March 3, 2016
Growing as a gorilla conservationist: Samedi Mucyo
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has a very active scientific research program in Rwanda, aimed at both leading the way in gorilla conservation scientific studies and building the next generation of conservationists in Rwanda. Jean Pierre “Samedi” Mucyo is a prime example of this process, beginning as a student visiting the Fossey Fund and then becoming a senior research assistant. Now, he is ready to take on an even bigger role, as interim gorilla program monitoring and protection officer. The Karisoke Research Center was created with this goal in mind, so as we approach the 50th anniversary of its establishment, we take pride in sharing stories about individuals like Samedi.
Aside from Samedi’s new roles, this year has also brought other impressive developments for his career as a conservationist; he is in the process of receiving his master’s degree and was selected to attend the International Primatological Society (IPS) conference that will take place in Chicago later this year, on full scholarship.
Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio describes Samedi as a great example for field staff, saying: “Training the next generation of conservationists is extremely rewarding when you come across people like Samedi. We have high expectations for Samedi’s career advancement in gorilla conservation, and this year will provide him with many opportunities to challenge himself. I have no doubt he will succeed.”
Q: How have you grown at the Fossey Fund?
A: It would be difficult for many Rwandan conservationists to talk about their careers and not mention the Fossey Fund. Many people working in conservation in Rwanda have been involved with the Fossey Fund’s capacity-building education, which is aimed to train future conservationists in Rwanda. This also applies to me because my career in conservation started at the Fossey Fund. In 2009, I received a scholarship that enabled me to do my bachelor's thesis about mountain gorillas, which opened the door to my interest in gorilla research and conservation.
In 2011, I began working as a research assistant, a position that I held for four years. In that position, I had the opportunity to work with renowned researchers in the field studying gorillas and also attend trainings in and out of the country. Working alongside the best in conservation and attending these trainings tremendously helped me become a better researcher and conservationist. Now, I’m continuing to build my capacity with the help of the Fossey Fund as I work on my master’s degree.
Q: What keeps you motivated to continue to learn and develop as a conservationist?
A: The gorillas keep me most motived to learn and develop. The more I am with them, the more I feel connected to them. They are like my family. The more I work with them and understand how they are threatened, I am motivated to do all that I can to keep them safe. When I see an infant born, I wish that I will see that infant grow, reach adulthood and have more offspring; it’s my hope to be there and see how they grow.
Another source of motivation comes from the leaders at the Fossey Fund because they are very dedicated to keeping gorillas safe, always keep their word and are willing to work day and night to do their job well. When I see how much the Fossey Fund has done for gorilla conservation, it makes me proud and makes me want to learn more so I can help continue this legacy.
Q: Can you tell us more about your report for the IPS Chicago?
A: At the conference, I will present research about how behavior can be used to detect pregnancy among female mountain gorillas. In fact, it is very difficult to just look at a female to determine whether or not she is pregnant. We can determine pregnancy through a urine test; however, it is not easy to get uncontaminated urine from wild gorillas. In most cases, those tests can result in a false negative. Instead, by using behavior, we can predict if the female is pregnant and this could help in decisions we make for the management and research of these endangered species.
Q: What are some of the big changes and events happening for you in 2016?
A: This year started with wonderful news for me when I was informed that I received a scholarship to attend the IPS training and conference in Chicago this August. It’s a brilliant opportunity for me, which I’ve wanted for a long time. And this year I got it! I’m really grateful for the IPS committee members who offered me this opportunity and to the support I got from the Fossey Fund during the application process.
Another big change during 2016 has been the change in my job title. I will now be coordinating daily field activities at the Karisoke Research Center, in addition to my behavior data collection responsibilities.
Q: What is the biggest adjustment in your new position?
A: The biggest change in this new role is that I now manage field staff every day to make sure field activities (such as anti-poaching and gorilla group monitoring) go accordingly, and this position requires more managerial skills, unlike my data-collection responsibilities where I followed an established protocol every day. For coordinating field activities, though, you must plan each and every day. My new role will require increased leadership skills, so I feel lucky to have strong leaders at the Fossey Fund to assist me as I grow stronger in this position.