August has been a really great month; the lodge has been very full with a lovely atmosphere! I think that the real reason that the lodge has been so alive, is because the gorilla trekking has been excellent. All of the guests have had very close-up viewing; our lady guests enjoy being gently brushed past, while the gentlemen are often mildly bumped or shoved by the male adolescent gorillas and by the Blackbacks (Blackbacks are next in line to become Silverbacks).
“Kwitonda Dad and Baby”. The baby will be named at this years Kwita Izina Gorilla naming ceremony – photo credit Michael Hughes
Flippancy aside, our own observations indicate that this behaviour is very true. Our visiting ladies are very rarely pushed or shoved by the Gorillas and we think that perhaps the Gorillas identify the men as possible challengers and like to let them know, subtly, who the real bosses are in the forest! Whether this theory is true or not our guests having been coming back very enamoured and enthused. The tales regaled back in our resident lounge describe apprehension mixed with real excitement when the Gorillas first get very close, followed by amazement and wonder and very often our guests feel a connection and empathy with the Gorillas. I think that what makes the treks so very special: It’s wonderful!
A second reason that the trekking has been so good is that the weather has been simply beautiful – clear and sunny for the most part! And here is another theory – I think the gorillas, like us human beings, simply like good weather and sunny days! After all we share 96% of our DNA structure with Gorillas.
We have also enjoyed a succession of interesting evenings at the lodge, with some very informative talks from both the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Gorilla Doctors. These talks compliment the trekking experiences very nicely, with engaging and colourful (to put it mildly), tales from the early years of Gorilla Conservation, to interesting insights into the challenges that the gorillas face (from common colds to encroachment on their habitat). We also heard about some adventurous and hair-raising interventions to save ailing Gorillas. All in all, we enjoyed some enlightening and warm evenings around the fireplace in our resident lounge.
Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund talk on Gorilla Conservation – photo credit Barbara Napoli
August is also an important time for the communities surrounding Volcanoes National Park, with the build up to ‘Kwita Izina’ – the Gorilla naming ceremony that takes in place in early September. It’s a very grand event for the tourism industry here and the Rwandan Government shares revenues raised through the sale of Gorilla permits with the community (10% of the permit fee is given to the Rwandan people). This year the Government raised 1.5 Billion Rwanda Francs (US$1.75 million) which is being given to help develop 320 different country-wide projects.
The managers of Sabyinyo were invited to attend and celebrate the launch of one of these projects: 720 cows were donated to the Bigogwe community in a ceremony graced by the Rwanda Chief Tourism Officer, Ms. Belize Kaliza as well as many senior Government officials. The entertainment during the event was traditional Rwandan dance by ‘Ibjize Bey Urwanda’ – one of the very successful initiatives borne by SACOLA (The Sabyinyo Community Livelihood Association). The dancers make a good living performing at many of the region’s hotels and lodges and especially many of the media events surrounding the Gorillas.
Kwita Izina cow donation – photo credit Michael Hughes
Speaking of cow donations, a huge thank you to our guest, Elizabeth Hess, for your very kind and generous donation of a cow to one of the needy families in our community under the ‘Charlotte Adam’s Scheme’. The family will be selected in the coming fortnight and the hand over will take place in September.
August also brought to us Samantha Wilde-Meiring of Ecoplanet Bamboo Rwanda. Ecoplanet are engaged by the Africa Wildlife Foundation to investigate the development of a buffer zone between the park and the local community. The idea is a buffer zone that will work for not only the Gorillas and other park wildlife, but also for the communities through the development of viable and environmentally attractive alternatives of fibre for timber manufacturing industries. Specifically, Sam visited us to take a look at our successful bamboo restoration work over the last ten years since we opened Sabyinyo. I think that many people who take a moment to view the before and after photos of Sabyinyo, from the original potato field that it once was, to the thriving forest of indigenous species we see today, will be simply amazed at the difference! Please click HERE to read more about Sabyinyo’s reforestation efforts.
BEFORE: The original site before Sabyinyo started re-planting the area – photo credit SSL
AFTER: each cottage is now surrounded by thick forest of indigenous trees – photo credit Dana Allen
From all of us here at Sabyinyo – Amahoro! We look forward to meeting you here when you come to see the Gorillas.
By Michael Hughes, manager at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge.