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Women are gorilla trackers too!

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has a large team of trackers, anti-poachers and scientists protecting and studying the mountain gorillas of Rwanda every day. They are the frontline of gorilla conservation and work in very rugged, harsh conditions, including high altitudes, dense forest, and challenging weather, so this is a job only for the fittest, strongest and smartest. Each tracker chosen has successfully completed extensive exams, both written and oral, as well as fitness tests.

Although many may think that this is a job mainly for men, the Fossey Fund has long had women serving as trackers, as well as in every other aspect of our field work. For example, female trackers Alphonsine Nakure and Pelagie Mutuyimana are in the forest every day, protecting gorilla groups no matter how far away they may be.

Female tracker Alphonsine Nakure (Photos by Cedric Ujeneza)

Nakure started with us as a tracker in 2008, after working as a farmer. She is a mother of three children and says she is proud that her job helps her take care of her family, as well as helping to protect the gorillas.

In her years as a tracker, Nakure has monitored many of the gorilla groups that we follow. She says her favorite gorilla is male Inkumbuza, because she has seen him live in two different groups and be friends with all the members in both groups as he became a silverback. Her most frightening moment was back in 2016, when her team encountered a buffalo that charged at the trackers and ran after them. But luckily no one was injured.

Pelagie Mutuyimana is a more recent addition to our tracking team, after starting with the Fossey Fund on an academic internship in April 2017 and then a field research assistant. After that, she applied to become a tracker and began in April 2018. Mutuyimana had already completed a degree in wildlife management with the Kitabi College of Conservation and Environmental Management and is especially interested in observing the social behaviors of gorilla groups.

“I like to see mountain gorillas every day and to contribute in their protection as an endangered species,” says Mutuyimana. “These are my wishes since I was young because I heard stories about gorillas and I said that one day I could help them through their conservation. Now I am very happy that I can actually see them and contribute to their protection. I hope to dedicate my career to being a strong mountain gorilla conservationist.”

Female tracker Pelagie Mutuyimana