Gorilla Studies in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park
Gorilla Journal - December 1999

Field studies by the Japanese team in the Nouabalé-Ndoki area, in Northern Congo, began in November 1987, and ecological surveys of primates in the area were initiated in 1988 by Masazumi Mitani, Suehisa Kuroda and Tomoaki Nishihara. Beginning in 1989, a WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) team initiated forest surveys in the area and in November 1993, with the great effort of WCS, the Congolese government established this area of 3,865.92 km2 as a national park. The park is covered by primary forest, composed of 3 types of vegetation: evergreen monospecific forest (Gilbertiodendron dewevrei), semi-deciduous (mixed species) forest, and swamp forest. The annual rainfall is about 1,500 mm and is divided into a major dry season (December-February), minor rainy season (March-June), minor dry season (July-August) and a major rainy season (September-November).

Primates have been found in high densities within the park, with western lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, and nine other species of diurnal primates living sympatrically, without large human impact for at least 50 years. The Japanese research team has focused mainly on the feeding ecology of western lowland gorillas. As the gorillas were difficult to observe at the first study site (Njinji), data on gorilla behaviour was gathered indirectly and the main study methods used were dung and trail analyses, plus nutritional analysis of certain food items in the gorillas' diet. The phenology of fruit production was also studied to examine its effects on the gorillas' diet and Nishihara spent a full year in the forest from 1991 to 1992 collecting data on gorilla diet and seasonal fruit production.

Long-term studies have described mountain gorillas as primarily folivorous and, for some time, this was assumed true for western gorillas as well. However, studies of the feeding habits of western lowland gorillas suggested that they might be considered frugivorous, and the relative importance of these dietary aspects formed the main body of Nishihara's work. The feeding ecology of chimpanzees was also examined using the same methods, enabling us to make comparisons between the two species and to describe ecological features of gorillas. Gorilla and chimp densities were estimated using nest counts (for gorillas) and direct counts of individually identified chimps. The important results were as follows:

Poor visibility as a result of dense vegetation has made direct observation of gorillas difficult. In May and June 1994, an extensive survey was conducted to find a study site where observation conditions would be better than those in the "Njinji" area. A good study site at an area of marsh grassland (about 1500 x 100 m) called "Guga Bai" was selected, where gorillas could be observed frequently with good visibility, and where several chimpanzees could be habituated. In late 1994, Nishihara established a study camp at this study site and started an intensive survey and habituation project. At Guga, gorillas can be located with ease, either as they pass through the open Gilbertiodendron forest that surrounds the bai, repeatedly using the same routes, or as the gorillas are already in the bai through the sound of food washing, moving through marsh or feeding grunts emitted by them. In order to increase observation frequency, platforms were set up in the trees at the points where gorillas habitually enter and exit the bai. Observation time could be greatly increased using these platforms. For example, between January and February 1995, we had gorillas in view for 427 out of 2,728 minutes (15.7%) we spent at the platform. At least 3 groups and 2 solitary males that utilize the bai have been identified; each group was cohesive and contained one silverback. The maximum group size was 16 individuals. We found that gorillas in a unit group moved in procession when they entered and exited the bai. Nine cases of such processional movement were observed. Data from these entries and exits suggest that silverbacks do not always lead group movement.

Gorillas frequently scratch soil on the floor in the Gilbertiodendron forest near the bai. The purpose of this is not clear but it probably serves to search for insects or other small animals, possibly including earthworms. It was difficult to find such animals during our own attempts at soil scratching, and therefore this behaviour did not seem to be an efficient form of nutritional intake. In addition, no fragments of insects or small animals were found in gorilla dung.

In 1994, Nishihara began a training program for Congolese research assistants at Guga. Students graduating from Brazzaville University were instructed in field research methods related to chimp and gorilla ecology. Results were presented by the students at seminars held in Brazzaville and at a primate conference in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, the study and training program at Guga was interrupted by the civil war in 1997 and currently remains suspended.

Tomoaki Nishihara

The Mbeli Bai Gorillas - Social Structure and Behaviour

The first pilot study at Mbeli Bai, a 10 hectare swampy clearing in the southwest of the park, was conducted in 1993. A further pilot study in 1994 by Stephen Blake confirmed that the site attracted unusually large numbers of gorillas. Full-time monitoring and study at Mbeli Bai began in February 1995, under the direction of Claudia Olejniczak. At the beginning of 1997, Richard Parnell became the principal investigator for the study.

Until the commencement of the study, virtually nothing was known regarding the intricacies of western lowland gorilla social organization. Studies of mountain gorilla social structure have been detailed and wide ranging. By comparison, studies on western lowland gorillas have mostly described aspects of ecology such as feeding and ranging that can be studied using indirect evidence such as feeding trails, nutritional analysis and nest counts. However, few advances have been made in addressing questions regarding social organization and interaction. Descriptions of social structure have relied heavily on secondary trail evidence and low sample sizes of known groups. Hypotheses regarding group dynamics, and in particular, the possibility that gorillas exhibit a fission-fusion organization not dissimilar to that observed in chimpanzees have been proposed but these also rely too heavily on night nest counts, a methodology that has been shown to be lacking in precision.

These "indirect" methodologies have been utilized primarily due to difficulties in habituating western lowland gorillas in their normal forest habitat. Even where the habituation of gorillas in the forest has been partially successful, only one or two groups have been studied. Mbeli Bai allows researchers visibility of complete social groups of gorillas. We are currently able to identify all individuals from 13 groups plus 8 solitary silverbacks; a study population of over 100 animals. This allows us to follow the dynamic shifts in group composition for a large number of groups, all of which are habituated to our presence at an observation tower at the bai edge.

The preliminary results show that groups with 2 silverbacks are rare and to date, no evidence has been collected to support a fission-fusion organization. Our findings indicate a much wider range of possible group compositions than have so far been described for the subspecies. In the context of our demographic monitoring, we have so far recorded 18 female transfers, 5 male emigrations, the birth of 16 infants and the death of 2 silverbacks, with the consequences for their groups. Several adult females in the study population have given birth to their second offspring since the start of the study, while some of those whose offspring died in early infancy have now given birth to their third infants, allowing us to monitor infant development and reproductive parameters. The number of individuals and groups known to the study has already enabled us to compile the most complete demographic data set for the sub-species yet extant; a resource that becomes increasingly important with each year of unbroken monitoring.

While attempts have been made to describe western gorilla social structure, data on individual gorilla social interactions are absent, with the exception of isolated anecdotal evidence. In previous studies examples of intra-group interaction have occasionally been witnessed, but such opportunities are rare and likely to be limited in their context, by poor observation conditions and an incomplete knowledge of the individuals involved. At Mbeli Bai, we often witness two or more groups using the clearing simultaneously and intergroup interactions are not uncommon. A significant characteristic of these encounters is the high degree of tolerance shown by group silverbacks. When agonistic encounters do occur, they are frequently initiated by, and confined to other group members such as black-backs, subadults and juveniles. By recording all aspects of these encounters, whether agonistic or affinitive, we are beginning to uncover layers of complexity and social awareness that are all too often hidden using more traditional study methods. Our data so far hint at the ways in which young animals gain the social skills required of them later in life, or even create "friendships" or animosities that may later affect the likelihood of female transfer or of tolerance between group silverbacks.

Data are also taken on the form of these interactions, which will enrich wild gorilla ethograms and provide information in areas such as gestural and vocal communication as well as positional aspects of interaction. Most encounters recorded are dyadic in nature, but analysis will also be performed on encounters that affect more than one member of each group. Observations are also analyzed temporally to understand to what extent gorillas of various ages observe a form of "etiquette" in their interactions with each other. Are there set rules governing the behaviour of different age and sex classes, or does the form and outcome of interaction depend more on past experiences or the proximity of a silverback from either group?

So far, observations are taken only at the bai and no attempt has been made to habituate groups to being followed into the forest, though it is expected that this may become the logical next step with one or more of the groups that visit the bai. The philosophy of the study is that, wherever possible, long-term research of vulnerable species such as gorillas should not be divorced from concerns about their conservation status. Though a full-time research project, this philosophy has led us to undertake conservation education efforts in the Upper Sangha region, through the creation and distribution of a conservation newspaper for high-school age children and the setting up of a children's conservation club. A pilot launch of this project at the local school has generated considerable interest throughout the region, and we hope to expand these activities considerably in the future.

Richard Parnell

Gorillas in the Odzala National Park
Gorilla Journal - December 1999

As part of the European program ECOFAC, a study of the large mammal populations frequenting the swampy clearings of the Odzala National Park, Republic of Congo, was conducted over a period of 10 months. This study has especially focused on gorillas that visit the Maya Nord clearing, located 10 km north of the park boundaries. The exceptionally good visibility has permitted an accurate determination of group composition and population structure. In Maya Nord, gorillas were present for 88% of the 132 observation days. A total of 398 hours of direct observation have been carried out. Altogether 217 group visits and 224 solitary visits have been recorded, corresponding to a total of 2,637 gorilla visits. 442 gorillas have been identified including 37 groups and 21 lone gorillas.

The gorilla density has been estimated at 10 individuals/km². Groups include only one silverback male and have a mean size of 11.7 individuals (range 2-29), which is larger than what has already been described for western gorillas. The mean number of infants per female (0.63) characterises a high birth rate. Infants, juveniles and subadults represent 56% of the population. The equal contribution of the three non-adult classes, about 20% each, confirms the good survival of young, especially during the passages from infant to juvenile and from juvenile to subadult.

Swampy clearings are especially attractive to gorillas that devote about 66% of their presence time to feeding on 4 herbaceous plant species. Sample analyses have shown that plants in clearings were richer in mineral salts than those in forests.

Several groups and/or lone individuals may visit the area simultaneously and 55% of the visits have led to inter-group encounters. In general, groups and/or solitary individuals ignore each other and only 29% of such encounters have led to agonistic interactions. Peaceful approaches (23% of intergroup encounters) and group mixings (6%) were observed. In spite of food selectivity and the patchy distribution of preferred plants, resource abundance seems to permit peaceful coexistence.

Abundance of Marantaceae in the forest and mineral-rich places in marshy clearings allows the Maya Nord region to house a large population of gorillas. Minerals may play an important role in the high birth rate and survival of offspring. The long-term survival of this population seems secured under the present conditions of the park which currently has no timber harvesting, low human presence and very low levels of poaching.

Unfortunately, human pressure is still increasing in the areas close to the park. This highlights the value of the current ECOFAC conservation program which focuses on western lowland gorillas together with other key species, such as forest elephants which inhabit the Maya Nord region. It encourages support of the park extension project to include this area, rich in numerous salt clearings and still spared by logging. The extension of the park would provide a sufficient area to assure the survival of large mammal populations such as elephants. It would also permit connections with other protected regions. The ECOFAC leaders still have to convince the authorities that the development of the park will provide financial resources to the local human populations. The park's financial autonomy is one of the main objectives of the ECOFAC program, and the development of ecotourism, facilitated by the exceptional conditions of observation, is considered a promising way of attaining it. Unfortunately, the current political conditions make the reinforcement of the protected areas difficult and the park extension project has been postponed.

Florence Magliocca
Funding for this study was provided by the EU ECOFAC program (Forest ECOsystems of Central Africa). I want to thank E. Pironio, initiator of the program, J.M. Froment, ECOFAC-Congo project leader, and C. Aveling, project co-ordinator. I acknowledge AGRECO for its technical assistance. Thanks to A. Gautier-Hion, my research director, for her help and her pertinent comments on my work.  

Cross River Gorillas - a Neglected Subspecies
Gorilla Journal - December 1999

In 1904, Paul Matschie, a pioneer in mammalian taxonomy working at the Humboldt University Zoological Museum in Berlin described a new species of gorilla inhabiting the watershed of the Cross River in what was then German Cameroon, close to the border of British-governed Nigeria. Matschie named the species Gorilla diehli in honor of Mr. Diehl, an employee of the German Northwestern Cameroon Company, who had collected the gorilla skulls on which Matschie based his new species. According to Matschie the 1) short skull, 2) short molar row, 3) palate shape, 4) and skull base shape distinguished Gorilla diehli as a new species separate from Gorilla gorilla.

Matschie also noted in his description that one of the female skulls collected by Diehl from the same area was not G. diehli, but G. gorilla, and claimed both species existed together in the Cross River catchment area. The potential occurrence of two morphologically distinct gorillas from the same locality supported Matschie's claims that the two were distinct species. Without the intrinsic barriers to interbreeding that characterizes different species, two gorilla populations could not possibly inhabit the same isolated area and remain morphologically distinct.

Subsequent classifications by Rothschild in 1904 and Elliot in 1912 agreed that the Cross River gorillas were not a new species and demoted the population to the subspecies Gorilla gorilla diehli. Neither author examined the specimens described by Matschie, or tested Matschie's claim that two morphologically distinct gorillas inhabited the Cross River watershed. If Matschie's claim was true, G. g. diehli could not possibly be a subspecies.

Harold Coolidge's revision of the genus Gorilla in 1929 placed what was then recognized as G. g. diehli into the subspecies G. g. gorilla. He based his decision largely on anecdotal accounts of gorilla distribution, believing Cross River gorilla populations were continuous with those of other western lowland gorillas. Coolidge, like his earlier counterparts, failed however, to address Matschie's claims. Although Colin Groves in 1970 revised gorilla taxonomy and added a subspecies (Gorilla gorilla graueri) to the eastern gorilla populations, Matschie's claims remained unchallenged and Coolidge's taxonomy remained by and large the framework of the currently accepted classification. By now, the Cross River gorillas were known to occur in eastern Nigeria as well as southwestern Cameroon, and they had at least been recognized by Groves as a distinctive far-western population.

Working on primate distribution and behavior in West Africa for the past 30 years, John Oates had long ago recognized the Cross River watershed, the Cameroon highlands and Bioko island as an area of primate endemism. The Sanaga river to the south of this area seems to act as a barrier to primate migrations from the extensive forests of western equatorial Africa, which cover most of southern Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, northern Congo and southwestern Central African Republic and are inhabited by G. g. gorilla.

At least 6 Old World monkey species or subspecies appear to be unique to the Cross River-Cameroon Highland-Bioko area. These monkeys include: Preuss's red colobus (Procolobus badius preussi), the drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus), Martin's putty nosed guenon (Cercopithecus nictitans martini), the red-eared guenon (Cercopithecus eryhtrotis), Preuss's guenon (Cercopithecus preussi) and the crowned guenon (Cercopithecus pogonias pogonias). The area is also home to several distinctive prosimians. Given such endemism, John Oates had suspected Cross River gorillas could possibly be a unique taxon.

By the late 1970s, however, a general view had developed that the Cross River gorillas had been extirpated at least from Nigeria if not from Cameroon. But in 1983 surveys by Clement Ebin of the Cross River State Forestry Department obtained evidence of gorilla populations living in Nigeria's Mbe Mountains. Further surveys in Nigeria and Cameroon in the last decade have established the presently-known distribution of the Cross River gorillas (map on page 14; Gorilla Journal 16 and 18) which probably number no more than 200 individuals in 4 isolated populations but still exist.

John Oates began field studies on the Cross River gorillas in 1990, and Esteban Sarmiento has been focusing his attention on the museum specimens of these apes. Museum records in London and Berlin showed that there were at least 100 Cross River gorilla skulls in museum collections for us to compare. Many of the skulls at the British Museum of Natural History, London, however, lacked specific locality areas and/or were too damaged to be included in the study.

The Royal College of Surgeons Hunterian Museum in London had been bombed during World War II and the Cross River gorilla skulls housed there had been destroyed. The same fate was believed to have befallen the Berlin specimens including those described by Matschie. But the bombs that fell on the Humboldt University Zoological Museum (the damage of which can still be seen today) only destroyed paperwork and records, the specimens were still intact. Renate Angermann, curator of mammals, had recognized the importance of this collection and had already located and recatalogued all the Cross River gorilla specimens by the time Esteban Sarmiento was ready to analyze them.

Comparison of skull measurements of non-Cross River western gorillas (approximately 55 males and 30 females) to Cross River gorillas (40 males and 20 females) including all those specimens referred to by Matschie in his description supported most of Matschie's claims. Cross River gorillas have shorter skulls, shorter molar rows, narrower palates, and a relatively broader skull base than the other western gorillas. In addition, Cross River gorillas have smaller cheektooth surface areas, smaller gapes and much smaller braincase volumes than do the other western gorillas. Cross River gorillas also have a suite of characteristic non-metric cranial traits, which collectively are not seen in any other gorilla population.

Statistical analyses on the skull measurements distinguished both male and female Cross River gorillas from other western gorillas and correctly assigned all individual specimens to their respective population. The statistical analyses, however, also proved that Matschie was wrong. The single female skull from the Cross River area, which Matschie claimed to be Gorilla gorilla, was indistinguishable from the other Cross River gorillas. It was clear, therefore, that the Cross River watershed was not inhabited by two morphologically distinct gorilla species.

In combination the skull measurements suggested that Cross River gorillas are probably smaller in body size than G. g. gorilla. Long bone and vertebral measurements from the single male and single female skeleton available, however, indicate a body size similar to that of G. g. gorilla. In fact, the single female skeleton measured is one of the largest females in our western gorilla sample. Moreover, Cross River gorillas do not seem to differ in long bone proportions (upper limb to lower limb, arm to forearm, and thigh to leg ratios) from the other western lowland gorillas.

Measurements of the male hand and foot segments show that this animal has comparatively shorter hands and feet. Unfortunately, with only two skeletons it is not possible to determine if such body and limb segment proportions are representative of the whole population.

Our attempts to associate the morphological differences we found in Cross River gorillas with their ecology is confounded by considerable differences in the habitats presently occupied by the four Cross River gorilla populations. We suspect many of their unique cranial characters may be associated to a diet that, historically, has been made up of smaller drier and harder foods than usually consumed by the other western gorillas. Such a diet could be a corollary of the relatively drier habitats and colder temperatures that exist at the northern latitudes they inhabit.

Data currently being analyzed by Kelley McFarland from her 1996-1999 field studies on the Afi Mountain population of these gorillas (Gorilla Journal 17) may help to throw some new light on these ecological questions.

Regardless of what environmental variables their morphological differences are precisely associated with, it is clear that these differences separate Cross River gorillas as a taxon distinct from other western gorillas. Because Cross River gorillas are more than 250 km northwest of the nearest western gorilla population and no other morphologically distinct gorilla shares its range, we are convinced that their differences can be best summarized by placing them in the subspecies Gorilla gorilla diehli. Our scientific study supporting a subspecies distinction of Cross River gorillas will appear in an upcoming American Museum of Natural History Novitates publication.

Esteban E. Sarmiento and John F. Oates

UNESCO Supports World Heritage Sites in D. R. Congo
January 2000

A project called "Biodiversity Conservation in Regions of Armed Conflict: Protecting World Natural Heritage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo" will be supported with an initial donation of US$2,895,912 by UNESCO. These funds will go to five conservation areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Garamba National Park, Okapi Faunal Reserve, Virunga National Park, Kahuzi-Biega National Park and Salonga National Park.

The project will require US$4,186,600 in total; US$1,290,688 have yet to be raised. The plan was approved in November by the United Nations Foundation, the U.S. charity which administers the US$1 billion donated in 1998 by Ted Turner to promote UN-supported causes, and by the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP). It has been developed in cooperation with IUCN and a Task Force of partner organisations notably, GTZ (German organization for technical aid) and ICCN (the Congolese national park authority), WWF and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF).

The project will seek to facilitate UNESCO's interaction with relevant authorities with a view to supporting local staff in their duties. It will provide salary substitutes and field equipment to help them carry out their work, support staff training, monitor the status of biodiversity, support programs integrating indigenous people and establish long-term financing mechanisms for the conservation of these sites in the D. R. Congo.

Poaching in the Old Part of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park
Gorilla Journal - December 1999

Between April and July 1999, poaching in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park increased considerably. During the war that started in October 1996, many animals were killed, but the more recent data that we collected during this investigation are very alarming too. The armed poachers were mainly targeting large mammals - elephants and gorillas in particular. Moreover, the considerable number of snares that the rangers are always collecting during their patrols are evidence that poaching with wire snares is also still common.

To find out more about the poaching, we collected evidence ourselves or sent informants to those villages where we expected persons that were involved in the poaching or knew details about the poachers, especially elephant and gorilla hunters. The arrested poachers and the respective local chiefs were interrogated in the park. We collected further information in the villages. Besides that, we had talks in the park station, reports from the group "human-elephant conflict" and more informants. Our investigation conducted at the beginning of June yielded the following results.

Elephant Hunters

They work in a complex and wide network. Two poachers were arrested and interrogated. They said that large trees are often felled for the smoking of elephant meat. This means that elephant poaching also destroys the park's vegetation. Sometimes the poachers spend a week in the forest.

Chomère Bugondo has been active for more than 20 years and has already been arrested in the park three times. He said that he does not master any other occupation besides hunting. Originally he had set snares until he and his group received a gun from Rwandan refugees of the Kashusha camp. Then he started elephant poaching for ivory, by order of a Mr. Tshimbombo in Bukavu. The poacher told us that he has killed 7 animals.

Georges Maperu Chamoka from Kavumu leads a large group of poachers who have regularly been very active in the park - on behalf of persons who live in Bukavu and across the border. This poacher told us that he has shot 10 elephants.

Ivory and meat are often transported to different recipients. For Georges Chamoka's team, the buyers or their representatives often visit the villages to pick up the tusks. The ivory is exported and the meat is taken to Bukavu in vans. Sometimes tusks are also transported with the meat. On the other hand, Chomère supplies local markets. The meat is usually bought by the women of Inera, Kavumu and Lwiro, and they supply the merchants in Bukavu.

Apart from these 2 big elephant poacher teams, 4 more groups are known to be involved. However, it is not known how many animals they have killed. All these groups know and occasionally visit each other. Eventually, they also cooperate.

Gorilla Hunters

Mr. Mulinga, the chief of the village Kakenge, is a renowned hunter with dogs, spears and wire snares. His group killed a young gorilla on July 3, probably a member of the Mugoli group. When they were arrested, the meat of this animal was just being cooked. The hands and feet of the gorilla were the proof of the poaching and consequently, the poacher confessed. Mr. Misarhi, a pygmy, is working for the chief poacher.

Mr. Kalyagizi and his team killed 6 gorillas on June 19. These animals probably also belonged to the Mugoli group. In April Corporal Tip shot a gorilla. This man is working for the team of Georges Chamoka which killed 12 gorillas in June.
In total, 3 teams of gorilla poachers are well-known; they killed 20 gorillas altogether. They hunt with dogs and guns. In the case of the Mulinga team, the gorilla meat is mainly consumed by the poachers themselves.

We were especially interested in one question: Do the hunters kill gorillas just for meat or is there another reason why they are hunting these apes in particular? We have to investigate deeper to find the answer.

Summary and Conclusions

Within a few months, 2 groups of hunters killed 17 elephants. Since April, 20 gorillas have been shot, and according to the poachers 12 belonged to the same family, Mugoli. Poaching in the old part of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park has increased, especially regarding elephants for ivory trade in the Great Lake region. Meat from gorillas that have been killed is consumed by the poachers' families and only a small quantity is sold to neighbours. We found out that pygmies are employed by the poachers as pisteurs.

We have the following recommendations:

Chantal Shalukoma

Slaughter of Gorillas in the Kahuzi-Biega Park
Gorilla Journal - December 1999

Frequent poaching of gorillas on a massive scale occurred in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in 1999. All 4 habituated groups which had accepted tourists no longer exist, and it is suspected that more than half of the population (240 gorillas) in the original sector of the park (600 km2) has recently been killed. Poaching activities in the large lowland sector (the rest of 6,000 km2) is anticipated to be more severe. The eastern lowland gorillas (Grauer's gorillas) are now in critical danger of extinction.

This October, I had long talks with conservators (Mushenji Lusenge and Mankoto ma Oyisenzoo) and all the guides and trackers of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. In summary, this is their story. The slaughter occurred consecutively within 1999.

Until the end of July 1998, 4 groups of gorillas had been monitored by the park staff on a daily basis for tourism. The Mushamuka group consisted of 10 gorillas (1 blackback, 4 females and 5 immatures), the Maheshe II (Lambchop) group consisted of 15 gorillas (1 silverback, 10 females and 4 immatures), the Nindja group consisted of 25 gorillas (13 females and 12 immatures), and the Mubalala group consisted of 21 gorillas (1 silverback, 1 blackback, 10 females and 9 immatures). Because of an outbreak of internal war in the beginning of August and the following control by the rebel government, the park staff were disarmed and could not enter the park. The main entrances (Tshivanga and Kahuzi) were closed and transport stopped between Bunyakiri and Bukavu (lowland sector and highland sector). No direct observations had been made and little information had been available on the four groups until the end of March 1999 when the park staff resumed monitoring of the groups and regular patrols without arms.

Since July 1998, the Mubalala group could not be found in their former range. In February 1999, the park staff found a large number of gorilla bones scattered within the range of the group. Piles of bones were found burned in some places. They also heard from villagers nearby that dead bodies of gorillas had been seen to be transported by poachers to Kalonge (a village beside the lowland sector of the park). It is suspected that most members of the Mubalala group were killed by poachers in the bushmeat trade. Since then, no gorilla group has been found in this area.

In June 1999, the park staff found a fresh nest site of gorillas and counted 12 nests including 3 juveniles' nests. They tried to contact them and confirmed that at least 2 females showed no fear of their approach. These females may be immigrants from the habituated groups (most possibly from Mubalala group). They named this group Mufanzala and started to monitor them. In September, the park staff counted 14 nests. In October, the Mufanzala group moved to the base of Mt. Biega, out of reach of the regular patrol, but efforts to contact them have been continuously made.

The Maheshe II group was found to be a large group (23 gorillas) in the beginning of April 1999, when the park staff started to monitor this group again. Several females had immigrated and some babies have been born in this group since August 1998. However, the group moved to the former range of the Mubalala group where poaching activities were high. Gunfire was frequently heard. At the end of July, the group was lost and no nests were found in this area until August 17, when the park staff saw a poacher's hut. Many gorilla skulls were found there. Poachers smoked gorilla meat on a fire. In September, the park staff arrested a group of poachers with numerous fragments of gorilla fur, skull and bone. It is possible that most members of the Maheshe II group were slaughtered by these poachers for bushmeat.

The Mushamuka group was not found when park staff resumed monitoring activities and patrols in April 1999. This group had probably disintegrated before then. However, a small group consisting of a silverback/blackback, 3 females, a juvenile and an infant was found in the former range of the Mushamuka group. The maturing silverback, named Kaboko, was confirmed to have been born in the Mushamuka group in 1987. He lost his right hand to a snare during childhood. This year he was given a new name, Mugaruka (the name of the present chief in the village near the Tshivanga Station). A subadult male had also lost his right hand and had a disabled left hand. When I observed him this time, a wire rope was still tight on his right wrist. He walked bipedally. It was a very disheartening sight to see. Nevertheless Mugaruka and the other gorillas showed no fear of our approach. The park staff have continued to monitor this group.

The Nindja group consisted of 19 nest-builders with 5 infants when I visited them on April 7, 1999. On April 11, the sound of gunfire was frequently heard from within the range of the Nindja group and since then, the group has not been found. Some time later, a number of dead gorilla bodies were seen being carried by poachers to villages neaby. It is likely that most members of the group were shot and killed by the poachers.

In July, a group of gorillas who had formally ranged in Mbayo (the north of Tshivanga Station) moved into the former range of the Nindja group. The park started to monitor and to habituate this group. They found at least 3 females of the Nindja group associating with them. They counted 16 nests in July and 26 nests in September. Apparently other gorillas have recently joined the group. In October, the group included a silverback and at least 5 juveniles and 3 infants; the total number reached 31. The silverback was named Mishebere (the name of a dedicated tracker in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park) and had a disabled left hand (probably the result of a snare in the past). A 3-year-old juvenile also had a disabled right hand. Mishebere and the other members of the group have been quickly habituated and accepted visitors by September.

I also got sad news about my study group (Ganyamulume group). Although I was not able to visit them this time because of the insecurity in their range area near Tshibati, my field assistant and trackers have visited them on a daily basis. A young silverback was shot dead by poachers in August and a solitary male has recently begun to associate with the group. Fortunately, all females and immatures have remained as a unit and move together. The group size has therefore not changed. However, neighbouring groups have disappeared from this area. Until August of last year, 4 groups had always ranged around Tshibati. However, this year 3 of them have not been found. They too were probably slaughtered for bushmeat, like the habituated groups.

In September, the park authorities summoned 67 suspected poachers and asked them about their recent activities (they had been promised that they would not be punished for poaching during the war). They reported to have hunted animals due to starvation. Most of them had experiences of poaching both elephants and gorillas, even close to the Tshivanga Station. The park authorities decided to employ 40 of them to assist in tracking gorillas and patrolling in the park to break snares and poacher's huts. Guides and trackers visited Mugaruka, Mishebere and Mufanzala groups every day, and a few of them remained with each group to watch them from 6:00 to 18:00 h. Since this decision was made, poaching activities have significantly decreased and no gorilla has been lost in the habituated groups.

Now, the park staff keep 20% of the original part safe for gorillas with frequent patrols (Kahuzi-Biega-Kasirusiru-Tshivanga-Tshibati). It is not possible to monitor the rest of the park which seems to be frequented by poachers. The lowland sector is completely out of control of the park staff. From the tragedies of the former habituated groups, it is estimated that more than 60 gorillas were killed by poachers. If the disappearance of the 3 groups around Tshibati and the possible killing of gorillas in unmonitored areas of the park are taken into account, more than half of the gorilla population in the original sector of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park was lost this year. The situation in the lowland sector may be worse. Starvation and the spread of guns among the local people during the war are the main causes of this situation. During my stay in Bukavu, I heard that the meat of gorillas was sold at 25 cents US/kg) (half price of beef!) everywhere.

Guy Debonnet (GTZ: Gesellschaft für technische Zusammenarbeit - German development organization) has proposed a population census in the original part of Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Although the political situation is still difficult, the number of surviving gorillas and the present situation of other mammals should be surveyed as soon as possible so that urgent conservation measures can be taken. International teams should be organized and financed to conduct this survey in the near future. The survey team should include the Congolese researchers and resident people. It will hopefully attract international attention to the tragedies of gorillas at Kahuzi and will remind the local people that the gorillas there are both a national and world heritage.

Juichi Yamagiwa

Conservation of Resources in Kahuzi-Biega
Gorilla Journal - December 1999

In April 1999, Mbake Sivha conducted a study on the utilization of resources in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park with support from the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe. This is a summary of her results.

The Kahuzi-Biega National Park is situated in one of the most densely populated areas of Africa - up to 300 people per km2. The pressure exerted by the human population on the park's resources has increased even further since the outbreak of war in 1996. Another factor to be taken into consideration is the situation of the pygmies. Formerly, they were settled in the area which was subsequently gazetted a national park. They still depend on it heavily today.

The goal of the study was to develop strategies for the conservation of the resources of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park with the participation of the people living close to the park; women and pygmies were involved according to their representation in the population. 25 villages along the Kajeje-Lemera road were chosen for the study. 213 people, 116 men and 97 women, were interviewed directly with a questionnaire. Of these, 161 people were Bantu and 52 were pygmies.

As a result of the interviews, we were able to list 249 wild plant species that are used by the human population. 92.6% of these plants come directly from the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Only a small part is collected outside the park.

The plants are used mainly for medicinal purposes, construction, food and as fuel. In addition, they are used as a source of timber or can be used to make charcoal and crafts for sale. Plant parts used are mostly leaves. Branches, fruit, bark and roots are used to a lesser extent.

As the plants are used so much, some species have already become very rare in the park. They are at risk of becoming locally extinct. Among them are bamboo, which is cut in the park and sold, as well as many tree species harvested for timber. The species Ficus exasperata, for example, has already become very rare. Another great problem is hunting. The demand for bushmeat in the cities and the continuing interest in ivory and trophies on the world market increase the pressure on the park's resources.

The pygmies are especially concerned because their original home is in the forest. When the park was created in 1970, they were forced to leave the Kahuzi-Biega forest and to change their lifestyle completely. There have been efforts to integrate them into the agricultural tradition of the Bashi but this has not been very successful. Hunting is still very important in their tradition and culture.

The collection of medicinal plants is traditionally the task of men. Women usually use the park's resources in a less destructive way; they only collect essential forest products like firewood, mushrooms and caterpillars.

In order to ensure a sustainable future for the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, the interviewed population recommends the following strategies for the protection of its resources:

Only if we succeed in bringing the conservation of the national park into line with the interests of the human population living nearby, will we succeed in conserving the park's resources in the long-term.

Mbake Sivha

Present Research in the Kahuzi-Biega Park
Gorilla Journal - December 1999

The so-called "civil war" in the Democratic Republic of Congo has seriously affected the research in Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Most of the infrastructure has been destroyed and many research programs, mainly those carried out by foreign researchers, have been suspended for a long time. Before the war, two research sites for a long-term study were established at Kasirusiru and Tshibati in the montane forest of the park. The study deals with coexistence and competition between gorillas and chimpanzees inhabiting sympatrically the montane forest of Kahuzi-Biega. Data collected in both sites are currently under analysis in the Laboratory of Primatology at the Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles de Lwiro.

Unfortunately, due to the war, the Kasirusiru site was completely destroyed in 1997; monitoring is still ongoing at Tshibati but not as intensely as in the past. Since January 1998, we have timidly resumed field work at Tshibati. However, when fights break out between armed groups in the park, we are obliged to stop working, which hinders our attempts to maintain continuous research.

We are greatly indebted to our brave trackers who, despite the insecurity, tried to follow the apes in the forest, collect their faeces and monitor fruit phenology along a belt botanical transect of 5,000 m in length and 20 m in width. It contains most types of vegetation common to areas in which gorillas and chimpanzees range sympatrically at Tshibati. Fruit production is monitored every 15 days by recording the presence of young leaves, flowers and unripe or ripe fruits in 1,758 trees and shrubs with a diameter at breast height of at least 10 cm labeled in the transect. This vegetation survey aims to assess availability and productivity of fruit eaten by the apes in the study area.

The security within the park is still hazardous. Presently only about 20% of the old part (montane area) of Kahuzi-Biega National Park is accessible by the park's staff. The remaining 80% of the area is controlled by several armed bands settled within the park; this situation shows how threatened the wildlife in the forest of Kahuzi is nowadays. This year more than 100 gorillas are estimated to have been killed including those that have been well habituated for ecotourism. All the known silverbacks (in some cases, together with all members of their families) were killed for meat and trophies. As a result of this, the different gorilla families were dislocated. The tragic consequence of this massacre is the loss of the history of gorillas inhabiting the montane forest of Kahuzi-Biega, which has been studied for 3 decades.

Kanyunyi A. Basabose

Involvement of Local People in the Conservation of Kahuzi-Biega
Gorilla Journal - December 1999

Before the war, 100 guards carrying guns were conducting daily patrols in the whole park and poachers were afraid of hunting animals inside the park, dreading to be caught or shot dead. With the war, all the guards were disarmed and the security in the park deteriorated. As a result of the free circulation of weapons brought about by the war in the region, criminals were able to acquire weapons and hunt inside the park. Since then, massacres have been perpetrated on elephants and gorillas by poachers (hundreds of skulls have been recently collected), not to mention numerous monkeys, bushpigs and antelopes continuously hunted for the bushmeat trade.

Meanwhile, POPOF (Pole Pole Foundation), a non-governmental organization led by local people, was shocked by this animal slaughter, and started an educational program in conservation for the neighbouring population. The program aims to encourage human societies living along the Kahuzi-Biega National Park's boundary to cooperate in wildlife conservation.

POPOF is a non-profit NGO created in 1992 by local people from villages close to the eastern boundary of the old part of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. The President of POPOF, John Kahekwa, has been working as a tourist guide for the park since the 1980s, and has habituated the Nindja Group. He created POPOF mainly to protect the gorillas against poaching; however, POPOF now works for the conservation of all the wildlife of Kahuzi-Biega National Park. In order to encourage respect and protection of gorillas (seen by POPOF as a national totem animal to be protected in any circumstances), POPOF has set up a discussion program with artists. Some of them are former poachers. They create simple artefacts of gorillas (wood carvings, paintings, T-shirts, caps, hip pockets, patches, etc.).

Through the art activities, POPOF has succeeded in drawing the villagers' attention to gorilla conservation issues which are now perceived by them as a serious problem to be solved. The reward of POPOF's artists is the benefit they get from the sale of their crafts to the tourists who come to see the gorillas. Unfortunately this activity has seriously suffered from the war in the region as tourists are no longer visiting. The region is now characterized by a high level of poverty; people do not have enough food to eat and this situation has pushed them to enter the forest for hunting animals. Deeply distressed, POPOF is warning people about an irreversible wildlife catastrophe if animal killings do not stop immediately.

POPOF is organizing seminars, conferences and round tables during which wildlife conservation issues are thoroughly discussed between scientists and villagers. From the findings of these meetings, it seems that another reason which induces people to enter the park is the search for fire-wood and timber. This pushed POPOF to create a tree nursery of plant species most valued by local people. Recently, POPOF has distributed more than 20,000 seedlings to the villagers and taught them how to grow these plants to maturity. The villagers are organized in groups according to their village of origin. POPOF is now planning to create a primary school for children from villages close to the park, where education will emphasize conservation topics.

POPOF has launched an overseas campaign searching for support and collaboration. Since 1996, POPOF has succeeded in attracting Japanese people to the conservation of gorillas in the wild. There is now a Japanese wing of POPOF which publishes the biannual POPOF News in Japanese.

Kanyunyi A. Basabose

News from Rwanda
Gorilla Journal - December 99

The tourism in the Parc National des Volcans has increased since it started again in mid-July 1999. For months, no traces of organized armed groups have been seen. Anti-poaching patrols are active and several poachers have been arrested. An especially high number of buffalo snares was found on Mt. Visoke.

In July, 38 rangers and 30 guides were trained in paramilitary techniques and learned how to give first aid. We taught them how to avoid disease transmission and how to behave when a gorilla has to be treated in a medical emergency. We also trained them how to report medical problems of the gorillas and how to fill in medical monitoring forms. Moreover, we explained preventive methods and the meaning of visitor regulations.

Currently, visitors are still accompanied by soldiers. For the future it is hoped that the rangers themselves will be allowed to carry weapons in order to decrease the number of people inside the park. The invasion of park animals in general and buffaloes in particular into fields close to the park has been controlled successfully by digging ditches.

The park authorities would need more functioning vehicles and petrol as well as raingear and walkie-talkies for communication. Most of the garbage that had been left behind in the park during the war has in the meantime been removed by 100 people who had been employed especially for this task. Rangers are camping on the park boundary in four locations in order to save petrol, some of them in park staff houses that were destroyed in the war.

Each of the 4 gorilla groups habituated for tourism (Suza with 32 animals, Sabinyo with 10, Amohoro with 17 and Group 13 with 7) has ist own rangers and guides who are joined by 2 additional guides when tourists visit the gorillas.

Ute Eilenberger

From the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program
Gorilla Journal - December 99

Following a request from Dian Fossey to Ruth Morris Keesling shortly before Dian Fossey's death, the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Center was founded in 1986, funded by the Morris Animal Foundation. James Foster, a renowned veterinary, was asked to establish the center in Kinigi at the foot of the volcanoes. Since then, 12 veterinarians have been working for the center.

Together with my colleague Antoine Mudakikwa, I am carrying out the health service of the mountain gorillas living on the Virunga Volcanoes in Rwanda and Congo. When required, we also support our colleagues in Uganda.

The risk of disease has to be considered the greatest threat to the mountain gorillas, who are otherwise well protected. Among other tasks, we have to continuously monitor the state of health of all habituated (research and tourist groups) and unhabituated gorillas (if they are seen) by observation and non-invasive examination methods (faeces, urine). A program of faecal tests is conducted on a regular basis in Rwanda and Congo. In addition, we are also developing new examination methods.

If the gorillas fall seriously ill with diseases transmitted by humans, or if they are injured or suffer from a life-threatening condition, they might be treated under anaesthetics. As each individual is important for the gene pool and living conditions are not natural anymore because of the strong human impact, this is considered justified. In 70% of treatments under anaesthetisia, snares are removed or injuries caused by snares are treated. These injuries can cause the animal's death if the wound gets infected and the infection is followed by septicaemia. Thanks to the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program, it has been possible to save every gorilla observed to be ill since 1990.

In addition, we determine basic physiological parameters with blood, faeces and urine samples from gorillas that are anaesthetised for medical reasons. Moreover, we are conducting non-invasive research of causes, epidemiology, clinical symptoms and pathology of diseases of free-ranging mountain gorillas. Animals found dead in the park are taken to the Veterinary Center for postmortem examination. This enables us to determine the cause of death and to identify changes caused by disease and age. Tissues, hair or body fluids of dead or anaesthetized animals are stored in a biological resource bank founded by the Morris Animal Foundation in 1999 to be used in further research. The sampling itself, the treatment of samples and the data processing are our tasks. The information gained in the process helps us to develop an up-to-date health care program for the mountain gorillas and to monitor its implementation.

Disease transmission from the surrounding human population is considered the greatest threat to the mountain gorillas' health. Therefore we are recording the most important diseases of the people living close to the park in order to introduce a health care program for those members of the park staff and researchers who have the closest contact with the animals. We monitor the compliance with the rules and regulations for visitors, which we helped to make more stringent in February 1999.

We train park staff in Rwanda, Uganda and the Central African Republic on disease transmission paths from humans to primates and the other way around and we explain preventative methods and the meaning of the visitor regulations. Moreover, we instruct them how to write medical reports and to help the veterinarian with emergency treatments with or without anaesthetics. For the future it is planned to train soldiers who enter the park on a regular basis as well.

We ensure the medical care of injured or other wild animals that are taken to the center and we take care of animals in the other protected areas of Rwanda, Nyungwe and Akagera. At the moment, my colleague helps to implement a health program for the western lowland gorillas in the Central African Republic. In the future, we also hope to provide medical care for the eastern lowland gorillas in the Congo, as this was requested by the authorities of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

In addition, I am involved in all other tasks which the management of such a center requires: public relations, accounting, purchase of equipment, co-operation with the local park authorities and other gorilla NGOs as well as participation in their meetings, making contacts and exchanging ideas with nature conservation organizations in Rwanda and abroad, development and realization of research programs, collaboration with our colleagues in Uganda, communication with our research director in the USA, the passing on of information and keeping in contact with the Morris Animal Foundation and Ruth Keesling, our lifetime trustee, laboratory work and maintenance, training and education of staff, etc. In our spare time, we support the local veterinarian in surgery on small animals.

All those montain gorillas who showed symptoms of disease during the last 3 months (July to September 1999) and therefore underwent health controls through the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program have recovered by now or are already in the process of recovering.

A 6-year-old juvenile called Arusha was found dead by park staff next to its night nest. We did a postmortem examination. As a preliminary result, the cause of death has been given as a paralytic ileus. The examinations are not finished yet. In November, a 31-year-old female in Shinda's group died, probably from old age. She had 3 miscarriages in succession, the last one in October. We are still waiting for the histo-pathology results of these cases.

Ute Eilenberger

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