On Tuesday, November 23, 2010, two mountain gorillas orphaned by poachers in DR Congo’s Virunga National Park in 2004 and 2007 were relocated back to Virunga after several years spent in Rwanda, the country where they were confiscated. Nine-year-old female Maisha and 6-year-old Kaboko moved from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project’s confiscated gorilla quarantine facility in Kinigi, Rwanda, to a new home at L’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature’s Senkwekwe Center gorilla sanctuary at Rumangabo in Virunga National Park. At the Senkwekwe Center, Maisha and Kaboko will live inside a lush, enclosed forest area where they will be semi-free ranging and be able to learn the skills they will need to survive in the forest. The ideal end goal for the gorillas is reintroduction to the wild, but this will only be done after careful consideration of their progress on an annual basis.
The gorillas were moved in accordance with the Confiscated Gorilla Scientific Technical Steering Committee, which is composed of representatives from the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), L’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA); the Greater Virunga Transboundary Secretariat Tom Sengalama; and the NGOs participating in gorilla conservation in the area including the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP), Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI), and International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP).
Officials from RDB, ICCN, MGVP, and DFGFI were on hand early Tuesday morning to begin the complicated operation of moving the Maisha and Kaboko from Rwanda to DR Congo overland. A team of MGVP and RDB veterinarians darted the two gorillas with anesthesia and performed health checks on them before placing each gorilla into a travel crate. Once securely loaded into trucks, the gorillas, each accompanied by a caretaker and 3 veterinarians, began the five-hour journey to Rumangabo.
“Both gorillas were relatively calm during the time they were in the trucks,” says Dr. Jan Ramer. “They entered their new night house at Senkwekwe easily and immediately began exploring and eating the food they found inside. MGVP caretakers Fabien Bahati and Innocent Kabendera are doing a wonderful job making sure the gorillas are happy, and ICCN caretaker Andre Bauma is smiling ear to ear as his new family members settle in.”
“This operation shows how Rwanda and Congo are connected and committed to working on mountain gorilla conservation together,” said Dr. Tony Mudakikwa, RDB’s head veterinarian. “One country cannot do it alone; conservation requires a whole ecosystem approach.”
Maisha and Kaboko will eventually be integrated with two other mountain gorillas living at the Senkwekwe Center, Ndeze and Ndakasi. These four-year-old females, who were orphaned in the Virunga National Park gorilla massacres in June and July of 2007, live in a smaller enclosure at the Senkwekwe Center. Early next year, Ndeze and Ndakasi will hopefully move into the larger enclosure with Maisha and Kaboko.
Maisha means “life”. The oldest mountain gorilla in captivity at age 9, Maisha was confiscated by members of ORTPN (now RDB) and the Rwandan police on December 18, 2004, when she was about 3 years old. Three poachers arrested during an undercover operation claimed to have taken the gorilla from Virunga National Park, DRC, and then moved her to a cave in Rwanda where she was kept tied inside a sack for two weeks.
After being rescued, Maisha was turned over to MGVP for treatment in Kinigi. In collaboration with Karisoke (DFGFI) staff members and caretakers from ORTPN and ICCN, Maisha was nursed back to health and slowly recovered from the terrible trauma of her ordeal. In 2006, Maisha, along with several Grauer’s gorilla orphans, moved into the newly built confiscated gorilla quarantine facility in Kinigi where she has lived until now under the watchful eyes of her MGVP and DFGFI caretakers as well as MGVP veterinarians. Maisha loves resting and playing with her caretakers, and her seniority is respected with the other gorillas.
Kaboko means “one missing an arm.” The only male mountain gorilla in captivity, Kaboko was confiscated from poachers in Gisenyi, Rwanda, on March 18, 2007, with a snare deeply embedded above his right wrist. The 3-and-a-half-year old, who was reportedly also taken from Virunga National Park, DRC, was delivered into the hands of MGVP veterinarians. Because of a severe infection, Kaboko’s damaged right hand was amputated.
After a quarantine period Kaboko moved into the Kinigi confiscated gorilla quarantine facility with Maisha and several Grauer’s gorilla orphans. Kaboko suffered from depression for a long time after his confiscation, but he now enjoys playing with the other gorillas. About 6 years old, Kaboko is showing signs of becoming a blackback (adolescent male), sometimes even testing the authority of his human caretakers.
About Mountain Gorillas
With only about 700 individuals left in the world, mountain gorillas are a critically endangered species. Mountain gorillas live in central Africa, with about half of the population living in the 447 sq km Virunga Volcanoes Massif, which combines Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in DRC and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. The other half lives within the boundaries of the 331 sq km Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. The developed land surrounding these national parks is some of the most densely populated in Africa. As a result of intense human activity near and inside the parks, gorillas face numerous threats including poaching and habitat loss. Because gorillas share 98.5% of their genes with humans, their greatest health threat may come from infectious human-borne diseases.
About the Rwanda Development Board (RDB)
The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) includes all the government agencies responsible for the entire Rwandan investor experience. This includes key agencies responsible for business registration, investment promotion, tourism, environmental clearances, and privatization and specialist agencies. RDB’s Tourism and Conservation Department oversees the management of Rwanda’s three national parks, including Volcanoes National Park, which is home to a population of critically endangered mountain gorillas. The department’s mandate is to conserve the rich biodiversity of the protected areas and to develop sustainable tourism in collaboration with stakeholders for the benefit of all the
Rwandan people. www.rwandatourism.com
About L’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN)
ICCN and its rangers work throughout the DRC to protect the national parks of Congo and their wildlife from poachers, rebel groups, illegal miners, and land invasions. Over 150 rangers have been killed in the last 10 years protecting the 5 parks of eastern DRC, and rangers worked throughout the civil war, rarely receiving a salary. Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park (established in 1925) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, is home to 200 of the world’s mountain gorillas and a small population of eastern lowland gorillas. Formerly known as Albert National Park, Virunga lies in eastern DRC and covers 7,800 square kilometers. www.gorilla.cd
About the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP)
MGVP is dedicated to saving mountain gorilla lives. With only about 700 mountain gorillas left in the world today, we believe it is critical to ensure the health and well being of every individual possible. Our international team of veterinarians, the Gorilla Doctors, is the only group providing wild mountain gorillas with direct, hands-on care. MGVP partners with the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center to advance One Health strategies for mountain gorilla conservation. Research has proven that by intervening to save sick and injured gorillas, the Gorilla Doctors have helped the overall mountain gorilla population to increase. www.gorilladoctors.org
About Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI)
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is dedicated to the conservation and protection of gorillas and their habitats in Africa. Founded by Dr. Dian Fossey as the Digit Fund and renamed after her death, the Fossey Fund operates the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda, and maintains a staff of scientists, trackers and anti-poaching patrols in Volcanoes National Park. The Fund also works with community-managed reserves and national parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and operates extensive education, health and other community outreach programs. www.gorillafund.org