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Fossey researchers gather at primatology conference

Fossey Fund staff, scientists and collaborators have been studying gorillas for decades and we continue to increase our research into not only the gorillas but the other animals and plants in the forest, as well as other aspects of their habitat and conservation. This month we are well represented at the biannual meeting of the International Primatological Society Congress, now underway in Kenya. This conference, held every two years, brings together primatologists from all over the world, to present the latest research and ideas in primatology.

We have 11 staff and several collaborating scientists in attendance, giving talks and presentations of a wide variety of research, and attending workshops and symposia.

Here’s a look at some of the studies presented this year, and the Fossey Fund staff who work on them:

Urbain Ngobobo and protecting Grauer’s gorillas in community-managed forests: In the Democratic Republic of Congo, we protect and study critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas in forests that are not formally protected and which have been subject to decades of hunting, mining and other pressures. By partnering with local families, who have traditional ownership of forest sectors, we have set up a thriving gorilla protection program that covers more than 1,100 square kilometers of forest, resulting in a significant decline in gorilla poaching — none since our project started in 2012! Urbain, who heads this effort as well as all of our programs in Congo, is presenting this unique community-driven model of conservation at the conference.


Dr. Winnie Eckardt and measuring stress in 126 mountain gorillas: Dr. Eckardt is the research manager at our Karisoke Research Center.  Preliminary findings from her work indicate that the gorillas are facing elevated stress from certain factors, including increased rainfall and how their home ranges are shared with neighboring groups.

Deogratias Tuyisingize and the status of endangered golden monkeys:  Golden monkeys are the only other primate living in gorilla habitat in Volcanoes National Park, and are found only in this region. The Fossey Fund has been studying them for 15 years, with much of the work under the long-term supervision of Deo Tuyisingize, the Fossey Fund’s biodiversity research program manager and is now pursuing doctoral research on golden monkeys.

Jean Paul Hirwa and seed dispersal by mammals: Animals play an important role in ecosystem regeneration by helping with seed dispersal, as they feed on fruits in the forests. Jean Paul Hirwa, the Fossey Fund’s gorilla program manager, studied in Panama for his master’s degree and conducted research on the impact of such seed dispersal by arboreal monkeys and terrestrial mammals there.

Jean Pierre “Samedi” Mucyo and how gorillas impact food plants: With the mountain gorilla population growing, research assistant Samedi wanted to learn whether habitat has had an impact on the key food plants that they eat. This is important because we want to know how much more space there is to accommodate the increasing gorilla numbers.

Didier Abavandimwe and feeding behavior in gorillas: Research assistant Didier is workingon a collaborative project that is studying gorillas up to 6 years old in relation to changes in their diet composition and feeding behavior. This study is part of a larger project on gorilla growth and development with The George Washington University, with support from the National Science Foundation.

Gudula Nyirandayambaje and dominance changes in gorilla groups: Gudula, who is a Fossey Fund research assistant, studied the response of gorilla females to new leaders before and after the death of the dominant silverback.


Eric Ndayishimiye and human-wildlife conflict regarding golden monkeys: Golden monkeys, which share the forest with the gorillas, are known to sometimes leave the national park and raid local crops in nearby farms. Research assistant Eric has studied the effects of this on communities as well as non-harmful methods of reducing such crop raiding. This research is part of his master’s degree work with the University of Chester.

Thadee Muhire and periodontal disease in gorillas: Just like people, mountain gorillas can be affected by gum disease, and research assistant Thadee has measured levels of this using skeletal remains of mountain gorillas who died of natural causes and which are preserved by the Mountain Gorilla Skeletal Project, hosted at the Karisoke Research Center.  This study is a collaboration between the Fossey Fund, the Rwandan government, The George Washington University and Gorilla Doctors, with support from the National Science Foundation.

Faida Emmanuel and bamboo shoots foraging: Mountain gorillas and golden monkeys like to feed on seasonally available bamboo shoots but our long-term data collection on these shoots suggests an overall decline in the park. Faida studied how many are consumed by primates, to see if there are connections to the decline in bamboo regeneration.