Virunga’s lowland gorillas have been devastated by human encroachment, disease, and poaching and really need to catch a break. Emmanuel de Merode, the park’s Chief Warden has been making a concerted effort to secure the remaining six gorillas and provide them with the care they need to begin rebuilding their numbers. A major part of this effort is increasing ranger patrols and adding more frequent health checks by Gorilla Doctors Eddy Syaluha and Martin Kabuyaya.
Rangers outside the Kikyo patrol post that was ransacked by rebels.
On May 16th, Dr. Eddy, Dr. Martin, four rangers, and a research assistant from the Gorilla Organization began what would be a long hike to find the Kipura family. They made it to the Kalibina patrol post and spent the night there. Early the next morning, the group headed toward the Kikyo Patrol Post where the Kipura family had last been seen by the trackers. Unfortunately, rebels have destroyed the roof of this post, so it will sit empty until enough funds can be raised to repair it.
Rangers come across the first snare.
Dismantling the snare.
Despite the increased ranger patrols, poaching in the area has been a real problem. No sooner do rangers clear out wildlife snares, they reappear. Such was the case on this patrol. On the way in to see the Kipura family, rangers removed three snares. A dead monkey was found in another snare the previous day. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you no doubt remember several stories about snares injuring, maiming, and killing gorillas. Suffice it to say, snares are deadly and rangers must always be vigilant in their efforts to remove them.
By mid-morning on the 17th, the team located the Kipura group. All four were found eating happily in the forest. There were no signs of illness in the group. As you can see from the photos, the team and the gorillas were blessed with fantastic weather that day. I think you will agree, the photos are fantastic as well.
Blackback Mwasa - Kipura group.
Silverback Tsongo and adult female Kambula
Kambula by herself
Silverback Tsongo showing his incredible muscle mass.
Another great image of Tsongo.
Blackback Mukokya - notice the hair growing back on the upper part of his right arm. This is where a punch biopsy was taken in April.
On May 18th, the team set out to find the Katsabara group - a group comprised of only silverback Katsabara and adult female Mwengesyali. A recent patrol did report that infant gorilla feces were found in the night nest of Mwengesyali. This is great news because it’s the first time in a long while that Virunga’s lowland gorilla population has moved in a positive direction. During this visit, the group was found in thick vegetation and Katsabara acted very protective. According to Dr. Eddy, “Katsabara charged us and then hid in the dense bamboo. We could only hear the group eating and were unable to get any pictures despite being only 10 meters away. Katsabara settled down and we spent the next 30 minutes with them.” The team had high hopes of catching a glimpse of the baby, but decided that respecting their need for space was more important. In the coming weeks, rangers will continue to check the night nest of this group so they can measure the size of the feces and get an estimate on the infant’s age. For now, just knowing that Virunga’s lowland gorilla population may be starting to recover gives everyone hope.
Rangers conclude the visit by filling out their report.