Close Encounter with Gorillas at Bwindi
Gorilla Journal - June 97

On January 30th, I travelled from Kampala via Kabale to Buhoma, the tourist headquarters of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. On the morning of January 31st, eight Americans showed up as well. They had visited the two habituated gorilla groups in two parties of four persons each the day before, alternating this morning (the K group could only be visited by four tourists and the larger M group by six tourists per day). Additionally, a few backpack tourists were waiting for their chance to get a permit for one of the groups. Finally, an Australian student, who had already been waiting for 3 days to get a permit, was able to accompany us - myself and four people of the American travel group - to the M group.

I had a very positive impression of the local tourism organisation as well as of the national park administration. I was surprised how punctual and conscientious the rangers and tourist guides were. They explained the regulations to the tourists in detail. We were lucky to find the M group after only 1.5 hours of trekking. Indeed, I was not the only one who was deeply touched by these black-haired creatures who seemed to have expected us with unbelievable confidence. We did not have to be reminded at all to keep silent.

However, I was shocked by the American tour operator ('Dick'), based in Cape Town, who offered gorilla tours for small groups. He did not hesitate to lead his customers closer to the gorillas, in spite of the guides' instructions. Luckily, the tourists themselves were hesitant enough not to approach the gorillas any closer. He complained to me that the Ugandan organisation was so sloppy and chaotic and that there were by far not enough permits available. If he got more permits, he would be able to offer far more gorilla tours. According to his words, everything was much better in Zaire and the gorilla groups were much larger.

That conversation spoiled my pleasure somewhat, but on the other hand, it was good to hear that our guide (Joseph) was obviously very proud of their concepts for revenue sharing and conservation concept in place. The national park also employs more than 60 people, and many more earn their income in some way from tourism.

My visit to the gorillas was unbelievably splendid and inspiring. We were able to approach the gorillas to a distance of up to 5 m. Some of the subadult and juvenile gorillas, however, came even closer to us. One adolescent male pulled on my clothes; he obviously wanted to get hold of my camera. Finally, one of the guides literally rapped his knuckles. The youngster approached the visitors and park personnel several times up to an arm's length and touched their clothes and objects.

We hardly could see the silverback and the adult females who stayed in the background. The juveniles and adolescents, however, obviously had a lot of fun with us. Of course, this can become a serious problem as soon as such a habituated gorilla weighs about 150 kg - besides all the diseases he can catch from us. At any rate, in my opinion it is more than justified that I had to pay that much money. On the one hand, the high price prevents mass tourism, and, on the other hand, it partly supports the people who live close to the park (and furthermore, also the Ugandans in Kampala and elsewhere).

When the guide called for us to return after we had spent exactly 1 hour with the gorillas, we departed in a very melancholic mood. We walked back through the slippery underground to the camp, first silently, then whispering. After the emotion and tension had relaxed somewhat, we exchanged our lively impressions. A young stock broker from New York even said, with tears in his eyes, "this was like a climb into paradise".

Theo Michael Schmitt

Bushmeat Trade in the Rain Forest: Any Progress?
Gorilla Journal - June 97

We reported in the Gorilla Journal 12 (June 1996) about the bushmeat trade in the African lowland rain forests, which also affects the apes. All great apes are listed as endangered and hunting these species is prohibited.

Before the Gorilla Journal published material on this topic, the media in Europe and the USA had already reported extensively on this subject and showed shocking photographs and films taken by Karl Ammann, which did not fail to work. Through the WSPA, which started a campaign, the photographs were widely distributed and surely reached every lover of animals.

Karl Ammann became famous for his photographs. He received the Dolly Green Award on the 5th of April, 1997 in Los Angeles, because he had made the slaughter of the great apes known worldwide. Since then, more than a year has passed, articles are still being published concerning the problem with the bushmeat trade, particularly in connection with great apes. However, these reports are mostly the same as those at the beginning of the campaign. Therefore, I have tried to find out whether the publications had any effect.

The Causes

In Africa, bushmeat has always been consumed, but the trade increased tremendously within the last few decades, and nowadays many species are severely threatened. The inhabitants of the rain forests depend on bushmeat in many areas, as it is the only available source of protein. Keeping livestock in the tropics is often impossible due to the tsetse fly and numerous epidemics.

The opening up of the rain forests by the logging companies has a particularly strong impact on the ape populations. Numerous workers together with their families are drawn, in their search for a job, to the primary forest where only pygmies used to live. This way large towns develop, which are supplied with bushmeat. In the Isoroy camp (a subsidiary of the German timber company Glunz) in the Bee Forest, Gabon, observers discovered that the provisions for the workers included 35 chimpanzees and three gorillas within a period of 2 months.

Many workers increase their income through hunting, and sell the meat to professional dealers. After the logging companies depart, some of the workers stay in the forest and many of them continue with professional hunting. In southeastern Cameroon, 75% of the hunters are former employees of the logging companies.

For several years now, not only has the local population been supplied with bushmeat, but also the inhabitants of big cities far away. These markets can be supplied with bushmeat from the forests as a result of the development through the new roads and the regular traffic. Logging companies play a particularly important role in this respect. In a study published in the new issue of African Primates, Leonard Usongo and Brian Curran found that in southeastern Cameroon, 85% of the bushmeat is being transported from the poachers' camps with vehicles which belong to the logging companies.

In the vicinity of towns and the camps of professional hunters, the forests are virtually empty after some time; especially the larger mammals are gone. The pygmies who still live in the traditional way as hunter-gatherers are particularly affected; no animals are left on their hunting grounds. The government authorities responsible for forests and wildlife can do nothing against these excesses because of the lack of sufficient funds.

What Happened in the Meantime?

Great apes had been shot with particular cartridges of a Congolese company. In April 1996, after international protests, this company decided to halt the production of this ammunition for the next 2 years. Evidently, gorilla hunting has been reduced in Cameroon since then. The hunters also became more cautious because they know that apes are protected. Otherwise, the campaign apparently did not have much success in the fight against the professional bushmeat trade. One result is, however, that logging companies were forced to increase their efforts to find a solution for the problem.

The companies are not only responsible for road construction but also for the transportation of hunters and meat in their vehicles. Therefore, they have to take responsibility, in addition to the local authorities of the country concerned, to control the bushmeat trade. Since they also work on the spot, they can effectively take action.

One of these companies is CIB, a subsidiary of the German timber company Hinrich Feldmeyer. In Congo-Brazzaville, CIB is working in Pokola, close to the Nouabal‚-Ndoki National Park. Hinrich Stoll, the company's director, told me that CIB has been trying for several years to restrict poaching in its concessions. In cooperation with Michael Fay (WCS) in Ndoki and various other organizations, studies were initiated concerning the sustainable use of game animals.

CIB explained to the inhabitants of Pokola that there will not be any game left if they keep supporting professional hunters. It is no more permitted to sell the meat of great apes and elephants at the market. Instead, CIB imports cattle for the workers. This meat has been accepted now, with the exception of the pygmies. In December 1995, the council of elders of the Pokola and Ndoki communities decided to stop the export of bushmeat from the concession and the hunting of endangered species. Furthermore, it is not allowed to transport meat in the vehicles for timber transport, if the meat is not for the provision of the workers' families. Whether these measures have any effect is not clear; an independent study has not yet been conducted.

A Difficult Task

Although the timber companies can contribute considerably to the restriction of the bushmeat trade, the larger part of the task rests on the countries themselves. As their own wildlife is threatened, they should fight for the survival of the endangered animals - otherwise the biological diversity of their countries will be reduced. However, the rich countries are also interested in the conservation of the African apes (and they have the necessary funds for this) and they should do everything in their power to support the authorities of the countries concerned. As always, the most diffifult task is not talking about the problem, but implementing effective measures to solve it.

Crowded Orphanages

One result of publishing articles on the bushmeat trade, which of course does not solve the actual problem, is the increasing support of orphanages for apes whose parents were killed. Several sanctuaries take in the little ones and try to feed them. Since the problem has been published widely, they are getting more financial support and therefore it is now possible to provide better care for these gorilla and chimpanzee infants in various facilities in Congo-Brazzaville and Cameroon. Nevertheless, the majority of them die very soon because they arrive in a miserable condition.

Angela Meder

Death of a Patriarch
April 1997

The famous silverback Mushamuka disappeared on 18 April 1997. He was the leader of one of the first two Grauer's gorilla groups in Kahuzi-Biega National Park who were habituated to humans. The habituation was done by the late Adrien Deschrijver between 1965 and 1971. Mushamuka has been known since 1971. Deschrijver estimated him to be 20 years old at that time.

When Kelly Stewart met the silverback in 1972, she decided to become a gorilla researcher and later worked at Karisoke in Rwanda. Tourists also remembered him because he used to bluff charge during the visits. He also was shown in the movie Gorillas in the Mist.

The first zoologist to study Mushamuka's group was Alan Goodall in 1972. The group had 20 members at that time. It continued to grow during the following years; when Juichi Yamagiwa observed it in 1978; at that time, Mushamuka was the leader of an extremely large group with 42 individuals. This is the largest gorilla group ever reported. In 1990, the group consisted of 21 members, in 1993 of 19 members.

Mushamuka was an extremely successful silverback. Many of his sons left his group and established their own - recently, Bwana in 1992 and Lambchop and Mintsauce in 1995. Nindja, an older son, can also be visited by tourists. The last offspring Mushamuka sired was born in 1994 but it died when it was only 1.5 months old. The group is now led by a young male, probably a son too, and seems o.k. It can be visited by the rangers.

Mushamuka was the second famous Kahuzi-Biega silverback to die within only a few years (in 1993, Maheshe had been killed by poachers; he was possibly also a son of Mushamuka). However, unlike Maheshe, Mushamuka was not killed by poachers. He was estimated to be 43 to 46 years old and had lost many teeth. His remains have not yet been found.

Angela Meder

Four Gorillas Killed in Zaire

On 18 May 1997 four gorillas were shot by a patrolling Congolese officer who had been bitten by the silverback male in the Parc National des Virunga, Democratic Republic of Congo. According to the first reports, they were members of the ex-Luwawa group and one of the victims was the leading silverback, Kabirizi. Another report said that not the Kabirizi group was concerned, as first supposed, but the Ndungutse group; there are suspicions that not only 4 gorillas were killed and buried, but up to 10.

After the killing, the park rangers did not have access to a certain part of the Mikeno sector, because Interahamwe were in the forest, and therefore could not report any news from the gorilla groups Luwawa, Ndungutse and Kwitonda.

Reports from Mt. Tshiaberimu
Gorilla Journal - June 97

Since 1995, several trips have been undertaken to Mt. Tshiaberimu to determine whether the gorillas and the biodiversity of this area can be protected from the negative impact of human encroachment. The Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe and the DFGF have decided to support the IZCN/ICCN in their conservation efforts. The equipment which Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe delivered to the park rangers has made their patrols much easier. In September 1996, I received two radios and uniforms for my co-workers from the DFGF-Europe. This equipment will support our efforts to maintain the tracks, to support the patrols and help locate the gorillas.

We are collecting data which will help us to understand the ecology of the gorillas and plan necessary measures to protect their habitat; at the same time, we want to take the development of the local communities around Mt. Tshiaberimu into consideration. According to the first estimate, there are three gorilla groups: one lone silverback, one group comprising four and another group comprising twelve individuals.

The Situation at Mt. Tshiaberimu in December 1996

In November 1996, the North Kivu region was shaken heavily by the war. This crisis has affected the entire Virunga National Park. The senior park officials left for Kinshasa; after their departure, the situation became much more difficult.

The activities in Tshiaberimu were also disturbed. We tried to save as much as we could of the material (equipment for communication, cameras ...). In December, we visited Tshiaberimu to assess how serious the damage was and whether the situation would permit us to resume our work. In December and January we temporarily halted all field work and focused our attention on the park rangers who had stayed in the area. The regional director of IZCN Goma, Norbert Mushenzi Lusenge, tried to convince the new political and military authorities to resume all conservation activities in the Virunga National Park.

Some rangers were still posted in Burusi and Kasimbi, and a new camp was built in the center of Tshiaberimu at Kalibina as a refuge for the rangers during insecurity. The rangers were disarmed by the ADFL. If they are not able to continue their work soon, human encroachment will probably do further serious damage to the area. To prevent this, the rangers need support. They are loyal and motivated. We need their support to ensure the survival of the gorillas in Tshiaberimu during this critical time. We must act as quickly as possible to restore the conservation measures. By collaborating with other organizations, we can save what remains and ensure the survival of this World Heritage Site.

Report from March 1997

In March, I visited the Mt. Tshiaberimu conservation area to get a general impression of the situation after the wartime in the region. I planned to spend about 2 weeks from March 12 so that I could have enough time to discuss with the park guards the possibilities to resume our activities. The trip was easy because the security was restored in different places.

When I arrived at Tshiaberimu, I received a warm welcome by a lone park ranger who was wandering around in the village of Burusi. He explained to me that the others were at the fishing village of Kiavinyonge because of the difficult living conditions in Burusi after the war. He also talked about the experience they endured during the Mai-Mai rebels attacks in January 1997. They were forced to leave the park patrol posts on 15 January and managed to survive in the neighbouring villages; some went to their native villages near Beni and Mutsora. One ranger died during the war.

While in Burusi, I sent a message to the rangers urging them to come back. They arrived together with other workers and we held a meeting to discuss what could be done after the crisis. The elder worker Kihulane speaking on behalf of the team said that they were all happy to see me back in Tshiaberimu and they were ready to start with the activities provided I could help them. He explained that out of what was stolen by the looters, they saved very little equipment. Much of the equipment that the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe had provided was lost, too.

I told the rangers that the aim of my visit was to get a general view of the situation and determine what possibilities there were to resume the activities that we had started before the war. We had a wonderful celebration at the Burusi patrol post and I invited some locals to join in. I used this opportunity to explain that the park was not dissolved and those who were clearing the forest had to stop their activities. I visited some plots with the peasants and informed them that they were cutting the forest within the park boundaries. I told the local leaders that this anarchy must stop. It was obvious that the war has had a negative impact on the conservation efforts.

Human encroachment on the park resources has greatly increased. New forest clearings had been made in the unique montane and bamboo forests; the most damaging activities included gold mining, pitsawing and making charcoal out of felled trees. In addition, traps had been set to catch mainly rodents. On our way to the Kalibina camp site, we removed 26 rodent traps. As a result of the intense activities of villagers, many new trails had been made in the forest.

Nine gold miners had settled near the camp site and built two huts in the forest. When we arrived, they were in the river 'washing sands'. They ran away leaving all their equipment and tools behind. We caught an old man who could not escape because he was really old. He told us that they had been in the forest since the rangers had stopped working. We took the machetes, pels, hoes and basins that they were working with.

The situation of Tshiaberimu is similar to what is happening in different places around Virunga National Park. Serious conflicts are arising in the relations between the peripheral rural area and the park. This is a crucial issue for the future management of the park; a conservation approach involving the communities surrounding the park could be recommended. Success is only possible if the government formulate a viable policy of integrated rural development and puts an end to the various forms of land exploitation damaging the park integrity.

Vital Katembo

Nobody knows how the human encroachment has affected the gorillas. Two rangers observed a group with four members; it was not possible to find other gorillas.

In mid-January, new conservators were appointed for the northern sector of the Virunga National Park, but none of them has been on Mt. Tshiaberimu so far. The rangers are still waiting for instructions as to how they should continue their work. As soon as their ethical-moral retraining is completed, 20 rangers will be installed in the posts at Mt. Tshiaberimu.

Karisoke Research Centre, Rwanda
Gorilla Journal - June 97

Given the logistical constraints which Karisoke staff were subject to in 1996, we were able to spend a good deal of time with the gorilla groups, and the trackers missed very few days during the year. We continue to drive between Ruhengeri and Bisoke at considerable cost in time and wear on the vehicle.

Several researchers plan to return to Karisoke in 1997, but whether or not these studies are carried out will in part depend upon the availability of accommodation within walking distance of the gorillas. In view of the immediate need to establish a base closer to the Park, the DFGF proposed to build an outpost close to the edge of the Parc National des Volcans, where we will lodge trackers, patrols, visiting researchers and students, and thus avoid travel by vehicle.

Meanwhile monitoring of the gorillas has continued seven days a week, with trackers walking to work from their homes outside the park. The number of hours we were able to spend in the field increased as security conditions improved during the year.

The three research groups now comprise 80 individuals: 5 silverback males, 28 adult females, 10 blackback males, 6 subadults, 10 juveniles and 21 infants. There were nine births in 1996, six of these are surviving, five in Pablo's group and one in Shinda's group. We were unable to recover the bodies of two babies which died at 2 and 4 weeks of age respectively until they were in an advanced state of decomposition, thus the causes of death were not determined.

The Parc National des Volcans is protected by Rwandan and international laws, yet poaching of buffalo, bushbuck, duiker, bamboo and wood remains a problem. Early in the year, the anti-poaching patrols had to limit the extent of their patrols to avoid areas close to the border with Zaire. Nonetheless, Karisoke staff collected 941 snares during 1996.

Fortunately, no veterinary interventions to remove snares were necessary in 1996, although two incidents occurred in the research groups: in March, Rukundo, the 17-month-old son of Maggie, was trapped by a rope snare. The groups' trackers held off other members of Pablo's group whilst the snare was cut from its attachment. In July, 21-month-old Giraneza was also caught in a rope snare but was released by Karisoke trackers.

Developments since the beginning of 1997 have not been as positive. The security situation in Ruhengeri resulted in expatriate staff moving back to Kigali on January 19. At the time of writing, weekly trips to Ruhengeri were being made in convoys with military escorts. A demonstration of increasing activity by poachers is that two snare removals were necessary in January. The MGVC veterinarians, Jonathan Sleeman and Antoine Mudakikwa, removed wire snares from an adult female in Group 13, and from a 3-year-old in the Sabyinyo Group.

Despite renewed difficulties, the dedicated Karisoke staff continue their work almost unhindered, and we hope that the situation will improve sufficiently to allow our return to Ruhengeri in the near future.

Liz Williamson

In a message dated 30 May, Liz Williamson told us that the security situation in the park had deteriorated in early May and that she had not visited the gorillas for 3 weeks. However, the Karisoke trackers still followed them every day at that time. In a mail dated 24 June, she told us that they had to stop following the gorillas in mid-June.

For most of 1996, tourism to the gorillas has been at maximum capacity and the numbers dropped slightly with the troubles in Ruhengeri. Meanwhile, tourism has been suspended. The Sabinyo group has not been visited since April and visits to the Susa group were stopped at the beginning of June.

Nature Conservation During the Crisis
Gorilla Journal - June 97

In September 1996, war broke out between the ADFL and the FAZ in the southern region of eastern Zaire. In the second half of October, North Kivu was attacked from the Mikeno sector of the Virunga National Park and Goma was captured on 1 November 1996.

The political and military crisis swept over the whole eastern part of the country, an area particularly important for nature conservation. Six national parks (Garamba, Kahuzi-Biega, Kundelungu, Maiko, Upemba and Virunga) as well as the Itombwe and Ituri Forests are situated in this area. They are especially rich in animal and plant species and scientifically very interesting, especially concerning biogeography and evolution. All these areas, which have been the pride and joy of the country and the IZCN (now ICCN) for a long time, were abandoned by their administrators to their sad fate during the war. The war had the following effects:

A small core of conservationists gathered around the regional director of the ICCN. Regular contact between the park, the IGCP and the DFGF was established. We conducted a survey of the damage in the Virunga Park caused by the war. These investigations helped to inform the new political rulers of the dangers threatening the park. The international community was also alerted.

Several indisciplined armed groups had formed before war broke out in North Kivu, the notorious Mai-Mai among them. They seized control in several sectors of the Virunga National Park, which they terrorized and where they were heavily engaged in poaching activities. The park's animals (hippos, buffaloes and antelopes) were shot in large numbers and their meat was sold in all the markets between Goma and Beni. These people made our work considerably more difficult; often we could not even negotiate with them on a passage for the car.

Only a few days after the alliance had taken Goma, the new political and military authorities expressed their willingness to save the Virunga National Park. Our survey showed the responsible persons of the ADFL the critical situation of the park. We were able to extend this awareness to the local population through radio programmes (Goma, Butembo and Beni) and in public places. In this context, some measures were initiated and decisions taken, among others the permission to resume the operation of the park and initiate its rehabilitation, as well as the disarmament of armed groups. In the beginning of January 1997, a preliminary park administration was reinstated according to the capabilities of the available people.

The camps were cleaned up after the refugees had left them. Rubbish (plastic, paper packaging material, metal) was burned or buried so that plants could start to grow over those areas.

The new authorities consider conservation to be especially important and suggested a reformation of the structure and activities of the IZCN which they renamed ICCN. The retraining of the rangers has already started in the Rumangabo education center and includes ethical, moral, professional and military aspects according to the guidelines for national parks. Hope and life in the region have been aroused again, traffic is getting back to normal and the insecurity has decreased in many areas. Most gorillas are still alive and soon tourism will be resumed with the habituated groups in Jomba.

Among the most painful losses of this war, aside from the depletion of the park's infrastructure, are the disappearance and death of several park rangers. 21 families are affected in the central sector of the Virunga National Park (Rwindi-Rutshuru), 16 in Rumangabo, one in Tshiaberimu and two in Lulimbi. In memory of these brave men and to encourage those who want to continue nature conservation work in the 'liberated Congo', we intend to give special support to their families during the park's rehabilitation.

Vital Katembo Mushengezi and Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo

News from the Southern Sector of the Virunga National Park
Gorilla Journal - June 97

Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo has been informing us about the situation in this area which includes the Congolese/Zairean part of the Virunga Volcanoes. On 23 December 1996, he wrote that during a survey in late November, they had found that the situation was very critical. The infrastructure had been destroyed, vehicles stolen and several park rangers killed while others had fled. All the rangers had to hand over their guns and could therefore no longer prevent poaching in the park, except with the assistance of ADFL soldiers. The facilities in Jomba and Bukima were also demolished and the rangers' huts were looted. Effective protection of the park could no longer be sustained.

In a letter dated 22 February 1997, Claude Sikubwabo told us that in January 1997 he had been promoted to chief of the southern sector of the park. At some time, he had to flee to Masisi where he hid for 3 weeks. During this time, all his belongings were stolen and part of his house ransacked.

The park, especially the southern part, has suffered immensely. The gorillas could not be visited regularly. Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo and his colleagues have tried to develop strategies to convince the local population to support the ICCN in their efforts to protect the park. On May 15th, he told us that he had been staying in Rumangabo since March in order to more efficiently supervise the work in the park - gorilla monitoring and patrols.

New Projects

Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo asked the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe to provide financial support for the restoration of the Mikeno sector. Several vehicles were stolen, and out of these, only a small Suzuki has been returned, but in very poor condition. It would cost about US$ 1,000 to replace the missing parts. In addition, Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo would like to initiate a long-term study of the gorillas, much like the monitoring project in Rwanda. He would also like to monitor the activities of other large mammals, such as elephants and chimpanzees. This project would require the following equipment: a computer, two tents, two sleeping bags, two raincoats, two pairs of rubber boots and a camera.

However, the most important issue now is to sensitize the local people who live near the park about the necessity to protect the gorillas. This can not be done at the moment because resources are lacking. The local people must be involved in any measures to protect the gorillas. Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo has therefore developed a concept for informing and involving the local population of Goma in these efforts. Up to now, there has been no system to let the local population participate from the proceeds from tourism. This creates tension when the gorillas raid their fields or attack them. Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo is currently investigating the possibilitiy of establishing eco-tourism with the participation of the local population. Another very urgent project he suggested is a trip by a small group of two scientists, two rangers and two pathfinders to the hills of Sarambwe. These hills border the Ugandan Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It is important to determine whether gorillas are still living in this area.

Angela Meder

Research on Gorillas and Chimpanzees in the Kahuzi-Biega Park
Gorilla Journal - June 97

Our research in the park concentrates on primates and especially on the ecology of chimpanzees and gorillas. In this, we cooperate with the CRSN in Lwiro, the IZCN/ICCN and the Kyoto University. Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe has been supporting this research since July 1995.

Four trackers and one ranger are working in Kasirusiru, following gorillas and chimpanzees. In Tshivanga, one tracker and one guide monitor six transects along the Bukavu-Kisangani road and one botanical transect in Kasirusiru. In Tshibati (the site established by the CRSN and the Kyoto University), four trackers follow the gorillas and chimpanzees.

In Situ Research

In October 1996, we had to interrupt our work because of the war. By mid-January 1997, we were able to resume our field work intermittently, with the approval of the new authorities, and by mid-February we resumed it on a regular basis. The two gorilla groups are slowly getting habituated to humans - currently, they can be approached within 15 to 20 m. In contrast, the habituation of chimpanzees is more difficult. However, we follow the apes on an almost daily basis and monitor their use of different biotopes. Fresh gorilla and chimpanzee tracks are marked on a map.

Gorillas often stay in clearings created by elephants that are uprooting trees, because there the gorillas' preferred food plants grow. Chimpanzee groups split into small parties while searching for fruiting trees. However, several parties of one community may meet up in some trees, especially in trees with ripe figs. These daily observations are complemented by the analysis of faecal samples in the primatological laboratory of the CRSN. We should soon be able to show some preliminary results.

We cut transects to determine the density of trees with fruits that are eaten by apes. This research has been running since November 1994 and we are currently preparing the data for a publication.

Impact of the Road

This research was conducted to determine the possible impact of the expansion of the road between Bukavu and Kisangani on the national park. The study started in October 1993 and ended in October 1996 when the war broke out. The main targets of the study were gorillas and elephants. According to a survey done by WCS, there was a particularly high elephant density in the old part of the park before the war.

The analysis of the data is almost completed. We found that gorillas and elephants cross the road in both directions in various habitats. We found traces of their activities even right next to the road. This means that the road is no barrier for these two species and does not influence their activities.

However, a great risk to the animals is apparent from these findings. If traffic on the road is not controlled and therefore increases, there might be an increased risk of accidents and the animals' freedom of movement might be restricted. We had intended to complement these results with the census of traffic in Tshivanga; unfortunately, most of the data were destroyed during the war.

Other Research Activities

WCS, IZCN, CRSN and the Kyoto University conducted a joint survey of big mammals in the old part of the park from 18 May to 25 July 1996. Within the comprehensive survey of Gorilla gorilla graueri, one goal of this joint survey was to estimate the number of gorillas and to compare it with earlier surveys. Another aim was to determine the extent of utilisation of different habitats. In addition, signs of elephants, chimpanzees, monkeys, duikers, forest hogs and carnivores were noted. Another important subject was the impact of humans on the populations of these animals. The number of gorillas was estimated to be 247, which is approximately what had been found in earlier surveys (1978/1979: 223 to 258; 1990: 258). They were living in 25 groups with 2 to 24 animals per group. In addition, there are two solitary silverback males.

After the destruction of large forest areas in the corridor between the two parts of the park in 1995, the elephants could not leave the old part of the park any more and raided the fields in the border zone of the park more frequently. To find a solution for this problem, the Cameroonian expert Martin Tchamba analyzed the conflict between elephants and humans. He made various suggestions on how to prevent elephants from raiding the fields and on how to support the human population.


We suggest that the following studies be conducted in the future:

As the national park's fauna and flora have been damaged considerably since last autumn, we need to reconsider our priorities. We are hoping to continue our activities in spite of the difficult situation. The staff are very motivated, especially because they are paid regularly and because they receive the necessary equipment. Of course, the equipment has to be replaced regularly, too, but Mbake Sivha has been able to purchase some high-quality equipment for the team's field work during her stay in Germany.

Mbake Sivha

Mbake Sivha told us on 9 June that her team had no more been able to visit the gorilla group that they used to observe for more than a month. The group has moved to the center of the forest, and the ICCN employees are not allowed to go into the forest because of the militia who are still hiding there.

The Situation in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Gorilla Journal - June 97

On 26 March 1997, I met with Mbake Sivha to learn about the current situation in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. The buildings in Tshivanga still exist, but the looting was extensive. Anything useful was stolen from the GTZ office in Bukavu.

The streams of refugees and soldiers have also taken a heavy toll on the park. In the months after the war broke out, the average poaching rate for elephants was one every few days in the old part of the park. In February, the ICCN/IZCN located nine elephant carcasses. Poaching started to decrease considerably as soon as armed soldiers of the Alliance accompanied the rangers on their patrols. About 120 elephants were killed from the beginning of the war until the beginning if July 1997.

Gold miners and poachers were arrested in the park. The vegetation has also suffered considerably from the war; bamboo and wood had been cut as building materials and for firewood. Nobody knows what the situation looks like in the lowland part of the park, because no patrols were possible there for security reasons. Even in the old part of the park, militia are hiding in the forest.

The GTZ intends to continue the joint conservation project with the ICCN. Georg D”rken, who has been heading this project over the few years, continues to be responsible for Kahuzi-Biega and is in constant contact with Mbake Sivha.

Juichi Yamagiwa's project in Tshibati has continued. In April his gorilla study groups were well and could be contacted every day.

Angela Meder

Copyright 1997 Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe, Kilimanjaro Adventure Travel
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