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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.