Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Changes Continue in Pablo Group

Isura with  her new friends in the Karisimbi group.                              Two gorillas have left Pablo’s group, bringing the number of the largest group of mountain gorillas down to 44 individuals. Isura, a subadult 7-year-old female and offspring of Mukecuru (the older female who gave birth to her sixth infant last week) transferred to Karisimbi’s group, which is one of the groups monitored by the Rwandan Development Board (RDB) and used for tourism. Additionally, 12-year-old Mafunzo dispersed to become a lone silverback, in the hopes of acquiring females and assembling his own group in the future.
On Wednesday May 9, Karisoke Research Center trackers were unable to locate Isura in Pablo's group and Mafunzo had gone missing two days prior. Initially, the female was not thought to have transferred. The group was ranging in dense bamboo in the Gashinga area, on the bottom of the slopes of Mount Karisimbi. Due to the dense vegetation and heavy rains, the field staff suspected that she could be hidden somewhere close by.

The Karisoke trackers assigned to Pablo's group made an intense search the following day when, again, neither gorilla was located and the field staff began to believe that the two gorillas had left together. After several days of searching, on Sunday, May 13 the team found a trail (of one of the two gorillas) coming from Pablo’s group. The trail led in the direction of the Karisimbi group, directly to the nest of a silverback.  The Karisoke trackers called the RDB staff in charge of monitoring the Karisimbi group to inquire if they had observed any unfamiliar gorillas near their group. The RDB trackers had in fact seen an unknown female arrive in the group a few days prior.

With this news, Karisoke's Pablo trackers trekked to the Karisimbi group and successfully identified the unknown female as Isura. They reported that she is fine and perfectly integrated into her new group. She was often observed close to Ruhuka, a female that transferred from Pablo's to Susa’s group in 2009, grooming and resting in close physical contact. The two females are familiar with each other from the years they spent together in Pablo's group.

Even Getty, the group’s dominant silverback, was seen resting close to Isura, meticulously grooming her. Although he displayed once towards her, he quickly calmed down and began to warm to the new female. “Even if the dynamic of the transfer is still not clear, the staff of the Karisoke Research Center was happy to see Isura healthy and well established in the Karisimbi group” says Karisoke Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio.  “A missing gorilla, especially if it is a female, always raises concerns and requires a massive effort for a search to be carried out on top of the routine daily tracking of all gorilla groups.”

As for the dispersed silverback Mafunzo, the field staff was unable to locate him. He is a silverback and, even if he is on the young side, he is still within the normal age range to strike out on his own. In fact, Mafunzo had left and rejoined the group twice before this last disappearance. It is likely that the nest found close to the Karisimbi group was in fact his nest, if he was on the trail of Isura before she made the final transfer. Mafunzo’s decision to become a lone silverback is not surprising, as he is the brother of Pablo's group’s dominant silverback, Cantsbee, and related to most of the Pablo group's gorillas, including sexually active females.

As of this afternoon, the field staff reported that Pablo's group has split into two subgroups once again, with Cantsbee leading 16 individuals and Gicurasi leading 26. The entire group nested together last night in the same location where Cantsbee's subgroup is ranging at the present time. Because the bamboo is a limited resource, it is very likely that Gicurasi led another group to an area with more food availability, to avoid overcrowding.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

All Images © The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

To read more of the Fossey Fund blog, please click here.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pablo Female Gives Birth, Largest Group of Gorillas Rises to 46

Pablo's group became 46 individuals today when the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center trackers arrived at the group and noticed that Mukecuru, an older female estimated to be between 26 and 32 years of age, had given birth. The Karisoke field staff have suspected for several months now that Mukecuru was expecting. Her belly has been exceptionally rotund and she has been observed moving slowly, appearing lethargic and uncomfortable. At her age, this will be one of her last offspring to be born. As she lost her two previous infants in 2007 and 2009, the field staff is hoping this new baby will survive.

Mukecuru transferred from the Susa group to Pablo's group in 1995, and at the time she was estimated to be 16 years old. She gave birth in 1996, just one year after her transfer. Although it can not be said for sure, it was likely that Mukecuru was nulliparous (had not given birth yet) when she transferred into Pablo's group, in which case this would have been her first infant and she could actually have been as young as 10 years old. If Mukecuru is in fact closer to 32 years old now, this may be the last infant she will bear. Based on the long-term research at Karisoke, female gorillas tend to live longer than males and can remain reproductively active until their death, unlike humans. Mukecuru’s new infant is her sixth. The baby joins siblings Mitimbili (a 16-year-old adult female) and Isura (a 7-year-old subadult female) in Pablo's group. The infant’s third surviving sibling, 12-year-old Umwe, transferred to the Susa group in 2007.

According to Karisoke’s copulation records, Mukecuru was copulating primarily with Gicurasi, the beta-male of Pablo's group, nine months ago. The field staff reports that Mukecuru spends much of her time with this silverback. “It will be interesting to see how both Gicurasi and [dominant silverback] Cantsbee react to the infant” says Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio. It will be at least six months before the Karisoke researchers are able to collect viable DNA samples to determine paternity for this youngster, though. At least five fecal samples will be collected and shipped to the Max Planck Institute in Germany when the time comes.

It is possible that Mukecuru gave birth yesterday, because the team was not able to reach Pablo's group that day due to rain, flood waters and rising rivers. The Karisoke trackers reported that the baby appeared healthy this morning, but because of the inclement weather at this time of year it’s a difficult time for a youngster to be born.

Anti-poaching News

In the second mixed patrol of 2012 conducted by the Congolese park authority (ICCN) and Karisoke trackers, 105 snares were found in the last six days. This patrol covered the trans-border area on the northern side of Mount Visoke, called Kaniampereri. It has been some time since this area was combed for snares and other illegal activities, but this alarmingly high number is cause for concern for the gorillas that range along the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

All images © Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

To read more of the Fossey Fund's blog, please click here.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Silverback Inshuti Retreats to Mount Karisimbi

Dominant silverback InshutiMidway through the spring rainy season, when all of the Karisoke-monitored gorilla groups move down to the bamboo zone along the Volcanoes National Park border, one renegade silverback consistently leads his group farther up to the cold, misty, highest reaches of the volcanoes.

Why is it that Inshuti, year after year, chooses not to lead his group to
the prolific bamboo shoots along the border? Though it’s only speculation at this point, perhaps it is because he is the only male in his group and thus has no “backup” in the event of an interaction with another group. This leaves him more vulnerable to lone silverbacks and other males looking to steal his females. Heading down to the bamboo zone during the shoot season, the gorilla groups are forced into close proximity with one another and it is a time when inter-group interactions are on the rise and anything can happen.

In previous years, no outstanding event precipitated Inshuti’s retreat up to the higher elevations. This year, however, his decision to move up the slopes of Mount Karisimbi - an area where the research groups normally do not range - can be easily explained. The silverback has kept his group up on Mount Karisimbi ever since all the turmoil and drama that led to the loss of two of his females in January and February 2012. Inshuti was an injured, weakened silverback with no beta male. Considering all of the aggressions that he had endured in the previous months, it is not hard to understand his motive: move higher up in order to avoid lone silverbacks prowling for females and safely keep what is left of his former six-member group.
Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, PhD, trekked to Inshuti’s group on Thursday, April 26th, aware that they were ranging at least four hours from the park border. With three Inshuti trackers, Phocas Nkunzingoma, Simon Havugimana and Gustave Busheja, the team climbed up Mount Karisimbi’s slopes to almost 3,800 meters (12,467 ft.).

Spanning the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mount Karisimbi is the highest volcano in the Virunga range at 4,507 meters (14,783 feet) and the fifth highest mountain in Africa. The subalpine and alpine zones are teeming with Rubus (blackberries) and Dendrosenecio. Along the trek up, the team passed what Dian Fossey described as many “barren, moon-like alpine meadows of Karisimbi” and continued to climb higher in elevation.

The field team found the group’s night nests at 3,680 meters, but continued upwards to find the four gorillas that remain in Inshuti’s group. The team moved quickly from the start, knowing that Inshuti's group was ranging far, confident in their many hours of experience on the mountains. But the quick ascent backfired, and Eckardt reported that altitude sickness had set in by the time the team reached the nest site. An unsettling nausea gripped the hardened gorilla researcher and her legs felt as if they had turned to stone.

It’s extremely cold, windy, misty and wet at this altitude and the gorillas too struggle in such difficult conditions. The field team reported that infant Akaruso, after losing his mother when she transferred to Giraneza’s group in February, continues to sleep with Inshuti. The silverback had built a deep, thick nest to deflect the cold wind. Another equally deep nest where Shangaza and infant Ngwino had slept was nearby.

In her book Gorillas In The Mist, Fossey described other gorillas retreating to Karisimbi’s slopes during her research. Lone silverbacks Bartok and Brahms both chose ranges on Karisimbi. And, when Brahms was shot in the chest by a poacher’s bow and arrow in 1971, he retreated up Karisimbi and stayed for an entire year before he successfully obtained two females and formed his own group.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

All Images © Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

To read more of the Fossey Fund's blog, please click here. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Virunga Massif's endangered Golden Monkey

Karisoke’s Biodiversity Program Manager Shares Skills with Rwandan Students

Students from Rwanda’s National University in Butare are visiting the Karisoke Research Center this week, working under Biodiversity Research and Monitoring Program Manager Deo Tuyisingize. Tuyisingize recently completed a two-month training in small mammal studies at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago under Julian Kerbis, Ph.D.

Upon arrival at Karisoke yesterday afternoon, the students mingled with Irish, American, Brazilian and Australian master's degree candidates from the University of Dublin and sat in on the visiting students' presentations. Today, the 15 third year zoology students visited Volcanoes National Park to practice data collection for bird ecology and the behavioral ecology of the endangered golden monkeys.

This afternoon, the zoology students found themselves examining skeletal remains of small mammal specimens back at Karisoke. Their training will be concluded tomorrow with large and small mammal surveying, trapping and identification. In addition, the botany students will undergo training in sampling and identification for plant phenology.

Tuyisingize explains why the training is important: “Small mammal communities have become indicators of environmental health and faunal diversity. However, at the current time, Rwanda does not have a single natural history institution or zoological department that is capable of processing (collecting, preparing, identifying, cataloguing) these small mammal specimens."

During Tuyisingize’s time in Chicago, he acquired important skills to develop his expertise in biodiversity conservation and traveled back to his home country equipped with dissection material, field data sheets, live traps and other necessities to carry out small mammal research at Karisoke. But Tuyisingize’s relationship with the Chicago Field Museum doesn’t end there. Dr. Kerbis will continue to collaborate with Tuyisingize on his research and plans to visit Rwanda in October 2012 to share his knowledge with the Karisoke and Rwandan Development Board staff in mammal ecology and conservation. In addition, all of the specimens collected in Rwanda have been sent to the Chicago Field Museum for analysis.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Learning From Our History To Build a Bright Future"

It has been 18 years since one of the most horrific genocides of the 20th century rocked the East African country of Rwanda, claiming the lives of almost a million people in just 100 days.

For the past week, the people of Rwanda have been participating in a genocide commemoration which culminates in a final day of mourning on Friday April 13th. Speeches have been made, testimonials given, memorials conducted, films were screened, flowers laid at grave sites and this year, over 10,000 genocide victims from a mass grave were given proper burials in the southern province.

Purple banners bearing the message “Learning from our history to build a bright future” were draped all across the city of Kigali. Small purple commemorative ribbons were pinned to shirts and, the Rwandan youth’s “Walk to Remember” was carried out all over the country. Healing and education are the two primary objectives of the annual commemoration weeks, and this year, Rwandan academics were encouraged to commit their testimonies to paper, to further the documentation of the 1994 genocide. “Plus Jamais - Never Again” still rings true in Rwanda. It is clearly important to older Rwandans that the younger generation understand how it happened, that they understand the history. They know that this is the only way to ensure that it will never happen again.

On Tuesday, Fossey Fund staff from the Kigali office and the Karisoke Research Center traveled to a village in the Ndera Sector, one hour south of Rwanda’s capital city, to visit a community of genocide survivors. In this remote village, perched on the top of a ridge and overlooking Rwanda’s lush green hills, live 39 individuals who comprise 18 families. This swath of land was gifted to them by the Rwandan government in 2008. Previous to 2008, these survivors were living all over the region, some as refugees, some with friends within the country. Every person, however, was one of the few remaining members of their families. Some were left utterly alone.

 These individuals have banded together to create a small, successful community; they have built a family where there was none. A villager proudly announced that three of their community members graduated from university last year, with degrees in information technology and economics. Two recently married.

The Fossey Fund gave a gift of 18 goats (one for each family unit) and distributed t-shirts, shared drinks and snacks and listened to the community members' testimonies.

Twenty-eight-year-old genocide survivor Ildephonse Ugiringabire spoke at length about the healing process since the genocide and the growth of his nation in the last 18 years. “I believe I can change my country with my knowledge -- help my people to believe that they have a good future, can get married, study at university, grow old...” Despite everything that these survivors have been through, on this bright, sunny Tuesday afternoon in the remote farmland of Rwanda, everyone was all smiles.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Rwanda's Gishwati Forest

Gishwati Rainforest - a beautiful old forest in northern Rwanda that was once 100,000 hectares, and now reduced to just 600 hectares as a result of subsistence farming and refugee resettlement after the 1994 genocide. My roommate Winnie and I dared the jarring 1.5 hour ride up a bumpy dirt road on the back of motorbikes this past weekend to check out Gishwati - and the 24 chimpanzees that call this rainforest home. The chimpanzees are not habituated so we were not able to get very close to them, but we could hear them calling to one another throughout the day.
I was really struck by the diverse plant species in Gishwati. For only being a few hours away, this forest was a world apart from the Virunga’s (where the mountain gorillas live). Gishwati was once the second largest indigenous forest in Rwanda, but is now just 1,500 acres.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Expedition to Congo's RGPU reserve rainforest in search of unhabituated Grauer's gorillas

In the last decade, the Fossey Fund has worked alongside local Congolese leaders to establish nine nature reserves that encompasses over 7,000 square miles of landscape.  But, because the Grauer’s range covers some 26,000 square miles (an area more than twice the size of the entire country of Rwanda), there is still much work to be done to ensure the conservation of this gorilla subspecies. The Fund plans to implement an “active conservation” methodology in one reserve after another, and slowly expand as resources allow.

Expeditions to the reserves are being completed now. Most recently, Urbain Ngobobo, Fossey Fund DRC Program Manager and Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer, flew from Goma to the RGPU, the Punia Gorilla Reserve, via a bush plane through Kasese, DRC. The reserve is as remote as you can imagine. There are no dirt roads that connect the villages; they are only accessible by motorbike, through a network of narrow jungle paths that are at best extremely muddy and at worst, filled with organic obstacles and downright dangerous. The 4 hour, 32 kilometer motorbike ride from the airstrip through the rainforest led the team through mammoth clusters of bamboo, reaching 75 feet or higher, across slippery logs spanning rushing rivers and through many mud and thatch hut villages.
The primary objective of this particular trip was to determine the Grauer’s gorilla’s presence in the region. Throughout the 2 days, 30 kilometers and 17 hours of trekking through the rainforest, the team of nine UGADEC trackers and DFGFI staff discovered many gorilla nests, of varying age and decomposition. The team moved deeper into the forest, up and down countless mountains and ravines, and various other presence-indicators made an appearance - old feeding sites, piles of dung and finally, the characteristic knuckle print in the mud that led right to a group. The Grauer’s gorillas in this area are unhabituated though, and fled at the first sound of the team’s approach.

The two-day forest expedition also reinforced another vital element to the new program: anti-poaching. The first 2-3 kilometers into the trek, the team encountered many villagers toting wood, water and food out of the forest. Just beyond that zone however, the first snare was discovered, which was promptly destroyed. Two additional bamboo and wire snares and a trap designed to break the leg of it’s victim were found the first day. With a recent private donation for $200,000 to develop an anti-poaching program in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Fund intends to begin effectively counteracting poaching in the region as soon as possible.

This region of DRC is exceptionally rich in natural resources and evidence of human’s exploitation of these resources was everywhere. The first night in the forest was spent at an old mining camp, in tents pitched between sink holes for sifting minerals. Coltan, the highly valuable ore that goes into technology in the western world (cell phones, computers etc.) is the primary mineral mined in this area of the forest. In fact, the team observed sacks upon sacks of the blue-black mineral being toted out of the forest and flew back on a plane carrying 2,000 kilograms of it. In addition, rusted metal bins with smoke pouring from the top was a tell-tale indicator of palm oil production in the area. Many villagers were carrying wood out of the forest, some were collecting insects for protein consumption, but most baskets were filled to the brim with the orange-yellow palm fruit - from which the oil is extracted.  Palm oil and the correlating deforestation is most commonly associated with orangutans in Indonesia, but could this one day become one of the primary threats to the rainforests of DRC and it’s gorilla inhabitants?

There are a myriad of obstacles and challenges to consider as the Fossey Fund builds this new program. Working in the Democratic Republic of Congo is notoriously dangerous and extremely expensive, but the price tag is not too high for saving gorillas, one of the world's most crucial rainforests and the many other species who live in it.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Staring Contest with Buffalo

Bwenge’s group encountered a herd of buffalo today in the Kupoteza area of Volcanoes National Park (in the saddle between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Visoke), reports Karisoke researchers Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D. and Stacy Rosenbaum. When the two researchers arrived at the group this morning, the gorillas were huddled together and staring intently at something. Rosenbaum’s first thought was “lone silverback." But as it turned out it was a herd of 14 buffalo -- calves, mothers and old males, staring right back at the curious black creatures.

After a considerable staring contest ensued, the adult gorillas lost interest and resumed feeding.  The youngsters of the group, determined to “defend” their family, confidently strut-stanced back and forth in front of the ambivalent bovines, periodically chest beating to make their message clear.

Two-year-olds Gasore and Ubuhamya, along with 4-year-old Ntaribi, continued their posturing for a while, slowly inching closer to the buffalo until Nzeli (mother of Ubuhamya) sauntered up and grabbed her infant, bringing her back to the group. Eckardt, who is studying stress in mountain gorillas, said that the group “didn’t seem to be stressed or bothered by the buffalos' presence at all. They were definitely interested in them." After an hour had passed - and both species had ruled each other out as a potential threat - the animals went their separate ways from the meadow.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

To check out more of the Fossey Fund's blog, click here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Silverback Updates: Inshuti, Giraneza and Gwiza

Giraneza in strut stanceGiraneza in strut stance

After having gone missing for three days, dominant silverback Inshuti was located today by the Fossey Fund field staff. A life-altering series of interactions with lone silverback Giraneza last week left him with severe injuries and minus two of his females.  Still traveling with Inshuti is 31-year-old female Shangaza, her offspring: 3-year-old Ngwino, and 2-year-old Akarusho (whose mother, Taraja, left to join Giraneza).

Karisoke director Felix Ndagijimana trekked to Giraneza’s newly formed gorilla group today to assess the group and the trackers assigned to it. Ndagijimana reports that Giraneza is still establishing his power over the females through displays and strut stances. Additionally, he reported that both females in the group, Taraja and Nyandwi, solicited copulation with the silverback and Giraneza was observed copulating with Taraja on one occasion.

“Even though the group is doing fine, it is clear from Giraneza’s power displays that they are still in a transitional phase” says Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio. Karisoke has now established a team of trackers specifically for Giraneza’s group, after an initial team of temporary staff was assembled to meet the new group's needs.

Gwiza still seems to be ranging outside of our tracker’s patrol areas and has yet to be located after his intense interaction with Ugenda’s group last Wednesday, when the 24-year-old lone silverback sustained severe injuries. Just because the field staff has not located the bachelor does not necessarily mean that he is critically wounded, but it could be some time before Gwiza is strong enough to attempt another interaction and make an appearance within a Karisoke research group.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Missing Karisoke Research Gorillas; Suspected Poacher Arrested

The Karisoke research group that has been hassled for weeks now by various lone silverbacks has been reported missing for the third day in a row by field staff. Inshuti’s group was last located on Thursday, February 2nd.  Two patrol teams, with the support of the anti-poaching rangers, were dispatched to search for the missing group Saturday, Sunday and Monday but unfortunately, they were unable to find a trace of them. Tomorrow, the teams will thoroughly comb the five Basumba Hills where Inshuti’s group normally ranges...

To read the rest of the Fossey Fund blog post from today, please click here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Lone Silverback Drama Continues for Inshuti

The lone silverback drama involving Inshuti and his group has continued on through the end of this week, reports the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center field staff. The dominant silverback truly cannot catch a break from the lone males ranging in the forest tenaciously seeking out females to steal. Yesterday, Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, PhD. and research assistant Samedi Muyco witnessed an interaction that lasted from early morning to late afternoon and had the females of the group shaking with fear. This particular interaction involved Giraneza, an impressive lone silverback who split from Pablo’s group four years ago when he was just 13 years old.

But Giraneza wasn’t the only lone silverback threatening Inshuti’s group on Thursday. Also on the trail was Tuyizere, the lone male who has been making frequent appearances in the Karisoke-monitored groups throughout the last several months. When the field team arrived, Tuyizere was interacting with the group, but was quickly deterred by the team’s presence and lingered about 100 meters from the rest of the gorillas for the duration of the afternoon. Giraneza more than made up for Tuyizere’s reluctance with a constant onslaught of displays toward the group leader. The mammoth Inshuti responded with intimidating displays of his own and charged Giraneza multiple times throughout the data collection period.

Young female Nyandwe “was very interested in going with Giraneza” said Eckardt. "She was frequently looking at the lone silverback. Inshuti had the hardest time to move her up and away” from the intruder. Eckardt reported that the group leader was working hard to move his females higher up the mountain for most of the day, but Nyandwe took her time and was noticeably lagging behind. Eckardt observed one instance where Nyandwe was keeping an eye on both males. When she saw that Inshuti had moved higher up with the rest of the group, she started making her move towards Giraneza. But, Inshuti caught her and moved quickly back down to guard his female. Nyandwe feigned disinterest in the lone silverback and followed Inshuti back up to the group. And it wasn’t only Nyandwe that had an eye for Giraneza. Female Taraja was also very interested in going with him, but with her young offspring still in tow, she likely reasoned it wasn’t a good idea to attempt to transfer at this time.

Field Data Coordinator John Ndayambaje reported that Inshuti’s group was peaceful this afternoon and no lone silverbacks were found on their trail. Hopefully this will mark an end to the incessant intruders and Inshuti will have time to heal from his wounds.

To read more of the Fossey Fund blog, click here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Group Leader Isabukuru Turns on Beta Male

Isabukuru fought Kubaha Monday, reported Karisoke Research Assistant Jean Paul Hirwa. The researcher noticed that Isabukuru was clearly uncomfortable with Kubaha’s presence yesterday morning when the field staff arrived at the group, and the dominant male was keeping a close eye on the beta male. Kubaha lingered about 10 meters from the group for a short while before Isabukuru confronted him.

When Isabukuru approached Kubaha, the beta male “pig grunted” towards him in warning, but Isabukuru advanced on him, initiating a short bout of “kick-hits." It was clear that Isabukuru had “defeated” Kubaha when the dominant silverback had him pinned to the ground screaming, with Kubaha assuming a cowering posture. Kubaha attempted to make his escape, but Isabukuru held him down, mouth open wide and teeth poised above his opponent. The females of the group were equally aroused and Ikaze bit Kubaha in a moment of excitement.

Isabukuru rounded out the incident with a vigorous display towards Kubaha, then “kick-hit” him before allowing him to go. Kubaha immediately started moving away from the group and was feeding very far from Isabukuru’s group when the observation and data collection period came to a close. The Fossey Fund field staff was unable to detect any serious injuries on Kubaha, however a wound was seen on his right arm from Ikaze’s bite. Karisoke researcher Stacy Rosenbaum made plans to trek to the group the next day to collect data and report on the group dynamic. More to come.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Injured Silverback Inshuti in Stable Condition - Fossey Fund Blog Post

Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, Ph.D., accompanied the team assembled to assess the condition of injured dominant silverback Inshuti this morning. Eckardt reported that “although his injuries are indeed severe, the group leader appears to be toughing it out -- in typical Inshuti style” and a medical intervention was not necessary. She added “overall, the group appears to be exhausted from the incident and was traveling slowly, stopping frequently to rest.” With Inshuti injured, adult female Shangaza took the initiative to lead the group away from the one lone silverback who was still on the trail of the group.

Inshuti grooming himself.Inshuti grooming himself.
Karisoke trackers were able to successfully identify this remaining lone silverback as 21-year-old Turatsinze -- the same male that participated in an interaction with Titus group last November in an attempt to acquire female Ubufatanye (Fat). Turatsinze has been a lone silverback since 2006 when he dispersed from Pablo group on Oct. 18 of that year. It appears that he has traveled solo long enough -- and is anxious to start his own group.

And Inshuti is all too familiar with Turatsinze’s struggle. Interestingly, Inshuti is one of the few lone silverbacks observed by the Karisoke Research Center to build a group “from the ground up,” gradually acquiring one female after another. Eckardt reflects that he was “incredibly tenacious and tough. He wasn’t going to give up until he had formed his own group.” It appears that same strength and tenacity has served him well in keeping his group together.

Inshuti was observed directing “neigh vocalizations” towards female Taraja three times this morning. This could provide some insight as to what lured the lone silverbacks to his group. Over the last week, Inshuti was seen copulating with the female, which could indicate that she may be able to conceive again. Inshuti’s “neigh vocalizations” could have been an attempt to strengthen the bond between the pair, and deter her from leaving his group to accompany the lone silverback.

Inshuti was feeding very little today and his condition must be monitored closely throughout the next several days by Karisoke field staff. MGVP veterinarians will visit the group again Tuesday to ensure that he is recovering smoothly. As for Turatsinze -- the lone silverback was 700 meters from the group when the team left this afternoon and moving in the opposite direction. Trackers will continue to search for the missing lone silverback for identification purposes.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

To check out more of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International blog, click here.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Silverback Leader Inshuti Attacked by Two Lone Silverbacks

Silverback Inshuti
Two lone silverbacks joined forces and attacked 24-year-old dominant silverback Inshuti today, reports Fossey Fund Field Data Coordinator John Ndayambaje. Inshuti sustained three large bite wounds on his head and one on his neck. Veterinarians Dr. Dawn Zimmerman and Dr. Jean-Felix Kinani (of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project), along with a team of Karisoke trackers, will trek to the group tomorrow to assess the damage and potentially carry out a medical intervention. Karisoke researcher Winnie Eckardt, PhD., will join the team to collect behavioral data and fecal samples for her ongoing study on stress in the mountain gorillas.

Ndayambaje reported that the interaction began in the Tamu area between Mount Visoke and Mount Karisimbi at 11:24 a.m. and lasted almost 2-1/2 hours, until the pair of silverbacks retreated from the group at 1:49 p.m. The unidentified silverbacks displayed 19 times throughout the first half of the interaction, pushing Inshuti and his group to travel over 1.5 kilometers through the forest, in an attempt to get away from the intruders. Inshuti displayed three times before the physical interaction began, when he sustained the bite wounds.

With the absence of any other males in the group to help Inshuti, the three females, Shangaza, Taraja and Nyandwi, participated in the interaction in defense of their infants and injured leader. The two infants remained on their mother’s backs throughout the entire interaction -- which the field staff found particularly interesting because, at almost 3 years old, both offspring are at an age that they would not normally need to travel on their mothers' backs. Females Shangaza and Taraja reportedly charged the two silverbacks twice. On the first occasion, they charged both silverbacks jointly, causing the males to turn and retreat. Next, they charged only one of the silverbacks, at which point, the other male charged the females, who then retreated. During this time, Inshuti attempted to display, but was too weak to chest beat and was only able to display with hooting vocalizations. Inshuti group trackers report that the pair of silverbacks are 350 meters away from the group at this time. Inshuti is said to be in critical condition and appears to be in quite a lot of pain.

Although the attackers are not yet officially identified, the field staff believes these two silverbacks could possibly be 15-year-old Gushimira and 14-year-old Twihangane, the gorillas that dispersed from Pablo group on August 16. However, there are currently six lone silverbacks that are monitored by the Karisoke Research Center in this area and realistically, the aggressors could be any of them. Along with the medical intervention team for Inshuti, another team of trackers will enter the forest tomorrow morning to track the silverbacks and attempt to identify the individuals.

Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio says that “this is not the first time that Inshuti has been involved in such an aggressive interaction -- he suffered serious wounds from both Beetsme and Pablo (late silverbacks) in the past. He is a strong individual and he will likely bounce back from this.”
Our Karisoke staff is, of course, enormously concerned and hopes that Inshuti will recover from these injuries. Without Inshuti, this group would be in disarray, with the two infants of the group in an extremely vulnerable position.

An account of tomorrow’s observations and possible medical intervention will be reported promptly.

Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fossey Fund to Launch New Grauer’s Gorilla Monitoring Program in DRC

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International will be expanding its conservation efforts to launch a new Grauer’s (eastern lowland) gorilla monitoring initiative in the Democratic Republic of Congo, beginning January 2012. The Fund is currently in the process of hiring an additional thirty Congolese field staff (25 trackers and 5 team leaders) to carry out data collection and monitoring of six designated populations of Grauer’s gorilla in the DRC tropical forests. This follows many years of aiding in the establishment of a string of community nature reserves in the area.
Victims of a War-Torn Country
Between Congo’s Maiko and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks, there stretches a corridor of lush rainforest whose inhabitants have been left largely unprotected, exposed to the conflict and corruption that has plagued the country for so many years. With various bands of rebels moving through the landscape and the local communities struggling to survive, the forest, and it’s vast resources, has borne the brunt of this desperate situation.
Conservation efforts have been limited and challenged due to the civil war that has ravaged the region throughout the last two decades. The forest is filling with illegal loggers and miners, whose presence increases the demand for bushmeat as a protein source. The rich Congolese land is being mined for coltan - an expensive mineral being used in technology production (cell phones, computers, etc.) and also for tin, gold, diamonds, cobalt and copper.
A paved road cutting through the heart of the forest to a mine has also created easy access for illegal loggers to move in. Should the conditions stabilize, it is likely that commercial logging companies will join in the race for Congolese timber. Additionally, local communities rely on charcoal production and subsistence farming to meet their needs. As the human population grows, more forests are converted to farm land, further contributing to the deforestation. And the armed groups living in the forest continue to exploit it’s precious resources to finance their efforts. All of these issues combine to create what could be the perfect storm for this endangered subspecies of gorilla. It is clear that quick action is required if there is going to be hope for their survival.
The Fossey Fund’s “active conservation” approach, developed by Fossey in her early years of research, has proven to be an extremely successful conservation method for Rwanda’s mountain gorillas. The Fund sends anti-poaching rangers into the park daily to patrol for illegal activities and poaching. Trained trackers monitor the nine gorilla research groups 7 days a week, 365 days a year. In fact, due to this “active conservation” initiative, Rwanda’s mountain gorillas are the only monitored population of great apes in the world that is actually increasing. The Fund anticipates that by applying the active conservation approach to this corridor of forest, the Grauer’s gorilla population will receive some relief from external pressures and the international scientific community will benefit from an increase in data on this lesser known gorilla subspecies. 

The Grauer’s Gorillas of DRC
Dian Fossey helped to make the plight of the critically endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda known around the world, and now, their lesser known kin is in dire need of conservation efforts. Relatively speaking, much less is known about the Grauer’s gorilla, primarily due to the long term instability of the region. In fact, conservationists can not conclude an approximate population estimate for the subspecies. According to the IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species, there could be anywhere between 4,000 and 25,000 Grauer’s gorillas remaining in the wild. Without an accurate census conducted in the area, it is impossible to know just how many Grauer’s gorillas survive in the wild today, and thus, what kind of extinction risk the subspecies may be facing.
Both classified as Eastern Gorillas, the Grauer’s gorilla split from the mountain gorilla some 400,000 years ago. They retained some resemblance with one another, however there are a few distinct physiological differences. The mountain gorilla has darker, thicker, longer hair (suitable for the high altitude and cold climate), a wider face and more angular nostrils. The Grauer’s gorilla’s physique is more suited to the warmer lowland tropical forest of Congo. There is one characteristic that both subspecies undoubtedly share: ranging long distances to meet their seasonal diet and social needs. These ranging patterns bring the Grauer’s gorilla into the forests outside of the protected parks in search of ripe fruit and other vegetation, and directly into the path of danger.
All of the four orphaned gorillas confiscated by park authorities since April 2011 are Grauer’s gorillas, and each is suspected to have been captured in the forests surrounding Walikale. Without a presence of conservation organizations or authorities in DRC’s forests, poaching and other illegal activities can run rampant and the Grauer’s gorilla populations are continuing to be fragmented and reduced as the human population density in the region rapidly increases.

Direct Grauer's Monitoring Begins
Juan Carlos Bonilla, Fossey Fund Vice President of Africa Programs says “During the past decade, the Fossey Fund and its partners have succeeded in establishing community-managed forest reserves in the eastern DRC. Habitat protection is the essential condition for gorilla survival, a necessary, but not sufficient condition. Our new program will go deeper and focus on direct monitoring and protection of gorilla groups in this vast region.”
There is much to be learned about the Grauer’s gorilla, says Fossey Fund primatologist Dr. Winnie Eckardt. “With the mountain gorillas, we have extensively studied their demography, social behavior, reproductive patterns, ecology. But with the Grauer’s gorillas, we don’t even know their abundance or distribution, much less behavioral patterns. We look forward to expanding our research database and helping to contribute to the conservation of this subspecies.” The primatologist hopes to make the journey to Walikale at the beginning of next year to share her field knowledge with the new staff.
There are a myriad of challenges that the Fossey Fund will face in order to establish this new program in DRC. While Walikale is the logical place for the program’s headquarters, the town does not yet have electricity or running water. Using generator power, the Walikale headquarters will serve as the logistic and administrative base for the program. All data collection and field communications will be managed through the headquarters. However, three mobile (tented) field stations spread out through the forest will serve the immediate needs of the trackers.
The forest stretching between the Congolese national parks are referred to as “community forests” or “community reserves”. Within the DRC, there are over 485 villages, and therefore, 485 “customary kings”. A primary objective of the recent Walikale expedition was to travel from village to village (via motorbike) and meet with many of the kings within the reserves, to introduce the Fossey Fund and the new Grauer’s gorilla conservation initiative.
Urbain Ngobobo, a Congolese conservationist previously working with the Frankfort Zoological Society, has come aboard to spearhead the program. Urbain is capable, confident and excited to lead this important new conservation initiative. He has a firm grasp of the important link between the community and wildlife conservation, says Bonilla.
Ngobobo says that it is paramount to “consider the people, community, development and conservation because they are all linked. When you are only looking at the biodiversity aspect and overlooking community conservation, it’s really very difficult to succeed. This is one of the major causes of failure of our national parks’ conservation strategies in Congo.”

The Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Research Center field staff has perfected the art of orchestrating daily data collection and behavior monitoring over the last four decades. Shortly after the Walikale headquarters is established in January 2012, the Fossey Fund hopes to share this expertise with the new team of trackers in Congo to better prepare them for the important work that lies ahead. The new field staff will be selected based on their experience in the forest, their physical condition and general knowledge of conservation and the environment. The recruits will be subjected to a similar endurance test that Karisoke trackers undertake (climbing Mount Karisimbi - 4507 meters - in one day) to ensure that they are capable of handling the challenging conditions.
"The Fossey Fund's expertise as on-the-ground field experts has been developed over our 45-year history at the Karisoke Research Center. We are very happy to be able to bring our skills and knowledge to the Grauer's gorilla landscape and to work with our partners in the community managed reserves," says Clare Richardson, Fossey Fund president and CEO. "The Grauer's gorilla is the least known of the gorilla subspecies in terms of number and range, but we have identified six important groups and have now begun to monitor and protect them."

**This article was published in the Winter 2012 Gorilla Journal. To become a member of the Fossey Fund and get a copy of the Gorilla Journal mailed directly to you, click here.
Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January 2012 Proves a Busy Time for Anti-Poaching Efforts

The holiday season and beginning weeks of the new year is notoriously a busy time for anti-poaching efforts in the Virunga Massif region.  And 2012 is shaping up to be no different. Through a combination of “routine” and “shock” patrols, the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke™ Research Center and the Rwanda Development Board’s anti-poaching rangers have already discovered and destroyed an astounding 73 snares in Volcanoes National Park this month. The confiscated snares were distributed throughout Sector II (between Mount Visoke and Mount Sabyinyo), Sector III (Mount Visoke to Mount Karisimbi) and Sector IV (Mount Karisimbi), with a concentration in Sector II and III - where the Karisoke-monitored gorilla groups range.
Field staff reported that the Sabyinyo and Pablo groups were dangerously close to the snares at the time of confiscation. In fact, Pablo’s group’s night nests were dispersed throughout the area laden with traps, with some nests just mere meters away from a snare. On Wednesday, Jan. 11, 12 snares were found and destroyed by Karisoke’s Pablo trackers, two of which had already been destroyed by the gorillas themselves when the trackers arrived. Although the field staff can’t be sure which of Pablo’s group’s 45 gorillas is responsible for dismantling the snares, 33-year-old dominant silverback Cantsbee has been observed destroying snares before, as was the group’s previous leader Pablo and silverback Shinda.

The Atypical Silverback: A Profile of Isabukuru

Isabukuru with infant Sakara“Isabukuru has always been one of my favorite animals - even years ago when he was just a blackback in Pablo’s group - because all of the females absolutely loved him” says Karisoke™ researcher Stacy Rosenbaum, who is currently carrying out a study on paternal investment in mountain gorillas. “I always knew that he would lead his own group as a dominant silverback someday.” These days, Isabukuru is a primary focus of her paternal investment study, because not only females are drawn to him, but also the youngsters.
“Isabukuru actively seeks out interactions with kids in a way that I’ve never seen another silverback do” says Rosenbaum. The gigantic silverback has been observed carefully carrying the tiny infants clutched to his chest, engaging in play behavior and patiently tolerating the youngsters’ antics like no other adult male would. Rosenbaum says that it is not uncommon for the young ones of his group to climb on top of his broad chest during the group’s resting periods, where they will attempt to push each other off in a lively game of “king of the hill.” The field staff all emphatically  agree that there is no other male gorilla monitored by Karisoke in the last decade that has taken such a great interest in his offspring.

Breaking out on his own

Maternal brother to Cantsbee, the renowned 33-year-old dominant silverback of Pablo’s group, Isabukuru possesses many of the same attributes that make Cantsbee so endearing to humans. Cantsbee is also extraordinarily tolerant of the youngsters in his group and can often be seen with a string of fluffy infants on his trail. However, when it comes to play time and deliberate interactions with the little ones, it is clear to all of the field staff that Isabukuru takes the cake for “dad of the year.”
Isabukuru and infantsThe “Don Juan” of mountain gorillas, Isabukuru frequently found himself in trouble with older brother Cantsbee during their time together in Pablo’s group. Even though Isabukuru was still just a blackback, he was exceptionally large for his age. The female gorillas were crazy about him and pursued him at every opportunity. As alpha silverback of the group, Cantsbee held strict mating rights and was not pleased when his little brother would mate with the females.
Fortunately for both brothers, an interaction between Susa’s and Pablo’s groups on June 26, 2007 allowed for Cantsbee to be free of his sibling competition and Isabukuru to break out on his own and start a new group. Four females, Icyizere, Muntu, Muganga and Ishema, transferred from Susa’s to Pablo’s group during the interaction. The next day, Pablo trackers returned to the forest to find only Ishema still within Pablo’s group. Isabukuru had left - taking his three newly acquired females with him. He was just 14 years old.

An interesting group dynamic

Kubaha, beta silverback (and the only other male) is an unusual member of Isabukuru’s group. Kubaha serves as the “watchdog” and can usually be found well outside of the group or traveling peripherally. Isabukuru does not allow Kubaha to mate with the females or play a strong role in the daily group dynamics. Only when confronted with the threat of another group or a lone silverback will Isabukuru join forces with Kubaha to defend the females and youngsters.
The dominant silverback’s wariness of his beta male could likely stem from an unfortunate incident of infanticide that occurred in July 2010. Isabukuru had traveled almost 600 meters away from his group to confront a lone silverback before the intruder could reach his females. While he was away, Kubaha attacked female Bukima and her seven-month-old infant Agatako (presumably Isabukuru’s offspring). The blackback bit the youngster and he died instantly.
Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio admits that Isabukuru’s tendency to leave his group unguarded is atypical for dominant silverback behavior. However, both the male and his female group members appear unperturbed by the occasional separation. The field staff hopes that this behavior won’t invite another such incident sometime in the future, but only time will tell.

Relaxed leader, relaxed group

Infant Kezara plays on Isabukuru's backOne thing is certain. With a tolerant and relaxed silverback like Isabukuru often comes a more relaxed group of gorillas. Rosenbaum says that to her, one of the most distinguishing characteristics of Isabukuru’s group is the amount of “group play” she observes. The researcher says that all of the adults within the group engage in play behavior on a regular basis, not only with the infants, but also with one another - a rare occurrence among mountain gorillas.
Female gorillas, youngsters or human observers - it seems that no one escapes Isabukuru’s charms. Stay tuned for a photo essay on the endearing silverback and his offspring in the coming weeks!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Rwandan Researcher at Karisoke To Receive Special Training in Chicago

With primatologist Felix Ndagijimana being named the first Rwandan director of the Karisoke Research Center yesterday (on what would have been Dian Fossey’s 80th birthday), it is fitting to follow up with another achievement in capacity building this week. Deo Tuyisingize, the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke Biodiversity Program manager, will be traveling to Chicago, IL, for a small mammal training period at the Chicago Field Museum for the months of February and March. Funded by the Field Museum and IDP Foundation, Inc., African Training Fund Awards, Tuyisingize will work in collaboration with Dr. Julian Kerbis, an expert in small mammals of the Albertine Rift region.

Tuyisingize says that their primary focus for the study are specimens that are poorly known and thus, difficult to identify, such as mice, bats, voles and shrews. These small mammals are important indicators of environmental health and biodiversity, play a pivotal role in floodplain food webs and can provide important insight into the spread of pathogens from animals to humans.

“Currently, Rwanda does not have a single natural history institution or even a zoological department that is able to process small mammal specimens,” says Tuyisingize. “Rwanda does not have the technical expertise in documenting, collecting, preparing, identifying, cataloguing and publishing data from small mammal communities.” Examining and processing these African specimens at the Chicago Field Museum alongside experienced scientists will provide knowledge and technical expertise that Tuyisingize can bring back to his country to empower fellow Rwandan scientists.

For more information about the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, please go to www.gorillafund.org

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Fossey Fund Honors Dian’s 80th Birthday

One of “Leakey’s Angels”, a legend in both the world of primatology and conservation, would have turned 80 years old today, had her life not been cut short late one December night at the former Karisoke site, nestled between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Visoke. Dian Fossey was a tenacious, passionate woman who garnered the attention of the world to help save an important species from extinction. Although her death happened over a quarter of a century ago, her battle to save the endangered mountain gorillas carries on, through the work of The Fossey Fund and a handful of other important conservation organizations.

The Fossey Fund (created by Dian in 1977 and formerly called the Digit Fund in honor of her favorite gorilla, who was slain by poachers) has seen many changes over the years and has grown and evolved to become an internationally renowned conservation organization. With a purpose in capacity building within the country of Rwanda, the Fossey Fund achieved it’s ultimate success this year: naming a Rwandan researcher as the director of the Karisoke Research Center. Congratulations to Felix Ndagijimana on being promoted to Director of Karisoke!

For more information about The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and the Karisoke Research Center,
please click here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Most Persistent Solitary Silverback


The Fossey Fund’s Karisoke™ Research Center routinely monitors nine groups of mountain gorillas. Ranging in the same area are six well-known solitary silverbacks that make appearances from time to time when they are searching out social groups in hopes of attracting females. By the end of 2011, Karisoke researchers had recorded 82 encounters with a lone silverback, 54 of which were active interactions with a social group. These interactions happened under a variety of different scenarios and lasted anywhere from mere seconds to an entire day, to weeks on end. While these silverbacks are frequently alone, they are almost always on the trail of another group, biding their time to make a move.

The behavior of the lone silverback

Solitary silverbacks spend several years - and sometimes their entire adult life - traveling alone. The young males are born and raised in the safety of a gorilla group, but as they grow into adults and the characteristic silver hair begins to show on their back, the desire to become dominant can cause them to strike out on their own. The silverback will then begin a lonely quest that may last for years, peppered with dramatic interactionss. Throughout that time, the lone silverback will periodically pursue a social group, usually with his eye on a specific female he would like to acquire. Displaying and vocalizing dramatically, he can push the group’s dominant silverback to react aggressively, sometimes resulting in violence or injury. More frequently however, the field staff observes "auditory interactions" between social groups and the lone silverbacks. This occurs when the lone silverback announces his presence with intimidating chest beats and hooting vocalizations, to which the silverbacks within the group will respond accordingly. Sometimes the interaction will end there, if the group is successful in discouraging the outsider.

Will persistence pay off?

Without a doubt, the most tenacious of these six lone silverbacks has been Gwiza, whom Karisoke trackers encountered 31 times in 2011. Gwiza left Shinda’s group in April 2004 when he was 16 years old. During the past eight years he has been observed traveling alone. Interestingly enough, since the death of dominant silverback Shinda and the subsequent group split, Gwiza’s interaction frequency has increased dramatically. The lone silverback routinely targets Ugenda’s and Ntambara’s groups (the two groups that resulted from thebreakup of Shinda's group). It seems that, despite his decision to live and travel alone, silverback Gwiza still does not want to stray too far from his origins....

To read the rest of the latest e News article on the Fossey Fund website, click here

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Karisoke Staff Celebrates The Holidays in Rwanda

Karisoke trackers watch dancingDr. Dian Fossey’s love for the Christmas season was well known by colleagues and friends here in Rwanda. Hanging a Christmas wreath that read “Howdy” on her cabin door, she opened up her home in the Virunga rainforest every December to host an elaborate Christmas party for her fellow researchers, field staff and their families. The guests feasted alongside one another and shared mugs of "urwagwa," the local banana beer. Fossey decorated the entire Karisoke campsite every year, complete with candle-lit trees and tinfoil and popcorn garland. Standing tall in Fossey’s cabin was the “big tree,” with mounds of beautifully wrapped gifts (gathered from her trips overseas) for her staff and their families. Their celebration would continue late into the night. Christmas carols, sung in Kinyarwanda, French and English, would ring out in the cool night air of the rainforest and her field staff would perform their own song-and-dance routines, accompanied by traditional drumming, describing the events of the previous year with the mountain gorillas.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International continues to honor Fossey’s love of the holiday season and every December, throws a holiday celebration at the Karisoke Research Center. Today, more than 110 Fossey Fund trackers came down from the Volcanoes  Park to Ruhengeri (the current location of Karisoke) to celebrate with the researchers and administration staff. Fossey Fund Karisoke Deputy Director Felix Ndagijimana delivered an uplifting and inspirational speech reflecting on our growth in 2011 and future plans as we move into the new year.  He commended everyone on all of their hard work in 2011 and passed a message of best wishes for the coming year from the Fossey Fund’s Atlanta headquarters. Field Data Coordinator John Ndayambaje spoke on behalf of the trackers and expressed his gratitude to the organization and their collective enthusiasm moving into 2012. He concluded with a promise that all of the trackers would continue their hard work and maintain a strong commitment to the Fossey Fund’s objectives and goals. 
Following the speeches, the music was turned up and everybody met on the grassy dance floor. True to tradition, there was lots of music, food, drinks, laughing and dancing. Dr. Fossey would have been very proud.
Jessica Burbridge, Field Communications Officer, Karisoke Research Center, Rwanda

All images © J Shouse Photojournalism for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gorilla adoption makes a great gift for the holidays!

Top 5 Reasons to Adopt a Gorilla Through The Fossey Fund:

1. Ensure our anti-poaching patrols work 365 days a year in 2012.
This year some of the gorilla groups we monitor spent long amounts of time outside the protected park, feeding on seasonal bamboo and other plants at the lower altitudes. Without the money raised from adoptions, we would not have been able to protect them around the clock as they wandered around.

2. Ensure the continued growth of the mountain gorilla population.
Fewer than 800 mountain gorillas remain on the planet. However, the mountain gorilla is the only type of gorilla growing in population. Help keep this momentum going!

3. Receive an adoption certificate and profile about your gorilla.
Have the unique opportunity to learn more about one of the gorillas we monitor on an intimate level. Each adoption comes with a profile that includes detailed information written by our expert field scientists about your gorilla. You’ll also get special access to a gallery of Karisoke and GRACE center gorilla photos, stories and profiles.

4. Gorilla adoption makes the perfect gift for hard-to-buy-for friends.
Stumped about what to get a friend, family member or colleague? A gorilla adoption makes the perfect feel-good gift this holiday season. Here’s what Fossey supporter, Cindy Broder, says, about her Adopt giving:

“This past holiday season I was thinking about gifts for friends and my husband’s clients, and I wanted to express our love and appreciation for them in a more meaningful way. So, I read about the gorilla adoptions, with their different choices and levels of giving. I chose to give silverback adoptions because they are so awe-inspiring that I think they make the best introduction to the gorillas."
"The response was incredible! There wasn’t one person who didn’t write and say it was the best thing anyone had ever done for them. Some of their children drew pictures of the gorillas on the thank-you cards. One friend joked that he was adding on a suite to his house so his silverback and family could come visit! It just touches peoples’ hearts in such a different way, no matter how many incredible experiences they have had.”

5. Know you are part of the solution.
The top threats facing the mountain gorilla population are all from humans: poaching, habitat destruction and disease. Be a part of the group of people that helps counter these threats and saves an important species from extinction.

Don’t let this holiday season go by without doing your part to save the gorillas you care about...

Holiday special -- free DVD of PBS/Nature special "The Gorilla King" with all Adopt orders (except Green adoption). Free shipping too!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Latest Fossey Fund Field Blog Post

Many Possible Outcomes for Gwiza / Titus Group Interaction...
After the 17th day of interaction between Gwiza and the Titus group of gorillas, led by silverback Rano for the past two years, the situation’s outcome remains unclear. According to the Fossey Fund’s Gorilla Program Manager Veronica Vecellio, many different scenarios could unfold. The gorillas have already begun to group together and then regroup, resulting in several different formations as both Gwiza and Rano have assumed the role of lead silverback.
The field staff observed Gwiza leading all but two silverbacks (who remained with Rano) at last week’s end. Today however, the group members are rejoined with Rano while Gwiza and female Fat are resting, feeding and nesting together, 15-20 meters from the group. It is possible that the couple could split off on their own, starting a new research group of gorillas.
Unfortunately, infanticide is yet another possible outcome of this situation and the field staff are concerned about pregnant female Imvune. If Gwiza decides to stay, moving into the dominant silverback position, and Imvune gives birth, it is likely that Gwiza will kill the infant (who was clearly sired by another male).  Fossey Fund Karisoke researchers plan to conduct another pregnancy test on Imvune to ensure that she has not miscarried from the high amount of stress the group has been under during the last several weeks.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fresh wave of killings by hunters takes Indonesian orangutan to the brink of extinction

"Conservationists have called on the Indonesian authorities to take urgent action to save the orangutan after a report warned that the endangered great apes were being hunted at a rate that could bring them to the brink of extinction.
Erik Meijaard, who led a team carrying out the first attempt to assess the scale of the problem in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, said the results showed that between 750 and 1,800 orangutans were killed as a result of hunting and deforestation in the 12 months to April 2008."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Great day of filming around Volcanoes National Park

Yesterday, we began filming for a conservation education short to be used here in Rwanda. It was such a beautiful morning, hiking around the park and visiting with the people who live there. Lately, we've been dealing with the gorillas leaving the park and venturing into the surrounding farmland as it is bamboo season and they are drawn out of their protected forest for the tasty bamboo shoots. It can be a difficult issue to deal with when they begin to destroy crops and/or interact with livestock. We began our interviews yesterday to get a snapshot of the people's conservation perspective living around the park. I was also able to photograph a good bit between takes. Will post photos tomorrow! 

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