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Jane Goodall visits Zoo Atlanta, Fossey Fund's home base
Monday, December 15, 2014

Like Dr. Dian Fossey, the legendary scientist Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE, was fascinated by animals as a child and went to Africa as a young woman to study apes, in her case chimpanzees. And like Dian Fossey, Goodall also encountered the famed archaeologist and paleontologist Louis S. B. Leakey, who hired her as an assistant and asked her to study a group of chimpanzees in Tanzania. And, of course, both Fossey and Goodall became pioneering field scientists, providing the world with intimate knowledge of the lives and behaviors of great apes.

Luckily, Jane Goodall is still able to travel the world, to write about her experiences, and to inspire others to continue in this field and to protect endangered species and the environment. Zoo Atlanta, which is home to the Fossey Fund’s U.S. offices (provided pro bono), was fortunate to be able to host Goodall last week for a lecture to students and staff.

Fossey Fund CEO Dr.Tara Stoinski with Dr. Jane GoodallIn her lecture, Goodall said that while the planet faces many problems, her biggest reason for hope is young people, her second biggest source of hope is “our brains,” and the third is the human spirit. ““Every day you live you do make a difference. And you can choose what kind of difference you make,” she said.


Thank you to all who help us save gorillas
Friday, December 12, 2014

During this season of thanks, we would like to recognize all of our supporters from around the world who help us save gorillas. The Fossey Fund’s daily gorilla monitoring, community programs, and other work are made possible by the thousands of individuals who adopt gorillas, become partners and members, hold fundraisers, and send in donations. The Fossey Fund is unique in its long-term establishment, and we are especially fortunate to have the dedicated long-term support that we do.

As a nonprofit organization, we are committed to the conservation and protection of gorillas and their habitats in Africa. And because we are a nonprofit, we can only fulfill our mission through the financial support we receive during the year. This support is a visible demonstration of the belief in the importance of our work. Not only are we incredibly grateful for the financial gifts we receive, we are also humbled because we understand there are many worthy causes in the world, and our supporters have chosen the protection of the gorillas for their gifts.

This year, we were able to monitor about 120 individual gorillas in 10 different groups at the Karisoke Research Center, providing more than 20,000 hours of direct protection, and dismantling nearly 500 snares. In neighboring Bisate village, with the aid of Partners in Conservation, we constructed a new learning center with books and 25 computers. The Bisate Learning Center, which will open in 2015, will benefit 2,000 primary and secondary students and will also be available to approximately 20,000 community members. The Fossey Fund has also continued to spread its conservation efforts to Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo with our two other permanent field sites in addition to Karisoke, at Nkuba-Biruwe and in Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

We could not have achieved these successes during 2014 without the incredible support we receive. From our staff in Rwanda, Congo and the U.S., we thank you for your support and for saving gorillas! For a list of supporters, click here.


Fossey Fund suffers two personnel losses
Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Fossey Fund has recently suffered two significant personnel losses at both our Atlanta headquarters and in Rwanda. On Dec. 2, Fossey Fund staff member Theogene Niyibizi died after being involved in a car accident, and on Dec. 5, former chief development officer Beth Smith died peacefully at her home after a long battle with cancer.

Theogene Niyibizi (left) and Beth SmithTheogene, who joined the Fossey Fund in 2009, worked as a cook in Bisate, where our staff are based, and was the son of Karisoke Research Center tracker J.D. Zirimwabagabo. "Theogene was an exemplary employee who always fulfilled his duties, who was reliable, and was always present to assist his co-workers,” said Felix Ndagijimana, director of the Karisoke Research Center. “He was one of those who worked behind the scenes to make the work of the Fossey Fund possible. We will miss his energy, willingness to help and most of all, we will miss his smile.” Theogene is survived by a wife and two children.

Beth worked with the Fossey Fund as a fundraising consultant for 15 years before becoming its chief development officer in 2010. During that time, Beth helped to raise the presence of the Fossey Fund in the global conservation community and helped grow a worldwide base of supporters.

President and CEO Tara Stoinski. Ph.D., said, “Beth was an integral part of the Fossey Fund and her expertise in fundraising helped us become the organization we are today. But it was her passion about our mission of saving gorillas and helping the people who share their habitat that made her truly great at her job. She will be very much missed.“

Prior to joining the Fossey Fund, Beth worked in other fundraising positions and created Development Resources Unlimited, designed to provide nonprofits with temporary fundraising staffing solutions, office management and more. She was also an active community volunteer and served in various leadership positions.

 “Beth held a significant role within our organization and also for me personally. She was a fundraiser to the end and was my right hand in fundraising for 25 years. Beth’s experience, commitment, drive, and inventiveness will be hard to replicate and will be dearly missed,” said Clare Richardson, Fossey Fund President Emeritus, Strategic Initiatives Officer.

Beth is survived by her three children, two brothers, and an aunt and uncle. In lieu of flowers, Beth requested donations be sent to the Fossey Fund or the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. The Fossey Fund is deeply saddened by these two losses, and we extend our heartfelt condolences to both families.

Observing Ebola in wild animals, including gorillas
Friday, December 05, 2014

Damien Caillaud, DVM, Ph.D., Fossey Fund Research Program Director, Grauer's Gorilla Research and Conservation Program, recently led a discussion about the Ebola virus, highlighting how it affects both humans and wild animals. Caillaud’s discussion included an overview of the Ebola virus’ natural history based on medical, behavioral, and genetic data collected in humans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bats, and other species. Since its discovery near the Ebola River in 1976, the virus has been responsible for 24 human outbreaks in Africa, the most severe of which is currently striking West Africa.

How the virus circulates among wild animals and how it gets transmitted to humans from infected wild animals are complicated questions, says Caillaud. Bushmeat hunting has been identified as a key factor and many of the human epidemics observed in Central Africa started with a hunter handling the dead body of a gorilla or chimpanzee. But, since there can be more than 15 years between human outbreaks of the disease, it is also likely that the virus has one or more other hosts, probably forest-dwelling animals, where it remains “silent” for years. That means it is critical to study what is going on in wild animals, if we want to predict or try to prevent human outbreaks.

Ebola in gorillas
While Caillaud was working on his Ph.D. in Republic of the Congo in 2004, an Ebola outbreak occurred. Of  365 gorillas Caillaud observed, 95% died within one year. At the regional level thousands of gorillas died. Caillaud noted that solitary males were less likely to be infected than those living in groups, since the latter engage in frequent physical contact and probably also touch or groom the bodies of deceased individuals. He also found that transmission very likely occurs between groups as well. This is not surprising given what we know about gorilla behavior in this region. When the dominant male of a group dies, the group disbands, and the females emigrate and join other groups or solitary males. In addition, when an uninfected group encounters the body of a dead gorilla in the forest, some of its members may touch the body and get infected.

Damien Caillaud, DVM, Ph.D.If no natural barriers or local decrease in ape density stop the spatial spread of the virus, entire populations of great apes can be wiped out in a few months. Indeed, surveys of northern-Congolese forests showed that thousands of gorillas died during the 2001-2005 outbreaks.

What Caillaud concluded from his observations during this Ebola outbreak is that they are just as susceptible as humans. The virus naturally circulates in Central African forests among animals that can carry and shed the virus for long periods of time, such as fruit bats. The first gorilla to get infected may have been in contact with Ebola while feeding in the same fruit tree as a contagious fruit bat. This “patient zero” subsequently infects the rest of his group, and the virus spreads from group to group through the forest. These great ape outbreaks may have lasted several years, spreading slowly over a few hundred miles. Local hunters touching infected gorillas or chimpanzees got infected several times during this outbreak, resulting in the several human outbreaks recorded during this period.

The current outbreak
The current situation in West Africa is a bit different, since gorillas do not live in this area. The virus may have been circulating among West African fruit bats for a long time. It is not known how patient zero (a child) was infected. Maybe he touched an infected wild animal killed by a hunter. Or maybe he handled fruit contaminated by a bat.

However, since we know that previous outbreaks often started with a bushmeat hunter, monitoring wild animal populations – especially great apes and bats – throughout the Central and West African forests is essential if we want to predict where the next human outbreak may occur. And reducing the bushmeat trade is critical if we want to prevent future human outbreaks.


Gorilla group news: Females return to group
Thursday, December 04, 2014

Fossey Fund trackers report that three of the four gorillas from Gushimira group (Faida, Kanama, and Kanama’s infant Kwigira), who had traveled away and temporarily joined Ugenda's group earlier this week, are now back with silverback Gushimira and all seem to be fine! The group was seen to be calm and no unusual behaviors were noted. The nest count showed that they had spent the night together. Female Bishushwe is also in the group.

Female Ukuri still with Ugenda groupFemale Ukuri has stayed behind in Ugenda's group but does not seem fully integrated there yet. She moves around a lot and the silverbacks of the group follow her. For a while yesterday, she and dominant silverback Ugenda were not with the group, but later rejoined them.

Reported from the field by Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program coordinator; and Jean Paul Hirwa, gorilla monitoring and protection officer, Karisoke Research Center.


Gorilla group news-roundup from Karisoke: A day of transfers
Monday, December 01, 2014

This morning, Fossey Fund trackers found four gorillas from Gushimira group (three adult females – Ukuri, Faida, Kanama – as well as Kanama’s infant Kwigira) traveling alone, without dominant silverback Gushimira or the other female of their group (Bishushwe). Later in the day, they ended up joining Ugenda group!

Here’s what we’ve been able to piece together: Yesterday, our trackers saw an interaction site between Gushimira and Ntambara groups on the slope of Mt. Bisoke. When they arrived that morning, they found that these two groups were separated and not interacting. But in Gushimira group, two females (Faida and Bishushwe) were missing. This led us to think that one of those females had transferred to Ntambara. The two groups were separated by 500 meters when trackers left later in the afternoon.

Ugenda group earlier in NovemberToday, four Gushimira gorillas (Ukuri, Faida, and Kanama with infant) were found on the trails of Ntambara group and their night nests were the only ones seen, which means that they were not even with Gushimira and Bishushwe yesterday evening.

Based on evidence from the trails, we suspect that Gushimira left his group later yesterday and kept following Ntambara group, traveling far from his group. Early this morning, the three females (with the one infant) had been on the Ntambara trails, but at some point they turned back and moved toward Ugenda group instead. We suspect they had been trying to avoid the interaction with Ntambara group.

When these females then arrived in Ugenda group, silverback Wageni displayed several times toward Ukuri with some physical aggressions. Since the other females -- Kanama and Faida – have lived in and have relatives in Ugenda group, they were well received, with some affiliative behaviors. Elder female Maggie even embraced Faida. And dominant silverback Ugenda and Ubushake (Kanama’s elder infant now 7-1/2 years old) touched and embraced Kanama.

Silverback Gushimira and female Bishushwe (who we think had transferred temporarily to Ntambara before Gushimira got her back), were not seen today. If still together, they are the only remaining members of that group.

We will be closely monitoring these complex and interesting developments, so stay tuned! Will Gushimira be on his own? Will the new females still be with Ugenda? Where will Bishushwe be?

Reported from the field by Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program coordinator; and Jean Paul Hirwa, gorilla monitoring and protection officer, Karisoke Research Center.


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