As part of our ongoing series celebrating the 20th anniversary of IGCP as a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature, Anecto Kayitare, who spent nine years working with IGCP between 1999 to 2008, revisits his experience with the Susa group in 2003 and reflects on challenges faced then and now to balance the needs of people and gorillas.
All photographs are those of Anecto Kayitare/IGCP and are not to be used without expressed permission. Requests can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This day of October the 29th, I woke up early, put on my boots and go for trekking in Susa Group for my story. Once in the group I look around to find Ruvumu the young female which gave birth recently, on 25/08/2003 her first baby. That date is unforgettable in the Rwandan history because; it was the first democratic presidential election since the aftermath and date during which was massively and peacefully elected the President Paul Kagame. From the four corners of Rwanda we could heard the “Intsinzi” song which means victory to mark a new era, that`s why trackers named the new gorilla baby “Intsinzi”. It was also a success for all the people dedicated for conservation, who jointly worked at different stages for a long term survival of the endangered mountain gorillas.
Susa is the biggest tourist Group with 35 individuals. At this beginning of rainy season, the bamboos are shooting up, and gorillas enjoyed to eat the bamboo shoots. It`s not easy for me to take good pictures of Ruvumu as she is facing her back to me and is carefully protecting her baby Intsinzi.
The whole group is healthy and seem to be in a very good condition this morning, they are moving from time to time in making nests through bamboo trees as well as eating their growing shoots which are many from end September up to November and from March to May in the year.
Apart from those bamboo shoots, mountain gorillas also enjoy much eating bamboo leaves. The main gorilla food is mostly composed of bamboo leaves and young shoots. However this food is becoming scarce in the park, in some places the bamboo zone has been converted to lands for agriculture. The few places where the bamboos still remain, it is systematically cut for fire wood, for building huts, making crafts and staking up crops.
When I come back from trekking, I ask myself if the Susa group, as well as other gorilla groups, will find, in a near future, as usual their “preferred meal” as the needs of using bamboos by communities surrounding the park are increasing.
We IGCP and Volcanoes National Park, together with other partners have started setting up some initiatives to encourage people to planting bamboo trees for their domestic use and assist their craftsmen to raise the value added of their products by improving the quality. We are also working to explore how to get substitutes and other raw materials to replace bamboo tree as well as we are reinforcing patrols along all the park sectors to discourage the bamboo cutting by population
Since I wrote this in 2003, ORTPN has been restructured and a strong community based conservation programme put in place and assisted by IGCP, we hope to better solve and in a sustainable way, the Human-Gorilla conflict.
Has the gorilla conservation since then improved? Yes:
- The Susa group which is still the biggest in gorilla tourism groups has increased from 35 individuals in 2003 to nearly 50 individuals in 2011 now in two groups (Susa with 33 including two sets of twins; and Karisimbi with 17 including a birth on this very day November 15, 2011). The mountain gorilla population has increased in general, with a census of the Virunga massif population up to 480 in 2010, up from 380 in 2003.
- The security situation has much improved and conservation and environmental issues are today on the political agenda in Rwanda.
- The land management that evolves soil erosion control, reforestation and fertilisation programmes have got much support during the last years in Rwanda.
- There are no more houses in bamboo around the PNV.
However, it is important to recognize that mountain gorilla conservation still has many challenges (poverty, climate change, regional governance, gorillas exiting the park….) and conservation efforts will need to continue and evolve to face them.
I was privileged to be associated with IGCP from November 1999 to December 2008 and I made my contribution in different areas as Rwanda Programme Officer and later as Regional Transboundary Officer. I wish that Susa group and other mountain gorillas will not only survive but will thrive for the centuries to come, as well as the people of this region thrive alongside the gorillas.
Click here to read an interview with Anecto conducted while he was still Rwanda Programme Officer.