Apr 8

The 2011 winner of the Future for Nature award was announced in Arnhem, Netherlands, earlier this week. Ofir Drori created an inspirational and pioneering charity called The Last Great Ape Organisation (LAGA) in Cameroon, West Africa.

Ofir Drori, Future for Nature award winner

Ofir Drori of The Last Great Ape Organisation (LAGA), receiving his award

The Future for Nature award acknowledges individuals who embody an approach to conservation that is entrepreneurial, innovative and shapes the future of conservation.

Ofir and his team focus their efforts on the illegal bushmeat (wild animal meat) trade. Each year in Central Africa between 10,000 and 20,000 tonnes of gorilla, chimpanzee and bonobo meat is sold illegally.

Intensive logging and mining operations in the Congo basin have facilitated and expanded the trade, because they open up large tracts of this important tropical rainforest that had previously been untouched. New roads to transport timber and minerals are also used as bushmeat trade routes, and provide access for cheap transport to move large quantities of bushmeat to urban centres.

Colombo-tantalite, mined for use in mobiles and laptops, miners rely on poached bushmeat for food

Miners of colombo-tantalite which is mined for use in mobiles and laptops, rely on poached bushmeat for food

Once adult apes have been killed for meat, their orphaned progeny are sold as pets. They rarely live for very long, unless they are rescued and cared for by specialist ape sanctuaries that are now an unfortunate necessity. Great apes have low reproductive rates so any hunting pressure at all reduces their populations to critical levels. All four species of African great ape are considered Endangered or Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

Photo of a male western lowland gorilla

The Last Great Ape Organisation investigates wildlife crime in Cameroon. They provide support for government officials to be able to prosecute criminals who try to sell not just illegal bushmeat, but animal skins, ivory from forest elephants, and live animals such as African grey parrots. LAGA ensures that prosecutions are transparent by providing legal assistance, as well as making sure these cases have as high a profile as possible by using the power of the media, photographs and film to act as a deterrent to others.

Photo of a forest elephant bull

In the last few months alone, three dealers have been arrested in Cameroon for trading in elephant tusks, and five wildlife dealers arrested with a primate and seven sea turtle shells.

This vital work is not without its dangers. Just last month a LAGA employee working undercover was kidnapped by ivory dealers. Thankfully he was rescued unharmed, but this incident only highlights why Ofir Drori and his Last Great Ape Organisation are so deserving of this prestigious award.

For further information on the illegal bushmeat trade, see: Recipes for survival: Controlling the bushmeat trade. (2006)

Nick Cockayne, ARKive Assistant Editor

Mar 24

Nick Cockayne, ARKive Assistant EditorI’ve been working as an Assistant Editor at Wildscreen for just under two years and before that I was working in the television industry. I studied Zoology at Bangor University and I’ve been interested in wildlife ever since I got my first butterfly field guide for my 6th birthday! My days are now spent editing films for ARKive highlighting different behaviours of endangered species. In any one day I’m lucky enough to see many different wildlife sequences, from the lethal western diamond-backed rattlesnake to the angelic harvest mouse.

When I’m not sat behind a bank of computer screens I generally prefer being outdoors to indoors, whether that be walking, mountain biking or just lounging around in my garden photographing bugs!

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently editing short species films ready to take into schools. ARKive takes part in the STEM ambassador programme, inspiring young people in Science Technology, Engineering and Maths. We’re looking for budding David Attenboroughs by helping the students to research a species and provide the narration to our films! We’ve picked some exciting animals from a variety of habitats for them to research, including emperor penguins in the Antarctic and birds of paradise in the tropical rainforests of Asia.

What animal skill would you most like to have?

Chimpanzees could definitely teach me a thing or two about tool use – I’m rubbish at DIY!

Which three people would you invite to the ultimate dinner party?

This is a really tricky one…do I mix business with pleasure, invite heroes that may disappoint? I’d have to go for George Harrison because I was born on Merseyside and he’s my favourite Beatle. Ernest Hemingway would receive my second invitation because although he wasn’t particularly interested in doing anything with wildlife other than shooting it, he had an incredible life travelling all over the world befriending many literary stars, and his parties were legendary! My final dinner guest would have to be Dian Fossey. Her story awakened me to the wonderful continent of Africa, and the plight of the mountain gorillas. I’m not so sure they’d all get along though…

Where in the world would you most like to go?

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many parts of the world and I’ve seen some truly amazing wildlife along the way, studying South East Asian pit vipers (Trimeresurus stejnegeri) in Northern Thailand and seeing forest elephants in the Congo basin. I fell in love with Africa at a very young age and if somebody said I could spend the rest of my life exploring this colourful continent with its diversity of people, cultures, wildlife and landscapes, I’d be a very happy boy!

Which celebrity do you most look like?

I don’t think I look like anyone in particular – you’d have to ask my colleagues! My nickname in Bristol however is Daddy G, the same as the Massive Attack musician, although this has nothing to do with music! Daddy G started off as Gorilla Nick and has slowly evolved over the years, a bit like all of us!

What’s the best wildlife encounter you’ve ever had?

I had one of my best and one of my worst wildlife encounters on the same day. It was the very first evening I arrived in Cameroon to begin working with western lowland gorillas and chimpanzees that had been orphaned by the illegal bushmeat trade. Ape Action Africa had been caring for an orphaned four week old forest elephant calf as her parents had been killed for their meat. Hamuda had become sick and had slipped into a coma. My first job straight from the airport was to help carry her somewhere warm and comfortable to spend the last few hours of her tragically short life. Later on that night I was introduced to my first orphaned western lowland gorilla. A boisterous young chap called Nkamum. I prepared and warmed his milk formula and peeled his mango before feeding him and getting him ready for bed! It was an unbelievable roller coaster of emotions that reinforced how important front line conservation work really is.

What’s your favourite thing on ARKive?

I thought about selecting something different but in the end I just couldn’t help myself. It’s the gorillas. Always has been and I suspect always will be!

Tell us an animal related joke.

A man walks into a bar with a lizard* on his shoulder. He walks up to the bar and asks for a pint for himself and a half for Tiny.

The barman serves him but finally curiosity got the better of him.

Barman: Why do you call him Tiny?
Man: Because he’s my newt!

*I realise newts are amphibians but ‘A man walks into a bar with an amphibian on his shoulder’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it does it?

Mar 18

The Democratic Republic of Congo government has suspended oil exploration activities in the Virunga National Park, home to endangered mountain gorillas, following campaigns by environmental groups.  

The Environment Ministry issued a statement saying that all activities would be put on hold until the environmental impact of such a project was thoroughly assessed.

Photo of mountain gorilla silverback

Mountain gorilla silverback

One of the most bio-diverse places on earth 

Established in 1925, Virunga National Park was Africa’s first National Park. It is thought to be one of the most bio-diverse places on earth, containing a world famous population of mountain gorillas, a subspecies of the eastern gorilla, as well as important populations of forest elephants, chimpanzees and hippos. It is also listed on the UN’s list of World Heritage sites in danger

Despite its evident importance for the preservation of numerous endangered species, UK-based companies SOCO and Dominio intend to drill for oil throughout the park. This has raised fears amongst conservationists that drilling would damage the park’s ecosystem, as well as increase tension in a politically volatile area where numerous armed groups continue to operate.

Photo of forest elephant herd in deep jungle

Forest elephant herd in deep jungle

A commitment to long-term prosperity 

However, the Environment Ministry has rejected the companies’ Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), branding it “premature and superficial.” Minister José E.B. Endundo said he would not allow work within the park for now, and said his government would initiate a thorough and transparent Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) to decide whether such a project could be considered in one of the world’s most precious and fragile nature parks. 

In a WWF press release, Allard Blom, Director of WWF’s Congo program, said “we applaud the Environment Ministry for recognizing the value in preserving natural resources in Virunga National Park, reflecting their commitment to long-term prosperity over the short-term profits of oil companies.” 

“What we hope to see next is a firm declaration guaranteeing there will be no exploration in this pristine park now or in the future. Allowing oil exploration in this iconic park would set an extremely dangerous precedent that even the most precious places on earth are open for oil and gas development.”

Photo of mountain gorilla with Volcano Visoke, Virunga National Park, in background

Mountain gorilla with Volcano Visoke, Virunga National Park, in background

Drilling to continue in Uganda 

Oil drilling is still expected to proceed in the Ugandan owned part of the National Park despite the Congolese decision, leading WWF to call for the companies to respect the law and abandon the harmful exploration plans. 

Read the WWF press release 

Watch 24 videos of the eastern gorilla on ARKive. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Dec 8

Conservation is working for one of the world’s most charismatic animals – the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei).

Mountain gorilla infant

The mountain gorilla subspecies (Gorilla beringei beringei) has a particularly long coat, which is blue-black to brownish-grey in colour.

The mountain gorilla population in the Virunga Massif – a key habitat for mountain gorillas that spans three national parks on the border between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo – was surveyed in March and April of this year. Conservationists say that the census revealed 480 gorillas living in 36 groups. A similar survey in 2003 estimated the population at just 380 individuals, so the latest figures suggest an encouraging population increase of approximately 25 percent in the last 7 years.

The census was a massive operation that spanned two months and three countries, and involved multinational teams systematically sweeping over 1,000 kilometres of challenging terrain. The teams covered the entire range of the mountain gorilla in the Virunga Massif, meticulously documenting fresh signs of mountain gorilla groups and conducting genetic analyses of fecal samples to estimate just how many gorillas survive in the region.

Mountain gorilla silverback in habitat

Mountain gorillas are found in areas of dense vegetation at altitudes between 1,160 and 4,100 metres where they are confined by surrounding cultivation.

A subspecies of the eastern gorilla, the largest of the living apes, the Critically Endangered mountain gorilla only survives in the Virunga Massif and the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, where a further 302 gorillas are thought to live, bringing the world population to more than 780. This increase in numbers is said to be due to a collaborative ‘trans-boundary’ conservation effort by governments from all three nations of the mountain gorilla’s range and a number of conservation organisations, including the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), which is formed by the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna and Flora International and WWF.

Mountain gorilla silverback

Silverback mountain gorillas lead stable family groups and defend their offspring and females by intimidating displays of charging and chest-beating.

Director of the IGCP, Eugene Rutagarama, said “Collectively, we cannot let down our guard on the conservation of these incredible animals. While mountain gorillas are physically strong, they are also incredibly vulnerable.”

Despite the recent increase in numbers, mountain gorillas are still very much under threat from poaching for bushmeat, illegal deforestation, disease, and human conflict, as illustrated by the results of a recent five-day patrol in the Virunga Massif which discovered and destroyed no less than 200 poachers’ snares. The mountain gorilla is rarely directly targeted by poachers, but they are very vulnerable to capture in snares set for other large mammals. However, nine mountain gorillas have been killed in four separate incidents during the last seven years.

Male mountain gorilla feeding on plant stalk

Mainly occurring within fairly well-protected national parks, the mountain gorilla is a key source of tourist revenue and securing its future is crucial for the well-being of communities in the region.

Overall, mountain gorillas are faring better than the world’s other great apes. “The mountain gorilla is the only one of the nine subspecies of African great apes experiencing a population increase. While we celebrate this collective achievement, we must also increase efforts to safeguard the remaining eight subspecies of great apes,” said David Greer, African Great Ape Coordinator with WWF.

Watch ARKive’s eastern gorilla slideshow to view 64 of the best eastern gorilla images.

To find out more about mountain gorillas and their conservation, see:

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author


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