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Found 16 results

  1. As I was debating which destination in Africa to go to in 2016 for my summer "big cat" fix, I saw the seminal Uganda workout report from pault in ST. One look at the chimps and I was hooked (even more than the gorillas). I had to go to Uganda ! I posted for advise from the STers http://safaritalk.net/topic/15691-solo-trip-to-uganda-for-2016-too-late/ and got many useful tips / counsel from folks like MAC, atravelynn, inyathi and others. Reached out to Churchill tours and travels and arranged for two gorilla tracking permits plus one chimpanzee habituation experience. Finalised the trip around those. The route (Mostly through south western tourist corridor of the country): Entebbe – Kampala – Fort portal - Kibale – Kasese – Kasenyi (Queen Elizabeth national park) – cutting through the Kazinga channel connecting Lake George and Lake Edward onto Ishasha – Bwindi. Took a bush plane from Kihihi air strip close to Bwindi back to Entebbe. Unsurprisingly, it ended up as one of my most memorable safaris ever. What a beautiful country, amazing lodges and parks and variety of primates apart from the two iconic primates that it is well known for. With that introduction done, will get into the detailed day-day report !
  2. Here is a Nat Geo articule about Virunga National Park, DRC. The older national park of Africa is facing huge challenges to conserve its unique biodiversity. This articles describes the efforts done by the park. Interesting is that they decided to build small hydroelectric plants within the park boundaries to bring electricity to the neighbor communities. By 2018, Virunga hopes to be sustainable by selling electricity up to 100 MW to communities around the park. Quite nice considering the park anual budget is of 8 MUSD. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/07/virunga-national-parks-africa-congo-rangers/
  3. The Itombwe reserve is located in the Albertine rift mountains, South to the Ruwenzori massif. It is one of the most biodiverse area of Africa, and one of the last stronghold for the Eastern Lowland gorilla or grauer gorilla. In 2016 the reserve was legally gazetted but the declaration from the provincial authorities lacked of zonification and boundaries remained disputed but local communities. After a long process involving the local communities, the boundaries of the forest were fixed by a declaration form te South Khivu governor. http://newsroom.wcs.org/News-Releases/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/9067/One-of-Africas-Most-Biodiverse-Regions-Protected.aspx
  4. Few months ago, bad news were published about the current populations of the endangered grauer gorilla. But there are some good news! The last census led at Kahuzi Biega national park, concluded that the population of gorillas increased in the last 5 years: This represents a 18% increase! I will try to visit the park in a couple of years and help the great job they are doing there. http://newsroom.wcs.org/News-Releases/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/9048/Imperiled-Gorilla-Gets-Much-Needed-Good-News.aspx
  5. Here are the last quarterly reports of WCS Nigeria. WCS Took over management of Yankari. Reports available from Okwangwo section of Cross River National Park, Yankari, and Mbe. http://www.wcsnigeria.org
  6. 1) Name of property and country: Sanctuary’s Gorilla Forest Lodge, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda 2) Website address if known: http://www.sanctuaryretreats.com/uganda-camps-gorilla-forest 3) Date of stay, including whether Green Season, Shoulder season or High season pricing (if known). January, 2014 (Shoulder season) 4) Length of stay: 3 nights 5) Why did you choose this camp or lodge to stay in? Based upon what? I saw that there was a possibility that the gorillas go through camp and wanted to be inside the park. 6) How did you book the property, direct or agent? Were your enquiries dealt with quickly and efficiently? I did my own research on prices and then contacted Sarah Borman from Sanctuary directly. 7) How many times have you been on Safari? This was my second trip. 8) To which countries? South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. 9) Which properties have you been to previously that you are comparing this one to? None, this was my first forest lodge. 10) Was the camp/lodge fenced? No 11) How many rooms/tents does it have? 8 tents 12) What tent or room did you stay in? Did it have a good view? Was it overlooked or private? Rooms were private due to the landscaping but they were close and I could hear my neighbor. There was no views from the rooms but lovely views from the main communal areas. 13) How comfortably furnished was the room/tent? The tent had wo queen size beds, wardrobe facilities, large bathroom as well as a bath. 14) Did you like the food? If yes, please state why. If no, please state why. Yes the food was simple and good. 15) Was there a varied menu offering multiple choice? If vegetarian was a suitable alternative offered? (Did you have to request this in advance?). There was a multiple choice for the mains. 16) What is the default dining arrangement? Single tables or communal dining? Do the guides/managers host at mealtimes? Single tables, no hosting. 17) How good were the packed breakfasts/lunches if staying out on game drives? Lunches were supplied and were fresh and filling. 18) What are the game drive vehicles? Please include photo if possible. Enclosed safari cars for transportation to the hiking area and for transfers. 19) How many guests per row? 2 20) How long were the game drives and were they varied in the routes taken? Hikes could last between 3 – 10 hours. 21) What are the standard game drive times? Are game drive times flexible: i.e., if agreed in advance, can you go out earlier than suggested and stay out later, i.e., not returning for lunch but taking supplies with you? 6 hours. 22) Is this a private conservancy/concession, and what is the vehicle/lodge density like? N/A 23) If in a National Park, what is the vehicle density in the immediate vicinity? People density is strongly controlled for all hikes to see the gorillas. Maximum 8 guests per visit per day. 24) Are you able to off-road? No 25) Are there rotation policies for sightings i.e., You face the risk of queuing or being bumped from a sighting. You only have one hour with the gorillas. You need to convey to people in front to move if you are at the end of the line otherwise you will miss out. 26) What wildlife is this property known for? Did you get good sightings? Gorillas. Excellent sightings. 27) How was the standard of guiding? Very happy with the gorilla guiding and assistance from the paid porters. 28) If you had a bad experience with a guide, why? Did you report the issue to management, and if so, how did they deal with the issue? Had an issue when on my waterfall hike about expected tipping. The guiding on the first day’s hike just needed to take into account everyone’s ability at hiking and to wait for all guests to be ready before going to see the gorillas. 29) If you had a very good experience with your guide, please give reasons why: 30) Were staff attentive to your requests/needs? The dining/wait staff were not very proactive or as helpful as other properties I have stayed at. 31) Does the property support a local community conservation initiative. If so, please provide brief details and website address if known. Yes but I am not sure. 32) Safaritalk trip report link: 33) Any other pertinent details you wish to add: “Expected more” Beautiful camp but for the price and company it is associated with I did expect more with things being a little basic for a "upscale/luxury" property. It is not 5 stars so as long as people know this before arriving then you won't have a problem. Great location and views over the national park, friendly staff although they all seemed a little "lost" and lazy but that could be because there were only 5 guests staying and they felt they didn't need to really be pro-active. If I went again to Bwindi I would check out other options in the area to see if you can cut costs and enjoy an extra day trekking because the license costs $600. 34) Please add your photographs of the property below, with headings.
  7. Hi Friends I,m a bit late in planning for 2016 Africa trip. Idea is to do Chimp tracking at Kibale (full day x 2), one Gorilla trek at Bwindi + any other suggestions for primates. (QENP is not mandatory, wouldn't mind skipping it). My questions 1. Is it too late already ? 2. Which tour operators would you recommend given Im doing solo and would want to use mid budget options 3. What can I add to increase chances of other primates ? Many thanks to all in advance S
  8. I was inspired by recent retrospectives, and by posts in other threads’ talk of Gorillas, to look back through my photos. As you will see from the title, we went on this trip in 2005 – August – so many of the practical information will not be of much use to those planning a trip now, (but I have put in information which could be of help). However, if you like looking at Gorillas, the occasional chimp or monkey and some Ugandan animals (such as the Kob, and the Forest Hog), I hope you enjoy the pictures! I had always wanted to see chimpanzees since reading Jane Goodall’s “In the Shadow of Man” as an A-Level Biology student (yes, it was a long time ago!). We had both always wanted to see Gorillas. We stayed 13 nights. All arrangements were through Discovery Initiatives (now taken over by Steppes) – all ground arrangements were by Volcanoes Safaris. We had a car/driver guide throughout the trip. We were picked up at Entebbe Airport and drove towards Fort Portal – on the way we saw some of the famous Ankole cattle with extraordinary horns. We went to the Ruwenzori Guest House (3 nights) to visit the Kibale Forest. This was a fairly basic guest house with charming hosts and wonderful food. Kibale Forest National Park is an evergreen forest. We visited the forest on 2 days to track chimpanzees. The light was difficult, and the chimps moved quickly as we tracked them through the forest with specialist Uganda Wildlife Authority guides. The chimps were incredibly noisy, screeching as they ran through the trees – it was exciting seeing them and being close to them as they went about their lives. (Though difficult to photograph!) Chimpanzees above us And around us And finally in peace... I believe it is now possible to have an "habituation" experience where you can spend all day with chimps - we would have done that if it was a vailable at that time!
  9. 1) Name of property and country: (Please also include name of property and country as topic title and include as tags as well) Sangha Lodge, Central African Republic (CAR) 2) Website address if known: http://www.sanghalodge.com/ 3) Date of stay, including whether Green Season, Shoulder season or High season pricing (if known). July 16-23, 2015. I believe rates are the same the whole year. 4) Length of stay: 7 nights 5) Why did you choose this camp or lodge to stay in? Based upon what? This lodge is famous in the mammal-watching community for totally unique wildlife and passionate owners Rod and Tam. This is the lodge geared best for wildlife enthusiasts in the Dzanga Sangha with their trail network, guided night and birding walks, etc. around the lodge. 6) How did you book the property, direct or agent? Were your enquiries dealt with quickly and efficiently? We booked the property through an agent but also corresponded with Rod directly a fair bit. He was very quick to reply and efficient (generally by the next day). 7) How many times have you been on Safari? 3 8) To which countries? Kenya, Tanzania, CAR, Cameroon 9) Which properties have you been to previously that you are comparing this one to? None really as it's so unique - I had never been to the Congo Basin before so it was as if it was my first time in Africa again! 10) Was the camp/lodge fenced? No 11) How many rooms/tents does it have? 7 I think. 12) What tent or room did you stay in? Did it have a good view? Was it overlooked or private? 7. I really liked the room. It was right on the river (so great views) and situated against the forest at the edge of camp. It was directly across the trail from Rod's house so we could call him or a staff member easily if we had problems. We were very close to the trail entering the forest behind camp so good wildlife viewing too. Over our stay, I observed Lord Derby's Anomalure twice in a tree just outside our room and Demidoff's Galago and Potto in the bushes along the river in front of our room. 13) How comfortably furnished was the room/tent? Relatively basic, but it's tough to get furniture out here as the site is so remote; this is definitely your most comfortable option in the Dzanga Sangha. All the essentials were here - beds, mosquito nets, nightstand, table, plugpoints, shelves for toiletries, sinks, shower with running hot water, and electricity a few hours each day, so I was happy. 14) Did you like the food? If yes, please state why. If no, please state why. Yes. Despite the fact that the lodge does not often cater to vegetarians (most food easily available here are meat, eggs, fish, etc.), Rod, Tam, and the lodge chefs put in a great effort despite limited ingredients and made some really nice food - pizza, falafels, pasta, and some tasty forest mushrooms; the fruit (guava) was great too. Not much repetition. Breakfast was generally omelets eaten out on the deck at sunrise, which was excellent. 15) Was there a varied menu offering multiple choice? If vegetarian was a suitable alternative offered? (Did you have to request this in advance?) We had a set meal every night. Generally, it was 3 courses: an appetizer/salad, then a main dish with lots of African and Western sides and rice, and a dessert (crepes w/ caramel, etc.). Vegetarian food was offered, but this has to be requested in advance - the area is quite remote and few vegetables grow well in the rainforest; Rod had to fly in most of our food from Yaounde. Despite these constraints however, they did a good job and I liked the food. 16) What is the default dining arrangement? Single tables or communal dining? Do the guides/managers host at mealtimes? The default dining arrangement was communal dining with Rod, Tam, and the other guests, if present. I liked this arrangement very much as you could talk to the hosts and the other guests and share experiences. 17) How good were the packed breakfasts/lunches if staying out on game drives? Packed breakfasts/lunches were good, albeit simple. Mainly consisted of coffee/tea, a simple pasta (generally with a light sauce and vegetables), and fruit. All we needed as I enjoye lighter meals while outdoors. 18) What are the game drive vehicles? Please include photo if possible. This lodge is quite unique compared to other Africa properties in that there are no game drives - all wildlife viewing is done by walking through the rainforest. Thus, vehicles are simply used to transport you to various rainforest sites (Bai Hokou, Dzanga Bai, Mongambe) and back to the lodge. The vehicle was a Lexus LX (a few years old), so a more comfortable version of a Land Cruiser - it was in pretty good shape given the conditions out here and how awful the roads are in the park. 19) How many guests per row? The car can fit 7 people (2 in the front row, 3 in the middle, and 2 in the expandable back seats). We filled the car to capacity every day, as we had our driver, Christian (park guide), us 3, a Ba'Aka tracker, and a guy with a chainsaw who would clear the road (of massive trees knocked down by elephants) if needed. 20) How long were the game drives and were they varied in the routes taken? As stated, there were no game drives - cars were used to access various forest sites, where we walked to see animals. We usually drove the Bai Hokou road (3x), Dzanga Bai spur (2x), and Mongambe spur (1x). You would repeat drive routes to get to the various sites for forest activities, but it's not like a game drive as these are simply logging roads - the main attractions are once you get off and walk. 21) What are the standard game drive times? Are game drive times flexible: i.e., if agreed in advance, can you go out earlier than suggested and stay out later, i.e., not returning for lunch but taking supplies with you? You can really start off for the day's activities anytime between 6:00-7:30 AM. The lodge is quite flexible with times to leave (i.e. if you would like to see Bongo/hogs at the bai, Rod would recommend your leave early; if you want to see gorillas, leave early as well at 6:00 AM from the lodge). However, the park is the limiting factor here as the earliest you can pick up a guide and Ba'Aka tracker at the tourism center is at 6:30 AM, so relatively little flexibility here. I wish I could have picked up guides earlier as I would have loved to have gotten out into the forest earlier (very early morning starts at Bai Hokou for example may have been very interesting), but this was something the lodge didn't have control over. Generally, when I went into the park, I went out for the whole day with a packed lunch. Only on a couple of days when I did activities from the lodge (squirrel/monkey tracking on the trails with Rod, visit to the waterfall for Picathartes and boat trip) did I actually return to the lodge for lunch. 22) Is this a private conservancy/concession, and what is the vehicle/lodge density like? Sangha Lodge is in a private concession (formerly a hunting concession) just outside the national park. The wildlife densities are high. Sangha Lodge is the only one in this concession and you have 640 km^2 of land to yourself (and the other lodge guests, if there are any). 23) If in a National Park, what is the vehicle density in the immediate vicinity? N/A There are no lodges in the national park (Doli Lodge is closest, near Bayanga town). You can arrange night stays at Dzanga Bai and Bai Hokou if you are inclined in advance. However, night stays at Dzanga Bai have not been too productive in the past. Given the fact that there are only 2 lodges in the park, there are probably rarely over 4-5 vehicles in the park at any time (even in the dry season, when most tourists come), so very wild and very few people. 24) Are you able to off-road? No. You can't drive off the logging roads through the dense, trackless primary and secondary rainforest. You can walk though... Given that all game viewing was on foot, we rarely walked on roads and only walked on established trails at Sangha Lodge (the forest is very dense here). In the national park, we walked on game trails (mainly elephant trails) to look for animals. At Sangha Lodge, I also wanted to walk the lodge entrance road at night to spotlight but it bucketed down rain that night so couldn't - the road looked good for wildlife viewing. 25) Are there rotation policies for sightings i.e., You face the risk of queuing or being bumped from a sighting. Given that there are no game drives, there are no vehicle rotations/queuing for sightings. In most places, you head out in the forest on your own and track and call in the wildlife independent of other guests (except at Dzanga Bai, where you sit with others on the lookout and scan together for animals). The one thing that must be organized in advance is the Gorilla tracking. They only allow 3 guests at a time to the gorillas, and they only allow 2 groups/day to visit each Gorilla group. Since there are only 2 habituated gorilla groups in the park (1 at Bai Hokou and 1 at Mongambe), these should be organized well ahead of time to secure a slot with one of the gorilla groups. 26) What wildlife is this property known for? Did you get good sightings? The main 3 species tourists come to see are Forest Elephants, Bongo, and Western Lowland Gorillas. We got great sightings of Forest Elephants (Dzanga Bai) and Western Lowland Gorillas (Bai Hokou and Mongambe). We didn't see Bongo as we visited at the wrong time of the year - had we visited in the dry season (Jan-Mar), we would have very likely seen them at Dzanga Bai very well. There is also a large "supporting cast" of unique and rarely seen Congo basin species - Forest Sitatunga; Rope, Sun, Pygmy, and Giant Squirrels; Anomalures; Blue, Peters', Bay, and other Forest duikers; Forest Buffalo; another 12-13 or so species of primates (incl. Chimpanzee, Agile Mangabey, Black and white Colobus, Putty-nosed Monkey, Potto, De Brazza's Monkey, and Elegant Needle-clawed Galago); Pangolins; and Otters. If you are a birder, there are also lots of great rainforest/west African species too - Picathartes, Palmnut Vulture, Crowned Eagle, Forbes' and Egyptian Plovers, Plumed and Black Guineafowl, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Fraser's and Akun Eagle Owls, Vermiculated Fishing Owl, Cassin's Hawk-eagle, Congo Serpent-eagle, Bare-cheeked Trogon, Nkulengu Rail, African Gray Parrot, Great Blue and Guinea Turacos, Latham's Francolin, Spot-breasted Ibis, Long-tailed Hawk, Grant's Bluebill, Black Bee-eater. There is also the incredible Goliath Tigerfish... if these fascinating species entice you, get on the first plane over to the lodge!! I saw 33 species of mammals and several cool birds - including Picathartes, Forbes' Plover, Great Blue Turaco, African Gray Parrot, Long-tailed Hawk (ID'd at home with an online guide - a large raptor with chestnut belly and heavy black/white barring on the wings), Edward's Crested Guineafowl, Hartlaub's Duck, Crowned Eagle, African Green Pigeon, Gymnogene, a small Sparrowhawk/Kestrel sp., and Francolins (maybe Latham's). 27) How was the standard of guiding? Rod is a great guide and excellent at finding stuff in the forest surrounding the lodge - he knows this area and its mammals and birds very well. Christian was a good guide, competent and interested, and good at hearing and spotting stuff in the forest, as were the Ba'Aka trackers provided. 28) If you had a bad experience with a guide, why? Did you report the issue to management, and if so, how did they deal with the issue? N/A 29) If you had a very good experience with your guide, please give reasons why: Rod is an excellent guide and very good at finding stuff near the lodge. He knew how keen I was about seeing various mammals and kept trying until we either found these species or ran out of time - that's the perseverance I want to see in a guide. Also, special shout-out to Christian who was great at getting the Mangabey trackers organized to find the sign and used the radio I found more often than the tracker provided at Bai Hokou camp (there really wasn't much of a system out there for the mangabeys). He also took me to special spots in the park to see bats and squirrels and made sure the trackers put in special effort to show me duikers, squirrels, and monkeys - he knew I wasn't interested in only seeing large mammals. 30) Were staff attentive to your requests/needs? Yes. While most of the lodge staff didn't speak too much English (as expected), they were in the process of learning and always reading to help. The staff at the bar and dining area were courteous and Rod's trackers were great too - on the Picathartes walk, Fidel was great with the machete and Armand always ready to lend a helping hand. Willis was a good driver and Yaff (hope I'm spelling his name right) helped out in various places with a smile. Special mention to the guy who sat by the Tree Pangolin they found in the forest so that I could heat out and see it! 31) Does the property support a local community conservation initiative. If so, please provide brief details and website address if known. Yes, they help out a lot and are one of the main morale builders in the area. They partner with the Ba'Aka and Louis Sarno on many projects and you can actually live with the Ba'Aka for a night in a forest camp - all money goes directly to the Ba'Aka community. Additionally, Rod has many roles in conservation in the park and as many know, tries to help out the resident Pangolin population. For example, he was signing off a document with a local official on community hunting zones in the reserve on the day we were leaving. 32) Safaritalk trip report link: http://safaritalk.net/topic/14905-searching-for-mammals-in-the-dzanga-sangha-rainforest-car-july-2015/ 33) Any other pertinent details you wish to add: None. Visit soon! 34) Please add your photographs of the property below, with headings.
  10. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/09/chimpanzees-gorillas-ebola-vaccine/405043/ ~ Research in New Iberia, Louisiana concerns the possibility of vaccines to protect apes from the ravages and mortality of the Ebola virus in West Africa. The primary efforts are to identify an effective vector to spread immunity among aggressive chimpanzees and very shy gorillas.
  11. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150512103516.htm http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acv.12212/full These articles, from Science Daily and Animal Conservation, delineate the substantial protection afforded to Great Apes by the ongoing presence of conservation researchers. A field study in central Cameroon's Dja Conservation Complex found that gorillas and chimpanzees were tolerant of the presence of researchers, who in turn deterred poachers.
  12. For the months of April and May the gorilla permits have been subsidized. Come experience these endagered great apes in their habitat - Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
  13. Rod Cassidy with a pangolin he personally rescued from a meat market and released into the wild. @@Rod Cassidy is the owner and founder of Sangha Lodge in The Dzanga Sangha protected area in the Central African Republic. Rod's started his career at the Fitzpatrick Institute for Ornithology, University of Cape Town. He worked on various research projects, which took him to the Antarctic, Sub Antarctic islands (Marion and Gough Island) and the Cape Province. Later he joined the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria where he worked with researchers in birds and small mammals, particularly bats. At that time, (1982), he also started guiding tours especially for bird watchers turning this into a full time business in 1990, when he started to lead trips further afield in Africa and South East Asia. In 1999 Rod started working in Central Africa, firstly in Gabon, and later in Rep Congo, Cameroons and The Central African Republic having switched to running and organising general wildlife tours and Primate Tours. In 2009 Rod opened Sangha Lodge, in the Central African Republic and ran this with his wife Tamar and son Alon until the coup de tête in March 2013 when they had to flee the country for their own safety. Following the massacre of elephants in early May 2013 Rod raised finance to return to Dzanga Sangha where he and his wife remain until today. Their presence here now is that of independent observers and conservationists right now as tourism will take a long time to re-establish. Rod firmly believes that the feeling of abandonment that the locals felt when all the expats left in March 2013 had a huge part to play in the upsurge in elephant poaching in the area, and that their return has helped immensely to restore the local communities faith in the future. Rods extensive knowledge and experience in developing tourism and communities for the benefit of conservation in Central Africa make him unique in this field. Rod invited Safaritalk members to submit questions about his work in this topic and the following interview features your questions and his answers. You can find out more about the lodge at its website here - www.sanghalodge.com -------------------------- @@firmin13 From a photographers perspective, what would be the best time of the year to visit? That all depends on what you are targeting to photograph. For the best light I would think the early rains are the best time, normally late June and July the air is clean and the colours are fantastic at the bais, and for gorillas. However the best time for game, is in the dry season, January through to end of April where you can get really large tuskers at Dzanga bai, and it is the time when there is a high chance to see bongo, hogs and Buff. The down side of this time is there are days when the Hamatten affect the clarity of the air, and somedays can seem hazy all the time. On a trip of 6 to 10 days though you would be unlucky to have this happen more than two or three days. @@optig I've thought of visiting Wilderness Safari's camp in the Congo, unfortunately, there seems to be nothing to combine it with due to events in the Central African Republic, and the lack of development in Gabon as well as terrible poaching. I would love to hear Rod's perspective on the future of wildlife tourism in the Central African Republic. As I finally sit down to answer all these questions, 7 May 2014 things for us seem at an all-time low, so the future does not seem easy to predict. My hope and general feeling is this, that sooner or later it will be realised by most that this strange corner of the country is no more dangerous now than it ever has been. Isolated and of no interest to the political battles going on in the capital and further north there is little reason for Anti Balaka to remain here, and having prevailed in their struggle in this part they will all leave leaving this corner in peace. I have worked in this park since 2003 shortly after Bozizi came to power in a coup, and I have lived here since 2009. During that whole time there have always been very strongly worded travel advisories against CAR and honestly they are not very different to what we read today. Anyone wanting to visit this area needs to know that it will never be considered a safe region by the majority of governments and it never has been, however this little corner has suffered far less than the rest of the country and will remain a secluded safe spot in an otherwise weird country. Having rambled on with politics, the future as I see it will be hard for us, but the wildlife spectacle here is far superior to anything that you will find in the rest of the Congo basin. This is the place to be, and given some stability tourism will flourish. @@Paolo Dzanga Bai is widely known as the best location in Africa for watching forest Elephant and Bongo. Could you tell us a bit about its unique ecology? Dzanga bai, there are those far more qualified than I am to talk about the ecology, but I will attempt to describe this as best as I see it. The word Bai is a Ba’aka word meaning forest clearing, and Dzanga bai is one of many bai to the Sangha Trinational parks. Dzanga bai however is unique as it is very rich in minerals which bubble up through the streams and waterways that flow through the bai, this is a haven for forest elephants which are always present at the bai, with numbers daily varying from 20 to up to 150 on occasions. These elephants are all drawn here for the minerals, and it is amazing to watch interaction between groups of elephants throughout the day. Add to this the bai is also visited regularly by Forest Buffaloes, Bongos, red river and Giant Forest Hogs, Sitatunga, and Black and white Colobus Monkeys. To my mind, there is no place like it, and I often describe it to friends as the best elephant experience you can have, but honestly it is far more than that. How does Lowland Gorilla tracking and viewing at Hokou Bai work? How would you compare it with Odzala, if any such comparison is possible? I have not tracked at Odzala so I have no personal experience; the last time I was in Odzala was in 2003 I think, just before the big Ebola outbreak that decimated the gorilla populations there. But I can go on the word of a spy I have working there…. My son Alon Guides for Wilderness as there is no work for him here right now. He has vast experience with all the gorillas here and now knows the gorillas in Odzala well, his view is that the Odzala gorilla experience is as good as ours on most days, and better on some. Never worse. Tracking here works this way: in that you drive out to Bai Hoku and track from a starting point. The gorillas are followed every day and you walk to the group which has generally been followed since early am. You are allowed 1 hour per permit, a permit costs 300 euros. You can, if available, get two permits and track for two solid hours. (There is a discount for the second permit.). Normal protocols for gorilla tracking are very strictly adhered to. One of the richest wildlife areas in CAR today is the Chinko Basin, where the Chinko Project and CAWA (Central Africa Wildlife Safaris - a hunting outfitter) still operated, as far as I know, until recently. Have you got any update? The Chinko project, www.chinkoproject.com is definitely still up and running, I am in touch with them from time to time as friends but have little to do with the project. Personally I do not hunt and never have, but I hold them to be the highest standard for proof that hunting can benefit conservation. The two founders of the Chinko project, Erik Mararve and David Simpson conceived this idea while locked up in a Bangui prison for 6 months in 2012, and have shown extraordinary commitment to keeping their dream alive. Would you see any future for the large, "classic" northern CAR protected areas such as Bamingui-Bangoran NP and Manovo Gounda St. Floris NP, as well as the Zemongo Faunal Reserve? These reserves in general are in very unstable areas, and I do not see any way that they will become safe in the coming years. Would this change, Central African wildlife reserves will rival any east African or southern African reserves. I gather that you have got an interest in Pangolin, and that you see plenty of them to boot. Can you expand a bit on this passion and these lovely creatures you meet at Sangha Lodge? . Pangolins came to my attention some years ago when I realised how many of them were being caught and eaten every day in Central Africa. They are very easy to catch and whenever anyone, no matter who it is, sees one, they catch it and normally eat it. Sadly they are also very easy to keep alive for several days by simply tying it up by its tail and hanging it from a stick, the animal is helpless. These sell generally around here for roughly 5 or 6 dollars for a live animal on the roadside. I have taken to getting my staff to buy these when they see them and releasing them in the vicinity of the lodge, I can’t say I am making a big contribution to saving pangolin just yet but I have certainly saved a lot of individuals…like the story with the boy and the Star fish. Until recently few people knew that Pangolins are the most traded wildlife species of all, with the majority of pangolins heading for the east, and China in particular. Asian pangolin species are tottering on the edge, and the onslaught by Chinese traders on African Pangolins has started. We have to be aware of this and do our best to stem the tide. I assume that operating Sangha Lodge amongst a perennial state of insecurity, logistical difficulties and a stream of visitors which might range from modest in the good times to non-existent in times like this is an immense challenge. Have you ever considered throwing the towel? Throwing in the towel, ironically never until this week had that never crossed my mind, but the latest body blow that destroyed my spirit was the fact that we were expecting clients, 4 of the to arrive and at the last minute, literally while the clients were waiting to board their plane we got word that the Minister has closed the park to tourists presumably on advice from WWF. We were not consulted and the lack of understanding of the situation on the ground here by people in offices is appalling. So yes I have considered throwing in the towel, but after a day or two of contemplation and lots of support from friends, Tamar, (my wife), and I have decided that we leave they win…. And if it has to become a battle then so be it. On balance, how would you consider the role played by NGOs in Dzangha Sangha, not only in relation to the latest developments, but throughout all of your time at Sangha Lodge? I am afraid I can’t answer this on the grounds of my current relationship with said Ngo’s, and any answer I give would not be fair and balanced. @@pault This looks really interesting and good on you for going back so soon. But how, right now, would we get there from (i) Nairobi or (ii) Johannesburg, which is where most visitors who are not already visiting neighbouring countries are likely to be starting from? There are, at this stage, only two safe options, one via Cameroon and one via Rep. Congo. Coming from Cameroon you need to hire a car with a driver which we can help with, and depending on your schedule drive form Yaoundé or Douala to Libongo on the Sangha River. The drive across Cameroon will take at least 20 hours drive time and normally involves two overnight stops, at Bertoua and then Yakadouma. From Libongo on the river we transfer you upriver to the lodge by boat. Coming From Brazzaville, fly to Ouesso in the north and boat upriver from Ouesso to Bayanga, this would normally be done in conjunction with a trip to Nouabali Ndoki national park in Congo. Getting to Douala Yaoundé or Brazzaville from JHB and Nairobi is not difficult at all with many different options. In the future should Kenya airways resume direct flights to Bangui we would again consider this route as the best option as you can be here in a 1 hour charter from Bangui. Otherwise, of course my number one question is (and this can be combined with other questions I am sure)... When is a good time to go for reasonably good weather and maximum activity at Dzanga Bai? Maximum activity at Dzanga is definitely the dry season, where there is the best chance of finding Bongos and the different Hogs, elephants are year round, but the numbers do peak in the dry season I feel, but like I have said before, the dry season sometime has days of haze caused by the hamattan. @@Julian Fennessy Keen to find out the status of giraffe in C.A.R. We did the first Country Profile for the country last year, but difficult to find up-to-date information, contacts, data, etc. Is the population being further decimated or unknown? I am uncertain of this and cant really help much here, except to refer you to Erik Marave and David Simpson at the www.chinkoproject.com they work the savanah regions so may have some more ideas. I have only seen sahelian giraffes in Cameroon in Wasa national park, but have no idea of their status in this country. @@Zim Girl You have worked in Gabon, Rep of Congo and CAR - How does Lowland Gorilla viewing compare in each country in terms of distance from the gorillas and the viewing conditions on the ground, ie. bai, forest etc? The habituation programs as far as I know, (I may be out of date on this), in Gabon have not been a great success, so you would have to be extremely lucky to see gorillas in Gabon. In the time I worked there I ran into gorillas only twice, and by pure chance. The habituated western lowland options then are restricted to Odzala, Noaubali NdokiNational Park, (NNNP), also in Rep. Congo and Dzanga Sangha in CAR. All these experiences I feel are on equal par, although we always like to say ours are better…. Value for money, central African experience is by far the cheapest. Gorillas viewed in the bais, I don’t know what the situation is now in Gabon, aand since the ebola outbreak in congo I don’t think any reliable sites remain in Odzala, the only two places I know are NNNP in Congo and Lobeki National park in Cameroon, of which NNNP is by far the more superior, with chances of seeing gorillas at Mbeli bai on any given day over 80%. All these national parks follow set gorilla viewing protocols, ie. Min distance 7 meters, no coughing peeing spitting farting eating etc… If the safety situation on the ground were to suddenly improve, how long would it take before it would be feasible for tourists to start visiting again? The truth is, security is fluid here at the moment and we have a single clients/ friends visiting right now… Today he went to see gorillas tomorrow he goes to Dzanga bai. Tourists are welcome there are windows of opportunity that we monitor closely, and unless the minister keeps the park closed we can accept tourist at any time. We believe that the situation is changing and improving and trust that the park will be open soon. I should hope that we should able to have reliable access and security here by mid-July or august 2014. @@inyathi Just today I see on the news that there has been a grenade attack on a funeral in Bangui and only last week, (I think), I saw another report on the brutal massacres of Muslims being carried out by the Anti-Balaka. It seems as if the peacekeeping forces are unable to quell the violence.Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? Since you wrote the question the situation has definitely not improved in the north and centre, but you have to understand the geography of the country and get some perspective of exactly where we are. Looking at any map of CAR you will notice a finger of land pointing south wedged between Cameroon and republic of Congo… this unusual remoteness with very limited access provides a kind of safe haven... No-one comes here by chance, it is not on the road to anywhere, you have to decide to come here and the road stops here. That said to your question, is there light at the end of the tunnel? For the country, It seems bleak, but since my first visit here in 2003 it was bleak for most of the country, our belief is that some form of stability will arise soon, with one of the factions proving stronger than the others and taking control and likely winning the elections, for the bulk of the country this will remain unstable, but for some areas like where we are and Chinko, isolated by geography, we will continue to function and do some good work. If tourist operations cannot be resumed soon how long will you be able to remain at Sangha? This is possibly the easiest question I have had to answer in the whole interview…, we have enough funds to last another 2 months. That’s it! I am leaving Sangha Lodge in 2 weeks, (from writing this), going back home to South Africa and from there I will try and raise some more finance, ether loans, donations, or perhaps with a lot of luck a partnership…. Honestly we have no idea what we will do if we fail to secure some finance. I understand that Forest elephants across the region are being hammered by poachers are you hopeful that the situation can be brought under control before it’s too late? Amazingly the Dzanga Sangha protected area has maintained it’s protection of some of the key areas, like Dzanga bai, but yes there has been a lot of poaching which we can only say is not good. The totals for the Dzanga sangha area in the last year is grossly underestimated in my opinion, the infamous killings last May of 26 in Dzanga bai aside I know of at least another 4, and the area is so vast that you can be sure that this figure is far higher. I think however that in this area it is under control, and ironically areas in adjacent Rep. Congo and Cameroon are probably far less controlled. We hope that soon we will be able to increase a presence in one area know that has particularly high densities of elephants before poachers become aware of this zone. However it all takes funding of which we have very little. Has the general lawlessness led to an upsurge in meat poaching and which species are most affected? No not at the moment. There is an irony with the politics here at the moment, the Anti Balaka militia have forced out all Muslims from the country. That means all the cattle herders have left, they were all Fulani and had to flee with their cattle. In their wake they “Sold” off a lot of their cows to Christians for ridiculously low prices and these are now flooding the market with cheap meat. Another strange positive was while the Seleka were in power around here they disarmed many of the locals and so have removed many weapons from circulation… so the irony of cheap beef and fewer guns is great for controlling the bush meat trade. However these cattle are being slaughtered and not breeding, so as soon as these run out, you can expect an upturn in Poaching once again. I understand that in certain parts of Central Africa there is a taboo against eating striped animals and that as a result local people don’t hunt bongos is this case in Dzanga Sangha? No, the people here eat everything with four legs except tables and chairs. If local hunters don’t go after bongo foreign trophy hunters certainly do and while I don’t suppose there’s much hunting going on in C.A.R. at present I’m sure there is in Cameroon, do you have any views on the sustainability of hunting bongos? I don’t Hunt myself but I certainly am not against sustainable usage of the resources. I do own a hunting concession but we do not hunt on this but hope to develop it for less consumptive tourism. So no I don’t really have any views on the sustainability of hunting bongos, but what I do have is data, dating back to 1993 for the hunting of bongos on my concession and also several other concessions in other areas in CAR. The Data for our area proves conclusively that the area was over hunted, and that the hunting was not sustainable. There was little science put into setting the annual quotas, and here in the forest zone these were set far too high. The data for other areas, the Chinko zone for example, mixed savannah and riparian woodland, the data shows a far more responsible quota setting. I visited Gabon back in 2008 and came away feeling very hopeful about the future of tourism in Gabon but if anything since then tourism has gone backwards, at least the situation in Congo with the opening of the two wilderness camps in Odzala is more positive. Do you think that wildlife tourism will eventually be the saviour of the Congo Basin’s wildlife? No, I don’t try and fool myself that tourism is the panacea for all wildlife problems, what it does though is develop some jobs, creates some hope but most of all shows both the local communities and governments that people outside of their small world appreciate what they have. It gives them a sense of pride in their own environment and this is invaluable. My personal experience is seeing the joy on people’s faces when we returned here after the coup d'etat last year was incredible. Tourism is certainly not the panacea, but it is vital for the morale of the communities. Conservation will continue to need inputs from donors and NGO’ s for a long time. If National Parks are not really generating any money from tourism what incentive is there to combat poaching or keep out oil & mining companies or even loggers? Truthfully there is little chance that tourism revenues will ever be enough to sustain the park and this will continue to depend on donors like WWF, but Seeing tourists and having some tourist jobs certainly help argue against these actions. This country though is so corrupt and so dysfunctional there are always continued threats of Loggers and miners arriving. @@Rwenzori The rainforest of south-western CAR is zoned for different kinds of land use, with the two sectors of Dzanga-Sangha National Park covering just a tiny portion of it. Much of it is classified as production forest or as community hunting zone. In your opinion is the level of protection granted to the park sufficient? Is there any significant difference regarding the density of wildlife between protected and unprotected areas or not? To sum up, do you think that the park is safer for the animals than the neighbouring production forests and hunting zones or not? The two Core areas of the protected area are the two national parks, each of around 650 Km2. These two areas are well protected and by rangers and also by legislation, Logging and other forms of usage will not happen in these areas as far as we can say. Poaching in these two areas is under control. The balance of the protected area which has this multiple land use system in place is not very well protected and most of the efforts here go into key species protection only. These areas are also vulnerable as they can at anytime be given out to logging, and trophy hunting. I own a 640 Km2 hunting concession here that we had changed the usage from hunting to tourism activities, so my portion at least cannot have trophy hunting on it. Wildlife in the two core areas in the park is far higher than most of the rest of the protected area excepting the concession that I own, which has similar densities to the parks. Currently there is no safari hunting in south-eastern CAR. The industry was recently opened again in Congo Brazzaville, (although we are talking about very limited operations), and it has been operative for a long time in Cameroon, the last place in Africa where forest elephants can be legally hunted. Do you believe that a trophy hunting industry could be helpful to nature conservation if established in the surrounding production forests or in your opinion it would only add more pressure? At this point in our region Trophy hunting would be a mistake. The data is clear that the quotas were always set far too high and the populations all but disappeared in twenty years of hunting. These are well on the road to recovery now, but we will need some real science done before this should be considered. Do you know about any recent estimate about the populations of elephants, bongos, buffaloes, gorillas etc. inside the park? There are figures, but I don’t have easy access to them and wont until the WWF offices reopen, (not sure when that will be), but for Gorillas, the number vary from 2-5 per Km2 throughout the bulk of the protected area. Bongo numbers I can say are increasing but we don’t have figures, but herds of between 40 and 100 are often encountered in my concession and at Dzanga bai. Likewise for Buffaloes, herds of up to 50 at several different clearings. Elephants, I will deal with in the next question. In the last 10 years forest elephant populations have decreased about 65% throughout Congo Basin. Have those of Sangha been almost stable during this period or not? You have to understand that the population of elephant here moves all the time, and looking at Dzanga sangha alone does not give the truth. Visiting this area you will see large numbers of elephants at any time of year, and the population has swelled in fact over the last 6 years. This coincides with Logging pressure across the Border in Rep. Congo. How much difficult is to spot wildlife of any kind, (except arthropods), outside the Bai? According to your experience, if I would spend a day trekking in the forest how often I would change upon safari animals? Wildlife viewing in rain forest is a totally different concept to viewing in savannah, and you have to appreciate that or you will go mad. If you come to the rainforest come to see and try and understand the rainforest rather than chase larger safari animals. I would guess less than a thousand people visit the congo basin each year to look for wildlife, and when they do the bulk of the time is for elephants and Gorillas…. Yet the Amazon which has no charismatic animals attracts many thousands of tourists…. We have to develop a different mind-set for rainforests. So to get back to your question if you spent a day tracking in the right areas you would have a chance of seeing red River and Giant forest Hog, Buffaloes, Sitatunga, Bongos, and 2 or three species of duiker, lets say a 5-15 % of each…. As we start to develop our own concesion we expect to improve this hit rate to 40-50% which will mean a few days tracking can easily turn up a host of good species. If seeing other animals, smaller mammals and not just the larger species, then check out two or three trip reports on www.mammalwatching.com. John Hall on his trip here saw 36 species of mammal. Do those beautiful flocks of green pigeons and grey parrots still swarm across the park or they have already been poached out for the pet trade? And in the unprotected forests? Here I have never seen Green pigeons coming down to the bais but they are very common here. Grey parrots are very common and come down to the bai at Dzanga almost every morning, but you have to get there early enough. So far I have not seen any signs ever of trade in birds here ether for pets or for bushmeat, but this may develop at some point so we keep vigilant. How many human settlements both legal or not are placed inside the park? Do they pose a threat to the ecosystem? Differentiate between the park and the protected area…. In the national parks, there are no settlements at all. In the protected area there are many villages and there are several different zones, for different land usages, like agricultural zone, village zones and community hunting zones. These have been here for a very long time and the boundaries are fairly clear. The illegal settlements that have developed around illegal diamond mining pose a big threat, and these have never been dealt with efficiently. We hope that when things calm down here politically we can start addressing some of these issues. Are the local people supportive of the park, (and of its restrictions), or they would hunt without any limit if they could? (Provided that they are not doing it already). Is nature conservation perceived as an important issue or the park is seen just as a colonial operation? Support depends who you ask….. the locals support the park in that it employs a lot of people, but most people in this country are not forward thinking and will plunder the park if given the chance, of that I have no doubt. Here its all about jobs and what the park can provide. Tourism is vital to add to the jobs and expose more locals to possibilities from outside. Which measures would you enforce to win the war against bushmeat trade in Central Africa? I don’t think you can ever expect to stop the bushmeat trade, people here have always relied on bushmeat for their protein, what is important is to control it, and prevent commercial bushmeat trading, that is the exporting of large quantities of meat from here to the bigger cities and even abroad. Currently with the political crisis in the country road travel is almost non-existent, this has stopped the export of meat for now. Can we hope to reduce it by promoting poultry keeping and cane rats farming among the locals? Yes a broad plan along these lines will certainly help, I would add fish farming to that, but yes I know that if there is a reliable source of good protein, the locals would go for that. This would need real commitment from the outside to help develop this and there are many examples of failed projects like this. What do you know about the nearby protected areas, (e.g. Lobeke National Park, Nouabalé-Ndoki national park)? Have you ever been there? Are they effectively managed or not? Do they host large wildlife populations like Dzanga-Sangha? How things are at the moment (compared to Dzanga)? I know NNNP very well, I have been there many times, It is very well managed and run by the WCS. I know Lobeki only because it is close, but strangely enough I have yet to go there. I cannot comment on the management there except to say that tourist who arrive here having been to lobeki often report coming across poacher, including poacher with large number of grey parrots. Matt, (Gamewarden) Which, if any NGOs are operating in and around Dzanga Sangha protected area? (Whether they be wildlife or humanitarian.) What is their prime focus and have they been involved in any way with you? WWF and IUCN, both have a presence here but WWF controls the system. I have for many years worked very well with them but lately I have to say that things have gone a little sour. Their primary focus is to fund and advise the national staff, (who work for the government), on the running of the park. They also run development projects amongst the local population with limited success. Please describe what the bushmeat markets are and how often they run. How are you treated when you show up? Is it a dangerous place for a foreigner to show up at? What kind of wildlife is sold there? etc. The local bush meat market here in Bayanga is just part of the market, the meats is sold in a section of the market that seems by some agreement reserved for meat, you can find most of the legal meat available here… You will never find gorilla or elephant meat at any open market in the area as this is illegal and they would be prosecuted. The only large market I have been to was some years ago in Libreville where there was everything available including elephant, Gorilla, Chimp, Mandrill and Manatee. At that time they were not aggressive towards us but would not allow pictures. How has the park changed from when you first arrived to now? Not much no, Socially it has changed as we are the isolated small group of expats here right now…. Only three of us. There are no WWF expats staff even and that is a huge part of my issue with WWF. But the park itself, no it is much the same except maybe that the roads are worse. Did you create the lodge from scratch or take over something already running? If the former, what were the logistics of creating a lodge in the park and what tribulations did you face when starting out? I took over an abandoned Safaris hunting camp and developed that. Starting out honestly was to get the people working in the system to take me seriously. No one believed that I would stay and make the lodge work, from the entire staff working at the project offices at the time to directors and ministers working for the government. That was by far my biggest hurdle, the camp and the logistics are far less of a problem. We kept the same simple buildings as the safari camp had and expanded adding several more room. Our rooms are not luxurious but have hot and cold running water, our kitchen does not do 5 star quality meals, but rather simple yet satisfying meals. Developing a system to supply took some time to perfect but that has now gone to hell in a hand-basket with the war and the eviction from the country of all Muslims… They were critical to our supply line. So the development of the lodge and the development of the supply lines was easy compared to what we are going through now, and as calm returns we are staring to plan to develop new supply lines and we look forward to the challenge. Where do your visitors come from, country breakdown? How do they hear about you? Now Nowhere Actually 1 Italian in the last 6 months. Before the war, 50% German, 15% Spanish, 15% British, and 20% made up from the rest of the world. What will it take for more operators to invest in CAR: indeed, with the insecurity, do you envisage that they ever will? I don’t know what it will take, but it needs more philanthropic investment than investment from someone looking for a large return. You need to know and love this place like I do to understand how special it is. To survive here we need to raise more money, and to develop even more again, really we are looking for that Philanthropic Partner who will invest and keep supporting this place as long as the troubles continue, and then possibly we can expect a return after a further few years of development once again. Update, 20 May 2014: The central government, department of Defence, Department of Tourism and dept. of Forests have made securing Bayanga for tourism a priority. Last week a small force of Regular central African Soldiers were stationed in Bayanga, the result being that all the Anti Balaka have fled back north. We expect this situation to hold as AB have little to gain by challenging this force, and by 1 July we expect the park to open to tourism with all supporting this. I am confiident in the new system and feel that within the coming month the area will return to being as secure for tourists as it has been since I started trips in 2004. An Isolated corner of paradise in the chaos. All images courtesy and © of Rod Cassidy. The views expressed therein are solely those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Safaritalk.
  14. Hi Guys It seems more or less a confirmed thing that end of the year, UWA will hike the price of Gorilla passes for 2014 and beyond. I have been told this by two operators and 2 others have posted some stuff on TA- Uganda Forums. Booking now for 2014 is still at USD 500 a trek per person. Also it seems November 2013 would be offered at USD 350 and Apr-May 2014 at 350-400 USD. None of this is officially from UWA directly but from operators who have been in discussion with UWA.
  15. Acacia Africa has cut the size of its groups on 10 of its trips to Uganda from 24 to 16. Based on client feedback, the change applies to some of the operator’s gorilla and chimpanzee trekking programs. According to Leanne Haigh, sales and marketing manager, “Less is more as cutting numbers by a third will make the chimp trekking experience smoother, allow additional time for travel in southwest Uganda and improve the overall feel of the tours. We are not aware of any other overland specialists offering a small group experience in Uganda so the change will be a key selling point.” Acacia is also removing game drives in the Queen Elizabeth National Park from its overland trips. “We will continue to visit the park but we will suspend further game drives pending guidance on from the authorities on permits and time allocated in the park,” said Haigh. “A plus for travellers, this will enable us to enhance the quality of the experience and focus on the key activity in this location, chimp trekking." The changes will affect the following overland expeditions: the six-day Troop To The Gorillas (TTG6), the 14-day Gorilla Encounter (GEN14), the 28-day Game Parks and Gorillas (GAG28), the 18-day Mountain Gorillas To The Mara(MGM18), the 39-day Ultimate African Adventure (UAAV39), the 46-day Ultimate African Adventure (UAAJ46), the 58-day Ultimate African Overlander (UAO58), the 56-day Grand African Adventure (GAA56), the 36-day Rivers, Lakes and Mountains(RLM36) and the 44-day Rivers, Lakes and Mountains (RLM44). The changes will not apply to the GEN14 Aug 03 departure. For more information email info@acacia-africa.com
  16. http://focusingonwildlife.com/news/gorillas-win-vs-poachers/ Two young mountain gorillas, in a group followed by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Rwanda, have learned to deactivate snares that would otherwise kill them.

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