Do we Need to Update the Taxonomy of Gorillas?
This is a summary of two articles. The complete texts are printed in the Gorilla Journal - June 1996

More than 30 years ago, I measured 469 male and 278 female gorilla skulls (and a small number of postcranial skeletons), of known origin, and analyzed them by the method known as discriminant analysis. I concluded that:

Later Ken Stott and I surveyed all the available evidence and concluded that Kahuzi are graueri, Kayonza (Bwindi) are beringei. The three subspecies can be identified with near certainty (in the case of western lowland gorillas, absolute certainty) when alive. So they are real.

But now, subspecies have entered the age of DNA sequencing. The most widely studied genetic sequences are in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). It can be extracted from the hairs shed by gorillas in their night-nests. Like the cranial distances, the western/eastern split is the deepest one, but the splits within western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) are deeper than the split between the eastern. The beringei/graueri separation is about the same as that between the most differentiated humans, but less than that between presumed subspecies of chimpanzee or orang utan. The eastern/western split in gorillas is greater than that between common and pygmy chimpanzees, but less than that between Bornean and Sumatran orang utans. The molecular taxonomists imply that perhaps eastern and western gorillas ought to be regarded as distinct species.

It has been calculated that the rate of change in mtDNA indicates that human populations began diversifying about 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. If this is so, then this would be the timing of the split between graueri and beringei too, and eastern and western gorillas would have been separated for 1 to 1.5 million years.

Although just two DNA sequences, both from the mitochondria, are slender if suggestive evidence, and although the equation "so much time since separation equals so much taxonomic difference" is not necessarily completely logical, I would not be opposed to recognising two distinct species of gorilla.

What, then, of the striking DNA differences within western gorillas? When measuring the skulls, I did find some average differences between western populations, but these were slight. Most of today's captive western lowland gorillas were from Cameroon, so it is very likely that their enormous mtDNA diversity - 400,000 to 600,000 years worth, according to calculations - represents diversity within a single population!

The conclusion of all this, then, seems to be:

  1. There may be two species of gorilla: western (Gorilla gorilla) and eastern (Gorilla beringei).
  2. Gorilla beringei has two subspecies: a more primitive (and more geographically diverse) one, Gorilla beringei graueri, and a more highly specialized one, the true mountain gorilla, Gorilla beringei beringei. (about the Bwindi population, see the following article)
  3. The western gorilla, Gorilla gorilla, the more primitive of the two species, has no subspecies, but contains more genetic diversity (mitochondrially, at least) than the whole of the human species.

A new perspective, then, on our second-closest living relative?

Colin Groves -

Present Problems in Gorilla Taxonomy

Gorillas live within the forests of east and west Equatorial Africa. Their eastern and western distribution areas are separated by approximately 1,000 km of low lying lands within the Congo Basin where gorillas are presently not found. Three skulls and a mandible collected early this century from Bondo, a village north of the Uele River, suggests that the present discontinuity between eastern and western gorilla populations may be a recent phenomenon.

Colin Groves' taxonomy, which is the currently accepted one, recognizes three subspecies within one gorilla species - those from West Africa are assigned to Gorilla gorilla gorilla and those from East Africa to Gorilla gorilla beringei and Gorilla gorilla graueri. Some of the populations in the Western Rift, however, do not easily fit within the beringei or graueri subspecies. Colin Groves and Ken Stott 1979 classified the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest gorillas as beringei based on their proximity to the Virunga Volcanoes.

Thomas Butynski, together with Jan Kalina, observed marked differences in the external appearance, behaviour and habitat of the two gorilla populations in Bwindi and in the Virungas. Bwindi gorillas live at lower elevations, warmer temperatures and are much more arboreal than their counterparts in the Virungas. Moreover, Bwindi gorillas have longer day ranges, larger home ranges, and eat much more fruit and pith, and less bamboo and leaves. Additionally, the two gorillas are distinct in external and morphological characteristics. Significantly, these differences are closely associated to differences in habitat and behaviour.

Considering the geographic proximity of Bwindi to the Virunga Volcanoes (25 km), taxonomic differences between the two gorilla populations further exposes the possibility that some of the other isolated, less studied gorilla populations in the Western Rift belong to taxa other than graueri or beringei. Along the Rift, geographic proximity of any two populations can no longer be taken to represent genetic proximity or vice versa. As such, there is presently no conclusive proof as to what taxon Bwindi gorillas belong to.

Despite unique distinguishing features, all of the eastern gorilla populations exhibit a number of shared characters that separate them from western lowland gorillas. Corresponding to these differences, eastern gorillas eat less fruit and more leafy matter, and seem to be much more terrestrial than western gorillas.

To accurately reflect the similarities within eastern gorillas and the differences between eastern and western gorillas, the genus Gorilla can be best divided into two species. In this manner, the closer relationship between the different subspecies of eastern gorillas can be properly expressed. The likelihood that some of the western lowland populations, i. e. the Cross River gorillas, may also turn out to be separate subspecies would further support such a classification.

A two species classification for the genus Gorilla, however, is not without problems. According to definition, to objectively assign two populations to different species, a mechanism that reproductively isolates them must be in operation. Such a mechanism can be shown to exist when two populations overlap in their range, but do not interbreed. Since there is no such overlap, the present non-contiguous distribution of eastern and western gorillas does not enable testing this. Because the differences between eastern and western gorillas are similar in degree to those between pygmy and common chimpanzees, and the two chimpanzees are considered different species, it follows that eastern and western gorillas should also be assigned to different species. Considering that neither of the two recognized species of chimpanzees, nor the two subspecies of orang utans, have overlapping ranges, the present taxonomy of great apes has never been objectively tested. In this regard, whether the degree of differences between pygmy and common chimpanzees, western and eastern gorillas or Sumatran and Bornean orang utans merits a species or a subspecies distinction is partly subjective and open to interpretation.

For different reasons, subspecies designations are likewise problematic, especially for eastern gorillas. The wide range of altitudes in the Western Rift corresponds to a wide variety of habitats and climatic differences. In some cases, it is difficult to discern whether differences between two populations are the result of developmental or physiological adaptations of the individual to differences in the environment, or actually represent differences in populations rooted in genetic differences. Conversely, it is just as difficult to discern whether populations are similar because they are closely related, or because they occupy similar habitats and have developed superficial, convergent similarities.

Deforestation and human encroachment which is extremely severe along the Western Rift, and the subsequent separation of what may otherwise have been continuous populations, further confuses this situation. The accepted use of non-overlapping ranges to define subspecies differences does not readily apply to recent artificial conditions created by humans. Through human encroachment, what was recently a single population occupying a wide range of habitats, can presently appear to be two or three separate populations each with a restricted habitat range, and each satisfying the criteria for separate subspecies.

We hope to analyze genetic and morphological information from all the eastern populations to help grade the lability of observed differences, and further refine our gorilla classification. This work should help us decide whether Bwindi gorillas merit a new taxon, or whether they should be considered Gorilla gorilla graueri.

Esteban Sarmiento ( and Thomas Butynski (ZOO-ABCP@TT.SASA.UNEP.NO)

Apes at Risk
Gorilla Journal - June 1996

Cutting down trees is not the only negative impact of logging companies; their presence also increases hunting pressure on the forest animals. One reason for this is that the companies' employees provide themselves with bush meat. In addition, transport of bush meat is facilitated through the companies' infrastructure; it can easily be taken to the towns where meat is in great demand. Duikers and monkeys are especially sought after. Not even threatened species such as gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants and leopards are spared by the hunters.

In Cameroon and the Central African Republic, commercial hunting has been well organized for years and it is supported by a good network of roads maintained by the logging companies. By now, hunting has reached an alarming degree in these countries. Employees of Cameroonian logging companies often earn an additional income through hunting; pygmies are employed for the hunting of elephants by the companies' agents.

On behalf of the WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals), photographer Karl Ammann travelled to Congo last year. He observed the logging companies' vehicles en route to Cameroon and interviewed the hunters. Lorries en route to the rain forest take many hunters to the camps. In the opposite direction, they transport great quantities of bush meat, in addition to logs, mainly across the border to Cameroon. Frequently, the bush meat is hung by the side of the roads to attract the attention of passing trucks. It is estimated that approximately 5,700 kg of bush meat reach the markets of the town Ouesso in Congo each week. Ouesso is in the vicinity of a concession run by the logging company CIB, a branch of the German company Hinrich Feldmeyer.

According to an estimate from 1989, 400 to 500 gorillas are killed annually in northern Congo. Young apes clinging to their dead mothers are frequently sold for up to $100 and kept as pets. Such animals often die after a short time; others arrive at orphanages in Congo and Cameroon. The goal of these orphanages is to rehabilitate the animals in their natural habitat as soon as they are strong enough.

WSPA initiated a great campaign in the media which has lead to international protests against the massive hunting of apes. This has now met with success. The ammunition which is used for hunting apes has been manufactured by only one company in the Congo. In April this firm decided to ban the production of these cartridges for 2 years. Recently, nature conservation organisations achieved another success. The World Bank intended to give Cameroon a loan to improve the road network which would open up large parts of the rain forest. The effects of this project on the environment had not been investigated, although the World Bank requires such studies. After numerous protests, the World Bank recently put the loan on hold.

Conservationist Conrad Aveling is convinced that the survival of wildlife can only be guaranteed in the long term if national insitutions are strengthened and their attitude is changed, and if logging companies face up to their responsibilities in terms of wildlife conservation.

Angela Meder

Report from Uganda
Gorilla Journal - June 1996

Karl-Heinz Kohnen and I visited Uganda from 12 to 24 March 1996. A film team of the Bayerischer Rundfunk (Bavarian Radio and TV) led by Christian Herrmann - with cameraman Ralph Hackner and camera assistant/sound engineer Michael Gebert - was at that time staying in Bwindi.

Several film teams have recently visited Bwindi and some of them tried to get good shootings with very questionable methods. It was Christian Herrmann's great concern to disturb the animals as little as possible and to show their natural behaviour as well as the forest and the landscape in and around the national park and projects for solving the region's problems. Ignatius Achoka, the Chief Park Warden, was filmed talking about the difficulties he has to deal with, and Angela Meder gave several interviews.


It has finally been decided not to improve the dirt road from Buhoma to Nteko although this had been requested by the local population. Approximately 50 people use the road twice a week, when a market is held in Nteko. The dirt road to Ruhija is not to be improved either, therefore the Kitahurira corridor is not in danger at the moment. Once a day a lorry of the tea factory uses this road which is graded occasionally.

According to Ignatius Achoka, the illegal residents of the Mbwa River Tract, an area within the national park, have been resettled. They received compensation. There is only one hut left in this area; all the others were taken down by their former inhabitants.

Eric Edroma, the Director of the Ugandan national parks authority, told us that the most difficult conflict between the local people and the national park is crop raiding by animals leaving the park to forage. IGCP (International Gorilla Conservation Programme) and CARE are responsible for the management of the Bwindi National Park. In this, these organisations are not controlled by anybody. The rangers are treated in a very authoritarian way.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

Since November 1995, the number of persons who stay in the park illegally has increased considerably; the number of recorded cases has risen from 0-5 to 40-50. We were not able to determine whether this was connected with the refugee problem in Zaire or with something else.

Joint patrols with the Zairean rangers have been discontinued. Obviously IGCP did not succeed in organizing them. The Ugandan rangers occasionally visit their Zairean colleagues in their camp; they hardly have any contact with their Rwandan colleagues.

Very soon after Klaus-Juergen Sucker's death 2 years ago, CARE finished the pipeline at Mt. Gahinga, after they had postponed it again and again. Moreover, CARE continued to erect a part of the wall at the park boundary, and constructed the road from Kisoro to the park entrance. CARE handed the money for the road construction over to Uganda National Parks, and from this money 300 workers from the local population were employed. Heavy machinery was only used at the end of the construction.

Since Klaus-Juergen Sucker's death, the rangers have been given no equipment other than gum boots. Once again, they were promised more equipment by May. In the meantime, some equipment has been provided by tourists. No slides, videos or similar equipment is available for the education officer's work. CARE has even taken away the only project vehicle, a motorbike. Park staff are therefore completely without transport, which particularly restricts the control of illegal activities. The training of new rangers has been limited to 1 month which is far too short. In January 1995, CARE took over the payment of top-ups and since then the rangers have been paid on time every month. However, the employees of the IGCP (gorilla guides and trackers) receive their top-ups very irregularly.

The reforestation of zone 2 of the national park is not monitored and the planted trees are not looked after. It appears that the area is regenerating slowly; buffaloes and forest hogs appear there much more often now and even the gorillas spend a lot of their time in zone 2.

Gorilla Tourism

While we were in Buhoma, there were usually more tourists waiting in front of the national park office than were able to visit the two groups of gorillas (only six visitors are allowed per group). Tourists without a permit tried in many ways to get on a tour. In Mgahinga, where only one group of gorillas can be visited, the tours are not completely booked. To visit the Virunga gorillas, many tourists also travel from Kisoro to Djomba in Zaire or, to Rwanda.

At the Mgahinga National Park, a local community has built several simple huts and additional buildings for tourists in front of the park entrance. These buildings are similar to those in Buhoma. The camp is managed by a committee consisting exclusively of community members and the profit goes to the community.

According to the rangers' notes, two gorilla groups totalling 19 animals stayed in the park in January, and in February there were 15 animals in three groups. That is considerably fewer for this time of year than in former years. Nobody could explain this. The habituated gorilla group has nine members; it now spends much more time in Uganda than in Zaire.

According to the management plan of Bwindi National Park, a certain percentage of the profit generated by gorilla tourism is to go to the communities. This amounted to a total of approximately $ 15,000 in the pilot phase from April 1993 to June 1994. As of July 1994, communities are to receive 12% of all the park's income.

The DTC Project

The Development Through Conservation project was initiated by Thomas Butynski. It aims to combine nature conservation with developmental aid. DTC is carried out exclusively by CARE. Their employees were not permitted to talk to us, so we did not receive information from the project. The ethnobotanical gardens in Buhoma and Ruhija are not looked after any more and have therefore completely deteriorated. We were not able to determine the reason for this. 1,000 bamboo rhizomes were distributed to farmers in Mgahinga. Apparently this fulfilled their need, because bamboo is cut illegally very rarely now in that park. The park's employees could not tell us whether the local people were permitted to use the park's resources or not.

The second phase of the DTC program is now finished and in August 1995, CARE submitted a proposal for the third phase. In this proposal, they suggest many activities which should already have been completed in the second phase. According to Eric Edroma, USAID has assured the funding for the next phase.


The ITFC (Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation) which was founded by Thomas Butynski has had a new Director since July 1995: Simon Jennings. The institute is now supported only by WWF and the budget is rather modest. About 20 persons are employed by the ITFC, and a few students are working on research projects.

Angela Meder

Europe Secretly Says Good-Bye to Species Conservation
Gorilla Journal - June 1996

Europe is giving up the chance to shoot the bolt to the worldwide loss of species, this is the assessment of Undine von Blottnitz, a member of the European Parliament from the German party Buendnis 90/Die Gruenen, in response to the recent draft of the new European Regulation for Species Conservation.

After 4 years of negotiations, the EU agreed on a proposal, called Document 9457/95, which is expected to be passed this year. It was necessary to amend of the old regulation dated 1984, EWG No. 3626/82, in order to bring it into line with the requirements of the common market and with CITES. The trade in rare animal and plant species within Europe is not only differently regulated in each country, but most importantly far more restricted than CITES requires. This situation as well as the non-uniform legislation within the common economic area was criticized by the non-European CITES signatory states. They requested that the European delegation promise to develop a European Regulation for Species Conservation, similar to CITES, by the next CITES conference to be held in Zimbabwe in 1997.

Minister Merkel Is Disappointed

The German Minister for the Environment, Angela Merkel, expressed her disappointment at a symposium in November 1995 called Perspectives for Species Conservation. She regretted that it was not even possible to agree on a general permit requirement for imports of all vertebrates, let alone an EU import ban on all wild caught birds. It became clear that Germany was fighting alone for species conservation.

Our position was hopeless, no other member of the EU supported us, the Minister concluded. The first drafts of the new regulation included almost all the animal and plant species listed in the original regulation as well as the species listed in the Habitat and the Birds Directive. However, the lists in the appendices, especially the new Appendix I, were shortened with every round of negotiations. (Species listed in Appendix I may not be traded in.) Now 510 mammal and bird species, including almost all birds of prey and owls, will lose the highest level of protection. In the future, they can be traded in with a special permit, as well as 110 strictly protected orchid species and other plant, reptile, and amphibian species. The new regulation will also open the door for trade in more than 500 European bird species - a permit will no longer be necessary.

Species Conservation like a Bull in a China Shop

Germany is hit especially hard by the new Regulation for Species Conservation. The prohibition of trade still valid for about 3,000 species native to this country has been lifted, must be lifted because at the EU level nobody accepted the importance of protecting them. Additionally, 230 exotic bird species which were formerly not allowed to pass through Germany's borders may now be imported. These species are also called "Non-CITES-species". Their inclusion into the new regulation was one of the most important points of controversy. The results of these discussions are sobering: Only 49 Non-CITES-species are included in the new regulation.

Martin Uppenbrink, the president of the Bundesamt fuer Naturschutz (BfN), the German CITES Authority, explained during the symposium which perspectives for international species conservation still remain.

Effective species conservation will only be possible in the future through economic utilization. Each species has to earn its own financial funds for its conservation. This means that biodiversity conservation should be guaranteed more and more through the economic utilization of the species to be protected. Considering this utilization stipulated by law, it was only fitting that a representative of the Bundesverband fuer fachgerechten Natur- und Artenschutz (BNA) joined the podium which was obviously very much oriented towards trade. This German organization had proved several times that it is in fact only representing the interests of commerce.

The highest German conservation authority (BfN) and the BNA may make strange bedfellows, but the liaison is so rewarding that it is now admitted openly. For the end of May this year, the BfN announced proudly and with great fuss a joint trade conference with the BNA, entitled: New Ways in Species Conservation.

However, the German Ministry for the Environment and the BfN do not seem to believe entirely in the European way and therefore rely on other means of support, such as increased breeding in captivity, education or the introduction of a certificate for the trade in wild animal and plant species. They are also setting their hopes on the Animal Welfare Law, which is meant to stop the expected flood of exotic animals into Germany with the help of strict regulations for animal keeping or with a certificate attesting the ability to keep exotic animals; both are neither in preparation nor even defined.

When the projected measures are examined in detail, it becomes evident that they will have little or no effect at all. For example, in the future it will be possible under the new Regulation for Species Conservation to import trophies of teeth from the highly endangered narwhal from Greenland into the EU. Denmark insisted on this privilege in favour of the people of Greenland, although the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) does not think that the utilization of this whale species by the Greenlanders at this time can be called sustainable. There is no real catch quota because little is known about the population's size.

Moreover, it is almost impossible to exercise control of imports at the external borders of the EU in Greece, Spain or Portugal. The import of falcons, for example, which are easy to identify as a group, was completely prohibited up to now. However, according to the new regulation, it will be allowed to import most falcon species with official permit.

Without well-founded special knowledge in zoology, no customs officer will be able to determine which species he or she is dealing with, says Herbert Biebach, an ornithologist who works at the Max Planck Institute for Behavioural Physiology in Andechs. Thus, it will not be a problem in the future to import 'legally' endangered falcon species that are excluded from trade. One bird might sell for up to DM 100,000 on the black market.

What is more, the problems that already exist under the present regulation are still unsolved. Germany is one of the main countries that import caviar. As the sturgeon species which are being caught in Russia for the production of caviar are not listed, the caviar trade continued uncontrolled for years. As a consequence, some of the sturgeon populations have already been so heavily exploited that their survival is questionable. Although it would like to, Germany cannot support Russia in this case by means of an import control; without this support, however, Russia is unable to prevent the illegal trade, which amounts to much more than the legal trade.

The EU allows bans only for the ownership and trade in endangered animal and plant species within its member countries. That could cause chaos regarding species conservation legislation in Germany. In accordance with a reform of the Constitution in 1994, the Federal Government has only very restricted rights to take immediate action and define regulations for direct species conservation; instead, the German states were given more rights. The result could be a fragmentation of the jurisdiction for species conservation with 16 different regulations in the nature conservation laws of the states. The possible consequences: it may be permitted to keep and trade in the same species in one state, in another it may be allowed to keep it but not to sell it, whereas in a third state neither of these may be permitted. The Federal Government hopes that this calamity can be avoided by developing a common model for this legislation with all states. This law would have to pass unamended all 16 State Parliaments.

Despite the disadvantages for Germany, the Ministry regards the new European Regulation for Species Conservation as progress. It means that export permits of the exporting countries no longer necessarily have to be acknowledged. The Government also thinks that improved opportunities for controls at the external borders of the EU are very promising. The member countries would be obliged to fight violations by establishing legal sanctions in accordance with their national law.

This is the price Germany has to pay in order to enable other EU members to improve their local standards, says Martin Uppenbrink of BfN, almost apologizing. On 1 January 1997, the regulation is to come into effect, unless an initiative of more than 60 animal protection and nature conservation organizations from all over Europe - among them the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe - succeed in stopping the regulation through an initiative at the European Parliament.

Ulrich Karlowski (

The Situation in Rwanda
Gorilla Journal - June 1996

The aim of my trip through the countries Rwanda, Uganda, and Zaire from 9 February to 3 April 1996 was to gain topical information for a travel-guide. In order to be independent from the catastrophic transport system in Zaire, I mainly travelled by bicycle.

I crossed the border to Rwanda via Cyanika largely without problems. There are strikingly obtrusive border controls and the military guards at the few road blocks are strongly interested in records and personal documents which appear to be "spy-suspicious". Their manners are reserved, but polite.

Already during the first kilometers, the visitor gets an impression of the "new Rwanda". Many little villages still appear deserted, and war signs are frequently visible. The percentage of Ugandan vehicles in Rwanda is remarkably high - evidence for the origin of many "new Rwandans". In fact more soldiers and officials now speak English, but still they are very few. The road system is excellent, and the security is generally good. Only in the border district to Zaire, the situation frequently changes and is critical to some extent. The roads to Kibuye along Lake Kivu supposedly contain land mines and are dangerous. In the communities near the border, curfews still exist. However, the infiltration of Rwandan (Hutu) Interahamwe militia and land mine explosions have decreased. The price for this security is the presence of many (Tutsi) soldiers, especially after sunset.

Ruhengeri, the starting point for visits to the Parc National des Volcans, is very lively and largely rebuilt. Signs of war are hardly found. The gorilla visits in the national park have to be booked at the ORTPN office in Kigali, but this can also be done by phone at the park headquarters in Kinigi. Gorilla tours start at the prefecture in Ruhengeri. It is often possible to get a permit there on short notice if not all permits have been sold or permit holders have not turned up. The price is $ 126, for students $ 95.

The park headquarters have been reconstructed, but except for a telephone and a visitors' book, the offices rarely contain anything because of lootings in the past. The Volcano Veterinary Center, which is located nearby, was not busy, but intact. Meanwhile, the park is considered cleared of land mines, but patrolling park rangers and tourist groups are still guarded by armed soldiers as a protection against poachers and militiamen who enter from Zaire.

At the end of February, the Suza group was the only habituated gorilla group that lived on the Rwandan side of Mt. Karisimbi permanently; the Sabinyo group often travelled across the border to Zaire, and the groups 9, 11 and 13 have already settled on the Zairean side of the Virunga Volcanoes for some time.

My visit to the Suza group gave me a vague impression of the situation in the park. It was striking how many traces and paths - presumably left by poachers and wood-collectors - passed through the lower altitude zone of the park adjacent to cultivated land. We also found cattle feces and tracks sporadically. While climbing, we collected several snares. At 3,300 m, after 4 hours of climbing, we approached the Suza group which had been localized by radio coordination. It comprised 28 members at the end of February, among them three silverbacks. Two very young animals had been caught in snares at the beginning of this year and were injured or even mutilated.

The Suza group seemed to be nervous and in spite of our great cautiousness and very good guidance, the silverbacks repeatedly showed unmistakable threat displays. Obviously, this group is often visited by very large tourist groups, particularly as it is the only habituated group available in Rwanda on many days. On the day before our visit, for example, a group of 13 tourists was taken there, after the Sabinyo group had crossed the border to Zaire during the night and therefore capacities were missing. During our visit, we were not accompanied by soldiers to our surprise and the rangers did not carry arms.

The situation in Akagera National Park, however, is disastrous. Most of the wildlife is considered to have been killed, and large cattle herds - introduced by former refugees that returned from Uganda - compete for food with the remaining wild animals. Recently, the northern part of the Akagera National Park has been de-gazetted.

Gisenyi looks deserted, nearly like a ghost town. However, most of the banks and hotels are working again. When crossing the border to Goma, I experienced protracted controls; every cubic millimeter of my luggage was searched. Like in other places, the officials tried to bargain to get money for a visa that is not required.

Christoph Luebbert -

The Itombwe Mountains, Eastern Zaire
Gorilla Journal - June 1996

Few people have ever heard of the Itombwe Mountains. Yet, this massif supports the largest area of montane forest and bamboo along the Albertine (Western) Rift Valley, as well as an extremely rich diversity of plant and animal species, many of which are rare, poorly known and endemic to the region. Although Itombwe is obviously of considerable conservation importance, it is a relatively unstudied area. This is a reflection of its large size, isolation and the problems of gaining access.

From February to June, 1996, a team of biologists conducted a survey of the larger vertebrates of Itombwe, with a focus on assessing the distribution and conservation status of the gorilla and chimpanzee. This survey was lead by Omari Ilambu and funded by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). I joined the survey team in April for 1 month of field work during which I focused on the avifauna and primates, particularly the nocturnal primates. My participation in this survey was supported by Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe and Zoo Atlanta. We are now in the process of analyzing the data and writing up the results. Once this is completed, some of our more interesting findings as well as an overview of the conservation situation at Itombwe will be presented in Gorilla Journal. Here I provide background information on Itombwe and a brief review of what was known about the region and its wildlife prior to this survey.

The Itombwe Mountains (1,500 to 3,475 m) lie on the western side of the Albertine Rift just off the northwest corner of Lake Tanganyika in eastern Zaire. About 16,200 km2 of Itombwe is above 1,500 m in elevation. Within this area there are roughly 8,000 km2 of montane forest, 1,500 km2 of bamboo forest and 500 km2 of montane gallery forest.

The vast interior of Itombwe is largely uninhabited and the few villages that do exist are along roads and near the edges of the forest. Although the soils are poor for agriculture, this activity, together with cattle grazing and mining, continues to expand and damage the forest.

Itombwe is, without doubt, the single richest forest for its birds in Africa. With 83 montane forest species, it holds about half of the montane forest bird species in Africa. Of the 36 montane and transition forest bird species and subspecies endemic to the Albertine Rift, 32 (89%) occur in Itombwe. Two species of bird are known only from this forest; the Congo bay owl and Schouteden's swift. The owl is known only from one specimen obtained 45 years ago. In addition, five Red Data Book birds occur and nine species which are of special conservation concern. At this time, Itombwe is considered "preeminent amongst the forests of Africa for its avifauna" according to Wilson and Catsis and is recognized as Continental Africa's most important forest for bird conservation.

No detailed mammal surveys have been conducted in Itombwe. The present list contains seven species of primates, including the eastern lowland gorilla and the chimpanzee. The type specimen of the eastern lowland gorilla was obtained from Itombwe in 1908 but the species has never been studied here at the southern extreme of its range.

Itombwe is one of the key sites for conservation in Africa, yet no part of it is officially protected. As such, Itombwe is of very high priority in the protected area needs of the continent.

Thomas Butynski (ZOO-ABCP@TT.SASA.UNEP.NO)

Report on the Ongoing Research at the Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Gorilla Journal - June 1996

During the last couple of months, we have been continuing our studies on gorillas and chimpanzees in Kasirusiru, Tshibati and Tshivanga as was described in the last Gorilla Journal issue. The two gorilla groups that we observed at the above-mentioned locations are already beginning to become more and more accustomed to the presence of people. Meanwhile we can approach the animals at a distance of 5-6 m in open space and at about 10 m in dense vegetation.

The routes that the gorillas take while foraging obviously follow the paths of elephants, as the latter create small clearings by knocking down trees; in these places, plants start to grow that are preferred by the gorillas. Chimpanzees forage in small groups, but if there is abundant fruit, particularly figs, several groups are feeding together. Fecal analyses are still going on, and the results will be probably available by the end of the year.

We observed that elephants, gorillas and other animals cross the road which passes through the park while foraging. Therefore, we assume that the traffic on this road does not present any particular barrier between both parts of the park. In addition, we observed that habituated gorilla families forage and feed by the roadside. We hope to be able to compare the frequency of the animal movement to the number of cars, which are registered in Tshivanga, by the end of this year.

Altogether, our work is making good progress. A large forested area near the corridor that connects the old and the new part of the park has been severely destructed. However, the responsible authorities are trying to solve the conflicts which have led to this destruction through negotiations with the persons concerned. We hope that the Zairean Government will contribute to the clarification of the situation.

Mbake Sivha

The Situation in Zaire - Impressions from a Journey
Gorilla Journal - June 1996

The aim of my trip through the countries Uganda, Rwanda and Zaire from 9 February to 3 April 1996 was to gain topical information for a travel-guide. In order to be independent from the catastrophic transport system in Zaire, I mainly travelled by bicycle.

At the border from Rwanda to Zaire, UNHCR shuttle buses are passing. They transfer Hutu refugees daily from the camps at Goma to Rwanda, but they are largely empty. According to UNHCR, 40 to 60 refugees return from Zaire to Rwanda every day, and at the same time about 100 Tutsi who had formerly fled to Uganda immigrate back to Rwanda daily. Most of them come from the Masisi region west of Goma, where Interahamwe militia started with ethnic cleansing.

On the Zairean side of the border, detailed checks are carried out. Tremendous sums of money are requested especially from journalists and NGO staff. (Editor's remark, July 1996: the crossing of the border between Rwanda and Zaire is no more possible since May 1996.) Goma is neglected completely and decayed. Everyday life, however, abounds with vitality, and surprisingly almost all means of transport and accommodation of the past are available. The condition of the hotels is often appaling; $30 can be charged for a rotten room without light.

Paradoxically, the establishment of refugee camps has resulted in a stimulation of the economy; apart from the foreign currency that the numerous NGO and UN staff members crowding this region bring into Goma, businesses with the refugees contribute a great deal to this. Zairean officials and soldiers hardly receive any money; therefore, corruption and pillage by the soldiers have reached an extent that can hardly be imagined. As the payment of the soldiers is frequently assumed by citizens, wealthy merchants and also by the UNHCR, extensive lootings like those in 1992/1993 did not take place. The security situation in Goma is nevertheless bad. The nights are dangerous because of pillaging soldiers and juvenile bands. In addition, the Rwandan militia commit terror acts close to the border to deter refugees who would like to return and thereby destabilize the "new" Rwanda.

With the boat of the Bralima brewery I crossed Lake Kivu to Bukavu, to visit the Zairean-German cooperative project for the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Bukavu is in a similarly decayed state as Goma, but the visitor feels much more secure. In spite of the refugees, everyday life there seems normal.

About 300,000 refugees are living near Bukavu, according to UNHCR, in several small camps far outside of town. The Kachusha camp with about 100,000 Rwandans is the only one close to the Kahuzi-Biega Park.

Since financial support was fully re-established at the beginning of 1995, the German Technical Aid (GTZ) within the project "Integrated Conservation Eastern Zaire" (PNKB/GTZ) is working effectively again. As a result of the committed efforts of the project personnel, it was possible to stop the negative impact of the refugees and militias in the park. The park rangers are payed regularly by the GTZ; this is the basis for their motivated and excellent work. During the 5 days that I stayed in the Kahuzi-Biega Park, the good impression of the conservation activities was strengthened, and on each of our trips to Kasirusiru and to Mt. Biega, Kalonge, Tshibati and Mt. Kahuzi, we met committed park rangers on patrols.

Close to the station Tshivanga at the park entrance, a new visitor center has been constructed, and comfortable modern bungalows for visitors are planned. The visitors who are to use this accomodation, however, are still missing because of the refugees.

The most attractive of the four habituated gorilla groups at the moment is the Nindja group which I also visited. After the killing of the famous Maheshe, which had been arranged by pygmies in commission of a businessman from Kavumu in 1993, the leadership of the rest of the group was taken over by the patriarch's son, Maheshe II.

I returned to Goma in a small airplane and from there by bicycle on the Rutshuru road to Tongo in the southern sector of the Virunga National Park. (The southern and the middle sector of this park, including Rwindi, were under the control of rebels in May and conservation work was no longer possible.)

More than 700,000 refugees are living around Goma, the vast majority in the three camps Kibumba, Katale and Kahindo, which are all situated along the Goma-Rutshuru road in direct contact to the park. In the beginning of the refugee disaster, about 15% of the forest in the park was felled to meet the demand for wood and charcoal, according to the park administration, and a much larger part is heavily disturbed and cleared. Meanwhile, eucalypt wood, which is cut in the surroundings, is provided to the camp inhabitants by humanitarian aid organizations. The deforestation of cultivated land in the Kivu region is enormous. During May, the cutting of wood in the Virunga National Park increased again.

The Kibumba camp spreads up the slopes of Mt. Karisimbi and therefore comes close to the mountain gorilla area. North of Rumangabo, the Katale and Kahindo camps lie adjacent to the Virunga National Park. Crowds of people walk on the dirt road to Tongo in their search for water, wood and bush meat.

I had the impression that the situation in the Virunga Park could also be kept under better control if the rangers received acceptable wages and the number of rangers were increased. The dimension of professionally organized poaching in the savanna areas near Rwindi and Ishango at Lake Edward is frightening. According to information of the GTZ, in the past 2 years alone, about 11,000 hippos have been shot.

At the end of my trip to Zaire, I visited the mountain gorilla station in Djomba. In March, Djomba was visited frequently and could be reached quickly and safely from Uganda via the little frontier crossing Bunagana. The entry formalities were minimal. In Bunagana I met the only friendly and cooperative soldiers and custom officers of my whole Zaire journey.

Christoph Luebbert (

Poachers Arrested
Gorilla Journal - June 1996

In our last issue, we reported that three mountain gorillas had been killed in Zaire in August 1995. In December the IPPL (International Primate Protection League) reported that 13 suspects had been arrested. Six of them had been sentenced to 15 and 20 years of imprisonment respectively or an alternative fine of $ 25,000. The rest of the suspects had been released. One of the convicts is a park ranger. The arrested persons were Zaireans, contrary to occasional reports that the gorilla killers belonged to the Rwandan Interahamwe.

According to the poachers, somebody who was driving a UN vehicle and looking for gold had asked them for a gorilla baby. Thereupon, they killed three adult mountain gorillas and captured an infant which they hid behind a clinic in Bunagana. However, the animal escaped and was found later. Meanwhile it has been integrated into the Rugabo group and is doing fine so far. The doctor who led the clinic reportedly fled to Rwanda.

According to another news release by IPPL, a key suspect for the killing of four gorillas in Bwindi in March 1995 had tried to hide in Zaire. The man had fled there but eventually was arrested on October 21 for illegal entry into Zaire. On 29 March, after serving his sentence in the Rumangabo jail, he was arrested when being brought to the Ugandan border. When he appeared before a court in Kabale District in May, he pleaded not guilty

To avoid further gorilla killings in Zaire, IGCP and IZCN organized 24-hour patrols of the habituated gorilla groups in the Zairean part of the Virunga Volcanoes. The rangers received radios and other field equipment. They follow the gorillas constantly and camp near them. However, the quality of their weapons is much poorer than those of the militias.

Rain Forests and Gorillas in Cameroon and Nigeria
Gorilla Journal - June 1996

The FAO estimated that in 1990, 43.7% of Cameroon's surface was still covered by forests. However, satellite pictures showed as early as 1985 that rain forest cover was only 33.4%. In the 1980s, 0.5 to 1% of the forest area was destroyed annually. Slash-and-burn cultivation represents the greatest threat to the rain forests. Between 1975 and 1985, timber exploitation increased from 1.0 to 2.1 million m per year; in 1990 it reached 2.5 million m. In addition, local people cut a lot of firewood. At the beginning of the 1980s, firewood accounted for 86% of wood consumption in Cameroon. It is estimated that 10 million m of firewood were brought to market in 1986 compared to 2.1 million m of roundwood (unprocessed logs).

Legal logging concessions comprise approximately 80,000 km, more than half of the usable forest area. On average, 2,720 km were selectively logged every year from 1981 to 1985. Of this, 750 km were subsequently cleared completely. This means that 96% of cleared areas lie within the areas utilised by logging companies.

Foreigners own 86% of the 150 issued logging permits. French companies control 70% of timber production. France cancelled half of Cameroon's debts under the provision that French companies would be favoured when logging concessions were allocated. So far there is no sustainable timber production and the ITTO does not think that sustainable timber production will be possible if Cameroon continues to export as much timber as it currently does. In the 1980s, annual timber exports ranged between 0.5 and 0.7 million m. The government decided to compensate for decreased profits from the export of oil, coffee and cocoa through an increase in the export of timber. In 1991/92, timber accounted for 11.97% of all exports; this increased to 19.31% in 1993/94. 80% of exported timber is unprocessed roundwood. Up to 75% of timber is lost in the process of cutting and processing logs. The local population hardly profits from logging. Frequently, this is the cause for strong protests which are then suppressed by armed forces. Lately, a movement of eco-guerillas has arisen, who attack and burn timber lorries.

Local populations - Baka and Bantu - get cooking oil from the seed of the Moabi tree (Baillonella toxisperma). It is sold in the markets and used by many people. However, logging companies also cut Moabi timber and this species has already become scarce in some parts of Cameroon. Because of its significance to the local economy, Moabi's inclusion in Appendix II of CITES was requested some years ago, but without success.

Cameroon has seven national parks. Korup National Park, with an area of 1,259 km2, is the only one located in rain forest. In addition, the forest is protected in several reserves: Campo (2,712 km2), Dja (5,260 km2), Douala-Edea (1,600 km2) and Lac Lobeke (430 km2). Gorillas occur in Campo and Dja, and some live in in the Takamanda Reserve (676 km2), but this reserve is not recognized by the IUCN. Logging is customary in many protected areas of Cameroon. For example, large areas of the Douala-Edea and the Campo Reserve have been destroyed through logging. A few years ago a concession for a part of Campo was extended by 25 years.

The largest protected area in Cameroon is Dja Reserve in the south of the country which contains dense rain forest. It is a Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site. However, human influence has already changed this area considerably, mainly in the north and east. In the border zone of the reserve, wood is cut; professional hunting takes place even in the interior of the protected area. The roads in the border zone of the reserve, which are being maintained by the logging companies, allow transportation of great quantities of bush meat to the towns. Bush meat is an important source of income. Gorillas are frequently hunted for their meat, and the infants are often sold. In addition, farmers kill gorillas as a potential threat to their crops.

According to an analysis using satellite photos, 4.2% of Nigeria was covered by tropical rain forest in 1989. In 1897, the rain forests in Nigeria were estimated still to cover 600,000 km2. By 1989, rain forest cover had decreased to 38,620 km2. (However, FAO estimated 140,750 km2 in 1990.) In 1989, approximately 4,000 km2 were destroyed, according to one estimate, or 1,190 km2 according to another.

As early as 1976, the Nigerian government banned the export of unprocessed or semi-processed timber. However, this trade never stopped completely. Between 1975 and 1985, logging increased from 2.2 to 5.6 million m3 every year and it stayed at this level until 1990. In 1990, Nigeria imported timber products at the value of about $ 33 million and exported timber products at a value of only $ 1,68 million. The demand for timber products in the country itself is very high because of its high population density; by the year 2000 it is estimated to be 10 million m3 (excluding poles and firewood!). As Nigeria gets more than 80% of its foreign currency receipts from the export of oil, the country does not depend on timber export.

There are three national parks in Nigeria, only one of which includes rain forest. This is the Cross River National Park, covering 4,227 km2. The northwesternmost gorillas occur in this small mountainous area on the border between Cameroon and Nigeria, more than 350 km from the next population. It is not known for how long these populations have been separated. Gorillas are hunted in Nigeria, as parts of their bodies are used in traditional medicine.

Five small populations of gorillas were found on various mountains in 1987. One of them was separated from the others by a heavily used road. The study estimated the total number of gorillas in Nigeria to be 150; another study in 1990 yielded an estimate of 110. The apes were threatened by hunting for their meat and by the destruction of the forest for cultivation, by firewood collection, and by dry season fires which are started in the grassland and frequently spread to the forest.

Thanks to the activities of the NCF (Nigerian Conservation Foundation), the inhabitants of four villages were convinced to stop hunting gorillas. They hoped to find new sources of income in the introduction of gorilla tourism. However, far fewer visitors than expected arrived to view the gorillas.

Between 1987 and 1990, the forest was cleared even further, especially in the surroundings of the villages. The gorillas may have disappeared from one of the five areas where they had been reported previously. In 1991, the Nigerian government set up the Cross River National Park with two parts: the Okwangwo Division for the protection of gorillas and the Oban Division bordering Korup Park in Cameroon.

WWF-UK started the Okwangwo project in 1989 with the aim of protecting the park and supporting the sustainable development of the park buffer zone. Nature conservation education was set up and various activities were started in the villages of the buffer zone to introduce new sources of income for the villagers. This led to an improved acceptance of the park and to a decrease in poaching.

Only two of those areas where gorillas occur are within the national parks, another one is in the Mbe mountains near the park border. Gorilla poaching increased in the Mbe mountains in the beginning of 1991. Subsequently, the Mbe conservation project was set up, funded by Shell Nigeria.

The fourth gorilla population is isolated in the northwestern part of the Afi River Forest Reserve. Currently, the ecology of the gorillas there is being studied. Logging companies operate in this area, and the gorillas are hunted. The region is threatened even more now by a company that is currently negotiating new logging concessions there including a part of the Afi River Forest Reserve.

The distribution of this population of gorillas extends beyond the Cameroonian border into the Takamanda Reserve, which is known to be inefficiently protected. The number of gorillas there is not known.

Angela Meder

The Conkouati Chimpanzee Refuge - a New Chance for Orphans
Gorilla Journal - June 1996

A day's trip away from Pointe-Noire (Congo) lies the Conkouati Chimpanzee Refuge. 50 chimpanzee orphans live there. The refuge is managed by Aliette Jamart, a French woman who has been living in the Congo for more than 20 years. She founded the refuge in a protected area of rain forest 10 years ago. Four Congolese co-workers and two voluntary helpers from England support her.

Chimpanzee orphans are usually victims of the bush meat trade. In Conkouati, most of the orphans live on three mangrove islands in a bay close to the coast. The islands do not offer sufficient food, therefore the animals have to be fed daily. Their main nutrition is "Celeric", a baby food. The employees of the station go on tours from island to island in a boat every morning and in the afternoon, when the apes get fruit in addition to the baby food.

The youngest ones, 6 months to 3 years old, form a group of 13 animals. Many infants still suffer from the shock of being separated from their mothers and they need constant emotional support and physical contact with the caretakers. They do their best to be good substitute mothers.

We spend many hours together in the forest searching for fruits and edible roots. I try to teach the infants but I also learn a lot from them; they are very intelligent, and their instincts lead them to find food, Aliette Jamart says.

The biggest group of chimpanzees lives on Grand Ile which is almost 1 km long. This group consists of 19 animals between 4 and 8 years of age. Led by the 8 year old male Yombe, they easily climb into the highest tree tops and build sleeping nests at night. Yombe became the leader of the group despite being disabled: one leg had to be amputated below the knee because of an injury he sustained when he was caught.

Generally the whole group runs into the water, when the boat carrying the caretakers and the food arrives on the island - holding their arms high to keep as dry as possible. Chimpanzees usually go into water only in emergencies, but the food is so temptating that they lose their fear of water. Yombe is the only one who stays on land. This facilitates the work of the caretakers enormously; as the dominant male he would otherwise attack every human being coming too close. As it is, hanging from a mangrove tree branch, he seems quite happy to accept his food.

Back to the Wild

The station is almost completely occupied, but young chimpanzees continue to be offered for sale in villages and towns or have to pine away under wretched conditions as private pets. Therefore the older chimpanzees are to be released into the Conkouati Reserve this summer. A pontoon bridge will connect the two biggest islands so that the chimpanzee groups can form one social unit to be released into the wild. Primatologist Caroline Tutin and WSPA employees will monitor the release and determine, at a later point, whether the chimpanzees have managed to re-adjust to life in the wild.

Ulrich Karlowski (

If you want to support these orphanages, you can do so with a donation. Refer to "bush meat" when you transfer your donation to our account and we will pass it on to WSPA. Recently, we have handed over DM 1,800 to WSPA that have been donated in this way.

Opening of the Exhibition Gorillas im Rahmen

Many visitors crowded in front of the artworks presented in the exhibition Gorillas im Rahmen (Gorillas in Frames) at the vernissage in the Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn on 9 May 1996. The attention of the guests was also caught by the rainforest exhibition of the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe and the "bamboo booth" which offered T-shirts, postcards, books, prints and so forth. A showcase presented various gorilla objects; most of them had been kindly placed at our disposal by Karl-Otto Weber from his primate collection.

Most of the artists who made their paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures etc. available for the exhibition come from the region near Bonn and Cologne, but some contributions were sent also from far away - even from Japan. Anyone who buys one of these works of art supports the conservation activities of the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe. The exhibition was also supported from another side: The company Haribo printed the invitations and handouts and placed 5000 liquorice gorillas at disposal for sale. They were a big success.

The exhibition was opened with short talks given by Michael Schmitt of the Museum Alexander Koenig, Ulrich Karlowski of the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe and Uschi Burtscheid of the working group Gorillas im Rahmen. After this, Ursula Karlowski read from the book Familie 5 written by Joerg Hess; the author donated the proceeds from the sale of his book during the exhibition to our organization. The musical background for the event was provided by the group Africa Song - Music from Zaire.

During the 6 weeks of the exhibition, more activities took place. The sculptor Karin Euler-Schulze offered workshops for visitors; they had the opportunity to form gorillas from clay. She also arranged for the artists to show any artwork that has not yet been sold at a great ape exhibition in the Cologne Zoo starting 1 July.

Copyright 1996 Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe, Kilimanjaro Adventure Travel
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