Rushegura: In The Hands Of Kabukojo

Words & Pictures by Scott Latham

Monday 14th March, news breaks that three of Virunga’s rangers had been killed at the hands of poachers, whilst protecting Mountain Gorillas. The world’s largest primate.

Furthermore, a forth ranger had been killed a few weeks earlier in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Just a week earlier, I was in the area working on a project documenting the life of Mountain Gorillas.

The Rushegura Group based in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. During which, I quickly understood why people risk death and dedicate their lives to protecting the 880 individuals that remain.

Human populations are now over 7 billion. However, our closest great ape relatives are on the brink of extinction.

Furthermore, Mountain Gorillas are confined to a tiny, cold, wet and misty area, 10,000 feet above sea level around the Ugandan, Rwandan and Democratic Republic of Congo borders.

Living alongside some of the highest human population densities with the lowest adult life spans and standards of living worldwide.

Ultimately, human poverty and civil unrest is their greatest threat.

Mountain gorillas face habitat loss from deforestation as the farming of land is expanded. Poacher’s snares set for other animals such as antelopes, diseases transmitted by humans, and poaching for the gorilla infant trade. All of which are all still major threats to gorilla populations.

“The world human population is now over 7 billion, yet our closest great ape relatives are on the brink of extinction”

Coming face to face for the first time with a Mountain Gorilla is an experience like no other.

The glare of a Silverback is enough to send shivers down your spine, yet in a weird, comforting and loving way.

He has a huge task. Most likely the hardest in nature. To protect, guide and grow his family against the dangerous elements of the mountains and poachers who want nothing more than trophies for a sick and vile crime.

When American primatologist and anthropologist Dian Fossey started her 18-year study of Mountain Gorilla groups, world populations were as low as 270.

Although numbers have increased to near 800 since her murder, the Mountain Gorilla is still very much an endangered species.

Recent research has shown that the Bwindi gorilla’s diet is patently higher in fruit than that of the Virunga population and that the Bwindi gorillas. Furthermore, silverbacks, are more likely to climb trees to feed on foliage, fruits and other plants. In fact, during some months, Bwindi gorilla diet is very similar to that of Bwindi chimpanzees.

It was also found that Bwindi gorillas travel further per day. In particular on days when feeding primarily on fruit. Additionally, Bwindi gorillas are much more likely to build their nests higher up as they nearly always use a small sheltered tree.

“It was Digit and he was gone. The mutilated body, head and hands hacked off for grisly trophies, lay limp in the brush like a bloody sack.” – Dian Fossey”