From the Wild: A Close Partnership All the Way From Rwanda

Written by: Valerie Akuredusenge

Hi! My name is Valerie Akuredusenge, the Program Director of Conservation Heritage – Turambe, (CHT). I grew up in Gakenke District in the Northern Province of Rwanda. I began my journey in wildlife conservation as a tour guide, leading others through the dense rainforests of central Africa. I facilitated influential conservation experiences for tourists by bringing them up close and personal with some of the world’s most amazing wildlife. 

As my love and appreciation of this wildlife grew through those experiences, I knew I needed to share this excitement with the local communities living alongside animals like mountain gorillas.  I joined Art of Conservation in 2006 and became a leader in conservation education. I have taught over 2,800 children in communities bordering Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park about how to maintain healthy lives for the continued prosperity of the local communities and gorilla populations as well. Additionally, I am creating the next generation of Rwanda’s wildlife conservationists by inspiring local students to care about their natural resources, and act on behalf of wildlife and habitats.

CHT Staff, Left to Right: Innocent, Eric, Oliver and Valerie. Photo credit of CHT.

In 2013, I became the Program Director of Conservation Heritage – Turambe, an off – shoot of the very successful international non–profit organization called Art of Conservation that worked in Rwanda for over 6 years conducting conservation and health awareness programs in Musanze District, Rwanda.

Conservation Heritage – Turambe is local non-profit organization based in Musanze District in the Northern Province of Rwanda. CHT works with local communities bordering Volcanoes Natinal Park home to the critically endangered mountain gorillas.

Since 2013, CHT has worked as a local non-profit organization in Rwanda. In Kinyarwanda, Turambe translates to “let us be sustainable”.  All 7 of the CHT staff members are Rwandan and committed to continuing the important and inspiring work that was done by AoC previously.

The goal of CHT is to educate local communities near Volcanoes National Park to ensure they live in harmony with mountain gorillas and their habitat. CHT believes that disease transmission between mountain gorilla populations and human populations is a major threat to gorillas. To make sure the lives of mountain gorillas and that of human populations next to the park is in balance, CHT conducts year – long after school conservation and health awareness classes in communities near the Volcanoes National Park, home to mountain gorillas.

Students living close to mountain gorillas learn about this critically endangered species. Photo credit of CHT.

To be able to do it, the CHT team and I utilize different methods to deliver conservation and health messages to local communities.  Art is a great tool we use to help spread our messages and also make our program more unique.

CHT Artist Eusebe teaches local kids about mountain gorillas using artistic methods. Photo credit of CHT.

Through our classroom programming, CHT teaches over 200 local schoolchildren about conservation and health. These conservation lessons instill in students an understanding and compassion of nature and wildlife. Local community members are also encouraged to stay healthy because the health of wildlife is linked to that of people.

CHT students learn staying healthy messages like how to wash their hands and how to brush their teeth. Photo credit of CHT.

CHT’s work also improves local livelihoods through different initiatives. We conduct tree-planting activities to prevent soil erosion, provide animal habitat and create beautiful green space. We also donate water tanks to schools to ensure water availability.

Additionally we do community outreach through our local schools by conducting conservation and health awareness classes to remote schools.  We host annual events including the 3k Gorilla Fun Run to increase gorilla awareness with communities and partners and we host annual tennis tournaments to raise awareness of CHT and mountain gorillas, and how to stay healthy.

At the very end of our year long after school programming, we host a very big event – Parents As Partners’ Open House – to share with our partners, local authorities, parents of kids and participants of our program what we have achieved during the year and celebrate!

To achieve our goal, we also partners with different conservation organizations including the Houston Zoo. One of the Houston Zoo missions in the protection of mountain gorillas is to make sure they are safe in wild and partner with conservation organizations.  In this context, CHT is really honored to be have Houston Zoo staff here for a one-month visit.  Houston Zoo staff is incredibly helping my staff and me in capacity building where she has been assisting, coaching, teaching and training and inspiring us on how best we can improve our way of planning and improving our documents.

Together with her expertise, the CHT team including me have gained a lot of experience in strategic planning, evaluation, writing documents, and many more.  In addition to capacity building, Houston Zoo has been a very close partner of CHT. They have been sponsoring CHT’s staff salaries, project development, raising funds for CHT and marketing the project. We are very fortunate to be with their staff member, Martha, who is really making us strong readers in conservation to be able to reach our goal.  My staff and I cannot wait to use what we learnt from the Houston Zoo.

To learn more and to donate to Conservation Heritage-Turambe and/or Gorilla Doctors please read more HERE!


Art of Conservation Exhibition and Fundraiser this Friday November 22nd!


Art of Conservation Exhibition and Fundraiser this Friday November 22nd!

There are only a few tickets left and the event starts at 6pm sharp! We look forward to sharing and celebrating our work with you.

144 West 14th St
CCPS Gallery 2nd floor

Kwita Izina 2013 Gorilla Naming Ceremony speeches


Jeffrey Sachs, Doug Cress, Paula Kahumbu among those who named gorillas at Kwita Izina June 22, 2013.

Week One Visit to Art of Conservation

From Allison Hanes

Two full days of travel and three plane rides later I arrive late Tuesday June 4th in Kigali, Rwanda with Art of Conservation (AoC) board member/photographer, Cheryl Stockton and wildlife photographer friend/colleague, Andrew Walmsley. The first thing I notice off the plane is that distinct musky yet floral smell of Africa! It’s nice to be back to East Africa after two years. We travel by car up and around in mountains about an hour to Musanze welcomed by new friends, including four friendly dogs at The Garden House, a friend’s bed and breakfast nearby Art of Conservation. On our beds are beautiful paper maché gorilla masks made by the Rwandan AoC team and our full exciting itinerary for the month ahead.

The following morning after a proper African breakfast, Julie starts out our trip and adventure in Rwanda by picking us up and taking us to the Art of Conservation compound just a few streets away. Again we receive a warm welcome by Julie’s dogs, new friends, neighbors and staff. The tour is impressive, including a beautiful flower and vegetable garden with giant corn stalks, composting site, rain water collection tank, array of recycled bird feeders and birdhouses, art studio and several common areas filled with beautiful artwork.

The AoC garden.  Art of Conservation 2013Art of Conservation garden.

The team builds and paints bird houses. Art of Conservation 2013Bird houses in the works being painted and varnished by AoC staff and friends.

We make introductions. I share Ghirardelli chocolates from San Francisco and Cheryl “I Love NY” shirts for the staff. We instantly adore our smiling kind new friends.

Cheryl Stockton brings I LOVE NY t-shirts to the team. Art of Conservation 2013Olivier, Cheryl, Eusebe, Valerie, Eric and Innocent full of smiles.

Allison brings chocolates. Art of Conservation 2013Eric, Valerie and myself enjoying San Francisco Ghiradelli chocolates.

We unpack and layout our photography gear organizing lenses and learning all about our new toys, which some of us particularly myself, are yet to play with. Nikon, Canon, Apple and GoPro equipment overflow the table and we immediately start flicking through manuals and dialing in settings ready for our early morning trek to the mountain gorillas.

Enough equipment. Art of Conservation 2013Do you think we have enough equipment?

Thursday morning we are up before sunrise ready to hike up Volcanoes National Park. Cheryl, Julie and myself trek to the furthest gorilla family, Susa, which has three silverbacks. My previous experience of tracking gorillas for three months in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda proved useful in preparing me for the day ahead but I still found the trek not to be all that easy. The high-altitude was very noticeable especially since we had limited time to acclimatize. However, we made it to the group without any trouble and I managed to handle Andrew’s special 300mm f2.8 lens for the hour-long session. You can tell by my shots and GoPro filming comments that the equipment was heavy! I was still able to get some great shots and had a wonderful time. It was one of the best gorilla treks I have experienced, particularly because I could share the experience with new friends and colleagues.

In the forest with Julie.  Allison in Rwanda. Art of Conservation 2013
In the forest with Julie.

Mountain gorilla in Virunga Massif. Art of Conservation 2013Rwandan gorillas are much furrier than the Ugandan population because of the higher elevation and cooler climate.

We had a grand time and our guide “D” joined us in our celebration dinner at Muhabura Restaurant. Julie always likes to celebrate after a good day of gorilla trekking and we are full of laughs. Each day I feel luckier to work with such inspiring, talented, hard working and fun colleagues.

Friday we get right into meetings and prepare for week two classes. I’ve noticed pretty much everyday at AoC we find ourselves singing, dancing and acting! I’m learning so many new things here in Rwanda. We also paint birdhouses with Eric and Eusebe and end the evening with a party in AoC’s garden and bungalow. Julie’s friend Alberto cooks us up a feast and Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) friends and colleagues join us to make another great close to the night.

Staff meeting. Art of Conservation 2013Let the work begin.

Saturday we all meet at the tennis courts. One of AoC’s most significant programs is the Ibirunga Tennis and Running Club. Olivier was recently nominated president and Valerie treasurer. AoC murals, plants and flowers decorate the grounds. The nets look like they have had their run and I am happy to know that by the end of the month through a USTA grant the club will have two brand new nets!

Tennis drills at Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club. Art of Conservation 2013Julie runs tennis drills and exercise with the children. I pick up a racquet after several years.

Cheryl leads yoga at Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club. Art of Conservation 2013Cheryl cools us down leading us in a yoga session and then I get to play a good high-energy game of tennis with Johnny, one of the best tennis players in the community.

Allison at Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club. Art of Conservation 2013These kids fill you with joy and energy!

After a great workout I quickly take a shower and we head off to find our Batwa friend or as Rwandans now call her – “marginalized indigenous woman.” However, the dramatic driving adventure in search of Marie Rose is unsuccessful and instead we follow Art of Conservation’s dear friend and partner Cecil to her village for dancing. We bring sacks for rice, beans and a jerry can of banana beer. Cecil is a very special woman that Art of Conservation has been working with for years and is famous throughout Rwanda. To learn more about her Saving the Forests Briquette Initiative read here.

Sunday we are still full of energy editing photos, working and preparing for the remaining few weeks. Monday is our first day of classes at one of our two local schools and the fun has just begun!

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Is responsible tourism the key to saving the mountain gorilla?

This is a good article about mountain gorilla tourism and there is no doubt that responsible gorilla tourism has helped the mountain gorilla.  It is probably one of the most successful wildlife conservation tourism projects seen around the world.  However, myself and other experts do not believe responsible tourism is a pancea for great ape conservation and revenue generation.  I confirmed with my Uganda Wildlife Authority colleagues that the 80% statistic is high.

“Gorilla trekking has not only become a vital conservation fund-raising tool—in Uganda, gorilla tourism contributes approximately 80% of the national wildlife authority’s overall budget, thereby financing the bulk of wildlife and habitat conservation across the country as a whole—but it has also turned the gorillas into a valuable commodity prized by local communities and government alike.”

When I worked in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda in 2011 I was informed tourism provided about half the country’s revenue and that over half of that was direct gorilla tracking fees.  This probably did not include indirect tourism costs such as people going to see gorillas stopping at other sites along the way.  In addition, gorilla permits have risen from 500 USD to 750 USD.  To date colleagues of mine believe the statistic is more around 50%.

Is responsible tourism the key to saving the mountain gorilla? It is vital given the circumstances we have put these animals in but it must be managed effectively and continually re-evaluated. And there must be a number of parties, strategies, education programs and projects working concurrently with responsible tourism to safeguard the future of the mountain gorilla.

Article: Why responsible tourism is the key to saving the mountain gorilla.

Singing for Gorillas – 2013 Children’s Performance Preparations with Art of Conservation


Art of Conservation is preparing for our 2013 children’s performances with music written and recorded by musicians Kaiser Cartel. Courtney Kaiser-Sandler and Benjamin Cartel remixed our Mu Birunga conservation song. They sing in both English and Kinyarwanda. Courtney’s students at Interlochen Center for the Arts are singing too. Preparations are underway with costumes and set design. Please watch our video!

Respiratory Illness Spreads Through Sabyinyo Group

The following article was published on Gorilla Doctors Blog on Wednesday January 23rd, 2013.  Respiratory illness is one of the largest threats to the survival of great apes.

On January 22, the Sabyinyo trackers reported that five gorillas were coughing in Sabyinyo group: dominant silverback Guhonda, beta silverback Gihishamwotsi, adult female Kampanga and her infant Ishimwe, and adult female Gukunda.  A veterinary assessment was requested and completed the following day, confirming six members with respiratory disease: Guhonda, Gihishamwotsi, Gukunda, Kampanga, Ishimwe, and Umurinzi. Guhonda appeared to be the worst, with a deep, persisitent cough, he was lethargic and not feeding normally. Dr. Dawn and Dr. Noel scheduled a recheck and possible intervention for the following day.

Dominant silverback Guhonda, one of the largest silverbacks in Volcanoes National Park, is the most seriously afflicted with the respiratory illness.

Dominant silverback Guhonda, one of the largest silverbacks in Volcanoes National Park, is the most seriously afflicted with the respiratory illness. © Gorilla Doctors

On January 24, Sabyinyo group was found only 2.5 km from the previous day’s site, again in the bamboo region.  Seven gorillas were confirmed to be affected with symptoms of respiratory disease.  The eighth presumably affected gorilla, second silverback Gihishamwotsi, was not found in the group.  The team spent about 2 hours looking for him, including returning to the previous day’s site and tracking back to the current site, but he was not found.  Six nests were discovered out of the usual nine, and multiple nests were thought to be high up in the trees.  Therefore, they could not even assess if he nested with the group.

Dominant silverback Guhonda was seen as soon as they entered the group. He was active and eating; his stomach appeared to be 3/4 full. He still exhibited a cough and nasal discharge, but was much improved from the previous day.

Dominant silverback Guhonda with nasal discharge, but active and feeding. © Gorilla Doctors

Blackback Shirimpumu, who had previously not exhibited clinical signs, was found coughing today. There was no nasal discharge, and he was active and eating. Icyerekezo was also not exhibiting clinical signs yesterday but was found coughing today. But as with Shirimpumu, there was no nasal discharge and he was active and eating.

30-year-old adult female Kampanga appeared weak, moving only about 100 meters at a time and stopping in sternal recumbency to rest.  She would pick at vegetation occasionally but was not observed eating much.  Her stomach appeared only half full.  She was not interested in following or responding to the calls of her 1.5 year old infant, Ishimwe.

1.5 year old infant Ishimwe with nasal discharge.

1.5 year old infant Ishimwe with nasal discharge. © Gorilla Doctors

Kampanga exhibited an intermittent productive cough and an elevated respiratory rate with shallow breaths. A viral origin is presumed with secondary bacterial infection which may be affecting her lower airways.

Kampanga and infant Ishimwe with nasal discharge

Kampanga and infant Ishimwe with nasal discharge. © Gorilla Doctors

Due to the severity of Kampanga’s clinical signs, Park authorities and veterinarians agreed that an intervention was warranted.  However, due to the risk of a full anesthetic event, they decided to dart her with an antibiotic and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.

Dr. Noel prepares dart for Kampanga.

Dr. Noel prepares dart for Kampanga. © Gorilla Doctors

At 9:45 and 9:48am, Dr. Noel successfully darted Kampanga in the right epaxial musculature with two 5cc darts holding 3.8 grams of ceftriaxone and 150 mg of ketoprofen.

The respiratory disease is still spreading through Sabyinyo group, with two new clinical cases today. Currently, 8 of the 14 individuals in Sabyinyo group are suspected to be infected. Tomorrow, a search team will be sent to look for the missing silverback, Gihishamwotsi. Elisabeth Nyirakaragire (VNP veterinary warden) will recheck Kampanga and other afflicted individuals in Sabyinyo group while Gorilla Doctors have been requested to assess a very weak silverback in another group, Urugamba. Both groups are ranging close to the park border so response time should be reasonable.

You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on their Facebook page, where photos and notes are posted from monthly visits.

Please consider supporting Gorilla Doctors by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.