November 28, 2022

Westside People

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More gorillas in Rwanda?

The gigantic male crushes the bamboo shoots and then lies down with the mucus, releasing even a little gas with the noise: he is in no way bothered by the movements of the cows and the blows of the farmer’s shovel. About fifty meters.

This “Silverback” gorilla and his family then live near the shoreline that marks the end of the volcanic national park in Rwanda, which is now a large monkey sanctuary.

Rwanda shares the popular Virunga Massif with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Located in the heart of the densely populated Great Lakes region, this chain of eight majestic volcanoes, along with Uganda’s Bivindi forests, is the world’s only habitat for mountain gorillas, and its population is growing.

“In the 2010 census, there were 880 mountain gorillas. In 2015, according to another census, a total of 1,063 people were proudly exposed to the AFP, before ranger Felician Endesimana began to rise, leading through fertile fields and foggy forests inhabited by mythical animals.

This primate, with its thick and shiny, fine black fur, has been considered “dangerous” since 2018 and is not “endangered” like all other large monkeys.

Mountain gorillas have come a long way. When the famous American primatologist Diane Fossie was assassinated here in the 1980s, after decades of ruthless hunting, the Virunga Massif number was only 250.

Since then, their numbers have quadrupled, especially thanks to improved security and the involvement of communities. In Rwanda, 10% of tourism revenue ($ 25 million before the Govt.) Goes to residents in the form of projects and 5% through compensation funds.

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“Hated” in the past, the animals are now nicknamed “milkmen”, laughs an elderly man who lives in the town of Musans, which borders the park.

“Tourists spend money on them, and this money comes back to us in the form of food, shelter and good living conditions,” says Jean-Baptiste Endes.

This wonderful resurrection is not without consequences.

As about twenty families have been identified and monitored by Rwandan authorities (compared to 6 25 years ago), the density has increased. These animals, accustomed to humans, move to their neighbors.

“We often see gorillas coming out of the park and looking for food outside (…). They spend more time outside the park and tend to move further away from the border, ”said Felix Ntokizimana, the country’s director of the Dion Fossi Gorilla Fund.

Hercules-strong monkeys weighing up to 200 kilograms can be susceptible to human diseases such as influenza, pneumonia or Ebola.

Density within the sanctuary poses other threats. Relationships between these families can greatly increase and trigger fights, in which children are at great risk.

Concerned about declining population growth, the fund conducted a survey of a specific area of ​​the park ten years ago: noted that the number of “infanticides” had increased by five.

“Infanticide is a big problem because it has a huge downward impact on population growth,” lamented Felix Ntakizimana.

This density problem is of great importance today in Rwanda, where the surface of the park was destroyed by half in the 20th century due to population pressure.

There is only one gorilla family living in the Uganda area of ​​Virunga, and Benjamin Mugabokome of the regional organization International Guerrilla Conservation Program notes that the park is “big” on the Congo side.

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Rwanda has decided to expand the area of ​​its park by 23% in five to ten years. An ambitious plan, to be launched in 2022, is to reclaim the forest but relocate 4,000 farming families.

“This is a process that we must be very careful about,” said Prosper Uwingley, the park’s director, adding that feasibility studies and accurate mapping of the families involved are ongoing.

Kigali offers compensation, but the construction of “model villages”, which emerged from the ground of a prototype Musanze. In addition to a large school and an egg factory, brick buildings are impeccable apartments, including furniture.

In a country where the regime is praised for its development plans, but criticized for its dictatorship, officials say the extension is a “responsibility” for monkeys and an “opportunity” for humans.

But it is worrying that a farmer was digging up his black soil as some stones were thrown from a huge gorilla on the side of the park.

Gorillas “no problem”, clears up this potato maker.

But “this place is so rich, it allowed me to feed my family,” he adds. “Where they want to relocate us, the soil is not fertile. So the money they give should make sense for our livelihood.