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Fossey Fund develops unique app for studying gorillas
Wednesday, September 28, 2016

For nearly 50 years, field staff of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund have been studying and monitoring gorillas in the forests of Rwanda, and now in eastern Congo as well, spending  thousands of hours in the field each year collecting information on the gorillas, including important data on their behaviors, social interactions, movements, health and daily activities.

Until recently, all of this information was collected using pencils and paper notebooks, and then painstakingly transferred to computers. In the case of Dian Fossey, this was done on a manual typewriter. Now all of that has changed, with the development of a unique new app, called “Animal Observer.”

With support from collaborating funder Oracle, Fossey Fund scientist Damien Caillaud, DVM, Ph.D., began working on developing this app three years ago. He explains that most software packages already on the market for data collection were very general and were not designed to collect information on animals in field settings.

"Wild animals can move fast and do things fast, so we need to record data really quickly,” says Caillaud. “The other software available were too cumbersome for use in the field.”

Studying social networks easier using app

Thus was born the idea of a brand new iPad app just for collecting information on animal behavior: Animal Observer, which the Fossey Fund is now using daily to study social behaviors and activity budgets, and to monitor the health of the animals.

"This app allows you to know about who gets along with whom, who doesn’t associate with whom, and what the overall social network of the animals in the group looks like,” says Caillaud.

Animal Observer app now in Apple app storeThe Animal Observer app can also do a lot of other things, such as collect photos, videos and audio recordings, and of course it is GPS enabled, so all the collected data can subsequently be placed on a map. In addition, the data collected through the app avoid some of the problems that occur with pencil and paper, and prevents mistakes like typos, incorrect dates and times, and transcription errors. And, finally, the data can be exported to a database right away, rather than requiring manual entry from notebooks.

The Animal Observer app (now available free in the Apple app store) is designed so that it can be customized for use with other animals, from lizards to birds to orca whales. It is especially useful for studying social networks, and can also be used to monitor and collect health data. Several research groups elsewhere in Africa are already using the app, says Caillaud, collecting information on western gorillas and on chimpanzees, and it can also be used in schools, or by anyone interested in trying it out.

The Animal Observer app for iPad, developed by the Fossey Fund, is available free in the Apple app store. It can be used by scientists, teachers, or anyone interested in trying it out. There is a built-in gorilla study protocol in the app, so new users can start using it right away.

The Fossey Fund thanks major collaborating funder Oracle for support in development of the Animal Observer app.


Karisoke founded on this day, 49 years ago
Saturday, September 24, 2016

Today, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund celebrates the 49th anniversary of the founding of our Karisoke Research Center, by Dian Fossey on this day in 1967.

“Little did I know then that by setting up two small tents in the wilderness of the Virungas I had launched the beginnings of what was to become an internationally renowned research station eventually to be utilized by students and scientists from many countries,”  Fossey wrote in her book “Gorillas in the Mist,” about the founding of  “Karisoke," a name she created from the nearby Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Bisoke.

Dian Fossey and her favorite gorilla, DigitFossey’s original objectives in founding Karisoke were to study gorilla ecology, demography and social organization. She found herself spending days searching for and attempting to observe these elusive animals, while encountering signs that poachers and other human intruders had preceded her. Fossey realized that to study gorilla ecology and behavior, she needed to recognize individual gorillas, which first required the gorillas to become accustomed, or habituated, to her presence.

Thus began a nearly 50-year legacy of study and protection of gorillas, now the longest-running field study of any primate, the source of much of our knowledge about gorillas, and the only conservation program that has led to an increase in a wild ape population.

What started with one woman is now a major international effort, with more than 100 trackers, research assistants and other staff, protecting and studying both mountain gorillas and Grauer's gorillas.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (founded originally as the Digit Fund by Dian Fossey) is proud to carry and expand her legacy, truly among the top success stories in all of conservation.

Looking for signs of culture — in gorillas!
Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Several Fossey Fund scientists and associates have collaborated with scientists working at other gorilla sites to tackle an interesting question: Do gorillas show evidence of cultural traits? Their results were published this week in the journal Plos One, and revealed some interesting insights.

The question of whether any species other than humans exhibit culture is one that has generated a lot of debate, and, as a consequence, many attempts to investigate the possibility. Culture in humans can be seen clearly in a myriad of behaviors, such as how we greet each other (shake hands, bow, kiss cheeks), but there is nothing genetic or environmental that creates these norms. Instead, they are learned behaviors that are picked up through social learning.

Gorilla on treeEvidence of cultural behaviors has already been documented in some animals, including chimpanzees and orangutans. For example, among chimps, the behavior of leaf clipping (taking bites of leaves in such a way as to make popping sounds) is an invitation to play among the animals in one location. But in another, separate area, this same behavior is an invitation to copulate!

To investigate potential cultural traits in animals, scientists look at the same species living in different locations, to see whether there is geographic variation in certain behaviors that might be due to culture, or social learning, rather than to ecological or genetic differences. Since gorillas live in a wide variety of habitats across Africa, scientists on this study decided to expand the look at culture in apes to gorillas, taking an initial step by selecting and comparing certain behaviors seen as potential cultural traits across five sites where gorillas are observed, including those monitored by the Fossey Fund, in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.

The scientists first generated a list of potential cultural traits among the gorillas in these five sites, and then had experts at each site record if the behaviors had been observed. After analyzing the enormous amount of such data collected, they determined that there are indeed wide differences in these gorillas’ behaviors that are correlated to their geographic distance, and that may indicate the presence of “culture” among the gorillas. Twenty-three such behaviors met the criteria of potential cultural traits, including cupping of hands to fill with water for drinking, using teeth to help in climbing trees, and tapping on the head with a hand. But further research will be needed to investigate.

Among the authors on this paper are Fossey Fund President and CEO/Chief Scientist Dr. Tara Stoinski, Fossey Fund Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio, and a number of other scientists who have been associated with the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center for many years, including former Karisoke Director Dr. Katie Fawcett. The effort was truly a collaborative one among gorilla field sites in Uganda, Rwanda, Gabon, the Central African Republic and the Republic of Congo, including wildlife authorities and other agencies, local communities, nonprofit organizations and academic institutions.


Grauer's gorillas in Congo now officially "critically" endangered
Sunday, September 04, 2016

After decades of extreme survival pressure, the conservation status of Grauer’s gorillas, found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has just been officially raised to the highest threat level – critically endangered – by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund collaborated with an international team to recommend this reassessment,” says Dr. Tara Stoinski, president and CEO/Chief scientific officer. “This change in status confirms what we already know from our work on the ground in the core of Grauer’s gorilla range – their situation is dire and if the current rate of decline continues, they could be extinct in as few as five years," she reports.

The Fossey Fund is the only NGO with a permanent field station in the low-altitude core range of the Grauer’s gorilla, and now has four teams of trackers protecting them on a daily basis, with a fifth team in development. Other than separate populations protected by the Congolese wildlife authorities (ICCN)  in two national parks, the Fossey Fund provides the only direct protection for this now critically endangered species.

“Most of the remaining Grauer’s gorillas live outside of protected areas,” says Dr. Damien Caillaud, the Fossey Fund’s research director for Congo programs and one of the authors on the Grauer’s current assessment. “And they are extremely sensitive to areas where poaching occurs. They won’t be found within a 5-8 kilometer range around mining camps, for example, so each such camp leads to gorillas leaving an area of some 30-50 square kilometers of forest. And there are many, many mining camps in the eastern Congo forest.”

A key feature of the Fossey Fund’s work in protecting Grauer’s gorillas in Congo is the involvement of local communities, especially traditional landowners.  Field staff are hired from local villages, food supplies are bought from local crops, and community development efforts are underway, such as small-scale sustainable farm projects to help decrease malnutrition and bushmeat hunting, and support for youth education.

"The Fossey Fund hopes that this multi-faceted model will build the basis for conservation action that can be applied throughout the range of Grauer’s gorillas, encouraging local groups to protect forests directly,” says Urbain Ngobobo, head of the Fossey Fund's Congo programs.

For a full report, please sign up for our monthly Gorilla Enews at News & Events-Free Gorilla News Updates

Grauer's gorillas now critically endangeredThe Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund works with other nonprofit organizations collaborating in the Conservation Action Plan (CAP) for protection of biodiversity in DR Congo. CAP is coordinated by the Jane Goodall Institute, with support from the Arcus Foundation. The Fossey Fund also works in conjunction with Congolese wildlife authorities (ICCN/Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) and other international partners.

The Fossey Fund’s work with Grauer’s gorillas is supported by the Turner Foundation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and other donors.


Fossey scientists and staff ready for international conference
Sunday, August 21, 2016

How do bamboo shoots affect gorilla ranging patterns? What are the most effective anti-poaching strategies? Does stress affect the prevalence of intestinal illnesses in gorillas? These are just a few of the scientific questions that Fossey Fund staff are studying and will present this week at the joint meeting of the International Primatological Society and the American Society of Primatologists, hosted by Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo.

This conference, held every two years, brings together primatologists from all over the world, to present the latest work in primatology. This year, Fossey Fund staff will be well represented, involved in 13 talks (five by our staff and eight with various partners), presenting research studies, posters and attending various workshops and symposia.

Fossey Fund staff presenting at the conference include: Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., President & CEO/Chief Scientific Officer; Felix Ndagijimana, director of our Rwanda programs and the Karisoke Research Center; Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D., Karisoke research manager; Deogratias Tuyisingize, manager of our biodiversity research program at Karisoke; and Congo research director Damien Caillaud, DVM/Ph.D. And, many other Fossey Fund staff will be represented as contributors to the research being presented, since almost every study involves a collaborative effort among many people.

Deo marking bambooFor example, a study led by visiting researcher Melanie Mirville (who is conducting doctoral work through the University of Western Australia), looks at the social and ecological factors that influence interactions among mountain gorilla groups, and  also included the participation of Dr. Stoinski, Samedi Mucyo, Didier Abavandimwe and Veronica Vecellio from the Fossey Fund, as well as two additional researchers from the University of Western Australia. This study analyzed more than 700 intergroup interaction events among the gorillas! Results showed that social factors (such as relatedness and familiarity) in this population seemed to be more prominent in influencing the outcome of such interactions than ecological factors (such as food availability).

Other sessions, presentations and posters by Fossey Fund staff and scientists include the following (and more):

  • Why do mountain gorillas in Rwanda temporarily venture outside protection areas? A nutritional explanation
  • Does exposure to human presence and stress affect the prevalence of Entamoeba Histolytica  (the agent of amoebic dysentery) in wild mountain gorillas, Rwanda?
  • Going alone – Social bonds of gorilla orphans
  • Behavior change during pregnancy in free ranging mountain gorillas, Rwanda
  • Influence of bamboo shoot availability on the ranging patterns of two primate species from Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
  • The memoirs program: A partnership to build scientific capacity in Rwanda’s future conservationists
  • New strategy to address poaching in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
  • Mountain gorilla skeletal project in Rwanda: Value of preserving naturally accumulated skeletal remains from long-term field studies
  • Male-infant social bonds and physiological stress in wild mountain gorillas
  • Demographic consequences of threefold increase in mountain gorilla group density in Volcanoes National Park



Another newborn mountain gorilla
Friday, August 12, 2016

Fossey Fund field staff were delighted to see a newborn in one of the mountain gorilla groups we monitor in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park, especially since this was the second newborn observed so far this month!

Ukuri with new infantMother Ukuri is 22 years old and has a complex history of transfers among groups. She was born in Pablo's group in 1993, then transferred to another group which then split into two groups. She stayed in that group for 13 years and had two infants (who are still in that group).

But in 2014, she transferred to two more groups, the last one dispersing when the silverback (Ugenda) died in April 2015. Then, in May 2015, she joined Mafunzo's group and has been there since. Mafunzo is the only adult male in this group, so he is surely the father!

Photo by Veronica Vecellio


Observing Grauer's gorillas in Congo
Monday, August 08, 2016

Opportunities to closely observe endangered Grauer’s gorillas (found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo) are limited, because there is only one group that is fully habituated to the presence of humans (and one additional group in the process of being habituated). These two groups are located in Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park, which is protected by Congolese wildlife authorities (ICCN).

Fossey Fund scientist Amy Porter, Ph.D., recently began collecting data on these groups, studying their behaviors, personalities and activities by observing them every day, as we do with the mountain gorilla groups in Rwanda. Some days, not all the gorillas of the group are seen, having spread out some distance or being hidden in thick vegetation. But when several days pass without seeing any particular member of the group, extra effort is put into locating them.

Grauer's gorilla NabangaThis happened recently when five group members were not seen for about a week, including one that Dr. Porter had been observing closely – a blackback named Nabanga. Despite hours of targeted searching, two more weeks passed without finding them, until one day, there was Nabanga, and three of the others, feeding on leaves and fruit near the group again. A few of them had wounds or scars, suggesting they had run into some “adventures” with unhabituated gorillas somewhere, and the female did not return at all, probably having transferred to another group.

“We wonder whether Nabanga and the others will stay with the group or if some or all of them will go off on another adventure. Selfishly, I hope Nabanga sticks around, because his beautiful, calm presence is so very special.”

Photo by Amy Porter

One gorilla twin has died
Saturday, August 06, 2016

Fossey Fund staff are extremely saddened to report that one of the young mountain gorilla twins born to mother Isaro in January has died, due to injuries sustained during an interaction with another group.

On Thursday afternoon, our trackers heard an auditory interaction between the twins' group (led by silverback Isabukuru) and another group. Immediately after hearing the other group, Isabukuru stood up and began to move his group away. This was excellent leadership by Isabukuru, given that interactions between groups can be quite aggressive, and infants, unfortunately, are often targeted. After traveling for a period of time, Isabukuru's group began to rest, suggesting they were comfortable with their distance from the other group.

Isaro with twins

When our trackers arrived on Friday morning, they found that the two groups had come together at some point later on and that one of the twins had been fatally injured during the interaction. Mother Isaro was carrying it, along with the other twin, whose condition was fine.

Silverback Isabukuru, known for his low tolerance of human observers, was extremely stressed out and aggressive toward the trackers. However, we will continue to monitor the group and hope that they will be able to carry on normally.

We know from our long-term studies that approximately 20 percent of infants do not survive their first year of life. However, we were hopeful about the future of Isaro's twins, since they are now almost 7 months old and had done so well up to this point. They still survived longer than the other two sets of twins recorded at Karisoke during our nearly 50 years of monitoring.

Photo by Jordi Galbany


Gorilla infants born at two of our research sites
Thursday, August 04, 2016

Fossey Fund trackers report that mountain gorilla Kurudi has just given birth, and that they found her holding the newborn this morning. Kurudi lives in Titus group, which has two silverbacks -- Pato and Urwibutso. Both were displaying when trackers arrived.

Kurudi with new infantMother Kurudi is 20 years old and this is her fourth infant, though the others are no longer living. There are two other adult females in this group that we expect will give birth some time this year as well -- Imvune and Kubana.

Titus group is named after the late legendary silverback Titus, but now has two young silverbacks with true dominance yet to be determined. Sometimes it seems as though Pato is the preferred one, while at other times it seems to be Urwibutso. The former dominant silverback, Turakora, died in March after an unknown illness, leaving behind this confusing situation.

Grauer's gorilla with new infantAlso this week, one of our staff recorded the birth of a Grauer's gorilla infant in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. The Grauer's gorillas here are the only habituated members of this highly endangered subspecies, and are protected by the Congolese park authorities (ICCN). While assisting with research and monitoring, the Fossey Fund's Dr. Amy Porter reported seeing the mother-to-be pass by her with no infant, then 10 minutes later appear with a wet newborn, umbilical cord hanging off, while the other gorillas gathered around to inspect.


Gorilla twins becoming more active
Wednesday, August 03, 2016

They can't walk yet, but the mountain gorilla twins born this January in Rwanda are now able to stand and are becoming more active every day! Fossey Fund staff continue to monitor their progress, along with that of their mother, Isaro.

Twins in JulySilverback Isbukuru is the dominant  leader in their group, and even though he is a particularly large silverback, he is also known for being a very caring father who enjoys playing with his youngsters. However, so far, although he is often in close proximity to the twins, he has not yet physically engaged with them. Still, with their continued progress, that time is certainly to come soon.

In the meantime, their older brother, 4-year-old Icyororo, is clearly interested in the twins and is the only one in the group who has been seen carrying one or both of the twins for a few seconds of play time.

Photo by Nathan Thompson

Two silverbacks fighting over a female
Saturday, July 30, 2016

A female gorilla who lives in one of the mountain gorilla groups monitored daily by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has become the object of intense interest by two silverbacks in her group. Twelve-year-old Kubana is one of three females in her group, and a point of contention between silverbacks Pato and Urwibutso.

Kubana and UrwibutsoSince the beginning of July, the two silverbacks have engaged in violent fights with each other, in reaction to the attempts of one or the other to approach Kubana. Our staff assumes that it is Kubana's reproductive receptiveness that is attracting them, but in this group there is another problem -- a lack of clear silverback dominance. Since the death of the former dominant silverback in this group (Turakora) in March, the two remaining silverbacks have not yet established a dominance hierarchy. That means it is not clear which one of them should have greater "access" to Kubana.

Unfortunately, this competition for Kubana has resulted in several injuries for the silverbacks, and no actual mating opportunities for either of them!

Submitted by Veronica Vecellio, Karisoke Research Center

Photo by Jordi Galbany


Fossey Fund helps rescue chimp in eastern Congo
Monday, July 25, 2016

One of the main challenges in ape conservation in many parts of Africa, and particularly where the Fossey Fund works in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is the hunting of gorillas and chimpanzees. Adult animals are killed for food and the infants are kept as pets or sold into the pet trade. Because of our daily presence in the forest and outreach work with local communities, we are often the first people approached when an infant ape is discovered.

In late June, our Congo program director, Urbain Ngobobo, received information from a local conservationist that an infant chimpanzee was being held in a remote village in one of the regions where we work in Congo. Our staff then formed a team to plan a strategy for rescuing the chimp, which had apparently been caught in snares in the forest and brought by hunters to the village.

Rescued chimpanzeeIt was reported that the hunters had been influenced by recent conservation activities in the area, as well as efforts to provide alternative food opportunities (as opposed to hunting for bushmeat), and therefore decided to turn the young chimp over to conservationists for care. Fossey Fund staff organized transportation, food, water and care for the chimp, coordinating with local national park authorities (ICCN) as well as Gorilla Doctors, and the animal was brought safely to the Lwiro Primate Sanctuary (Centre de Rehabilitation des Primates Lwiro) in the south Kivu area.

When a rescued chimp arrives in this sanctuary, it is the custom to name the animal after the village it came from or the person who rescued it. In this case, the chimp reecived the name of "Wenga Lipanda."  "Wenga" is the name of the village where the chimp was located and "lipanda" is a word for "independence," chosen since the rescue took place on the independence day celebrated by the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 The chimp had a small wound on its hand but seemed otherwise healthy, and was estimated to be about 3 years old. We hope he will be successfully integrated with other rescued animals at the sanctuary.

New exhibit at Karisoke includes virtual mountains
Friday, July 08, 2016

An exciting new exhibit about gorillas, their habitats, and the Fossey Fund's work is now open at our Karisoke Research Center facility in Rwanda. New items are still being added, including a special new "Virtual Virungas" mountain exhibit, an immersive, three-dimensional visualization of mountain gorilla habitat, projected onto a bed of sand and operated through a variety of high-tech controls and input.

Virtual Virungas sandbox exhibit at KarisokeThe "Virtual Virungas" uses historic mountain gorilla ranging data, plus satellite imagery and topographic maps to show how the gorillas groups have ranged during different periods of time. Visitors can even modify what is shown on the sand, through connections with their mobile phones or computers.

The "Virtual Virungas" was designed and created by Matt Swarts, Noah Posner, and Tony Giarrusso of the Center for GIS and Imagine Lab in the College of Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Ga.


Gorilla twins and mother continue their journey
Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Although we still don't know the gender of the mountain gorilla twins born in January, Fossey Fund field staff can now easily identify one twin from the other. Until they get their "official" names in this September's annual Rwandan naming ceremony (Kwita Izina), we are calling them Twin 1 and Twin 2.

Gorilla twins on mother's backTwin 1 seems to be a bit larger than Twin 2, but both nurse regularly and both ride on the back of mother Isaro, so we believe they are treated equally. To keep her energy up with all this feeding and carrying, mother Isaro is always the first in the group to start feeding during resting periods and always the last to join the others when it's time to move again.

None of the other gorillas interfere with Isaro and the twins when the group is moving, but when they are resting, their young brother Icyororo has been seen carrying one of them for playing.

Photo by Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program manager, Karisoke Research Center.

Rwandan teachers continue conservation training
Thursday, June 23, 2016

A grant from the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda has enabled the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to expand its conservation education efforts, by adding a teacher training program, starting in 2015. A teacher training workshop brought together 30 teachers from 15 primary schools located near the national park where the gorillas live, for presentations on biodiversity, conservation issues and activities, and mountain gorilla ecology, behavior and conservation.

Teacher group in fieldAlso part of the program, a number of field visits for the teachers were arranged, including a gorilla trek and a golden monkey visit this month, after a climb to the top of Mt. Bisoke in December. This way, the teachers have seen the different vegetation zones as well as many of the most-endangered animals in the forest, all of which will enhance their delivery of conservation programs in their schools.

"The conservation training has impacted me positively, learning about the importance of biodiversity, and that what wildlfe needs to survive is similar to what humans need to survive," says Kabara school teacher Juvenal Ruzirakuvuka. "It will help me motivate school children to love and protect biodiversity and will help prepare them for conservation in the future."

We are grateful to the United States Embassy in Rwanda for providing funding to carry out these teacher training activities. We thank the Rwanda Developent Board (RDB)  for their assistance in organizing the teacher training workshop. We also appreciate the collaboration of headmasters and teachers from all the schools that made the implementation of the different activities possible.

Twins' mother handling challenges
Wednesday, June 15, 2016

As the mountain gorilla twins born in January approach their sixth month of life, their increasing size means that mother Isaro now has additional challenges to face: how to handle and carry these growing infants, who are also increasingly agile and curious.

In the early months, Isaro was able to carry both of the twins against her chest with one arm, while using the other arm to walk (gorillas normally walk on all fours). But the increased weight of the growing twins is now forcing Isaro to shift their position more often while she is walking, or to provide arm support to only one of them.

B Mother gorillas with tiwns ut now even this is getting more difficult and so Isaro has to redistribute them frequently. She has also been seen carrying one infant in each arm and walking bipedally (on only two limbs) for a few meters, or using vegetation to help her maintain balance! At other times, our staff has observed her encouraging one of the infants to ride on her back, which leaves the other one with more space to cling to Isaro’s chest, with occasional additional support from the mother’s arm.

"This is a very important phase in their lives, to see whether Isaro will be able to invest equally in both infants,” says Veronica Vecellio, gorilla program manager at the Karisoke Research Center. “We are now collecting behavioral data on each twin separately, allowing us to compare their activity types and levels. Observations show one twin is more active than the other, and we hope this is due to normal variability and not to uneven feeding."

Lead tracker Eric Kabeja has observed on several occasions that one twin has pushed away the other when feeding, although the “losing” twin then just resumes feeding on the other side. This may just be normal infant “greediness” and is the only evidence of sibling conflict that we have observed.

Father may get involved soon!

We are also eagerly awaiting the time when the father and group leader – dominant silverback Isabukuru – will start interacting with the infants. At the moment they are still too young for this, but Isabukuru is known for being very actively involved with youngsters in his group. He has been observed carrying infants carefully and engaging patiently in play behaviors, including having youngsters climb onto his broad chest during resting periods, where they then attempt to push each other off in a game of “king of the hill.”

This behavior by Isabukuru seems to provide good stimulation for youngsters and perhaps even helps them develop their independence. He’s also known for his relaxed leadership style and popularity with females, though he has not always been very tolerant of human observers.

Field staff visits a different forest
Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The work of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in protecting mountain gorillas is completely dependent on the daily monitoring and protection carried out by our gorilla trackers, data technicians and researchers, in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Our field staff intimately know all the gorillas we monitor, as well as most other aspects of the forest and its ecosystem.

Recently, 22 of our data technicians, gorilla trackers and other field staff made trips to another forest park in Rwanda, called Nyungwe National Park, to learn about the different ecosystem there, to observe different animals and plants, and to compare aspects of the two forests.

Before arriving at Nyungwe Park, they stopped at the village of Huye, to visit the Ethnographic Museum of Rwanda. Here they learned about the early history of Rwanda, especially how ancient peoples interacted with their environment, their lifestyles and cultures. Then the staff went on a canopy walk over the Nyungwe  forest, which gave them the opportunity to look at many of the plant species in this closed canopy forest, quite different from Volcanoes National Park, which has a well-developed understory of plants.

Trackers in Nyungwe forestThis triggered a discussion among the staff as to whether mountain gorillas could survive in Nyungwe park, which is home to chimpanzees and other primates, but not gorillas. Luckily, the staff were able to spend a day tracking chimpanzees, observing their behaviors and comparing them to gorillas. They noted, for example, that the chimpanzees were feeding mostly on fruit, while the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park feed mostly on leaves. Also, chimpanzees travel a lot through the trees, rather than on the ground like gorillas, and so cover longer distances and are more dispersed.

The staff felt they learned a lot about ecology and conservation on this trip, and plans are currently underway to create additional field visits for more of our trackers and other field staff.

“Our staff returned home with an increased knowledge about the biodiversity and history of Rwanda, which was the main aim of the trip," says Felix Ndagijimana, the Fossey Fund’s director of Rwanda programs and our Karisoke Research Center. “I have no doubt that the knowledge gained by participating staff will be beneficial to their work with gorillas, and it was a special way for them to spend time together outside of the normal working activities as well.”

"Visiting Nyungwe, which is rich in different primates species, including chimpanzees, has expanded my understanding of the complex behaviors that we see in gorillas, and I was able to better understand the link between the behavior we observe in primates with their habitats," says Jean Pierre Samedi Mucyo, Fossey Fund monitoring and protection officer for the gorilla program at Karisoke. "This visit also increased my understanding of the importance great apes in conservation of other species and their habitats. I learned that there are forests that have been saved solely because they contain chimpanzees."

How to help save gorillas (and other wildlife)
Wednesday, June 08, 2016

In the aftermath of the tragic incident at the Cincinnati Zoo, we have received many inquiries from people wanting to know what they can do to help save gorillas and how to direct their passion for gorilla conservation at this time.

This is an important question and one that requires a multi-part answer. Successfully saving endangered gorillas in their habitat in Africa – which is the mission of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund – requires ongoing, long-term protection and monitoring in the forests every day. We do that for mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with teams of dedicated trackers, anti-poachers and scientists. This is an expensive effort and we are dependent on donations to carry out this critical aspect of gorilla conservation. Your support here is crucial.

Make your voice heard

For those in the United States, ask your lawmakers to continue to support the Great Ape Conservation Fund, which provides money and access to additional funds to support a number of field projects around the world.

Recycle cell phones and electronics

There are metals mined from gorilla habitat in the Democratic Republic of Congo that are used in cell phones and other electronics. If you commit to recycling your cell phones and other electronics, this will help reduce the demand for these metals (and the hunting that often occurs due to mining camps in the forests) and thus help protect gorillas and their habitat. Eco-Cell is one recycling company that gives back to conservation groups. 

Look for sustainable palm oil, wood and other eco-friendly products

Similar scenarios affect other wildlife, such as endangered orangutans, whose forest habitats in Asia are being decimated by harvesting of trees for palm oil, which is used in food and cosmetics. A good conservationist will look for products that either avoid palm oil or use palm oil from sustainable sources. Looking for products made from sustainable wood sources is also important to protect critical forests.

Learn more about wildlife and share

It is important not only to learn more about gorillas and conservation needs, but to help others become more aware as well. There is important wildlife, including endangered species, everywhere that needs our care, attention and awareness. Make sure everyone you know understands that wild animals do not make suitable pets. This will protect both animals and people, and help reduce the worldwide exotic pet trade.



Grieving the loss of gorillas
Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund after the tragic events at the Cincinnati Zoo this past weekend. We are moved by the outpouring of grief over the loss of Harambe, and grateful for the donations to save gorillas that we have received in his honor.

Gorillas and trackers in fieldOur mission, started by Dr. Dian Fossey nearly 50 years ago, is to protect critically endangered gorillas in Africa – mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After being pushed almost to extinction in the 1970s and 1980s, the mountain gorilla population is currently stable at roughly 900 individuals but still faces daily threats from snares and encroachment on their habitat. The nearby Grauer’s gorillas are facing a population crisis – nearly 80 percent have been killed in the last two decades and only a few thousand remain. We mourn their deaths, just as we mourn the death of Harambe, and are committed to ensuring them a future on this planet.

Thank you for caring about gorillas and for the support that has been given to help save wild gorillas in memory of Harambe.

Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., President and CEO/Chief Scientific Officer

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

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

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

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

Then the action started, as recorded by our staff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Photo by Jean Pierre "Samedi" Mucyo

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

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

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

Grauer's gorilla group

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

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

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


Thanksgiving Coffee supports gorilla conservation
Wednesday, April 27, 2016

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

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

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

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

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