Conservation of Cross River Gorillas: A Progress Report
Gorilla Journal - December 2000
There are several pieces of encouraging news to report about the gorillas of the CameroonNigeria border region, the population described in Gorilla Journal 20 as belonging to the subspecies Gorilla gorilla diehli.
In April 2000, Nigerias Cross River State Government declared Afi Mountain as a wildlife sanctuary. This welcome news, which brings more formal protection to the Afi Mountain subpopulation of gorillas, was the result of vigorous activity by the reorganized State Forestry Commission (formerly the Department of Forest Development) and especially by its new Director of Wildlife and Ecotourism, Chris Agbor, and its Permanent Secretary, Etim Amika. Meanwhile, Kelley McFarlands team of gorilla trackers on Afi Mountain have continued their patrols, supervised by Liberian volunteer James Coleman, who reports to a conservation consortium that includes the Forestry Commission, the local NGO Pandrillus, Fauna and Flora International, and myself (representing the Wildlife Conservation Society and the City University of New York). Kelley McFarland is presently in the U.S. analyzing her field data for her doctoral dissertation, but plans eventually to return to Afi to continue studying the gorillas. In October 2000, Hazel White arrived in Cross River from the U.K. to take over on an interim basis from James Coleman on Afi Mountain, while we work to develop a sanctuary management plan.
Elsewhere in Nigeria, another Cross River State NGO, Primates Preservation Group (PPG), has been monitoring the gorilla subpopulations on the Mbe Mountains and in the Boshi Extension forests of Cross River National Park. During July through September, Ernest Nwufoh of PPG recorded evidence of two gorilla groups in Boshi Extension, and managed to see two juveniles in one of the groups, showing that they are reproducing successfully.
No recent hunting of any Nigerian gorillas has been detected in the last year and there appears to be growing awareness in Cross River State of the importance of gorilla conservation. One very helpful element contributing to this awareness has been the personal commitment of Onari Duke, the wife of the new State Governor, to gorilla conservation. The states First Lady has initiated a plan for an education and visitor center to be established on the Obudu Plateau, near the Cattle Ranch Hotel and within sight of the Boshi Extension gorilla habitat.
In Cameroon, meanwhile, September saw the start of renewed field surveys in the Takamanda and Mawne Forest Reserves by Jacqui Groves. These surveys are supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation and the Whitley Foundation.
Finally, plans are being made for a small workshop to be held at Obudu Cattle Ranch in April 2001, a meeting that will bring together conservationists, scientists and government officials from Nigeria and Cameroon to formulate policies for more coordinated and effective conservation of the remaining Cross River gorillas.
John F. Oates
Mt. Tshiaberimu News
Gorilla Journal - December 2000
In February 2000, with funds from the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkfhilfe and the DFGF (Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund), Claude Sikubwabo and Vital Katembo conducted a training course for 21 rangers and other employees in the Mt. Tshiaberimu area. The training consisted of these courses: introduction to monitoring, importance of the park's conservation, conflicts between conservation and communities, orientation with maps and GPS, habitats and animals of Mt. Tshiaberimu, ecology, biology and behaviour of gorillas, conservation problems on Mt. Tshiaberimu and gorilla census techniques including transects. After the 3-day training, activities in the field started. The participants conducted a survey on the gorillas and other mammals of Mt. Tshiaberimu, registered the cultivated area on Mt. Tshiaberimu, practised orientation in the forest and analyzed human activities.
From 7 to 11 February, the gorillas were surveyed by the employees and from 12 to 22 February by the rangers. Their nests were registered and sometimes a few individuals were seen. When the survey team approached the gorillas, the silverback charged every time. The survey revealed that there is only one gorilla family left in the area. It was named Lusenge. As the group is only partly habituated, it was not possible to determine the gender of all group members. There are definitely 9 gorillas; among them are one silverback male and two adult females with babies. Another silverback lives in the vicinity of the family; his relationship with the Lusenge family is not clear. Three more males, two silverbacks and one blackback, range in the Kivya area. Recently, the gorillas have started to occasionally visit the fields.
The team also collected samples of the gorillas feeding plants, listing a total of 37 species. Compared to the results from Kahuzi-Biega (about 140 plant species) and Virunga (about 75), this might indicate that gorilla food on Mt. Tshiaberimu is not sufficiently varied. Therefore further research on the nutrition of the Mt. Tshiaberimu gorillas is urgently required.
In addition to the gorillas, the following mammals were also observed on Mt. Tshiaberimu: blue monkey, black-fronted duiker as well as unidentified species of genet, mongoose, galago, squirrels and bats. Baboons were noticed near Kasimbi. The occurence of the jackal, the owl-faced monkey and the potto could not be confirmed.
Part of the training course was also to survey the area of the park utilized by the local population since 1990. In that year, people started cultivating fields, collecting firewood and plants and setting traps for rodents. The rangers and the responsible persons in Kiavinyonge did not try to stop these illegal activities. Currently, 6.4 km2 are affected. Park staff are trying to prevent the allocation of land for new fields. The situation in the part of the park which is actually protected has improved considerably over the last few years. Only a few, usually old, signs of human activity could be found here.
It is essential for the future of the Mt. Tshiaberimu area and its gorillas to sensitize the local population; to conduct development projects around the park and to involve the people living close to the park in conservation measures.
To improve the conservation of Mt. Tshiaberimu, we recommend the following:
Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo and Vital Katembo Mushengezi
News from Kahuzi-Biega
Gorilla Journal - December 2000
On 19 May 2000, the Kahuzi-Biega rangers were returned their arms and resumed patrolling. The ranger posts Mugaba and Tshibati were re-manned after this. Unfortunately, the Tshivanga post was attacked by armed rebels on the night of 17 June. One ranger was injured. In spite of this, park staff continued to control this part of the park. However, they have stopped spending the night at the post.
Thanks to the work of the rangers, no more gorillas were killed by poachers in June. The team working on the illegal live animal trade succeeded in confiscating one gorilla baby, one baboon and one red-tailed monkey in Bukavu. Unfortunately, the gorilla baby Bitorwa has since died, probably due to an infection.
In June, a survey was begun of gorillas and elephants in the mountain part of the park, as it was not clear how many animals had survived the wars. The survey team was headed by the Congolese biologist Omari Ilambu and accompanied by more than 50 soldiers. They found 130 gorillas (a few months ago, only 70 surviving gorillas had been estimated), but not one elephant was left.
Park staff started to act against illegal land utilisation in the corridor connecting the two parts of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park after the Governor had annulled the 11 certificates of occupation in May. They expelled all illegal occupants, burned charcoal ovens and confiscated cattle grazing in the park. Unfortunately, certain criminal government employees tried to intimidate and menace the park staff.
Meanwhile, approximately 10% of the park's area is under the control of the guards again.
Attempt to Re-introduce a Young Gorilla to the Kahuzi-Biega
Gorilla Journal - December 2000
Since 1996, the Kahuzi-Biega National Park has been under severe human pressure because of the troubles that shook the region. Networks of poachers developed; they support the trade in gorilla babies and other primates as well as various trophies of large mammals. Elephants and gorillas are the targets most sought after.
In May 2000, a team of the Kahuzi-Biega Park that was in charge of destroying poachers' networks in the area confiscated a young gorilla from poachers. According to the poachers, an expatriate, an agent of an international organisation in Bukavu, had given the order to capture the gorilla. However, the people who were involved in the Bitorwa case never betrayed their sources, not even to the national police. This shows that they had some sort of safeguard.
The gorilla, a male, was captured in the montane forest after his family had been killed. He was about 2 years old and had been fed fruit (mainly bananas) during his captivity. About 10 days after his capture, the infant still knew the taste of leaves and fruit that he had eaten in the forest (Myrianthus, Urera, Pennisetum ...) and the park decided to try and re-introduce him to the forest to give him a chance to survive in his natural environment. It was attempted to introduce him to the group led by the silverback Mugaruka that consists of 6 individuals. However, the re-introduction was difficult because of the silverback's behaviour; he reacted aggressively to the young gorilla three times. The infant panicked and rushed back to the team that had taken him to the group. A few days later, the solitary youngster died in the forest.
It seems that the confiscation and re-introduction of wild animals to their natural habitat does not solve the problem that threatens the large animals of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. The ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature) and the park management are fighting against the transport of animals from the park into town (gorilla babies, guenons, leopard cubs, ...) and trophies (ivory, gorilla skulls, ...) in order to destroy the poachers' networks that are systematically looting animal and plant products. Fortunately there are besides the faithful partner, GTZ (Gesellschaft für technische Zusammenarbeit: German governmental development organisation) UNESCO, Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe, Born Free Foundation, WCS, Nouvelles Approches and other organisations that support local efforts to save the gorillas in their natural habitat.
The support of the conservationists' world is extremely necessary as it can condemn the acts of destruction and support the respect for nature. This is especially important because official and international organisations are funding the ecocide. For example, zoos, animal centers, rich people who decorate their property with wild animals, and others could help to slow down these activities that are disturbing the balance of the forest ecosystems which include man too.
Visit to Kahuzi-Biega
Gorilla Journal - December 2000
During my last visit to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in October, I saw Mugaruka and his family again. The rainy season has just started in Kivu and the gorillas were feeding mainly on young bamboo shoots.
After I had the pleasure of being close to a family of gorillas, I always take away a feeling of humility and respect for the quiet strength and the harmonic relationship with nature that these primates have been able to preserve. Close to them, one can almost forget that peace is far from being re-installed in the country and that insecurity reigns the region.
After a period of reorganisation, the park guards, partly armed at the moment, have re-started patrols in the smaller part of the park and in the corridor. One cannot but pay tribute to their ardent wish to preserve what is left of the parks biodiversity, and to their enormous courage. We also recognise the tremendous support they receive from the GTZ against all odds.
At the moment, the authorities support seems to be much more determined. It is because of this that poachers who are arrested by the guards are actually kept in prison for several months, instead of being freed immediately as it has happened before. The farmers who had illegally cultivated fields in the corridor have been forced to leave.
A new census has determined that the parks gorilla population is in better shape than previously thought. No new cases of gorilla poaching have been reported. On the other hand, the poaching of small animals is worrying. This seems to be partly due to the impoverishment of the human population and the resulting shortage of meat.
The situation of the lowland part of the park is even much more worrying. There are indications that currently thousands of miners are mining there for columbite (niobite (Fe, Mn)Nb2O6 and tantalite (Fe, Mn)Ta2O6), an ore that represents an important resource of the region. Most of the collected mineral is taken out by aeroplanes. Naturally, this illegal exploitation means that every animal species that moves in the lowland part of the park is killed in order to feed the miners. Another factor is the ivory trade. To date, there is no material proof of this illegal activity, but, according to information from the ICCN, there is no doubt that it takes place. Currently, the ICCN has no means to put a stop to the ongoing slaughter. The support of the authorities is needed to determine the source of the collected mineral in numerous airports and localities surrounding the park, such as Punia, Walikale, Nzovu, Isangi and Lulingu. To put an end to this trade is an important financial sacrifice, but without it the lowland part of the park cannot survive.
At the end of July, the Ugandan park authorities asked the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Center (MGVC) to examine the gorillas in the Nkuringo group that is currently being habituated. The animals had lost hair and scratched themselves more than usual. Three young animals had an abnormal skin condition. One gorilla was anaesthetized, as it had lost about 60% of its hair and its skin was coming off in flakes. The MGVC took samples of the diseased skin and took biopsies. A microscopic examination indicated skin mites. The animal was drip-fed, as it showed signs of being dehydrated. Two other young animals were treated with an ectoparasitic ointment without being anaesthetized.
A week later, one of them was treated again. After another week, all three animals' condition had markedly improved. However, at the end of August, in one case another follow-up treatment with the ectoparasitic medicine was necessary. In addition, a newly infected young gorilla had lost a lot of hair on the chest and also had to be treated. One young animal received its follow-up treatment from an Australian colleague from Uganda, as the silverback shielded it from the rest of the group while the MGVC veterinarians were there.
At the moment, all animals are in good condition. No additional individuals fell ill. The samples were sent to parasitologists in the USA in order to determine whether the mites were a species that normally infects humans or other mammals. To date, there is no final result. Scabies mites are considered very host specific. However, the mite in question does not seem to be an autochthonous gorilla parasite, as the young animals showed a strong reaction.
In early August, the IGCP called a meeting with the Ugandan park authorities, the ITFC (Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation) and the MGVC. The local park authorities expressed their concern about the disease. Preventative measures are to be taken. The MGVC was asked to develop a questionnaire and give training that would enable rangers and possibly other people living close to the park to recognize early signs of gorilla diseases. This has since been done. Park authorities, IGCP and ITFC are planning additional measures.
After having seen the mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in February 1999, our interest in the gorillas of the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park had been awakened. So we set out to see them in September 2000.
We were not able to obtain permits for the Mgahinga Park from the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Kampala. As the only habituated group (Nyakagezi) sometimes moves into the Virunga National Park in the D.R. Congo, visits can only be booked locally in the Kisoro office of the park. There we learnt that the Nyakagezi group had recently stayed in Congo because of more abundant food on that side of the border.
However, a visit to the mountain gorillas was not our only reason for coming to Kisoro. As members of the Bergorillas & Regenwald Direkthilfe we wanted to see the recently established office in Kisoro and meet the organisation's assistant, William Mugisha. He showed us the small office next door to the Mgahinga National Park office. A lap-top computer and a digital camera had just been handed over. With this modern equipment, William Mugisha can now send up-to-date news to Germany, both in text and pictures, via e-mail, and also receive messages. We tested the new equipment the same evening and found it was working well.
On 11 September, we drove with William Mugisha from Kisoro to the Mgahinga National Park post. In the presence of Chief Warden Isaac F. Drani, we handed over 2 tarpaulins, 3 two-men tents, 42 polo shirts and 3 sweatshirts.
We learnt that visits to the mountain gorillas of the Volcano National Park in Rwanda are possible from the Ugandan side. So we decided to attempt this. In the Virunga Hotel we found a tour operator who took us to the border in Cyanika in his pick-up truck, together with four British students. From there we went to ORTPN (Office Rwandais du Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux) in Ruhengeri to get the permits, before we finally arrived in Kinigi, the post where the gorilla visits start. As in Uganda, the permit costs US$ 250 for foreigners.
We visited the Sabinyo group which consists of 2 silverbacks, 5 adult females and 4 young gorillas. It took less than an hour to reach the group. For a second time we were able to enjoy the overwhelming experience of seeing the mountain gorillas. When we re-entered Uganda, we had to pay another US$ 30 for the visa.
Klaus Griegel and Sylvia Wladarz
In August 2000, the federal delegate of the Green Party, Hans-Christian Ströbele, and I visited the Volcano National Park in Rwanda and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Center in Ruhengeri. Ute Eilenberger also accompanied us on our visits to the gorilla families Sabinyo and Susa.
Rwanda profits from the tourist rush in Uganda. Tourists who did not manage to get into a group in Uganda are taken accross the border to the Rwandan park and integrated within visitor groups there. During our first visit to the Sabinyo family we learnt that this trans-border shuffling of tourists is conducted in a relatively un-bureaucratic way. The park authority not always keeps the stipulated maximum number of visitors per gorilla family (8). There were 9 of us when we visited Sabyinyo; when we visited the Susa group on the next day, we were 5. Both times we were accompanied by several guides and the inevitable military escort. The visitors are always accompanied by armed troops as a precautionary measure, because the situation at the border area is still unsafe. Time and again, people in refugee camps and in the forest have suffered attacks from the Congolese side of the border.
Although clear instructions to the accompanying soldiers are supposed to prevent the gorillas from feeling alarmed, the soldiers did not follow these instructions during our visit. As consequence, the silverback male especially became irritated. The other 10 group members, all of which seemed healthy, reacted to the visitors according to age: the young gorillas were curious, the older ones were calm and mostly relaxed. However, neither on this occasion nor on the next day when we visited the Susa group, was the minimum distance of 7 m between people and gorillas maintained. This regulation is supposed to prevent the gorillas from catching human diseases. The accompanying vet was not happy.
The gorillas were close to the park border and the walk to the Sabinyo family was only a short amble. In contrast, the visit to the Susa group required a high degree of fitness. We had to hike for several hours up to an altitude of over 3,000 m, first to reach the edge of the forest, and then within the forest. The gorillas moved just ahead of us out of sight. We only reached them after they had settled down in a clearing.
As these gorillas have been used to receiving visits from tourists for a long time, they were not disturbed by our presence. Ute Eilenberger was pleased to see that a bite wound on a blackback was healing well. However, she was considerably concerned about the attention another blackback paid to the head guide. The gorilla grasped the collar of the man (whom he has known for many years), pulled him towards himself, held his head and turned it so that the mans face was pressed against his own cheek. Thankfully, this was accompanied by a very friendly facial expression. He held his "prisoner" in this way for quite a while: an impressive if very ambivalent experience. It can only be hoped that neither of them suffer any health problems as a result of this encounter.
The rangers and guides impressed us with their involvement, their knowledge and the respect they show for the gorillas, and last but not least with their friendly but professional way of dealing with the tourists. There is no doubt that they need equipment of all sorts, as do their colleagues in Uganda and the Congo. In this terrain, boots and other equipment suffer a lot wear and tear.
The government has the difficult task of resettling returning refugees. Contrary to their cultural tradition and patterns of dispersed residence, the government promotes their new settlement in villages, which facilitates infrastructural support and shall prevent settlement in the forest. However, fields are adjoining the edge of the forest. The establishment of buffer zones with appropriate management is urgently required if the national parks biodiversity, including the gorillas, is to be conserved. International cooperation is required here. However, since the end of the war, international cooperation is executed with restraint, although the country, after having suffered a terrible war, urgently needs help. Nature conservation and the promotion of development cannot be separated here.