Field staff visits a different forest

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.”