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! 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Stacy Rosenbaum: A Primatologist's Journey

"On the first day of class, Stacy Rosenbaum took a seat among 100 or so other students in her primate behavior course at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. A psychology major, she had registered for the course on a whim. Professor Christopher Coe stood up and addressed the students, saying “For most of you in this room, this will be just another class. But there are one or two of you for whom this course will change your whole life...”

Rosenbaum and assistant Jean Paul Hirwa processing fecal samples in the Karisoke laboratory.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

In the Wake of Nyiragongo's Eruption

On my recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the rural road we took from Goma to Rumangabo passed right by Mount Nyiragongo. The volcano last erupted in 2002 (the 34th time since 1882), smothering the surrounding landscape in molten lava. Almost 10 years later, the plant life is starting to regenerate and a white coral-like lichen covers the dark volcanic rock as far as the eye can see.  I pleaded with Jackson (my escort and protector) in my broken French to stop the car so that I could hop out and photograph. Out there away from any village or town, it feels a little bit like a wasteland - but a really beautiful one - where you're the last person left on earth.

In January, I hope to be able to climb the volcano and photograph from the crater rim down into the massive, bubbling lava lake.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Orphan Gorilla Transferred to New Home

"Shamavu certainly endured a traumatic capture, as most poached infants do, witnessing the death of his entire family and pried from his mother’s lifeless body. He was reportedly confined in a small knapsack for a month before the ICCN confiscated the infant in Kanyaboyonga in the Walikale area of North Kivu province on Oct. 8th. When the ICCN received word that another gorilla infant had been poached, an undercover sting operation was initiated, and the team of rangers drove eight hours into the Walikale territory to meet Shamavu’s captors and pose as potential black market buyers. The three poachers were demanding $40,000 for the infant. If justice prevails, it appears that they will receive 10 years in a Congolese prison instead..."

All images © 2011 J Shouse Photojournalism for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Few Aerial Shots of Congo

Successful Trip To Congo

I traveled to Congo a few days ago to cover a story on Shamavu (the Grauer's gorilla infant recently confiscated from poachers) and his transfer to the GRACE center. Amazingly I found myself sitting copilot with Virunga National Park Warden Emmanuel De Merode in his 1975 Cessna 187. We flew across eastern Congo from Rumangabo to Butembo with the little orphan sleeping soundly on his caretaker's lap behind me. At GRACE, Shamavu will join 11 other gorillas of his own subspecies and learn important social and survival skills. We all hope that the youngsters will one day be able to be released back into the wild. The story will be published by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International tomorrow, but here's a few sneak peek shots from the plane!

*All Images © J Shouse Photojournalism for The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International*

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pablo Group Comes Down To Lower Altitudes

After a month of cold temperatures, frequent rains and thick mist on Kimbagira, the 45 gorillas of Pablo group have finally moved down into the bamboo zone.  It was a beautiful day for their arrival into the lower altitudes of the park; the sun shone brightly and the gorillas appeared to relish the warmer weather. Fossey Fund Karisoke researcher Dr. Winnie Eckardt was with the group when they arrived in the bamboo belt at 12:30pm this afternoon, with dominant silverback Cantsbee in the lead. Eckardt reported that the gorillas fanned out, in search of the best patches of bamboo shoots. The youngsters of the group were busy engaging each other in games of chase and other playful activities and the adult gorillas happily feasted on succulent shoots nearby. The scene was a stark contrast from the previous week’s observations - where every gorilla was huddled and shivering in the cold rain, high up on Kimbagira....

Photograph © Stacy Rosenbaum for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Silverback Cantsbee Found In Good Health

Karisoke researcher Stacy Rosenbaum brought great news down from the mountain today: our elderly silverback Cantsbee seems to be just fine, feeding and behaving normally again.
When the field team reached Pablo's group this morning, Cantsbee was in a new, leafy day nest about 200-250 meters up from where Dr. Eckardt’s team had left them yesterday. The 32-year-old silverback had evidently risen from his night nest and traveled up the slopes to meet the rest of his group yesterday evening. Rosenbaum reported that when she arrived she saw Cantsbee, along with all of the other gorillas, hunched over and shivering, apparently miserable from the extreme cold and constant rain...

Digambara: The Skyclad Path

I'm really excited about this new collaboration between two of my good friends and colleagues, LeVar Carter ( and Nathan Larimer ( The book, titled Digambara (which is Sanskrit for 'clad only in the quarters of the heavens') will marry fine art photography with visual demonstrations of a nude yoga practice, taking place in stunning locations around the country. LeVar says that "the practice will take us through the koshas, which are like layers of your being, radiating out from the body to progressively more subtle forms. You could also think of the five koshas in relationship to the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether."

When I get back stateside, I hope to join in on the collaboration with some nude yoga / cityscape shots of LeVar, so stay tuned!

To check some of Nathan's beautiful images in northern California (and for a behind the scenes sneak peek of the first Digambara photoshoot), check out Nathan's blog @

Now on LinkedIn (Finally!)

Happy to say that I've now got a profile up on LinkedIn! Let's connect!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Concerns About Elderly Silverback Cantsbee

Born in November 1978 and famously named by Dian Fossey, Cantsbee is the oldest mountain gorilla monitored by the Karisoke Research Center at 32 years old. The dominant silverback is beginning to show signs of his age and remained in his night nest throughout the entire day today. This behavior is clearly a cause for concern for all who have grown to love this benevolent leader of Pablo group...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Titus Gorillas Sleep Outside of Protected Park

For the first time in the history of the Karisoke Research Center’s monitored mountain gorillas, the Fossey Fund staff has observed an entire gorilla group sleeping outside of Volcanoes National Park...

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Bamboo Season

With the onset of Rwanda’s biannual rains, it is time for the bamboo season in Volcanoes National Park, when many of the mountain gorilla groups monitored by the Fossey Fund’s Karisoke™ Research Center make their way down to the “bamboo belt” near the park’s border. The Bwenge, Titus, Ugenda, Kuryama, Ntambara and Urugamba groups have already been observed at lower altitudes in the park, tempted by the prospect of tasty bamboo shoots.
When the groups of gorillas converge on the bamboo zone at the border, we are bound to see two things: an increase in interactions between groups and gorillas leaving their protected forests to venture out into the surrounding farmland....

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Authorities Concerned Over Baby Gorilla Trafficking

"Baby gorilla trafficking in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo appears to be on the rise according to the Congolese Wildlife Authorities (ICCN) following the recent rescue of a poached infant gorilla.
This latest incident is the fourth since April of this year - the highest number of baby gorillas on record confiscated from poachers in a single year."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New Mountain Gorilla Census Underway in Uganda

"In the past, there has been much debate about the Bwindi gorillas’ classification. Veronica Vecellio, Karisoke’s Gorilla Program manager, explained that the Bwindi population is of particular interest to primatologists because “they exhibit enough ecological and morphological differences from both Grauer’s gorillas and Virunga mountain gorillas that they could one day be classified as a separate subspecies.”

Click here to read my latest Fossey Fund E News article.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mountain Gorilla Ginseng

Ginseng, the 31 year old female mountain gorilla of Bwenge's group is rapidly deteriorating, despite the best efforts by the Fossey Fund's Karisoke Research Center and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.

Click here to read the latest post on the Fossey Fund's blog.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stress in Mountain Gorillas

Winnie Eckardt, PhD.: Studying Stress In Mountain Gorillas
(Fossey Fund E News article about my friend and roommate here at Karisoke, Winnie Eckardt.)

Photograph © 2011 for The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A few more from Bisate...

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

Monday, September 5, 2011

First E News post for the Fossey Fund!

New Ward to Open at Bisate Clinic, Says Program Manager Munyarugero

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

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hello from Rwanda!

So I'm a few days behind in getting this blog going as my initial plan was to send out a mass family & friends periodic email update. However, I keep discovering people that I have accidentally left out, so I’m going to switch on over to the blog. :)

SO, yes. I am in Rwanda! Just for consistency, I will copy over segments from my 2 previous email updates and then continue with the blog from here on out.

Wednesday, August 24th....

“I just wanted to let everyone know that I made it safe and sound to Ruhengeri last night and have had a great first day here at the Karisoke offices. After 2 airline and 4 plane changes, all of my bags miraculously made it to Kigali so I’m quite happy about that. Rwanda is really beautiful - it reminds me of a mix between Uganda and Thailand. Lots of colorful tropical flowers, everything is very lush and green. The surrounding chain of volcanoes is really incredible, very majestic. Lots of pics to come!

So I got set up in my office this morning and have hit the ground running.

I just had my first very successful interview this afternoon with Ildephonse Munyargerero (the manager for DFGFI's Ecosystem Health and Community Development Program) and will be working on that story this weekend. Next week it's off to the Bisate school and clinic for that assignment. Tomorrow morning, we've got our weekly DFGFI staff meeting where all of the scientists and trackers come in from the field so that all of the staff can discuss everything that is going on in the various programs. Should be very enlightening!

My accommodations here are really great. It's a pretty large house with 2 full bathrooms and HOT WATER! Honestly - what a difference just hot water makes. My room overlooks a beautiful, large garden out back and the 2 house dogs are sweeties - my temporary substitutes for Harthie and the Beanster. :) This week we’ve had 2 canadian ape ladies staying at the research house with Winnie (the post doc scientist) and I. Us “ape girls” have already had some really great discussions... the primatology world is a small one and it turns out we know/work with a lot of the same people. I will really miss them when they head back home on Tuesday!”


Saturday, August 27th....

“Thanks everyone for writing back. I really love getting your emails and feeling like I still have somewhat of a connection to everybody back home! :)

My first few days have been great. Very busy... I'm already simultaneously working on 3 articles... and will now be working with Veronica, our Gorilla program manager to get updates out on the daily gorilla soap opera. :) We've had 3 silverbacks and a mother and infant split off from Pablo's group (which at 46 is the largest group we have). The trackers went out searching and found the 3 silverbacks. They're thinking that some more dynamic group changes are on the horizon because Cantsbee (the dominant silverback that Fossey knew early in her work) is starting to lose his dominance in the group as he is getting older.

They also found a dead silverback on the mountain. They estimated he had been dead for 2 weeks and because of the decomposition, they weren't able to tell who he was. The trackers carried him down from the mountain 2 nights ago and yesterday they did the necropsy. I had to go into town with Emmanuel to meet some Musanze district people for my work visa so I wasn't able to help, but Kim and Rachelle (my 2 canadian roomates) were able to participate in a very hands on way and help remove all of the organs from the body! They said he was absolutely enormous. Rachelle showed me a picture of his empty rib cage and he really was gigantic! I think I could have curled up inside of there. On a happier note, we did have an infant born yesterday, so the circle of life continues...

Last night, we had a HUGE thunderstorm come through. I really thought the tin roof of our house was going to come off. Kim, Rachelle and I were hanging at the house last night after work and all of the electricity went out. So we ended up having a candle light dinner and then sat around the living room having ape talk and laughing for hours. It was a great night!

Tonight we're headed out with some of the gorilla veterinarians from MGVP for dinner. I’ve heard great things about them and I'm looking forward to meeting everyone at that camp!

Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Love you all very very much.


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