Friday, October 22, 2010

Gorilla "Hunting" in Rwanda - Updated!

My friend Sharon from Houston just returned from a trip to Rwanda to go hunting (with a camera) for Golden Monkeys and Mountain Gorillas. She sent the following pictures and writes:

The people there are wonderful.  It is amazing what they have done in their country since the Genocide in 1994.  We visited the memorial museum in the capital city of Kigali and it was very moving.  I had no idea the depth of what happened.  Everywhere we went were reminders of the Genocide.
While we were there we met the head veterinarian (from Indiana) and toured the Gorilla orphanage of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program.  Amazing woman - Dr. Jan Ramer.  I always feel insignificant around someone who is doing such great work.  She works with Primates throughout Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo, trekking into the mountains every day to check on them.  She met Dian Fossey years ago in Kigali when the program was first started at Dian's request, and she came back to the US with the goal of getting her DVM.  She got some medical experience at her zoo where she had been a keeper and then applied and was accepted at MGVP.  Dr. Jan met Dian Fossey just before she was murdered and she said Dian was quite a person.  I would loved to have met Dian.  Gosh, I admire her strength and courage.  Many felt she was a bit crazy/mean, but you have to be to do what she did (especially in Africa) and she single-handedly saved the Mountain Gorillas.

The guides:
The first sighting: 
A Golden Monkey: 
 The Land of a Thousand Hills:
 A Mountain Gorilla Family - notice the baby in the middle:

Sharon added the following:
Got into Rwanda late in the day and headed to our first lodge.  The weather was hot like Houston and there is no A/C anywhere in Rwanda (not even the airport - you have to walk out onto the tarmac to board your plane).  Not much hot water either.  Not complaining - it's just a fact of life.  You have to be careful what you eat and drink, and you have to use bottled water to brush your teeth.  That's hard to remember to do. 
The weather was a bit cooler once we got into the mountains.  Not much though.  You must have a permit ($500 per permit) each time you want to trek into the mountains.  This pays for former poachers to track the Gorillas plus guides and porters to take you.  It's a great way to save the Gorillas.  There is a national park where the Gorillas are - Volcanoes National Park.  Those wanting to trek met at the Trekking Station early in the morning and we were assigned to a guide (Mr. Edward who was wonderful).  We then walked about 2-3 miles to the base of the mountain.  I saw the Sabyinyo Group whose Silverback is the largest and oldest of all the Gorilla groups.  He is magnificent!  In my photos that I sent you.  Once at the base of the mountain the guide radioed to the trackers to find out where our group was and we then started climbing.  I asked for an easy group - one that had been spotted low in the mountains.  When we reached where they were - guess what - they had just moved to another spot.  Straight up the mountain.  At least it seemed straight up to me.  Very steep with mud and nettles.  When I went to see the Golden Monkey on Friday it was pretty much the same thing except the GMs were further up a different mountain so the climb was longer but not as steep.  I like the GMs as much as I did seeing the Mountain Gorillas.
Dian Fossey was murdered in her camp high in the mountains.  Most feel it was the government that had her murdered.  They wanted to sell the Gorillas to zoos all over the world and she fought them tooth and nail.  They wanted to come in and start capturing them until all were gone.  After she was killed, the government said it was poachers (and it may have been), but circumstances did not point to that.  Her murder was never solved.  The government didn't care to investigate.  She went to the world animal community to keep them from taking the Gorillas.  They wanted to make money and get rid of her because of the illegal charcoal trade. 
It is hard to believe one person can do so much but they can.  There is a woman in Namibia who has done the same thing with Cheetahs.  Dr. Laurie Marker.  I've applied to volunteer at her facility in Namibia next year and just received permission to do so.  You have to provide all kinds of references and fill out a three page questionnaire (and pay for your trip over and expenses).  You have to be serious to be accepted.  I would love to stay with her group and do work like that for an extended period of time but I can't retire yet.
The most amazing thing about Rwanda is how the people have bounced back from the Genocide.  They are still struggling but doing very well in my opinion.  We had two drivers who stayed with us the entire time - Paul and Francis.  At the time of the Genocide Paul was away at boarding school (his family saved enough to send him off for an education so that he could come back and help the family out) and his entire family was killed (mother, father, brothers).  Francis' family fled to Uganda and still live there.  He travels back and forth to do the tour work (guides make excellent money and he supports his entire family).  Guides must speak at least 6 languages and go to school before becoming a guide.   
The country is beautiful.  It's called the land of a thousand hills.  Very tall hills.  Mountains - not hills.  The people take pride in their country and you do not see trash anywhere.  Plastic grocery bags are illegal.  One person in my group took one out of her bag and she was told to put it away immediately.  They will arrest you - they don't care who you are.  The first Saturday of every month each person must clean their area.  So when you drive around it is spotless.  Even the dirt is neat and tidy. 

Thanks for reading.

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