An isolated population of gorillas has been known to occur in the Takamanda Forest Reserve and the adjacent Okwangwo forests of eastern Nigeria since the early 1900s. In 1904, Paul Matschie described the gorillas from this area as a distinct species, Gorilla diehli. Later taxonomic work reduced this species rank to that of a sub-species and eventually amalgamated it with other lowland gorillas, Gorilla gorilla gorilla. However, more recent research, including DNA analysis of hair and the re-measurement of Nigerian gorilla skull records, has provided new information that suggests that these gorillas are indeed more taxonomically distinct than previously thought.
Until recently, little attention had been paid to the population of gorillas on the Cameroonian side of the border and it was unclear whether gorillas still existed in the area until a WWF expedition in 1987 confirmed their presence. Furthermore in 1996 Jacqui Groves visited the Takamanda Forest Reserve and collected information from the local people indicating the continued presence of gorillas. In 1997 a large mammal census focusing on the gorilla population was undertaken, for which the field work, funded by WWF Cameroon, lasted for 14 months.
The Takamanda Reserve covers approximately 700 km2 of which only about 20% is classified as "highland" (for the purposes of this study, areas were categorised as highlands when higher than 700 m) which predominate in the north and east of the reserve. The results of the recent survey show that hunting is clearly higher in the lowlands than in the highlands and that, as a result, gorillas are virtually absent from the lowland areas. Although gorillas are still present in the Takamanda Reserve, they are now almost entirely confined to the highland areas, which are subject to lower hunting pressures, by the local communities. A very rough estimate of gorilla density in the highlands is in the order of 1 gorilla/km2. In the lowland forest, the estimate was approximately 0.06 gorillas/km2, one of the lowest recorded in Africa.
If gorillas are found in roughly the same density in all of the highland areas as in two highland areas surveyed, it would provide an estimated population of 140 weaned gorillas. However, a further highland area surveyed in Takamanda provided no evidence of gorillas at all; this was near to a large village and almost no indication of large mammals of any species was found in the area. Therefore population estimates must be heavily weighted, and adjusted, by the proximity of highland patches to village areas, where hunting is the main economic activity.
The Mawne (sometimes referred to as Mone) Forest Reserve and the Oko Mountain area to the east of the Takamanda Reserve are also comprised of a mosaic of highland and lowland forest. Recent gorilla skull records collected during this study from the Mawne Reserve indicate their continued presence in this area. Further surveys have been recommended for both reserves, focusing on areas that are the furthermost from human habitation.Jacqui L. Groves
During the end of July, 1999, a large area in the southern part of the Bwindi Forest has been destroyed by fires. Probably the fires were set accidentally by honey gathering pygmies. The local population tried to extinguish the fireb but they did not have the right equipment. Three people were injured while fighting the fire. At the beginning of August rain started and extinguished the few remaining smoldering areas.
About 100 armed men entered Uganda from the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 1st to raid 3 tourist camps in Buhoma, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Buildings were looted and set on fire, vehicles were burnt, and 17 people were kidnapped and taken into the forest. It seems likely that the attackers had been told about the exact whereabouts of the tourists by Ugandans. After freeing some hostages, the kidnappers hacked 8 tourists to death with machetes (4 Britons, 2 Americans and 2 New Zealanders). One Ugandan, the Community Conservation Officer John Ross Wagaba, was shot and his body set on fire.
It is not clear to which group the murderers belong. They spoke Kisuaheli, French and Kinyarwanda. Some people described them as Interahamwe, others as Hutu militia. They themselves said that they belonged to the ALIR (Rwandan Liberation Army) which has become notorious for their numerous raids in northwesten Rwanda. Since the war in Rwanda, some ten thousand Rwandan rebels, militia and bandits are said to roam the forests of eastern Congo and the Virunga National Park. Afterwards, a group calling itself NALU (National Army for the Liberation of Uganda) claimed responsibility for the murders. This could not be confirmed.
After the massacre, the rebels forced a Ugandan to show them the way back to the Congo. Ugandan and Rwandan troops immediately took up the chase. By the end of March, they had killed 35 Rwandan rebels and captured 4. One of them confessed to have participated in the Bwindi killings. It is not certain that the rebels killed were actually involved in the massacre. Troops were posted in Buhoma to ensure security in the future. One source reported that another 15 Rwandan militia were killed 30 miles inside Congo, at Kihito, in May.
Uganda declared a month of mourning for the victims of the massacre. Gorilla tourism was suspended during that month. The tour companies using the raided camps withdrew from southwestern Uganda and removed their equipment from Buhoma.
Before the attack, tourism was Uganda's second largest source of foreign currency after coffee export. About 75% of the tourist money was derived from gorilla tourism.
After the mourning, the parks were re-opened on April 1st. During April 82 tourists visited Bwindi and 47 visited Mgahinga. Some 60 soldiers were constantly present and worked together with the park staff. One gorilla group (Nyakagezi) can be visited in Mgahinga and 2 (Mubare and Habinyanja) can be visited in Bwindi. The Nkuringo group in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park continues to be habituated. Apparently, there have been no gorilla casualties from the attack.Angela Meder
After the terrible attack on the tourists, conservation and developmental aid organisations working in the region joined together to repair the damage in Buhoma as quickly as possible and to replace the lost material. The Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe immediately mailed a call for donations to members and friends of our organisation. From this fund-raising appeal we were able to transfer US$ 1,500 for the re-building of the burnt huts of the community campground. In addition, we offered the rangers of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park clothes and equipment from our storage, worth several thousand US$.
The campground at Buhoma is operating again and Mitchell Keiver, the Field Officer for IGCP in Kabale, told us on June 9th that the repair of the main picnic banda has started.
The GTZ's involvement in Kahuzi-Biega will be continued, but the budget has been reduced drastically. In 1999, the rangers will be paid by the project, but many other things are lacking, for example equipment. We therefore offered material from our storage to the Kahuzi-Biega rangers.
The park station was looted completely during the war. However, it was possible to save most of the project's remaining equipment, including the vehicles, when the war started in August 1998. This helps the rangers now to continue their work.
Since March the situation in Kahuzi-Biega National Park has improved a little. The Mai-Mai left the old park sector and therefore the rangers were able to resume their patrols. During these recent patrols they found the mandible of a silverback male gorilla near Kasirusiru. It is possible that it belongs to a former member of the Mubalala group because this group lived in the area. There are also positive news: The local administration supports the park and wants to stop cattle ranching in the corridor.
During a meeting in April, the organizations involved discussed the conservation of the 4 World Heritage Sites in eastern Congo - the National Parks Kahuzi-Biega, Virunga and Garamba as well as the Okapi Faunal Reserve in the Ituri Forest. All those sites are critically endangered, especially because poaching has increased and the surveillance has collapsed. The UNESCO promised US$ 250,000 to cover the most urgent costs. It is planned to secure the funding in the future by a trust fund. Important activities would include the support and training of the rangers, improved monitoring etc.
A New Study for Kahuzi-Biega
Mbake Sivha, who has been carrying out research on gorillas and chimpanzees with our support, is now carrying out another study to improve the conservation of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. She uses funds from the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe for this research.
The aim of this new study is to reduce the human pressure on the park's resources and to determine whether these resources can be supplied otherwise. It is planned to
The study is conducted in the area along the road between Kajeje and Tshibati (at the eastern part of the park), as this is the only accessible region at the moment. Five villages are included, two of which are pygmy villages. Most pygmies depend on the resources of the park. They exert a pressure which should not be underestimated. In general, women don't own any land and only a small number of them earn a salary as guides in the park.
The study puts special emphasis on women because in traditional African culture they play an important role in the utilization and protection of natural resources. Unfortunately, this has changed with the switch from subsistence to market economy. Consequently, the women are now forced to destroy the local resources to obtain cash, which in many cases is still not sufficient.
A New Publication: Le Gorille
For several years the GTZ/ICCN project has produced Kacheche, a newspaper for children about nature conservation and the national parks in eastern Congo. Now the Kahuzi-Biega National Park is starting a new publication, le Gorille. It is targeted at populations living close to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park and will be distributed twice per year. It will, for example, provide information about the activities in the park, discuss the cooperation of the park administration and the population and feature an animal.
Each issue of Le Gorille will be printed in 20,000 copies that can reach about 200,000 people who live close to the eastern part of the park. The population will also be involved in the production and distribution of the newsletter. It is not yet certain how this project will be funded. In any case, the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe will support it.
During May, the rangers and guides of the Parc National des Volcans were trained to prepare them for the reopening of the park for tourism after 2 years of closure caused by the war(s). On June 15th, gorilla tourism will be started again according to a Reuters press release. Each tourist group will be accompanied by armed rangers and guides.
Two gorilla groups can be visited - Suza and Sabinyo - and another one, Amahoro, is still being habituated. According to a BBC article, one gorilla visit will cost US$ 250 per person; 8 tourists will be allowed to visit each gorilla group for 1 hour per day.
The rangers and the administration of the Virunga National Park as a whole need our support now.
The situation is serious. As it is easier for Claude Sikubwabo to travel to Uganda than for us to enter the Congo, we met him in Kisoro. During a long conversation, he described the current situation of nature conservation in his country.
"The Virunga National Park can no longer be protected effectively and is therefore severely threatened. The park urgently needs support, especially for the gorillas whose number has already been reduced. The rangers and their superiors don't receive any salary or any other form of support. There are several military posts in the park. As the soldiers don't always receive their salaries either, they take to poaching. They also cut trees to make charcoal which is sold in the villages. The rangers are helpless as their weapons were confiscated when Kabila came to power. All we can do at the moment is to try to inform the military and the political decision-makers about the problems of the national park and increase their awareness.
If nothing is done, the gorillas will certainly vanish. However, it is not only this sensitive species which needs protection: the park's whole ecosystem is under threat. Having declared the Virunga National Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the international community has recognized its outstanding value. Now, at a time of severe threat, the involvement of the international community is required to save the park.
Recently, a poacher was caught with 1,050 kg of hippopotamus meat. This illustrates the fact that the threat extends to all the animals in the park. Without salary and other forms of support, some rangers leave their posts; those who stay cannot go on patrols. Therefore we are very grateful for the support of the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe for the Sarambwe and Mt. Tshiaberimu rangers. The DFGF (Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund) has also helped with US$ 25,000 for the whole park. However, this is still not sufficient for a park with an area of 800,000 ha, administered by approximately 750 people, 700 of whom are rangers.
Currently, the government cannot do anything for the park. However, financial support from the international community might encourage the government to contribute something as well. For example, if the rangers had their weapons returned and received their salaries, they could be sufficiently motivated to resume patrols in the park.
I do want to emphasize that many rangers have stayed on duty even though they have no longer received a salary or rations. As soon as they are paid a salary, they can further protect the park by going on patrols. If every European could give just US$ 2, we could perhaps save the park the unique ecosystems in the Virunga National Park, to save its biodiversity and the mountain gorillas. In this situation, we need a lot of support from all sides: the Congolese government, foreign governments, NGOs and private individuals. We want everybody to be involved in the protection of our national park."
In December 1998, all parties responsible for the southern sector of the Virunga National Park met to develop an overview of the situation in view of the crisis. In the Mikeno area, 4 out of 5 posts are still guarded. In the Nyamulagira area, 8 posts out of 13 are still guarded. In both areas, the park boundary is not respected. "Uniformed" persons are involved in poaching; trees are cut, especially in the Nyamulagira sector, to make charcoal and for other purposes. There are 104 rangers responsible for the two areas, but at the moment they are essentially powerless. Financial and material support for the rangers and their superiors in the ICCN would help to protect the biodiversity of the park. It could also demonstrate the park's significance to the current political decisions makers in the region.
In January, I was able to hand over equipment for the rangers of Sarambwe donated by the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe to Claude Sikubwabo. This equipment included sleeping bags, backpacks, tents and other items. He also received a computer for his scientific work (on Mt. Tshiaberimu among other areas) and US$ 400 advance funding for a study on Mt. Tshiaberimu which we want to support. This is a start, but in view of the crisis which Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo has described so clearly, our involvement continues to be required.Ursula Karlowski
I visited Bukavu on April 5-8th. The GTZ project is suspended at present, except for supporting the Kahuzi-Biega National Park staff by a small-scale fund.
All the people of Kahuzi-Biega National Park are well (nobody was injured or dead). They have not received their salaries from Kinshasa since last August when the rebels occupied this region. Until the end of March 1999 the park staff could not enter the park. The border at Tshivanga has been closed until now, so no people and no goods were transported from Bunyakiri or Walikale. Local people have suffered very much from the shortage of goods for daily use and the lack of communication. Although the front line has moved to the far west, some Interahamwe and Mai-Mai are still ranging in the forest. Heavily armed soldiers are protecting Tshivanga.
However, people say that the poaching activity is not high, because poachers are afraid to use guns. Unlike during the previous war when poachers killed hundreds of elephants, they now are only targeting small mammals using snares.
At the end of March the Kahuzi-Biega National Park resumed monitoring the 4 habituated gorilla groups. Teams consisting of a guide and several trackers visit each gorilla group every day. However, since they had never contacted the gorillas for 8 months, it was very difficult for them to find the groups.
Until April 7th when I visited Tshivanga, they had only found 2 groups (Nindja and Maheshe). The Mushamuka and Mubalala groups were not located where they had been before. Since Mushamuka died in April 1997, all the females and their dependent infants had moved together until last summer. However, it is possible that they have dispersed to transfer to other groups. This may result in a collapse of the Mushamuka group.
I visited the Nindja group. When I had seen the group for the last time in February 1998, it had consisted of
11 females, 5 juveniles and 5 infants. According to John Kahekwa (a guide), the number of females had decreased to 9 at the end of July 1998. Robert Mulinbi (another guide) told me that he had counted 13 nests when he had found the Nindja group at the end of March 1999. It is the reasonable figure of nest builders including large juveniles. However, he counted 19 nests on April 6th. He also found a long white hair in a big nest on the ground. It means that several adults including at least one silverback had joined the group.
During my visit on April 7th, I counted again 19 nests and observed a young silverback (his estimated age: 12-14 years) charging us. We also observed several unhabituated females. Females of the Nindja group looked shy probably because they have lacked contacts with us, but did not attack us as the untamed females. It seems likely that the Nindja group moved together with another group led by a young silverback. This is delightful news!
According to John Kahekwa, all the members of the Maheshe group have been found well as before.
My study groups of both gorillas and chimpanzees have been monitored periodically at Tshibati. The gorilla group has lost its leader male and has split into 2 groups recently. Since Mai-Mai people still appear within the study site, my research team could not resume field works in the forest. Only the monitoring and the phenological survey (botany and climatology) are going on at present.Juichi Yamagiwa