Pablo’s group, is facing important changes.

The latest event happened on Aug. 21, when female Nyandwi transferred to Inshuti’s group during an interaction between the two groups. She is 8, the age when gorilla females reach sexual maturity and look for the best mating opportunities, which may involve group change.

Nyandwi

Nyandwi is the sister of dominant male Cantsbee and she is from the same family as  50% of the mature males in Pablo’s group. This close family relationship with potential partners justified her move.

The transfer did not occur without an intense resistance from Pablo’s silverbacks. The interaction lasted two hours, during which Cantsbee and Gicurasi from Pablo’s side displayed and had physical fights with silverback Inshuti, from the other side.

Considering his old age, it was particularly surprising that Cansbee actively participated in the fight, both hitting and being hit by Inshuti.

Nevertheless, the beta male Gicurasi was the most heavily involved, facing Inshuti in strut stance posture at the closest distance. The two silverbacks exchanged many displays, including loud chest beats and ground hits. At the same time they were pulling down branches and hit each other in a typical sequence of behaviors accompanied by hoots (hooting vocalization) and loud screams.  

The members of the two groups kept somewhat separate, behind the respective silverbacks. Nyandwi approached Inshuti after the first hour. She was soon kept on that side by inshuti who displayed and pushed her away from Pablo’s silverbacks.

The interaction came to an end when Inshuti started moving away with his group, now including Nyandwi ,and Pablo’s group started walking to an opposite direction.

Considering the dispersal of three adult males that left Pablo’s group on Aug. 16 (and have now been seen traveling together far from Pablo's group),  it seems that Pablo’s group, though still large at 46 gorillas, is facing a difficult phase.

Veronica 

(Photo by Stacy Rosenbaum)

Still Searching for Males Missing from Pablo’s Group
Friday, August 19, 2011

Special search teams have returned after a day of looking for silverbacks Twihangane and Gushimira and blackback Irakoze, but the three males missing from Pablo’s group were not found.
 
Today two trackers from the team that follows Pablo’s group, two anti-poaching trackers and 11 persons from the Rwandan parks authority (Rwandan Development Board ) had divided into four teams to search extensively for any traces of the males. They started out from the August 16 night nesting site, which included the nests of the three males.
 
All other gorillas in Pablo’s group are fine and calm.
 
Just a few words about the two silverbacks Twihangane and Gushimira: In the past few months they have been peripheral to the group and rarely interacted with any of the group members. This is not unusual for males of their age. Irakoze’s movements are less predictable. It would  be extremely interesting and important to figure out if the three males are actually travelling together. A more common pattern is for silverbacks in multi-male groups to split off with one or more females, or to strike out on their own as “lone silverbacks,” several of whom we monitor.
 
Tomorrow we will continue the searching.

Veronica

Two Silverbacks and a Blackback Missing from Pablo’s Group
Wednesday, August 17, 2011

GushimiraToday is the second day that two silverbacks, Gushimira and Twihangane, and the blackback Irakoze, all from Pablo’s group,  have not been found.

Their absence from sight yesterday was temporarily attributed to the dense vegetation, as the group’s nest site was complete, showing that all the gorillas in the group had slept together.
 
Today we began to wonder if the three may have left the group for a reason. Pablo’s group travelled for a long distance yesterday and today, behavior which is normally related to avoiding an encounter with a lone silverback, as no other gorilla groups were nearby.
 
TwihanganeToday the tracker team dedicated most of the morning to looking for any trace of the dispersed gorillas, but with no success. Tomorrow again they will pay special attention to Pablo’s group, hoping to find that the three missing males had returned.

Veronica

Kubyina’s Infant Shyirambere Found Dead
Monday, August 15, 2011

ShyirambereVery sad news from Ugenda’s group this morning.  Shyirambere, Kubyina’s infant, was found dead close to the nest site where the group had spent the night.  When the trackers reached the group the gorillas were still around the infant’s body. In particular, the two silverbacks Ugenda and Wageni were resting within a few meters looking at him. They charged and screamed at the trackers, not allowing them to get any closer.

The trackers tried to identify the deceased infant.  They saw the female Kubyina a few meters away alone, while all the infants in the group other than hers were present, so it was clear that it was hers.

When last observed the day before, Shyirambere appeared healthy. There was no evidence of an interaction near Ugenda’s group, in which the infant could have been injured. A strong rain had come down all night.

Shyirambere would have turned 3 on September 11.

The trackers waited for the gorillas to move away. They were able to turn over the body at one point, and saw signs of trauma and bleeding from the mouth. The gorillas were about 200 meters away by then, so the trackers expected they would soon be able to recover the body and deliver it for examination by veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.

Veronica

New Orphan Mountain Gorilla a Female: Ihirwe
Friday, August 12, 2011

Ihirwe We are following the progress of the new mountain gorilla orphan with great interest. The new infant is a female, named Ihirwe.  Ihirwe means “luck” in Kinyarwanda and certainly expresses our wish for her. She was confiscated from poachers on August 7 and brought to the facility operated in Kinigi in partnership with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP).

The MGVP veterinarians have been with Ihirwe many hours each day, because she was sick and of course stressed when she arrived.   Jean De Dieu Ngilira and another caretaker are taking turns spending the night with her, providing comfort. Jean De Dieu says she is getting accustomed to her new environment, and the vets report that she is recovering from a few episodes of coughing. On August 11 when I visited she was doing extremely well, had a good appetite and looked healthy and fluffy.

Less than a year old, Ihirwe still depends mainly on milk, but is drinking some fruit juice and eating bananas, cucumbers and the local baby food called sosoma. The Karisoke field staff also provided food from the forest that she would be familiar with, mostly wild celery, which she has taken a few bites of.

We have not received a mountain gorilla for a few years. The orphans formerly in Kinigi who recently moved to GRACE are Grauer’s gorillas. Four mountain gorillas that had been cared for in Kinigi for several years are now in Senkwekwe, a new facility operated by the Congolese park authorities (ICCN) in Virunga National Park. Ihirwe will eventually join them at Senkwekwe, following a month’s quarantine in Kinigi.

Veronica

Conducting My Ph.D. Field Research in the Virungas
Monday, August 01, 2011

I recently completed the field research for my Ph.D. dissertation on how the socio-sexual behaviors of female mountain gorillas correlate with their hormones, which I discussed in my first blog on May 8, 2011. I would like to thank the Leakey Foundation’s Baldwin Fellowship Program and other donors for their support of my project, and give you all some idea of what the field work was like.
 
Sosthene Habumuremyi (left) and trackers observe the gorillas.I conducted the research in the Virungas, under the auspices of the Karisoke Research Center, from April 2010 to March 2011.   The field work was indeed demanding but mostly enjoyable. Each day, I had to wake up early, prepare my field equipment, go to our intermediary laboratory and pick up the dry ice packs from the freezer to take into the forest. At 7:00 am, I joined other Karisoke researchers in the car to Virunga National Park. Depending on the previous location of the gorillas, I was dropped at the closest parking area, which was usually around 2.5 km from the edge of the park. Before I entered the forest, an advance team of gorilla trackers would confirm by radio the right trail to use. It typically took between one and three hours to reach the group.
 
It was always a pleasure to stay with gorillas during four hours to record their behaviors. When the focal individual was observed urinating and/or defecating, I kept watching at that place until all gorillas had moved at least seven meters away. Then, I used a plastic bag to collect faeces and a pipette for urine. I labelled the samples and immediately put them in the isotherm bags until I got back at the Karisoke offices to store them in the freezer.
 
To monitor the reproductive cycles of the gorillas we are required to collect fecal and/or urine samples on nearly a daily basis from the same individual.  Some days were immediately successful if we were able to collect a sample within the first hour or so of observations.  Other days were more frustrating, when even after following a particular female for four hours we were still unable to get a sample – but it was up to the gorilla, not us, to provide it.  In addition, some days were difficult if the gorillas were far away or if there was a lot of rain. Often, gorillas from the same mother crowd together under a single shelter (a tree) so that it is difficult to observe each individual.  I would typically do field work for four to five days per week and was always ready for a few days off by the end of the week.

At the end of the field work, I felt really indebted to many people: my sponsors, my supervisors, and the Karisoke staff. I chose a Rwandese way to thank especially all the Karisoke field staff by offering each person one drink. Everybody was happy that I recognized their help with the project.  But even though it has been a long year, a lot of work remains for me, with all the laboratory analysis and writing up the results. I will continue to work hard, and hope the next steps will be as interesting and successful as the year I have just completed.

Sosthene Habumuremyi, Senior Research Assistant, Karisoke Research Center

Kinigi Gorillas Now Mingling with Other Rescued Gorillas at GRACE
Thursday, July 28, 2011

Things are going amazingly well with the orphaned gorillas at the GRACE rescue center in DR Congo, following the arrival of the six from Rwanda over the weekend.

Yesterday, staff at GRACE put the new six and four of the older ones who were already there next door to each other in the nighthouse (i.e. separated only by bars).  That went well, and it was decided to let female Pinga directly in to the group of four. That went very well. So then another female was let in, then two more and soon all 6 Kinigi gorillas were in with the four -- a group of 10!  There were no problems and no signs of stress (no diarrhea)!  Everyone is amazed at how smoothly this has gone.

So the only ones not in the big group right now are the very youngest:  Kyasa, Lubutu and Ihome.

Tonight the plan is to let the group of 10 sleep together in the nighthouse and tomorrow to let all 10 into the outdoor "mixing" yard, which for the Kinigi six will be their first steps back onto Congolese soil....

Reported by cell phone from the GRACE center, Luitzen Santman, manager

Partners, Countries Collaborate to Move Rescued Gorillas
Tuesday, July 26, 2011

This weekend we saw an amazing international collaboration among countries, nonprofit organizations, communities and other entities, all coming together to help move six rescued Grauer’s gorillas from temporary facilities in Rwanda to the new GRACE gorilla rescue center in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A long time in the planning, the move involved transporting the gorillas (who are victims of poaching) by road from Kinigi, Rwanda, to Goma, DR Congo. From there, they were transported one by one in a small helicopter to GRACE, where they will meet other rescued gorillas already there and begin preparation for eventual re-release to the wild. These gorillas originated from Congo, and so are finally back in their ancestral home.

The authorities of both Rwanda and DRC joined the Fossey Fund, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Disney animal experts, and Tropic Air Kenya to make this complicated but critical move happen. Now the gorillas can start their new lives in the right place, where they will be prepared for eventual return to the wild. This is not just a happy ending – it’s a very happy beginning.

The Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) center is the first facility of its kind in east central Africa, with room for up to 30 young gorillas to live in species-typical groups and roam through 350 acres of natural habitat, in the hope of eventually reintroducing them to the wild. The site was donated by the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology (TCCB) and is located adjacent to the Tayna Nature Reserve, near the village of Kasugho, DRC.

GRACE was initiated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund at the urging of the Congolese national park service (ICCN), with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; design and construction assistance and funding from Disney’s Animal Programs and from the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA). The Fossey Fund and the Walt Disney Company are the first of several partners, including private foundations and individuals that will continue long-term funding and operation of the center.

Thank you everyone!
Clare

Karisoke Researchers Attend "Gorillas Across Africa" Workshop
Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Theodette Gatesire in the fieldMy name is Theodette Gatesire, a research assistant in Karisoke’s gorilla program. I have been working for Karisoke since 2007, when I was hired as a data entry assistant after being trained there through an internship and other activities. Later I conducted research on lone silverback activities for my undergraduate dissertation, which I presented in 2006 at the National University of Rwanda. Now I collect data on the behavior and feeding ecology of the gorillas.

I recently attended a workshop in Bwindi, Uganda called “Gorillas across Africa,” along with my fellow Karisoke research assistant Jean Paul Hirwa. It was hosted by the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation and led by the Max Planck Institute and the North Carolina Zoo. Participants came from Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Cameroon and Nigeria.

A representative of each country gave updates on the status of gorillas in their country. We shared information on gorilla research history, ongoing research projects and what has been found in different countries.

In a session on veterinary medicine we received updates from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project on mountain gorilla health care, cases of gorilla illness, and recent veterinary interventions. We also heard what is being done by Conservation Through Public Health around the Ugandan protected areas. In a Conservation and Communities session we learned about different approaches to gorilla conservation and how community-based conservation is effective in different countries. We also had some presentations about conservation education.

In each session we had a discussion with questions and answers from participants, and we even took advantage of the breaks to understand more about what is happening elsewhere, so we could share the experience of our colleagues from the DRC who are struggling to protect gorillas in spite of the total insecurity in their country. We also learned that in West Africa, poachers are still killing gorillas as bush meat and it requires much effort to educate those people.

I learned that all gorilla populations are facing almost the same threats but countries have different policies, different willingness and different interests in their protection. Some countries like Rwanda and Uganda put much effort into gorilla conservation and tourism while others like Gabon are interested in logging and oil extraction.

I also learned how in Nigeria, they use a tool (cyber-tracking) which records different kind of data -- including geographic coordinates, behavioral data, animal seen, etc.--  and they download them later without taking a long time writing on papers and entering data manually.

At the workshop I gained more knowledge about other gorilla species across Africa. Now I can explain more about not only mountain gorillas but also eastern and western lowland gorillas.

All of us who participated appreciated the workshop and suggested that it would be good to offer it on an annual basis. The organizers agreed but said that more funds would be needed to make that possible. 
 
Theodette Gatesire, Research Assistant, Karisoke Research Center

Fossey Fund and Supporters Help BIsate Clinic Reach Another Milestone.
Friday, July 15, 2011

I am Ildephonse Munyarugero, manager of the Fossey Fund’s Ecosystem Health and Community Development Program in Rwanda, a program that seeks to create a healthy environment for both people and gorillas by supporting, among other projects, rural clinics. The Bisate Clinic has been our main focus since 2002. We have made many improvements in this facility, and I am happy to report on one more that is well underway.

This rural health center is located close to Volcanoes National Park, home to the mountain gorillas. It opened its doors in the 1970s with a tiny space that could not allow the provision of adequate quality health services. One problem was that it has been housing sick men, women and children in the same building. This mixed-gender and mixed-age hospitalization was suspected on several occasions to be one of the routes for cross-transmission of disease, and no privacy for patients was possible. It was hardly a place where sick people preferred to go.

Constructing the new Bisate Clinic hospital buildingWith support from the Fossey Fund, this clinic is now able to provide greatly improved primary health care.  Significant progress has been made in three core areas: 1) infrastructure 2) capacity building and 3) community participation in clinic activities. (See here for more information and photos.)

Recently, the Fossey Fund obtained donations for construction of a new hospital building. This new bloc will include a men’s ward (seven beds), a children’s ward (five beds), a distribution pharmacy and an area for injections. It will also have a rainwater collection system. I expect it to be finished early in August 2011.
 
We thank Judith C. Harris, Rebecca F. Rooney, the De  Koornzaayer Foundation, Richard A. Horder and Dr. Mary Horder for their contributions to this project.

Munyarugero Ildephonse, Manager, Ecosystem Health and Community Development Program.

Recent Changes in Two Gorilla Groups
Friday, July 08, 2011

KuryamaIsabukuru's and Kuryama's groups engaged in a series of four interactions beginning at the end of May. Clearly, Isabukuru was interested in getting females from Kuryama's group. Silverback Kuryama, weak and injured after the first interaction, gradually moved out of his group. The group is now led by silverback Kirahure, who is now dominant. Signs of this possible change actually began in late 2010.

The trackers were able to follow Kuryama for some weeks but we lost him since he was last seen in mid-June. He was alone and still recovering from his injuries.

Silverback Kubaha moved out from Isabukuru's group after an interaction between the two groups in mid-June. He too was weak and injured.  He rejoined the group after a week but soon moved out again and was last seen in late June, at 1 km from the group. He was still weak but had improved since the previous observation.

Isabukuru finally succeeded in attracting new females in late June, when female Muganga was found in his group. The transfer was not observed; when researchers reached the groups Muganga was already with Isabukuru. Her 3-year-old daughter Rugira remained in Kuryama's group and is doing fine.

MugangaSince this last event the situation has calmed down and no more special events were observed. We continue to follow Muganga every day to record all the behaviors related to the transfer.

Special teams are still organized to look for the silverbacks Kubaha and Kuryama but they are still dispersed. Female Umusatsi and her son Rwema had also moved out of the group for a few weeks in late June but returned. The reason for this behavior is not clear. It may be related to the interaction with Isabukuru or to the dominance change in Kuryama's group.

More later...

Veronica

Scientist Winnie Eckardt Returns to Karisoke
Friday, June 24, 2011

We are very happy to welcome Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D., back to Karisoke this spring as our Judith Harris and Robert Singer, M.D., postdoctoral fellow. Winnie is an old friend to Karisoke and the Fossey Fund. She started as a research assistant in 2004 and then went on to conduct her Ph.D. research at Karisoke from 2006 to 2008. Her dissertation focused on maternal investment among mountain gorillas – for example, how much energy they spend raising male vs. female offspring, which can be influenced by the rank of the mother in the group and other factors. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chester in 2010.Winnie Eckardt in the field with Karisoke, 2007

Winnie’s postdoctoral project examines how potential stressors, both natural and those caused by humans, affect the behavior and health of the mountain gorillas. Although the link between stress and health seems obvious to humans – we can all think of a time when we were particularly stressed and became sick – we know very little about the role stress plays in the health of the gorillas. For example, are there individual gorillas that show evidence of chronic stress, and if so, do we find that these individuals have more health-related challenges, such as increased parasite loads?

The study will involve intensive behavioral monitoring accompanied by fecal sample collection to assess hormone levels and parasite loads. Among other results, Winnie and her supervisors at Karisoke, Katie Fawcett, Ph.D., and I, are hoping to provide guidelines for gorilla management that will help ensure the gorillas’ long-term survival. For example, if the study were to find that tourists caused increases in stress for particular gorillas – such as mothers with new infants – one recommendation could be to limit tourist visits to groups with a recent birth.

Winnie’s project will involve collaborations with both Lincoln Park Zoo, which will perform the hormonal analyses, and Emory University, which will perform the parasitology analyses. Winnie recently spent three weeks in the United States, visiting these laboratories to learn the methodology for collecting and analyzing fecal samples; working with me on finalizing the data collection protocols; and writing grants to support costs associated with the project. She also gave several talks on her history at Karisoke and managed to find a little time for sightseeing around Atlanta. It was a busy three weeks, but ones she seemed to relish.

“I’m excited to be learning two new fields, physiology and parasitology, to complement my experience in primate behavior and ecology, and to work with the teams at Emory University and the Lincoln Park Zoo,” she says. “I’m especially looking forward to seeing the gorillas again – the silverback Cantsbee stands out – and working with the Karisoke field staff.”

Winnie returned to Rwanda last year for six months as a teaching fellow at the National University of Rwanda (NUR), a position funded by the African Studies Association of the U.K. to strengthen the long-term relationship and knowledge transfer among NUR, the University of Chester and Karisoke. Winnie is a native of Leipzig, Germany, where she received her diploma (equivalent to the M.A. degree) in biology after conducting field research on monkey behavior in the Ivory Coast’s Tai National Forest.

“Ultimately, I’d like to teach more, but combined with research,” she says. “I believe we can achieve sustainable conservation only through education. I am greatly indebted to the donors who provided me this opportunity to return to Karisoke, continue expanding my understanding of gorillas and have a meaningful impact on their conservation.”

Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., Pat and Forest McGrath Chair of Research and Conservation, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

Kwita Izina Names Newborn Gorillas, Celebrates Community Role in Conservation
Monday, June 20, 2011

The seventh annual Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony was held in Kinigi on Saturday, June 18. This year the theme was “Community development for sustained conservation.” Kwita Izina has become a major celebration, organized by the Rwandan Development Board (RDB). It was adapted from a traditional Rwandan ceremony for naming children.
 
This year’s Kwita Izina was well attended by the local community, Rwandan government officials, foreign dignitaries, friends of Rwanda and the Rwandan and regional conservation community. The guest of honour was Rwanda’s prime minister, Bernard Makuza, who was the first to name a gorilla. The Fossey Fund was also well represented, by trackers, researchers and guests from the United States.
 
The Fossey Fund was mentioned in one of the categories of sponsors (Bronze) and thanked for sponsoring the Kwita Izina Soccer Competition. This was mentioned more than once by the RDB’s CEO, John Gara and its head of tourism and conservation, Rica Rwigamba. The prime minister also thanked all the partners and the people of the Musanze district, as he recognised the efforts of the communities in contributing to mountain gorilla conservation. He said that mountain gorilla conservation has become a catalyst for the conservation of the rest of Rwanda’s biodiversity. The park authorities’ and conservation NGOs’ contributions to improving the  livelihoods of the local communities was also recognised.
 
A total of 21 infant gorillas were named, and nine of them are from the research groups that Karisoke monitors. We will send their new names, what the names mean and photos soon.
 
The Kwita Izina Soccer Competition was won by Bisate School, which the Fossey Fund and its partners support.
 
Felix Ndagijimana, Deputy Director, Karisoke Research Center

Kuryama Out of His Group, Future Uncertain
Monday, June 13, 2011

Kuryama Out of His Group

I am Jean Paul Hirwa, a research assistant at the Karisoke Research Center, where I observe mountain gorillas on a daily basis.  I would like to share a very interesting development that illustrates the great variety of male gorilla behavior.

KuryamaKuryama, now close to 25 years old, grew up in Beetsme’s group. In 2007 he formed his own group after he split from his father Titus with other gorillas. Since then he has been a dominant silverback, and until now has led a group of 15 gorillas - but lately he has met with setbacks.

Kuryama started being challenged seriously in October 2010 by his group’s two other silverbacks, Kirahure and Vuba. At that time, they were mainly fighting to copulate with females. We observed several fights among those three silverbacks and all of them had wounds all over their bodies.

Since then, even though the serious fights have stopped and Kuryama is well on the way to recovery from his wounds, he hasn’t been able to calm those two other silverbacks and lead the group as other dominant silverbacks do. This is because Kirahure, the group’s second-ranked silverback, kept challenging him to the point where he could copulate with various females when Kuryama was around and Kuryama couldn’t stop him. He could also displace and pass Kuryama, which is one of the main signs of challenge among mountain gorillas.

On May 29, Kuryama wasn’t found all day and it was noticed that he hadn’t spent the night with his group. The following day he was found 1.8 kilometers away. Since that day, Kuryama has remained outside of the group. After such a long time at such a long distance we expected Kuryama to look for his group, but he doesn’t show any particular behavior that one would expect from a dominant silverback that is apart from a large group that he used to lead.

Jean Paul Hirwa in the fieldOn the other side, Kirahure has taken over leadership of the group, and the other gorillas, even Vuba, don’t show any signs of missing their former leader. They all follow Kirahure as the new dominant silverback.

Now, everyone is waiting to know what Kuryama’s final decision will be. Will he decide to come back in his group and fight to be dominant again, or will he just be subordinate to Kirahure and follow his authority? How will  Kirahure and other members of the group react?  Hopefully, he will not prefer to stay alone and lose the relationships which he had while in the group -- but why not? It would be unfortunate for him to lose his family, because he will need to attract females again to form a new group, which would not be easy; it requires a high level of determination and endurance. We will continue to follow Kuryama and his group with great interest.


Jean Paul Hirwa, Research Assistant/Gorilla Program

New Study Details How "Extreme" Conservation Is Saving Mountain Gorillas
Thursday, June 09, 2011


We are very excited today to be publishing the results of a study showing that the type of "extreme" conservation efforts undertaken to save the mountain gorillas are resulting in positive population growth. These intensive methods are used among the habituated portion of the Virunga mountain gorilla population, such as by the Fossey Fund's Karisoke Research Center, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, and the Rwandan park authorities, and they include continuous protection and monitoring during daylight hours and veterinary treatment for snares, respiratory diseases and other life-threatening conditions.

So, while wild gorilla populations have suffered dramatic declines in the past two decades, it has now been shown that the type of intensive conservation we undertake in Rwanda at Karisoke and the Volcanoes National Park is working -- not only to stem losses but also to verifiably increase the population of the mountain gorillas protected in this way.

This stands in contrast to more "conventional" methods of conservation, which include law enforcement and community development projects, designed to minimize negative human influences upon the animals. For example, in the sector of mountain gorillas in the Virungas that are unhabituated and thus do not receive  such "extreme" protection (rather only the more conventional efforts), the population has seen an annual decline. The protected sectors have seen an annual increase.

This study was based upon the decades of research, data (and protection efforts) that were initiated by Dian Fossey at Karisoke,  beginning with the first census of the Virunga mountain gorillas in 1971, when their numbers totalled only 275 (they now number 480, according to the latest census).

The study, called "Extreme Conservation Leads to Recovery of the Virunga Mountain Gorillas," was conducted by a team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the International Gorilla Conservation Program, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, Rwanda's Parc National des Volcans, Congo's ICCN, and the Ugandan Wildlife Authority . Authors were: Martha M. Robbins, Markye Gray, Katie A. Fawcett, Felicia B. Nutter, Prosper Uwingeli, Innocent Mburanumwe, Edwin Kagoda, Augustin Basabose, Tara S. Stoinski, Mike R. Cranfield, James Byamukama, Lucy H. Spelman, Andrew M. Robbins.

More details on this study can be found at: http://bit.ly/iM5wi1


Katie Fawcett, Ph.D., Director, Karisoke Research Center

How We Freed Infant Imfura from the Snare Rope
Monday, May 30, 2011

The intervention team with Imfura.Here are some more details about our difficult but finally successful attempt on Sunday May 29 to free infant Imfura from a snare rope that had been attached to his right leg since the previous Tuesday. After the second unsuccessful attempt (see previous blogs), we had decided to rest for a day before hiking to Pablo’s group for another attempt.

The dedicated team that tracks Pablo’s group reached them very early in the morning and found Imfura and Ishema feeding at the periphery of the group, probably to avoid aggressions. Later, when the intervention team reached the group, it was decided that both mother and infant should be anesthetised.

Pablo’s group is the largest gorilla group, so we were a big team as well:19 people (10 from Karisoke, six from the Rwandan park authority, and four from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project).

After preparing the darts for sedation, the three veterinarians followed the head tracker, Francois Xavier Ndungutse, to where Imfura and Ishema were feeding. Silverback Gicurasi was also nearby, but he seemed to have calmed down after the aggression on tracker Jean Bosco Ntiragenya during the first intervention attempt.

The vets darted Imfura and his mother Ishema.  Both gorillas screamed, followed by a loud scream from Gicurasi. However, they did not attack the vets or trackers. Very few other gorillas noticed this and only briefly stopped feeding.

A few minutes later, as the anaesthetic was taking effect, the first team moved in and formed a protective belt around the two gorillas and the vets. Finally, the rope was removed from Imfura’s thigh and everybody let out a sigh of relief. The rope did not seem to have caused any major problems to the leg.  The vet took various samples for later analysis to check the health status of the two gorillas.  Ishema’s ear was bleeding from a fresh wound, which she appeared to have sustained in the morning protecting her infant.

Once both gorillas were awake and Ishema was able to move, with Imfura close to her, we decided to leave and allow the trackers to continue monitoring them. The trackers later reported that Ishema and Imfura were rejoined by some individuals from the group and that they were seen feeding but showed some signs of weakness

As we walked back, everybody was tired but satisfied with the great job they had accomplished. See our News page for more photos and full story, coming soon.

Felix 

Infant Imfura Freed from Snare Rope
Sunday, May 29, 2011

I have very good news to report today from the field. Our team was able to remove the snare rope from infant Imfura’s leg that had caused him so much pain (see previous blog). The intervention was difficult and previous attempts were not successful  due to agression from the gorilla group, rain and bad visibility.

Imfura and his mother Ishema belong to Pablo’s group, which tends to range far away - they were a four-hour hike from the edge of the park - and is also the largest group, with 13 silverbacks. Imfura and Ishema belong to one of two subgroups, led by Cantsbee, but there were enough adult gorillas with them to create a problem for humans trying to approach a group member in distress. Two brave trackers did manage to get close enough on Tuesday to cut the rope from its stake, but were not able to remove it from Imfura’s leg.  Yesterday the other gorillas were aggressing against Imfura in reaction to the sight of the long piece of rope, so he stayed close to his mother for protection.

Today everyone did a great job and the intervention went smoothly. They darted Imfura and his mother, and only a few other gorillas noticed what was happening. We’ve just heard from the trackers who stayed with the group that both Imfura and Ishema have rejoined the rest of the group now and are OK. Jean Bosco Ntireganya, who was bitten during a previous attempt at intervention, was treated in the Ruhengeri hospital and is doing well.

We will provide more details of the final, successful intervention and photos soon.

Felix

We Try to Free Infant Imfura From a Snare
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

This morning staff from the Karisoke Research Center, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) and the park authority (Rwandan Development Board, RDB) went to Pablo’s group ready for a possible intervention to free the infant Imfura from a snare in which he was caught yesterday. On the previous day trackers had succeeded in cutting the rope with a machete, allowing Imfura to move away in spite of the fact that he was still carrying a meter of rope tied on his leg.

The accident caused intense distress among the gorillas in Imfura’s group, which they expressed with screams and displays. Pablo’s group is the largest one. Many gorillas were trying to pull the rope away, making the infant even more scared and pulling the rope even tighter. Because of the tense situation it was decided to postpone any human intervention to the following day.

Today the intervention team was coordinated by Felix Ndagijimana, Karisoke’s deputy director, who went in advance of the others to make a first assessment. The group was spread out. Imfura was with his mother Ishema, another female and the silverback Gicurasi. Felix was immediately relieved to see Imfura moving and feeding despite the snare on his leg. But the rope was causing Imfura extreme discomfort and visible pain, as it was getting very tight. He would scream anytime the snare got stuck on vegetation. Ishema was always at his side to help him move. Gicurasi was nervous and his first reaction was to pig grunt at the trackers.Dominant silverback Cantsbee was not close to them.

At the same time, a team of anti-poaching trackers from Karisoke and the RDB, together with members of the local community, were patrolling the area intensively. They found several fresh bamboo sticks, used by poachers to set snares.

Veterinarians Dr. Mike Cranfield and Dr. Jean Felix Kinani from MGVP together with technician Elisabeth Nyirakaragire from RDB arrived to make the medical assessment. They agreed to proceed with the intervention, as the rope was really tight and the infant was suffering.

After the heavy rain stopped and the gorilla group moved, the team got ready for the intervention. When they reached the group to evaluate the situation and to wait for the right moment for the first tranquilizing dart, Gicurasi charged the trackers and bit Jean Bosco Ntirengaya, a Pablo group tracker, on his shoulder. It was then impossible to proceed and the intervention was postponed.

Jean Bosco was accompanied to the hospital, with two deep marks on his shoulder and upper arm. Tomorrow a meeting will be organized to decide what to do. Pablo’s trackers will go as usual to monitor the group and to assess the situation.

We hope to provide updates on Jean Bosco, Imfura and new intervention plans as soon as possible.

Veronica

In the Field With Our Anti-Poaching Team
Monday, May 23, 2011

As Deputy Director of the Karisoke Research Center, helping to manage many exciting programs, I often have an opportunity to get out of the office and join the field staff as they study and protect gorillas in the forest. For my first blog I’d like to tell you about one of these occasions.

Last week, I joined the anti-poaching team during one of their daily patrols in Sector III of Volcanoes National Park, also known as the Karisoke sector because the groups of gorillas monitored by the Karisoke Research Center range in this area.

For this patrol, we formed two teams of three members each. We patrolled some of the areas most often used by gorillas, between the Karisimbi and Bisoke Volcanoes. The good news is that we did not find any illegal activities that day.
 
During the previous week, trackers following the research groups had reported a high number of snares in Sector III.   In only 10 days, 18 snares were destroyed by trackers and members of the anti-poaching team.

For several days in the past two weeks, the anti-poaching team had not been able to carry out their daily routine patrol, as they were called upon to assist gorilla tracker teams in another area of the park during the search for Pablo’s group, which had not been located for four days. In addition, they helped search for female Ntobo from Bwenge’s group, who was missing for three days. This interruption of the anti-poaching team’s daily patrols may have been known to local poachers, which could explain the high number of snares set in this particularly accessible area in less than two weeks.

On May 15 and 17 we organized “shock patrols” with reinforcements from members of the community and the tracker teams to carry out an extensive search for snares, during which five snares were destroyed. This brought the total number of snares found in one restricted area of Sector III to 23!

The daily patrols are very important, as they provide crucial day-to-day information on trends in illegal activities. This allows timely patrol planning.

Felix Ndagijimana, Deputy Director, Karisoke Research Center

"Survivor" Contestant Helping Gorillas Survive
Monday, May 16, 2011

  Phillip SheppardI am constantly impressed by the creativity of people all over the world who care about gorillas and want to help them survive. This past week I learned that Phillip Sheppard, one of the final contestants on “Survivor: Redemption Island,” is using his fame to help our cause, by encouraging his fans to contribute to the Fossey Fund.  It seems most appropriate, because the gorillas too are survivors, hanging in despite the threats from poachers and habitat loss, and  the mountain gorillas are even increasing in numbers, slowly but surely.

Phillip Sheppard of Santa Monica, California, is the CEO of Enterprise Software Sales Group and consultant to the documentary “Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean,” another example of his interest in Africa. He says he wants to help us protect gorillas because he respects the gorillas’ strength and has long been concerned about the crisis this endangered species faces. 

Phillip hopes that he can persuade one million people to donate at least one dollar to the Fossey Fund, which would contribute a very significant amount toward equipping and paying our intrepid staff who monitor the gorillas and combat poaching every day. But whether or not Phillip reaches this goal, I am deeply grateful for his support. It’s very gratifying to see a person who has achieved so much public recognition use his fame for a good cause, especially this one.  But every individual can do his or her part, and it all adds up. So, a big thank-you to Phillip and his fans!

Clare

Studying Female Gorilla Hormones
Sunday, May 08, 2011

Sosthene HabumuremyiI'm Sosthene Habumuremyi, a graduate student conducting field research at the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda - supported in part by the Leakey Foundation Baldwin Fellowship Program - and I'm very pleased to be able to share some of my interests with you in my first blog for the Fossey Fund.

For the past two years I've spent hundreds of hours in dense vegetation on the steep, muddy hillsides of Volcanoes National Park, observing and collecting data on the mountain gorillas that Karisoke monitors, for my Ph.D. dissertation on how the socio-sexual behaviors of female mountain gorillas correlate with their hormones.

Among the interesting questions that have been asked about female gorillas is whether they have menopause and miscarriages. Miscarriage among gorillas is an area we are investigating, but currently we have no evidence of it. In the field, no case has been reported as far as I know, though scientists assume that miscarriage is an important component of the long period between births that has been observed in primates. In gorillas this interval ranges from three to 7.2 years. Because we are monitoring the hormones of cycling females around copulations, the resulting patterns will show us what is happening and we'll be able to figure out whether or not we actually have cases of miscarriage.

TuckAs for menopause among mountain gorillas, this is still being discussed and it will take time to confirm the details because the number of older females in the population is low. In our study, we've been able to sample the last three months of one older female called Tuck, who died at age 38 in September 2010. Her last infant, Segasira, was 5 years old at the time of her death. We hope that analysis of the hormones in her urine and fecal samples and others will shed light on this question.

Sosthene Habumuremyi, Senior Research Assistant

“You bet this beats the Amazon!”
Sunday, April 24, 2011

I am Joseph Karama, the Karisoke Research Center’s Conservation Education Program Manager.  I make conservation education available to primary and secondary students and other members of the communities near Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and to visiting university students. For my first blog I am writing about one outstanding experience I was able to provide.

Joseph Karama introduces Rwandan students to their forestThe words in the title belong to Festus Maniriho, an assistant lecturer accompanying students from Rwanda’s Higher Institute of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry (ISAE) on a field trip to the top of Bisoke, one of five volcanoes in Volcanoes National Park. Maniriho was surprised by the density of the vegetation: luscious leaves everywhere dripping with water, cool humidity and thick mists, and very soggy ground with mud up to your knees in places. Although ISAE is located less than four kilometers from the park boundary, surprisingly the majority of the students and faculty have never visited the park. That should tell you something about the rest of the Rwandan population. Every year when I take a small group of local community members to see the gorillas, I get so many oohs! and wows! not only because they are amazed by the natural beauty on display but especially because for most  it’s their first time to see the gorillas.

The occasion I am writing about today however is when the fourth year Forestry and Natural Resource Management class of ISAE visited the park for a two-day “Introduction to Mountain Gorilla Conservation” course hosted by the Karisoke Research Center. The students get a chance to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat and observe their behavior, and they hike one of the volcanoes to study its various vegetation zones. They also view PowerPoint presentations about the behavior and ecology of the mountain gorilla, conservation of Volcanoes National Park and the role of the Karisoke Research Center.

Afterwards one of the students, Theobald Twamukwaya, had this to say:

 “It’s my first time to see vegetation like that, a place like that, plant species like that, an environment like that! It’s my first time to see mountain gorillas, and the team that guided us was very professional. Seeing gorillas on TV - for those who have TV - is not the same as seeing them [in person].

“Setting out [on the Bisoke Volcano hike] I felt it was just a nature walk, but then entering the park suddenly brought a special feeling: the air, the sounds, etc. You can see plants in books but it’s not the same as touching and smelling them, you never forget them. When we reached the top of the volcano it was the most special feeling; some said they were nearer to God and so asked us to be quiet. You hear about volcanoes and you always think of fire or smoke but then you get there and it’s freezing and misty, there is the most beautiful lake with crystal clear water. It was amazing and surprising at the same time.

“What I wish to tell other students in this country is that they need to come to Volcanoes Park and see for themselves what a natural heritage our country possesses. Watching gorillas closely and looking at their behavior leaves you wanting to think about your life and the role you should play in making the earth a better place for all life.”

Joseph Karama, Conservation Education Program Manager, Karisoke Research Center

Study Shows Field Research Protects Wildlife
Thursday, April 21, 2011

Like other first-time Fossey Fund bloggers I'm happy to introduce myself with some good news for everyone concerned with the future of primates in the wild. My title is the Pat and Forest McGrath Chair of Research and Conservation. Simply put, I'm a primatologist who studies gorillas in the wild, and I also work with gorillas at Zoo Atlanta. My good news is that my fellow scientists have found evidence confirming that our long-term studies in the field not only add to our knowledge but also help protect wildlife populations.

An article in the current issue of the journal Biology Letters reports that a team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, long-time partners with the Fossey Fund, have found this positive effect where they have been studying chimpanzees in the Ivory Coast's Tai National Park since 1979. Primates and other animals thrive where the scientists conduct their research. "Step outside the research zone, though" the article says, "and the animal sounds fall silent. . . as a result of heavy poaching" according to Science magazine, which reported on the article.

In the journal report, the Max Planck team detailed the evidence that the only consistent and significant factor connected with the presence of the animals was how close they were to the researchers. There were no signs of poaching in the research area but up to 15 times as many outside, due to the scarcity of  funding for park rangers, a common problem in Africa. This should strengthen appeals for funds to support both long-term wildlife studies and national park staff.

It's great to have some data to support what the larger conservation community has felt for a long time -- that our work studying animals can be a great complement to direct protection activities.

Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., Pat and Forest McGrath Chair of Research and Conservation

Lubutu Uhuru Climbs a Tree
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Lubutu Uhuru's first day climbing a tree in GomaLubutu Uhuru, our newest orphan, continues to make progress. Nobody knows exactly how long he was held captive by the poachers before arriving to start a new life under our care, but, today, as I happily lay on the floor in the UGADEC garden, watching him swinging and climbing 10 meters up in the trees before making a nest, I couldn't help but wonder just how long has it been since he not only climbed trees, but felt so safe and secure.

Lubutu in a chair Luitzen, our interim manager at GRACE (the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education center in the Congo), is still finalizing our travel arrangements but we hope to be back at GRACE by the end of the week! There, Lubutu will be in quarantine for a month before he joins the other young gorilla orphans to enjoy the forest, even better than a garden.

Sandy Jones, Confiscated Gorilla Rehabilitation Manager, GRACE
Veronica Vecellio, Gorilla Program coordinator, profiles Kubana
Monday, April 11, 2011

Kubana in 2006, when she entered the Adopt programSome of you may wonder how a gorilla you adopted years ago is doing now.  As the coordinator of Karisoke’s gorilla research program I am pleased to get to know each of the more than 120 mountain gorillas we monitor daily, each one with an individual personality and life story. For my first blog I’ll tell about one of the gorillas whom many of you first came to know when she was an infant.

Kubana, a young female who was 3 years old when she was in our Adopt program in 2006, will have her eighth birthday on Aug. 28. She lives in Ugenda’s group, which was formed when Shinda’s group split following the dominant silverback’s death in November 2008. Kubana is already able to have offspring, and the young silverback Wageni, the second-ranking silverback in the group, has taken an interest in her. They were seen together a couple of times this year.

Kubana in 2011However, Kubana is still very young to give up playing. She likes to spend time with Ubufatanye, a female of the same age, and also with the infants of the group. Her mother, Kubyina, is one of the oldest gorillas in the Karisoke groups and definitely the dominant female in Ugenda’s group. Kubyina is estimated to be 29 years old, and is currently taking care of her 2 -1/2 –year-old infant. Kubana likes to help her mother take care of the infant, and she and her young brother are often together during resting time.

Veronica
Lubutu Gets an Exam: An Insider's View
Wednesday, April 06, 2011
   Sandy and LubutuAs Gorilla Rehabilitation Manager at GRACE, one of my most important duties is to care for each newly confiscated gorilla until it is healthy enough to be introduced to the other gorillas at GRACE and live independently within the group.

Many of our supporters are curious about what happens when an infant gorilla is confiscated. The gorillas are often brought to a specially adapted facility within the UGADEC offices in Goma, DRC, where I meet the traumatized infants for the first time. Unfortunately, today, I am once again in Goma because we received a male infant on Friday, Lubutu.

Monday, Lubutu was anesthetized to enable Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project vets to perform a thorough health examination that took 35 minutes.

   Dr. Magda examining LubutuI completed the examination chart that included reading the heart, oxygen and respiratory rates at five-minute intervals, while Dr Magda and Dr Eddy took blood, urine and fecal samples along with ear, nose and throat swabs. A written and photographic record of Lubutu’s erupted teeth was taken along with skin scrapes and hair samples.

Because gorillas are very susceptible to human deceases, Lubutu will receive a variety of vaccinations. Monday he received polio, and on Friday will receive measles, mumps, rubella and tetanus.

During his examination he was given an avian tuberculosis test to the left eyelid. The results will be monitored and checked at 24, 48 and 72 hours. If this and the results from the samples prove negative, then Lubutu can hopefully be moved to GRACE over the weekend to start his one-month quarantine period, after which we will integrate him into a group of five other young confiscated orphans. Lubutu will then have the opportunity to learn appropriate gorilla etiquette and vital skills needed to survive in the wild.

  Lubutu eating aframomum, a favorite plant, after the examAfter talking with Dr Eddy today, we have agreed to call him “Lubutu Uhuru.” Lubutu is the name of the town where he was discovered. Uhuru is Swahili and means "freedom," which is exactly what we hope to finally give him at GRACE.

Sandy Jones, Confiscated Gorilla Rehabilitation Manager, GRACE
Good News; Rescued Infant Gorilla Reaches Safe Haven in Goma.
Sunday, April 03, 2011

Last week I wrote that we had received word that another gorilla infant had been confiscated from poachers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where unfortunately the illegal trafficking in gorillas appears to be on the increase.  Friday, Lubutu, named after the area in which he was found, arrived safely in Goma after a long journey by land and air.  Thanks to an emergency action by ICCN, the Congolese wildlife authority, the small male Grauer's gorilla was rescued from poachers early in the week. Messages from our Fossey Fund Africa staff were fast and furious as they worked with ICCN and other NGO's to get the infant to us in Goma as fast as possible. Dr. Eddy Kambale of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) hurried to where the infant was in ICCN custody, to provide initial veterinary care and accompany him to Goma.

Our Congolese partner consortium UGADEC has a small green garden and house behind their office where Lubutu will have his own 24-hour caregiver in a calm quiet retreat.  MGVP has already done an initial assessment and will make a thorough examination early this week. Even though he has apparently been held for some time since his capture, Lubutu seems to be in good health, both physically and psychologically. However, he is quite thin due to an unhealthy diet while in the hands of the poachers and has lost some hair, probably due to stress. He will need much close warm nurturing in the weeks to come.

Lubutu is estimated to be between 1 and 1/2 and 2 and 1/2 years old. Not surprisingly, he is malnourished after months in captivity but he is alert, already bonding with his Congolese caretaker, and has a big appetite. He is experimenting with healthy foods such as milk, peanuts, fruit and aframomum, which is a plant that Grauer’s gorillas love to eat.

What does the future hold for little Lubutu? As a rescued gorilla he will eventually be transferred to the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation (GRACE) center in a rural area of the Congo west of Goma. Our staff hopes that once Lubutu completes his quarantine the veterinarians will find him strong enough both physically and psychologically to make this next journey. GRACE 's Confiscated Gorilla Program Manager, Sandy Jones, has flown to Goma to set up protocols for his immediate care, work with his individual caregiver and plan for his transportation to GRACE, where he will join the small group of infants of a similar age already in residence there. Another infant male Grauer’s gorilla, Kyasa, made the same transition successfully recently and is already meeting the other gorillas and exploring the forest.  Later this month, through a landmark collaboration with our partners, six larger Grauer’s gorillas will travel from Rwanda back into their natural habitat in Congo and settle in at GRACE.  We will seriously need that Freedom Fence as soon as possible!  To read a full story visit http://gorillafund.org/orphan-gorilla-Lubutu-recuperating-in-Goma

Clare 

Waiting for another newly confiscated orphaned gorilla
Thursday, March 24, 2011

We are just getting word from our field folks in Congo of another orphaned gorilla that has been confiscated from poachers. We believe it to be a Grauer's gorilla because of the area in Walikale where it was confiscated, through the good work of our partners, ICCN, the Congolese wildlife authorities. It is on its way now to our temporary quarantine facility at the UGADEC headquarters in Goma. (UGADEC is an association of community-based reserves in Congo.) Here it will receive an assessment, health check and the necessary medical care. The plan is then to bring the orphan to the new GRACE center in Congo, where facilities are available for its longer-term care.

Many partners are involved in this kind of situation and are working together right now to organize transportation, paperwork, veterinary care, initial assessments and final plans. The GRACE center is fully prepared to care for the young orphan, who would be in quarantine from the other gorillas for about a month, the normal procedure. Then, if all goes well, it would be introduced to the other rescued gorillas already there.

We are also in the midst of planning transportation for 6 gorillas in temporary facilities in Rwanda to go to GRACE, which should happen next month.

The appearance of this new orphan is exactly why the GRACE center was founded. Not only can these rescued gorillas receive care there, but they will be socialized with other gorillas, learn skills for living in the wild, and hopefully be reintroduced one day to the wild in new groups. These are difficult circumstances so we all must hope that everything goes well!

Clare

Report from Bisate, Rwanda, A Fossey Fund Conservation Action Village
Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Traveling up towards the volcanoes which are home to the mountain gorillas the higher altitude is evident as are the recent rains. Rain is never far away in this region and I hope it will hold off as we visit Bisate. The paved road ends and we bump our way over the volcanic rock road into the village. We are met by Ildephonse Munyarugero, manager of the Fossey Funds’s Ecosystem Health and Education programs in Rwanda, and Joseph Karama, manager of conservation education programs.

First stop is the health clinic, where clinic staff and Dr. Mary Horder, an OB-GYN volunteer doctor from Atlanta, give a tour of the facilities.  Each year improvements in facilities and services contribute to the public health of the many people served here each year. It seems the solar panel array and operational results contributed to the decision to build an AIDS clinic funded by the Global Fund, next door to Bisate clinic, bringing much-needed additional lab space, medicine and equipment. The Fossey Fund was also able to deliver the news that funding had been identified to begin work on additional wards for the clinic, providing space for separate facilities for woman and children and maternity services.

As in many African rural villages, the clinic is situated next door to the local school. Since education is now free to all Rwandans, school enrollments have surged and Bisate school is now on double sessions. Half the students come early in the morning and leave at lunch time and others arrive for the second session in the afternoon. The Fossey Fund has partnered with the East African Childerns’ Education Fund (EACEF) to construct a new classroom block that provides light and airy classrooms for the youngest students. New roofs and gutters have also contributed to a water catchment system that benefits the whol