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Women leading the way: Female trackers help gorillas

Promoting gender equity is an integral part of the Fossey Fund’s work.  And so we are excited that four women have recently joined our tracker teams in Rwanda, doing the daily monitoring work that has traditionally been a male-dominated field. All four women have diplomas in wildlife management and say they are now following their dreams by becoming trackers and playing such important roles in wildlife conservation. Two of the women have been assigned to our mountain gorilla teams and two to our biodiversity team. 

Here are some thoughts from gorilla trackers Aline and Pelorine about their backgrounds, their first few months in the field with the gorillas, and their hopes for their futures and gorilla conservation. Stay tuned for an upcoming story on biodiversity trackers Claudine and Jacqueline next month.

Aline Dufitumukiza: “Being part of something bigger”

Aline studied wildlife management at Integrated Polytechnic Regional College (IPRC) Kitabi.  “Working in the conservation field and specifically with mountain gorillas was a dream of mine,” she says. “Growing up, I was always fascinated by these incredible animals and the work that was being done to protect them.

“I was inspired to become a tracker because I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to contribute to the conservation of these amazing animals and protect their habitat. But I had never seen a mountain gorilla in person before I started this work. Now, as a gorilla tracker, my job is to help locate the gorilla group that my team is following each day and document the daily status of all the gorillas in the group.”

Of course, this work isn’t easy, Aline says. “The first thing that was difficult for me was the rain. I was aware that it rains often in the forest, but I was not used to it; however, I am now accustomed to it. This is the climate in which we work.”

Aline has a lot of ideas about her future in conservation too. “My personal goal is to continue working to protect and conserve mountain gorillas and their habitat and to keep studying until I have a Ph.D. in conservation,” she says. 

“I also want to inspire other young girls in my community to pursue their dreams and show them that they can achieve anything they set their minds to. I feel proud and empowered to be part of a male-dominated field. Women need to be represented in all fields!”

Pelorine Umudahogora: “Women can do anything”

Pelorine also graduated with a diploma in wildlife management from IPRC Kitabi and says she was always most interested in classes related to the environment. Even as a younger student, her favorite courses were biology, mathematics and physics. After finishing at IPRC, Pelorine completed an academic internship at the Rwanda Development Board, which allowed her to visit mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park and learn more about them. This piqued her interest in gorilla conservation specifically.

Pelorine says she too is “proud to be part of a male-dominated field. It shows that women can do anything they set their minds to and that gender should not limit our opportunities.”

The physical effort is significant but her fitness is growing each day, she adds.One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is dealing with the physical demands of tracking, such as hiking through steep terrain and dense vegetation. But with practice and determination, I’ve been able to keep improving.”

“I have learned so much since joining the Fossey Fund, from tracking techniques to gorilla behavior,” she says. But the most important thing she has learned is that teamwork and collaboration are essential in tracking mountain gorillas.

As for the future, Pelorine says she wants to keep working, learning and studying, to continue acquiring knowledge about conservation. She also wants to inspire other young women to follow their passions and make a difference in the world. 

“To other girls who are interested in conservation, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. You can make a difference in the world no matter where you come from or what obstacles you face.”

Their favorite moments and gorillas

Of course, no one can work every day with the gorillas and not have some favorite individuals and moments observing them. 

Aline says her favorite gorilla is blackback Ndizeye from Titus’ group. He’s already a big male but still enjoys playing with the young infants in the group. 

And Pelorine has been enjoying watching two youngsters in Segasira’s group, because she sees in their behaviors the striking similarities between humans and gorillas. She is also enjoying seeing how mother gorillas nurse their newborns and other aspects of their family life. 

“It’s a reminder of why our work is so important – to protect these incredible animals and ensure that they will be there for generations to come,” says Pelorine.