December was a very busy month at the lodge – the weather has been perfect for trekking, with mostly bright sunny mornings turning dull in the afternoons and temperatures varying between 10C -20C. What rain we have had, has been mostly in the early evening. Even so, the trekking conditions were not too badly affected by the rain.
Unfortunately, on the 28th it rained during the morning while our guests were trekking. This made the trek a little more difficult but, our guests still enjoyed the experience immensely. When they arrived at their gorilla group named ‘Sabyinyo’, which is led by Guhonda (the biggest Silverback in the National Park), they found the group very distressed, especially Guhonda who was making a lot of noise, shrieking and obviously very upset. Apparently, when the trackers arrived at the group they found one of the young gorillas caught in a snare. The trackers removed the snare and the gorilla was released unharmed, but it was obvious that it would be unwise to visit the group while they were so stressed. Our guests then had to backtrack to the park boundary and then trek to a different group. They had a wonderful time with the new group even though they had to do a double trek.
Snares are very rare, but occasionally are found. They are set by poachers to catch small antelope but unfortunately, sometimes gorillas get caught in them too. The RDB (Rwanda Development Board) park rangers are doing an excellent job of monitoring the park with regular patrolling and looking for such snares. It is critical that ongoing conservation efforts in the park, the gorilla permit price and projects by Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge are supported so that such incidences are minimised in order to give the Mountain Gorilla the best possible chance of long term survival. All this work and effort is reflected in current gorilla populations which are stronger than they have been in decades and are growing by 7% a year.
Guhonda, photo credit Dave Richards
All the Gorilla families have very young babies some of which are new-born. It’s the very human-way that they cuddle and nurture the tiny babies, and the bumptious behaviour of the adolescents combined with the grumpiness of the older Silverbacks that is so very appealing!
Adolescents and adults playing, photo credit Dave Richards
Two of our guests also visited the site of Dian Fossey’s Research Centre and her grave. The trek to the centre is the most beautiful trek in the National Park, although, it can be quite difficult if wet. What is left of the centre is set in a small clearing surrounded by Hagenia and Hypericum trees covered in mosses, lichens and orchids. It is a wonderful place to enjoy your picnic lunch and it is not unusual to see squirrels, bushbuck and duikers here. Next to Dian’s grave is the grave of Digit and other gorillas that Dian loved and knew so well. It’s a very moving and emotional place to be and one which I urge you to do on your next visit.
Lots of our guests also visit the Golden Monkeys which are on the International Endangered Species List. Golden Monkeys, Ceropitheus kandi are only found in the Virunga Mountains and nowhere else. They live in large troops of more than 100 individuals. We appear to have two resident Golden Monkeys living within the lodge surroundings – both are males which is not unusual among primates. Maturing males leave their family groups and hope one day to lead a group of their own.
Golden Monkey, photo credit Dave Richards
December was National Tree Planting Day and we are delighted to have contributed over a thousand plants from our little indigenous tree nursery at the bottom of the hill! Rwanda is taking huge strides in reforesting a country that had suffered so much from forest degradation and our own efforts in encouraging naturally propagated indigenous seedlings is a great success.
Christmas being the season of giving, we are delighted to report that our generous guests have again assisted us with the “price of a Gin and Tonic” to provide the less fortunate families in our neighbourhood with the Christmas Magic of renewable electric lights to celebrate the season with. Last year we were able to donate 497 lights and we are hoping to almost double that this year with a twofold fundraiser going on each side of the Atlantic! The ability to give such a mundane thing as a single light is humbling and we have had numerous guests commenting over the last year on the little yellow lamps that are put out to the side of the fields to ‘charge’.
Leonard from Sabyinyo handing out renewable lights,
photo credit Philip Mason
Another project we are working on at the moment (and which is just about to come to fruition) is the Turengerubuzima Sewing Centre Project. Translated it means “To Protect Health” and in practice, it means to provide a way of life and a way out of the poverty trap so many young women have been placed in by having children out of wedlock. With the help of Margot Ragget, the author of the wonderful book Remembering Great Apes, we have purchased 15 treadle sewing machines. Our building crew have refurbished a building in the village at the bottom of the hill and our redoubtable tailor, Shona (who makes all our uniforms) has been persuaded to give weekly sewing lessons to teach the girls a skill and give them the chance of making their way onwards and upwards. Please be sure to go and meet the girls if you are coming to stay.
Turengerubuzima Sewing Centre Project, photo credit Philip Mason
By Philip Mason and Dave Richards