Tag Archives: gorilla

Gabon – 13 heads and 32 ape hands siezed, 5 arrests

In one of the alarming and dramatic investigations recently,  13 great ape heads, 32 ape hands, plus 12 leopard skins, 5 elephant tails and one lion skin were siezed by the Gabonese authorities working with AALF, PALF, RALF and LAGA .

In this operation 5 dealers were arrested and are now behind bars.

Confiscated: 13 great apes heads (one for gorilla and 12 from Chimpanzees), 32 great apes hands (2 from Gorilla 30 from chimpanzees), as well as 12 leopard skins, a part of a lion skin, and 5 elephant tails.

Confiscated: 13 great apes heads (one for gorilla and 12 from Chimpanzees), 32 great apes hands (2 from Gorilla 30 from chimpanzees), as well as 12 leopard skins, a part of a lion skin, and 5 elephant tails.

While the scale of the illegal trade in ape products in West Africa is alarming, we congratulate the Gabonese authorities for this success in wildlife law enforcement. We encourage you our readers to also write to congratulate them. Write to:

Ministre des Eaux et Forêts : Fax : 00241 77 86 45 ; E-mail du secrétariat : [email protected]This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Directeur Général des Eaux et Forêts, Monsieur Kouma Zaou (mail: [email protected]This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; Tél : 00241 07 94 30 27 et 00241 06 71 09 70).

Thank you

Paula Kahumbu

Is There ‘Gorilla Warfare’ in Virunga?

When rebels loyal to renegade DRC general, Laurent Nkunda, invaded and occupied the Virunga National Park in 2007, most rangers fled. Some 30 rangers however remained behind and continued their work under the new ‘administration’. Late last year, the rebels advanced pushing their front further towards Goma. Rumangabo, the Virunga Park headquarters fell to the rangers after a fierce battle with government forces. More government supported rangers fled. Now the Virunga Park was under what seemed to be total control of the rebels.

A month or so before the rebels seized Rumangabo, Emmanuel de Merode, a Belgian national, had been appointed by the DRC government in order to restore the park authority’s [Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature-ICCN] credibility after the previous director, Honore Mashagiro, was fired and arrested on charges that he had participated in the charcoal and deforestation racket that resulted in the murder of 5 gorillas of the Rugendo family in July 2007.

Gorilla rwanda

Emmanuel got working immediately and negotiated an agreement that would allow the government supported rangers to return to their duty stations as neutral protectors of Virunga’s 200 or so gorillas and other wildlife. Emmanuel has started deploying his rangers into the park – which remains under control of rebels – and hopes to have 41 rangers in their stations and re-establish five 24-hour patrols.

One of the priorities for the rangers upon their return was to re-establish contact with the habituated ‘tourist groups’ of gorillas and to conduct a census. Surprisingly, despite 14 months without ‘care’ the gorillas have prospered. There are infants in most of the families so far visited and the final count of gorillas is expected to be higher than the current official number.

The same cannot be said about other wildlife. The hippo population for instance has plummeted from an estimated 30,000 to around 300

The rangers who stayed behind under Nkunda now claim that they are conserving the gorillas better than the government. They have accused ICCN rangers of being corrupt and greedy. They claim that more gorillas were killed when the government was in control than during their time. “The gorillas are safer now than they were before,” Pierre-Canisius Kanamahalagi, one of about 30 rangers who stayed behind, is quoted in the LA Times. “It was during the government control that so many were killed.”

The truth is that mountain gorilla populations have grown in the Virunga. There is even the discovery of a new family. The question is: is it because or despite of the rangers that work under Nkunda?

The ICCN has doubts about the ‘rebel’ rangers’ qualifications and political motives. “These rangers are not fully trained in gorilla-monitoring,” De Merode says in the LA Times report. “They’ve been a little cavalier.”

Park officials also have accused the rebels of attacking some rangers, often because of their ethnicity. Tutsi rangers, who are part of the same ethnic group as rebel leader Nkunda, were allowed to remain in the park, some say, though others were chased away.

The new arrangement where these two groups of rangers will work together is very desirable for the gorillas. The concern is that there is a heavy air of suspicion and second-guessing between the two. Will the good intentions of the two groups eventually win over their suspicions and rivalry? Will the gorillas and other wildlife fare better than before?

A perfect Christmas Gift

Dear Friends,

It’s that time of the year when we all get shopping crazy. We struggle to find the perfect gifts -well we are here to make it easier for you. Why not make a donation to WildlifeDirect as a gift to any of your friends and loved ones?

It’s particularly important at this time because the global credit crunch is robbing conservation projects of much needed funds. We need your help as we fear that the crisis threatens to close down many vital conservation projects. Our task is more critical now than ever to raise funds to keep these projects going and doing their important work.


We are offering you an opportunity this Christmas/holiday season to give a gift to yourself, or your friends and loved ones for only $33. The gift is a donation to WildilfeDirect. We will send you this lovely certificate to give to the person you are making the donation for.

After you make your donation simply send your email address to [email protected]

We look forward to hearing from you

Wishing you all a wonderful December and holiday season

The WildlifeDirect team

Story of Miza and gorilla Rangers touches children

Today I received an email from Robert Williams about ‘Looking for Miza” that made me realise just how much this little book matters.

Here’s an excerpt.

“I had some good friends over for dinner the other night and when one of their kids saw my copy of “Looking for Miza”, her eyes lit up. Turns out that Tessa, who is nine years old, learned of the book through her school and got her parents to purchase it. She was clearly touched by the book and went on and on about the gorillas and Innocent. It was really quite something. She even wrote a paper on the mountain gorillas. Great job on creating a book that really speaks to kids and moves them to act”.

Thank you Tessa and Robert – You’ve made my day!! 🙂

For those who haven’t got ‘Miza’ yet you can order it online at Amazon here It would make a great xmas present for someone special. Sadly, copies in Nairobi have already sold out 🙁

Review of “Looking for Miza”

Though it was announced back in June  the launch of our newest childrens book is actually taking place next weekend in New York. The book is part of a campaign that was born out of a commitment to action made at the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative shortly after last summer’s tragic massacre of ten mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park. The campaing includes the publication of Looking for Miza: The True Story of the Mountain Gorilla Family Who Rescued One of Their Own (Scholastic Press), and the creation of a multi-platform and standards-based educational initiative that will teach children, teachers and parents about the gorilla crisis.

All of the authors and photographer Peter Greste will be in New York for the launch. We will give you details about the events that will be taking place in case you’d like to attend.

I was very pleased to read the first book review on Amazon.com

“Moving, inspiring, informative, beautifully illustrated, and very, very important. This is a true story about one family of mountain gorillas, living in the Virunga National Forest (currently occupied by rebel army forces) and their attempts to return a lost orphan to their fold. “Miza” will engage your mind and steal your heart. You cannot ignore the plight of these magnificent creatures whose lives hang in such delicate balance, threatened by deforestation, poaching, and infection and war. Their innocence, so similar to our own, is poignantly and simply stated: “When gorillas feel safe, they play.”

Another review is on Eco Childs play here.


Craig Hatkoff, my friend and co-author of the book  wrote a moving piece about how this project came about on the scholastic website

“When we first started the Looking of Miza project, the only photograph we had of Miza was the picture that now appears on the back cover of the book. It was a photo of just an eye peering through a bush, snapped by Peter Greste last summer. It was the only photo Peter could get of Miza, who was still traumatized from her ordeal of being lost in the jungle. Park rangers Diddy and Innocent confirmed it was Miza by her distinct and now-famous nose print. With only that one photo in our possession, we agreed with Scholastic to do the book even if we couldn’t get any other pictures of Miza because of the importance of telling Miza’s story and raising global awareness of the mountain gorilla crisis”.

This article goes on to show how a book cover is so important, and how much effort it took to get the “right” book cover.

If you have the book  and have read it, please tell us if you like it – or if you don’t.

Rangers vs rebels

In Africa we always say that when elephant bulls fight its the grass that suffers.


In this article published today on The National, Matt Brown interviews a ranger who work for CNDP (Nkundas’s faction) and who is paid US% 10 per month by a conservation organization for this dangerous job.

“When the rebels took over the territory, most of the rangers from the government-run wildlife service fled the area. Those that remained are considered to be working for the rebels.“The ICCN [the Congolese wildlife service] refused to work with us because we are rebels,” said Canisius Kanamahalagi, a conservationist working for the rebels in the gorilla sector of the park. “They decided to take all the rangers and said whoever works here is considered a rebel.””

Can you imagine being in the shoes of Canisius? It must be very tough. There’s so much controversy over whether conservationists should support these rangers (or are they rebels?).

Nkunda has been in control of the Mikeno sector for nearly a year now and judging from the International Crisis Group reports here it looks like he’s there to stay for the time being. What do you think? In the interest of gorilla protection, should conservation organizations support the rangers now working for the rebel Laurent Nkunda?

If you could advise Emmanuel what would you say?

125,000 gorillas discovered – is the species safe from extinction?

Did you know that we humans are practically gorillas? Though we are closer to chimpanzees and bonobos, we still share 98-99% of our DNA with gorillas – together with chimpanzees we diverged from gorillas about 7 million years ago. I find that astounding! Hollywood has tatooed a King Kong image of gorillas onto our brains of a buffoonish aggressive hairy beast, – like us these apes are smart.  In 2005 scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society documented the first case of tool use among gorillas – individual gorillas were using sticks to check the depth of streams before crossing them. Rubbish compared to human inventions…well, for all our intelligence how come we seem to be unable to save them?

Maybe we don’t actually need to worry you ask? The recent announcement that WCS had discovered 125,000 more gorillas than were previously known in the Republic of Congo means that they are safe no? Not at all!  This announcement has confused many people as it suggests that gorillas are not endangered anymore . The truth is that Gorillas are still in bad shape. The confusion over species and subspecies, and DR Congo vs Republic of Congo …it’s brain twisting and infuriating. (I’ve been scouring the web for the original publication to understand how they came up with this figure and to understand the actual geographical distribution of this population. Anyone out there got it?)

WCS found more western lowland gorillas in the Repblic of Congo, – where does this fit into the various species and sub-species? Read on to find out.

First some background for any Gorilla newbies….

Gorillas are amazing animals. They live in tropical or subtropical forests only in Africa. Their range covers a small percentage of the continent, and a wide range of elevations.  They are herbivores and spend most of their day eating fruits, leaves, and shoots. Lowland gorillas feed mainly on fruit while Mountain gorillas feed mostly on herbs, stems and roots.


Gorillas forage in early morning, rests during the late morning and around midday, and in the afternoon it forages again before resting at night. Each gorilla builds a nest from surrounding vegetation to sleep in, constructing a new one every evening. Only infants sleep in the same nest as their mothers. They leave their sleeping sites when the sun rises at around 6 am, except when it is cold and overcast; then they often stay longer in their nests.

Gorilla society comprises families of 5 to 30 individuals led by the silverback – an adult male gorilla who is typically more than 12 years of age. A silverback gorilla has large canine teeth that come with maturity.

Silverbacks are strong dominant troop leaders who make all the decisions, mediating conflicts, determining the movements of the group, leading the others to feeding sites and taking responsibility for the safety and well-being of the troop. Younger males called blackbacks may serve as backup protection. Black backs are sexually mature males of up to 11 years of age.


Females start breeding at about 10 and gestation lasts 8 and a half months. They will typically have one baby every 4 years or so. Infants normally stay with their mother for 3–4 years, silverbacks care for these weaned young orphans.


If challenged by a younger or even by an outsider male, a silverback will scream, beat his chest, break branches, bare his teeth, then charge terrifyingly towards his foe. Occasionally, a group might be taken over by another male who will kill the infants of the former silverback. Or the silverback could die and a younger male in the group can take over leadership. Often when this happens however, the group will split up, as the animals disperse to look for a new protective male.

Young adult males begin to leave their original troop when they are about 11 years old, traveling alone or with a group of other males for 2–5 years before being able to attract females to form a new group and start breeding.

The different species of gorilla

There are two different species of Gorilla, Eastern gorilla (Gorilla graueri) and Western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla). These two species are geographically separated (see map below). Each of these species has two subspecies (with a possibility of a third in the eastern gorilla). The following information was compiled from Wikipedia amongst other sources.


Genus Gorilla


This map approximates the disrribution of these different species and sub-species. A third subspecies of Gorilla beringei has been proposed the Bwindi population of the Mountain Gorilla, sometimes called the Bwindi Gorilla.

The Eastern Gorilla (Gorilla beringei) is the largest living primate. The species is subdivided into two subspecies. The Eastern Lowland Gorilla (G. b. graueri) is the most populous, at about 16,000 individuals. The Mountain Gorilla (G. b. beringei) has only about 700 individuals. In addition, scientists are considering elevating a portion of this population, the Bwindi gorilla population (which numbers about half of the Mountain Gorilla population) to the rank of subspecies.


The Eastern Gorilla occurs in the lowland and mountain rainforests and sub-alpine forests of eastern DR Congo, southwestern Uganda and Rwanda, within the triangle between the Lualaba River, Lake Edward and Lake Tanganyika. The Eastern Gorilla prefers forests with a substrate of dense plant material.

The Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is one of the three subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla. There are two groups. One is found in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa, within 4 national parks: Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda; Volcanoes, in north-west Rwanda; and Virunga and Kahuzi-Biéga, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The other is found in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

The Mountain Gorilla has longer and darker hair than other gorilla species, allowing it to live in hot or cold weather and travel into areas where temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). It has chosen a life on the ground more than any other non-human primate, and its feet most resemble those of humans.

The Mountain Gorilla inhabits the Albertine Rift montane cloud forests of the Virunga Volcanoes, ranging in altitude from 2225 to 4267 m (7300-14000 ft). Most are found on the slopes of three of the dormant volcanoes: Karisimbi, Mikeno, and Visoke. The vegetation is very dense at the bottom of the mountains, becoming more sparse at higher elevations, and the forests where the Mountain Gorilla lives are often cloudy, misty and cold.

The home range size (the area used by one group of gorillas during one year) is influenced by availability of food sources and usually includes several vegetation zones but preferring the Hagenia forests, where gallium vines are found year-round. All parts of this vine are consumed: leaves, stems, flowers, and berries. They also feed in the bamboo forests during the few months of the year fresh shoots are available, and it climbs into subalpine regions to eat the soft centers of giant senecio trees.

The Bwindi gorilla, a population of the Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), is found in the rain forests of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and comprises about half the world’s endangered population of about 600 Mountain Gorillas. The nearby Virunga Volcanoes Conservation Area, inhabited by the remaining 300 Mountain Gorillas but where no chimpanzees live, makes Bwindi the only forest in Africa in which these two great apes occur together.

The Eastern Gorilla is seldom found in zoos. The Antwerp Zoo is probably the only Western zoo that has Eastern Lowland Gorillas (two older females). Apart from a  few orphans in Rwanda and Congo, the Mountain Gorilla is not held in captivity at all.

Western Gorilla

The Western Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) is lighter in color than its Eastern cousin being brown or greyish with a reddish forehead. It also has an overhanging tip on its nose, which the Eastern Gorilla doesn’t have. Males measure 170-180cm and weigh 140-275kg. Females measure 140-150cm – in general they are more slender then the Eastern Gorilla This species is an agile climber and is more arboreal than the Eastern Gorilla. It is also more frugivorous and will eat fleshy fruits of almost 100 seasonally fruiting tree species. It is more difficult to track and study and lives in small family group compared to other gorillas, averaging 4-8 members. Wild Western Gorillas are known to use tools.

The Western Gorilla as critically endangered, the most severe denomination next to global extinction, on its 2007 Red List of Threatened Species. It is thought that the Ebola virus might be depleting Western Gorilla populations to a point where it might become impossible for them to recover. However the discovery earlier this year (mid 2008) by WCS of as many as 125,000 previously-undiscovered Western Lowland Gorillas in the Republic of Congo sometimes known as Congo-Brazaville. This finding could more than double the known population of the animals.

The Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) is a subspecies of the Western Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) and is found on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon, in both tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests. The Cross River Gorilla differs from the Western Lowland Gorilla in both skull and tooth dimensions.

The Cross River Gorilla is the most endangered of all the gorillas, and is the most endangered primate. Estimates on the number of Cross River Gorillas remaining vary, with around 250 to 300 believed to be remaining in the wild, in 9 to 11 populations that are isolated by farmlands. The nearest population of Western Lowland Gorilla is some 250 km away. Both loss of habitat and the increased popularity of bushmeat have contributed heavily to the decline of this subspecies.

Does this write up and do the maps maps help to clear up who’s who and who’s where in the gorilla world?

Conservation Issues

All species of gorilla are endangered, and have been subject to intense poaching for bushmeat trade and habitat destruction for a long time.


Though millions can be generated from gorilla tourism, the areas surrounding the parks in the range of gorillas, are densely populated by very poor people. The resulting habitat loss, poaching and disease transmission all threaten wild gorillas.

In 2004 a population of several hundred gorillas in the Odzala National Park, Republic of Congo was essentially wiped out by the Ebola virus and in 2006 a study published in Science concluded that more than 5,000 gorillas may have died in recent outbreaks of the Ebola virus in central Africa. The researchers indicated that in conjunction with commercial hunting of these apes creates “a recipe for rapid ecological extinction“. Conservation efforts include the Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP), a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and also an international treaty, the Agreement on the Conservation of Gorillas and Their Habitats, concluded under UNEP-administered Convention on Migratory Species. The Gorilla Agreement is the first legally-binding instrument exclusively targeting Gorilla conservation and came into effect on 1 June 2008.

Next year we will be promoting the Convention on Migratory Species “Year of the Gorilla”. We are looking for ideas from you on how WildlifeDirect can raise more awareness, greater global involvement in gorilla conservation, and raise support  for gorilla conservation projects.

Please send us your ideas and suggestions.

Kwita Inzina baby gorilla naming ceremony

I received this as an email which was based on a conversation with the Commerce Minister Monique Nsanzabaganwa (L) and ORTPN Director General Rosette Chantal Rugamba after yesterday’s talk show on the upcoming ‘Kwita Izina’ ceremony.

Rwanda’s efforts to save mountain gorillas which last year generated $7m about Frw3.1bn have yielded $0.16m (approx Frw87.3m) portion to DR Congo.

The director general of Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN), Chantal Rugamba said the allotment is part of revenue sharing policy by three countries housing mountain gorillas. Rugamba, who was among the key speakers at Sunday live TV and radio talk show at Telecom House, said the money is meant to promote conservation of gorilla habitats on Congo side ravaged by civil wars. “Some gorillas fled insecurity in Congo habitats, to Rwanda side. The revenue we generate from tourists who visit them, our DRC counterparts have a portion” she promised.

Her revelation about proceeds they have allocated to Congo comes in the wake of preparations for the fourth gorilla naming ceremony (Kwita Izina) slated for June, 21. The ceremony will take place in Musanze District, Northern Province and this year 20 baby gorillas will named.

“Let us give it real value in view of the fact that it aims at conserving the natural habitats of mountain gorillas” said the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Monique Nsanzabaganwa.

Kwita Izina will be preceded with the inauguration of 3 primary schools of Nyabitsindi, Mugarama and Nyangwe; include 3 of the ten water harvest tanks and 2 bridges.

Another major event is a conservation conference expected to act as a platform to review the conservation action in Rwanda’s protected areas. Rugamba promised the conference will attract over 150 regional and international conservationists who will present their research findings on gorilla conservation.