24 mountain gorilla babies born in last year

Umugwaneza is one of 24 mountain gorillas born in the past year. Photo courtesy of the Rwanda Development Board.
Umugwaneza is one of 24 mountain gorillas born in the past year. Photo courtesy of the Rwanda Development Board.

This month, Rwanda celebrated its eleventh Kwita Izina — an annual ceremony in which mountain gorillas born in the previous year receive names. The ceremony brings international attention to the endangered gorillas of the Virunga Mountains.

Twenty-four babies received names in this year’s ceremony. You can see the full list with photos of each baby at the official Kwita Izina website.

Read more24 mountain gorilla babies born in last year

El Nault’s tips for a successful gorilla trek

El Nault on safari
El Nault on safari


In June, I had the chance to talk to El Nault about her amazing safari to Rwanda and Tanzania with Ujuzi Travel and Jodi Carrigan of Zoo Atlanta. She was a delight to speak to, and had lots of wonderful insights about wildlife, culture and having a truly memorable safari. I posted most of the interview a couple weeks ago, but there wasn’t room to include all her travel tips.

At Ujuzi, I work hard to make sure that your safari is as awe-inspiring and worry-free as possible. But little decisions you make before and on your trip can also affect your experience. So this week, I’m going to share some of El’s ideas for making the most of a gorilla trek. In a future post, I’d like to share other safari tips, so please comment with your own below or on Ujuzi’s Facebook page.

Read moreEl Nault’s tips for a successful gorilla trek

“There was a sense of being at peace together”

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El Nault and friend.

El Nault of South Carolina had never considered going to see mountain gorillas in the wild until 2010, when two friends showed her photos from a trip they’d been on with Jodi Carrigan, gorilla specialist at Zoo Atlanta.

Nault laughs when she retells the conversation. “I said, ‘I want to go.’ They said, ‘But we’re not going again for five years.’ I said, ‘I still want to go!’”

She got her wish in February when she went on a trip to Rwanda and Tanzania organized by Ujuzi Travel and led by Carrigan.


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During four days at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Nault went on three gorilla treks with Carrigan and others in the group.

The first day was the most strenuous trek. Because of rain and hail, the gorilla family Nault’s group was trying to visit kept moving in search of better shelter. After several hours of walking, the humans finally caught up with their gorilla cousins.

“When we saw them … grooming and eating and just walking around us – it was almost as if my mind could not comprehend the depth of the experience,” she recalls. “‘Moving’ is not even the word. It was a profound spiritual engagement with God’s world and his creatures. It was unbelievable.”

Several gorillas approached for a closer look at their human visitors, including one curious youngster who peered over Nault’s shoulder as a friend took a photo (above). “We felt really integrated into the [gorilla] community, and we abided by their rules and customs of courtesy with no loud noises, no flash, and getting out of the way if they were trying to get through. … There was a sense of being at peace together.”

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Featured Park: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda

A curious gorilla assesses photographer  Petra Kilian-Gehring, who took this picture in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park while on an Ujuzi safari to Uganda.
A curious gorilla assesses photographer Petra Kilian-Gehring, who took this picture in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park while on an Ujuzi safari to Uganda.

Spanning the steep ridges of the Albertine Rift Valley, Bwindi is one of the few rainforests in Africa to have flourished throughout the last Ice Age. It is now regarded as one of the most biologically diverse forests in Africa, with at least 90 mammal species, including 11 primates, and is ranked as one of the best parks in Uganda for forest birding, with 23 highly localized Albertine Rift endemics.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is renowned for its mountain gorilla population. An estimated 340 individuals live in 15 groups, making up about half the world’s mountain gorilla population. Looking deep into the expressive brown eyes of these gentle giants is an unparalleled encounter.

Read moreFeatured Park: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda

Celebrate Endangered Species Day

Endangered Species Day is this Friday, May 15. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to many endangered species that are beloved the world over. It is a privilege to be able to introduce people to this amazing creatures through Ujuzi Travel. I hope these safari photos of endangered animals inspire you to protect them for future generations!

(A list of organization dedicated to protecting vulnerable animals is included below.)

Ellen Wilson took this amazing photo of a young gorilla while traveling with Ujuzi in Rwanda.
Ellen Wilson took this amazing photo of a young gorilla while traveling with Ujuzi in Rwanda.
Elephant family. Photo by Petra Kilian-Gehring.
African elephant family. Photo taken by Petra Kilian-Gehring on an Ujuzi safari to Uganda.
Beautiful grey crowned cranes.
Beautiful crowned cranes spotted on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

Read moreCelebrate Endangered Species Day

Rwandan mountain gorilla makes a tool for catching food

Lisanga
Lisanga gets ready to catch ants with her new tool. Photo by the Gorilla Doctors.

For the first time, scientists have seen a mountain gorilla use a tool to get and eat food in the wild.

A clever young female named Lisanga watched a silverback from her group get stung by the ants he wanted to snack on when he reached into an ant hole. He ran off hungry. But Lisanga came up with a solution, grabbing a stick from the ground and placing it into the hole. When she lifted it out, ants covered the stick and she licked them off without getting stung. It was the first time a wild mountain gorilla has been observed using a tool.

Two veterinarians from the nonprofit group Gorilla Doctors reported the incident in the American Journal of Primatology. It took place in Virunga National Park, Rwanda, where Ujuzi often leads gorilla tracking excursions.

This new observation attests to something we’ve long known: mountain gorillas have amazing levels of intelligence and creativity, and are well worth the efforts to preserve and learn from them.

World’s oldest gorilla turns 58

Yesterday was the 58th birthday of Colo, the first western lowland gorilla to be born in captivity. She was born at the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo and Aquarium in 1956 and has spent her life with the other lowland gorillas there.

“Every birthday Colo has is a momentous occasion,” said Tom Stalf, president and CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. “Her historic birth and her amazing longevity have come to represent historic achievements in gorilla care and conservation. We are so pleased to be able to celebrate this day with people from around the globe.”

Veterinarians Help Mountain Gorillas Survive

This month, a new documentary about the Gorilla Doctors – a nonprofit group of veterinarians in Rwanda who treat sick and injured mountain gorillas to ward off extinction – was released in Canada. The film is not available in the United States yet,  but you can listen to a fascinating interview with the filmmakers and the Gorilla Doctors’ head veterinarian about the risks and rewards of these efforts.

Gorilla Tourism Helps Rwandans Thrive

Ellen Wilson took this amazing photo of a young gorilla while traveling with Ujuzi in Rwanda.
Ellen Wilson took this amazing photo of a young gorilla while traveling with Ujuzi in Rwanda.

Do you ever wonder the effect that protecting wildlife has on local communities? On Sunday, the Guardian newspaper published an outstanding article on how Rwanda’s gorilla conservation program has benefited local residents. It profiles Console Nyirabatangana, a widow with five children who lives near Virunga National Park, where the country’s mountain gorilla families live. She used to earn less than $2 a day and struggled to feed her family one daily meal. Today, she has a three-bedroom house, a flourishing vegetable garden, and a good income. Her younger children all go to school, and her oldest daughter is now a teacher in a village near the park.

The change is thanks in large part to Rwanda’s tourism revenue-sharing program, which invests 5 percent of income from national parks in local communities.  Some of these funds go toward helping residents establish small businesses, such as beekeeping and crafting.

An article in National Geographic explained how efforts at boosting the mountain gorilla population have benefitted human health. Since many illnesses can pass between different species, doctors and veterinarians work to protect the health of all—from offering health screenings for people who come into close contact with apes to vaccinating domestic animals for rabies.

Would you like to visit the mountain gorillas and see some of the community benefits in person? Ujuzi is offering a mountain gorilla and migration safari with Zoo Atlanta gorilla specialist Jodi Carrigan in February 2015. Participants will have the opportunity to track mountain gorillas on up to three separate days—a rare treat, as most group safaris limit gorilla visits to just one day. Time is running out, so please download the full itinerary and reserve your spot right away! Contact me with any questions.

Crowdfunding to save the mountain gorillas

Courtesy of Ellen Wilson

Photo taken by Ellen Wilson on an Ujuzi safari in Rwanda.

British naturalist and science documentarian David Attenborough has launched a fundraising campaign to help protect mountain gorillas. The campaign, hosted on crowdfunding website Indiegogo, seeks to raise about $177,000 to support work by the conservation group Fauna & Flora International in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The group will use funds to protect mountain gorilla habitats, train community members as gorilla protectors, develop eco-tourism, and support gorilla protection initiatives of the local governments and parks.

Supporting mountain gorilla conservation is a great holiday gift idea for the nature lovers in your life! You can find out more about the campaign here.

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