Thursday, 30 January 2014

Are Gorilla Trekking Rules Strict Enough? - Guest Blog by The Gorilla Organization

It is with great pleasure that I am able to share with you my first guest blog from the fantastic Gorilla Organization. Please have a read and then either leave a comment below or take the conversation to Twitter or Facebook.

Are Gorilla Trekking Rules Strict Enough?

Over recent years wildlife authorities across Eastern and Central Africa have been in debate about making surgical respirator masks compulsory for tourists visiting the great apes. Due to the close genetic link between gorillas and humans, the risk of primates catching diseases such as the influenza virus is extremely high. Hence, introducing the N95 respirator masks, which catch bacteria coming from the wearer’s mouth and nose, could help minimize the transmittance of airborne disease and improve the protection of the critically-endangered gorillas.

Although, the N95’s have not yet been made compulsory in all three countries where gorilla tourism is offered, the Gorilla Organization’s African staff are constantly encouraging the use of the respirators to visitors and staff members to ensure the health and survival of our beautiful cousins, and, on their regular excursions into the forests of the Virunga Mountains, they always lead by example.

The debate has become particularly heated now that gorilla tourism has gone from being a niche activity for an intrepid few to being on the top of many people's travel 'bucket lists'. Indeed, trekking gorillas in Africa sounds like the perfect trip to anyone who is looking for an adventurous, unique and undeniably breath taking holiday; whether the journey goes to the DR Congo, Uganda or Rwanda, gorilla tourism is currently at hype among western travellers.

Although, the local authorities are not particularly strict on enforcing N95 masks, there are some precautions that tourists as well as rangers have to follow when entering the gorilla’s natural habitat. These include:

  • The 7-metre rule prohibits visitors from getting in immediate contact with gorillas. Unfortunately, this is not always preventable as infant gorillas especially are very curious and like to explore and mingle with tourists and rangers.

  • Tourist group sizes cannot exceed more then 8 people, due to the possibility of human-disease transmission and causing stress to gorillas by increased noise levels or pictures being taken (which is generally allowed without flash). Thus, the time spent on site is strictly limited to a maximum of 1 hour per tour.

  • Each tourist is permitted to carry a bottle of water, a first aid kid and a camera, though not a specialist video camera without a special permit. Foods need to be eaten before getting in contact with gorillas and smoking is strictly prohibited throughout the entire tour.  

Though great ape tourism comes with numerous regulations and, some would say, appears to be of some risk to the primates, it is of great significance as it helps fund a range of conservation and local community projects. Funds that are being raised from sold gorilla permits, which cost up to 500 USD per visitor, pay the wages of rangers, most of whom are recruited form local communities, and fund initiatives aimed at educating farmers and reformed poachers on issues such as poaching and habitat loss. These are all concerns that the Gorilla Organization shares, as poaching and habitat loss are still the most common threats primates face.

This is why the Gorilla Organization’s staff members educate local farmers on organic sustainable agriculture, with the purpose of teaching individuals on how to grow foods to support their families. Simultaneously this also prevents locals from searching aliments in the forests, which aids to the protection of gorillas natural habitat.

Written by Sharon Legae - Communications Assistant for the Gorilla Organization.

Macfie, E., and Wiliamson, E. (2010) Best Practical Guideline for Great Ape Tourism.
The Gorilla Organization has worked to save the world's last remaining gorillas in the wild from extinction, carrying on through genocide, natural disasters and war. 

Monday, 27 January 2014

Everyone needs a good Vegucation!

Albert Einstein  - "Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet."

I have just watched the award winning Vegucated and it was a well thought out, humourous and entertaining film. Being only an hour long it keeps your attention and highlights all the important issues around veganism without preaching to you.

Short Synopsis

"Part sociological experiment and part adventure comedy, Vegucated is an award-winning, guerrilla-style documentary that follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks. Lured by tales of weight lost and health regained, they begin to uncover the hidden sides of animal agriculture that make them wonder whether solutions offered in films like Food, Inc. go far enough. Before long, they find themselves risking everything to expose an industry they supported just weeks before, but can their convictions carry them through when times get tough?"

For me this film touched on exactly why I am vegan and will always chose to be. It is simple really, we have a choice to eat a diet that not only makes and keeps us healthy, but also doesn't support the suffering and killing of millions of animals every year. More and more evidence is coming out showing how meat and dairy is not only bad for us but single handily the reason behind so much that is wrong in this world.

Don't just take my word for it though, look into it and you will see how reducing our meat and dairy not only does you good, but also the planet.

Environmental Impact:

In 2009 Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said"'Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there." This is because it is so much more environmentally damaging to eat meat and dairy. You have to first grow all the plant food and then instead of eating it, ship it to the livestock around the world and feed it to them. Research has shown it takes roughly 10 grams of plant protein to create 1 gram of animal protein. Mainly due to the fact you lose roughly 90% of the energy on every step of the food chain, so feeding it to animals is pretty wasteful. Especially as the population reference bureau states we currently grow enough food in the world to feed 10 billion. While almost a billion people, including 200 million children go hungry everyday.


The American Diabetes Association says that a vegan diet can help prevent and manage diabetes and the China Study shows how when animal foods are introduced into a diet, cancer and heart diseases increase. A study published in the Journal of Urology showed that men with an early stage of prostate cancer can stop or even reveres the effects with dramatic changes with their diet and lifestyle. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Animal Cruelty:
This side of the vegan argument is the one that cannot be defended by people that eat meat and dairy. We now all know the way 99.9% of animals are farmed and killed means they endure endless suffering and are treated like a product and not a living creature You only have to watch undercover footage of any slaughter house to see the pain and brutality these animals go through. A great site to visit to understand the truth behind the animal industry is

So please check out Vegucated and listen to the otherside of the story and realise what the truth really is.
Visit Vegucated website -
Watch Vegucated:


1. Article on vegan diet reversing diabetes symptoms
2. The China Study
3. Research on health effects of a vegan diet
4. Research on environmental impact of different diets.
5. Facts from the Population Reference Bureau
6. Research on prostate cancer
7. Dr Rajendra Pachauri of United Nations statement on reducing meat

Saturday, 18 January 2014

A window into the life of a young Chimpanzee.

"In 1960 there were a million chimpanzees in the wild, today just one fifth of that number remains."

That is the statement you are shown at the end of 'Chimpanzee' a Disney Nature documentary following the life of young Oscar. It is quite shocking and while reading it you have the footage of Oscar playing with the Alpha male Freddy; really touching once you know why they are together (no I won't ruin it for you).

The documentary has the narration of Tim Allen throughout and it is a beautifully shot film really giving you the feel like you are in among the group. You get to discover all the wonderful things chimpanzees have learnt to do from organised hunts, to tool use and how much they don't like the rain.

While watching it you can't help but realise how 'human' like these guys are, the way they move their hands, the faces they pull and the way they interact with each other. Creationism takes a real blow and the theory of evolution is just staring you in the face. Although it may not be a real scientific programme I am sure it will go far to raise the profile and awareness of our distant cousins.

It feels like it is definitely aimed at children and so for adults it can become a bit samey and the narration can get a bit annoying. None the less I would encourage you to watch it and if you have children or teach a class show it to them. You fall in love with little Oscar, so it can hopefully galvanise the young generations to get involved with the plight of chimpanzees.

Sir David Attenborough talks about the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation who have monitored Oscar and his family for over 30 years. 
(If you can't see the video click here)

Some organisations involved with the film:
  • Wild Chimpanzee Foundation - Looking over young Oscar and his family
  • The Jane Goodall Institute
  • NGOGO Chimpanzee Project
  • Friday, 10 January 2014

    #Apeweek - Day 5 Round up of the great apes

    This week I have been writing and promoting the plight of the great apes that we share this planet with.

    They are all under threats from similar things that include logging, poaching and habitat destruction. They all have large ranges or territories that they travel in for food and shelter. The loss of their habitats goes beyond just losing the great apes, but also the thousands of plant and animal species that live within those habitats. By saving the great apes we are working to save the biggest ecosystems in the world; and ourselves

    Here is what you may have missed during the week:

    Day 1: The Bonobo -

    Day 2: The Gorilla -

    Day 3: The Orangutan -

    Day 4: The Chimpanzee -

    What is it you think needs to be done to ensure we don't lose our distant cousins forever? Don't let the work of people like Dian Fossey and Jim Cronin fail.

    Wednesday, 8 January 2014

    #Apeweek Day 4 - The Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

    Day 4 of #apeweek brings us to the Chimpanzee and the last of the 4 great apes. Probably the most well known of the great apes especially for their tool use, which we will come on to a bit later. It is the great Jane Goodall that we have to thank for raising the plight of the Chimpanzee to a worldwide audience. Her studies since the sixties has enabled us to learn so much about our closest relative, and we will look at that in more detail further on. So sit back and enjoy learning more about our cousin the Chimpanzee.

    The Facts:
    Size - Generally speaking Chimpanzees range from 74-96cm in length and 40-60kg in weight for males and 32-47kg in females.
    Appearance - Black coat, a naked face and infants have this lovely white tail tuft. They also have pinkish to black skin on their faces, ears, palms of their hands, and soles of their feet. Bonobos, which are closely related, are generally lighter, a more slender build, red lips and the hair has a central parting.
    Habitat - Mainly found in forest areas and in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
    Diet - Fruit, leaves, seeds, plant galls, animal prey including mammals, birds and insects. They also hunt other primates, especially colobus monkeys.
    Life History - Gestation is around 8 months with sexual maturity being reached in males at around 13 years and females 11 years. Their life span is around the 50-60 year mark.
    General behaviour - Active during the day and build nests in trees at night, the males are dominant within their social structure.

    Bonobo with hair parting and red lips
    Chimpanzee with lighter skin.

    Tools Used by Chimpanzees:
    Chimpanzees have been observed using a range of tools in the wild including:

    • Chewing up leaves to make a spongy wadge and using it to drink rainwater from an inaccessible tree hole
    • Cracking nuts with rocks or wood
    • Using a leafy stick as a fly whisk also selecting sticks, stripping off the leaves and sticking it in a termites nest then eating them once they have grabbed onto the stick
    • Making a sitting pad of leaves
    • Using leaves as napkins to clean the body, dab at wounds to inspect bleeding, or to provide a clean surface to inspect or squash and external parasite, such as a louse
    • Using objects as weapons, including branches as clubs and pieces of wood or rock as aimed projectiles

    Chimpanzee cracking nuts with log
    Chimpanzee fishing for termites

    Check out this video about Chimpanzees using tools from the Jane Goodall Institute (Click here if the video above does not show)

    The Chimpanzee is classed as endangered and their numbers are estimated to be around 172,000 - 3000,000 (IUCN red list). In fact in recent years that are said to have been made extinct within Burkina Faso and this is due to the threats they face.

    • Legal and illegal logging and habitat loss due to agriculture
    • Poaching for bushmeat and to sell Chimpanzees into the entertainment industry, unfortunately around 10-15 chimpanzees are killed in the capture of just one
    • Infectious diseases, especially the Ebola fever
    • Armed conflict and civil unrest putting pressure on their natural resources which in turn increases the threats mentioned above

    Dr Jane Goodall

    I have taken this profile of Dr Goodall from the organisation she founded the 'Jane Goodall Institute':

    "In July 1960, at the age of 26, Jane Goodall traveled from England to what is today Tanzania and bravely entered the little-known world of wild chimpanzees. She was equipped with nothing more than a notebook and a pair of binoculars. But with her unyielding patience and characteristic optimism, she won the trust of these initially shy creatures. She managed to open a window into their sometimes strange and often familiar-seeming lives. The public was fascinated and remains so to this day.

    Today, Jane’s work revolves around inspiring action on behalf of endangered species, particularly chimpanzees, and encouraging people to do their part to make the world a better place for people, animals, and the environment we all share. The Jane Goodall Institute works to protect the famous chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, but recognizes this can’t be accomplished without a comprehensive approach that addresses the needs of local people who are critical to chimpanzee survival. Our community-centered conservation programs in Africa include sustainable development projects that engage local people as true partners. These programs began around Gombe in 1994, but have since been replicated in other parts of the continent. Likewise, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, which Jane started with a group of Tanzania students in 1991, is today the Institute’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program for young people from preschool through university with nearly 150,000 members in more than 120 countries."

    Organisations working to save the Chimpanzee:

    Primates of the World, Ian Redmond, 2010

    Tuesday, 7 January 2014

    #Apeweek Day 3 - The Orangutan (Pongo pygmaaeus/abelii)

    Day 3 of #apeweek and we are looking at the largest tree-living animal on the planet. Known as the 'people of the forest' of course it is the one and only Orangutan.

    How can you not love the Orangutan, they are this gorgeous orange colour and move so majestically through the trees. The males develop those extraordinary cheek pads, to the extent that early Europeans actually thought they were a different species to the females. Males can weigh up to 90kgs, which is twice what a female can weigh. This makes them living in trees even more impressive.

    Male Orangutan
    Female Orangutan

    Orangutans only live in either Borneo or Sumatra and indeed these two areas have created two separate species. Actually, they are not that different, however, Sumatran Orangutans have a slightly lighter colouration and a more slender build. They also show more hair on the face and, in males, flatter cheek pads. Their Diet is similar both eating fruit, leaves, bark, flowers, birds' eggs, honey and various small vertebrates. Gestation period is over 8 months, sexual maturity in males 9.5 years and females 7 years. Their life span can be up to 60 years and the young stay with their mothers for years.

    Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)
    Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii)

    The Sumatran Orangutan is classed as critically endangered and numbers are estimated around 7,300 (IUCN red list)

    The Bornean Orangutan is classed as endangered and their numbers are estimated between 45,000 and 69,000. (IUCN red list)

    Tool Use:
    Although Chimpanzees are the most famous for using tools, it is the Orangutan that is known for regularly making and using tools to extract honey or termites from inside tree trunks. They actually strip the leaves of a chosen stick and shorten it to about 30cm, fray the ends and then stick it into a bee hive and reap the rewards. This behaviour has only been noted with the Sumatran Orangutan, but both species have been seen using large leaves as umbrellas.

                                                                Listen to the incredible longcall sound of the Orangutan


    • Palm Oil - easily the number one threat to the plight of the Orangutan, and I could do an entire post just on this. Please please please do not buy products containing palm oil unless they are sourced from a certificated sustainable source; like the RSPO. Palm oil is on average 10 times more productive than soya, which means it is not going away. So the answer is sustainable plam oil?
    • Logging - legal and illegal logging is reducing the natural habitat of the Orangutans therefore creating less space for them to live. Orangutans have home ranges of 1-5 sq km.
    • Pet Trade - Although illegal hundreds of baby Orangutans are taken from the wild and put into the pet trade; usually killing the mother in the process. As do all primates, Orangutans make extremely bad pets and it doesn't take long before the owners realise this and hand them over to a sanctuary. This leads to a life of captivity rather than being in the wild.
    • Poaching - killed for food or to use bones to make souvenirs. 

    Organisations protecting Orangutans:


    #Apeweek Day 2 - The Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla / Gorilla beringei)

    It is day two of #apeweek and I am very excited to be writing about Gorillas because I grew up reading about the legacy of Dian Fossey. Indeed it was the very first charity I was a member of, with my mother, and when I read Gorillas in the Mist, and watched the film, I knew I would forever be smitten with the plight of the Gorilla.

    The Facts:
    Size - Head and body length can be up to 180cm with their weight being between 90-180kg.
    Appearance - Black or brownish grey coat, the adult males develop a silver back & a crest of bone & muscle on the top of their head.
    Habitat - The tropical forests of Central Africa on either side of the Congo basin, found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Cameroon, Congo, Central African Republic (CAR), Equatorial Guinea (Eq.G), Gabon & Nigeria.
    Diet - Fruit, leaves, flowers, seeds, stems, bark, roots & some invertebrates.
    Life History - Gestation around 8-9 months, with sexual maturity being reached around 8-10 years and life span up to 50 years.
    Behaviour - Groups of 5-60 mixed with males and females, not really territorial & make new nests at night with males on the ground and sometimes females and young in the trees.

    There are four agreed subspecies, however some believe the Eastern and Western Lowland Gorillas are distant enough to be classified as separate species entirely. They are:

    Mountain Gorilla

    The Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) - found in the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda and classed as endangered on the IUCN red list. There are said to be fewer than 800 left in the wild and they have developed longer hair to cope with the colder temperatures. 

    Eastern Lowland Gorilla

    The Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) - found in the DRC and also classed as endangered on the IUCN red list. Said to be fewer than 5,000 in the wild and are noted as being the largest of the Gorillas and therefore the largest primate on the earth. Adult males can reach up to 250KG and although similar to Mountain Gorillas they have shorter hair, narrower faces and rounder nostrils.

    Western Lowland Gorilla

    The Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) - found in Angola, Cameroon, Congo, CAR, DRC, Eq.G & Gabon and classed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list. Estimated numbers are fewer than 200,000 and they also live in family groups. However, unlike the Eastern Lowland Gorillas the Western has been known to split up during the day and reunite in the evening to sleep. They are also known for they love of fruit that makes up a large part of their diet.

    Cross River Gorilla

    Finally the Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) - found only on the boarders of Cameroon and Nigeria and said to number fewer than 300; therefore the most endangered of any great ape. Like the Western Lowland Gorilla they are classed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list. They are very similar to the western, but their group sizes tend to be smaller. 

    • Habitat loss - more people, equals more farmland, equals tearing down of forest
    • Poaching - hunted for bushmeat, to use parts in witchcraft and to sell babies as pets
    • Civil unrest - many areas have suffered from long civil wars decemating natural resources
    • Disease - Man can spread diseases to Gorillas that they are not naturally protected from, click here
    • Logging - Legal and Illegal logging that is reducing the size of the Gorillas natural habitat making it harder and harder for them to survive and have stable populations.

    Dian Fossey:
    • Born in San Francisco, in 1932. Her strong interest in animals led her to enter college as a pre-veterinary student. 
    • First trip to Africa in 1963. 
    • Returned to Africa in December 1966, to begin a long-term study of the mountain gorillas. She initially set up camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire), but due to political upheaval moved to Rwanda in 1967.
    • On September 24, 1967, Dian Fossey established the Karisoke Research Center, between Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Visoke. The name "Karisoke" comes from  merging the names of the two volcanoes.
    • Dian Fossey was the first to habituate gorillas
      Dian Fossey’s objectives were to study gorilla ecology, demography and social organization. She found that in order to accomplish these goals, she needed to recognize individual gorillas. This required that the gorillas become accustomed to (or habituated to) her presence, so that she might get close enough to them to tell them apart. By imitating gorilla behaviors and vocalizations, Fossey began to gain their trust, and in 1970 an adult male gorilla she had named Peanuts reached out to touch her hand. 

    • Intense observations over thousands of hours enabled Dian Fossey to gain the gorillas’ trust and bring forth in her studies new knowledge about their behavior. Stories and photographs of her discoveries were published in National Geographic magazine and elsewhere.
    • In 1978, after one of Dian Fossey’s favorite gorillas, Digit, was killed by poachers, she established the Digit Fund to help raise money for gorilla protection efforts. The Digit Fund was later renamed the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
    • On Dec. 26, 1985, Dr. Dian Fossey was murdered while in her cabin at Karisoke.
    • In 1988, the life and work of Dr. Dian Fossey were portrayed in a movie based on her book. Sigourney Weaver starred as Fossey, and later became the honorary chairperson of what is now the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

    Organisations working to protect Gorillas:


    Monday, 6 January 2014

    #Apeweek Day 1 - The Bonobo (Pan paniscus)

    Everyday this week I will be choosing an ape to write about to create interest and raise awareness of their plight. 
    On day 1 I choose - The Bonobo Pan paniscus:

    Probably the least well known of the four great apes and you could be forgiven for thinking that the Bonobo was a chimpanzee; sometimes referred to as a pygmy or dwarf chimpanzee. They are remarkably similar, for example also sharing 98.7% of our DNA; but they are also very different.

    The facts:
    The Bonobo is smaller than a chimpanzee and has pink lips, a black face and a longer head of hair with a neat parting in the middle. Also, the first two toes have webbing and their voices are high pitched, where as chimpanzees have a much lower pitched voice. 
    Chimpanzees can be very violent and it is the males that are in charge of the social.structure. In Bonobo society it is the females that rule and they use sex to resolve every issue, including bonding and to release tension. (1)

    I think one of the most interesting things about Bonobos is their natural ability to walk upright. They do it more often then any other great ape and it is said that their anatomy is very similar to Australopithecus, one of our evolutionary ancestors.

    Their diet is similar to all the great apes, eating a lot of fruit & vegetation, occasionally eating insects, earthworms, eggs and small mammals. They are only found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), however, they inhabit around 1/2 a million square kilometres in the Congo basin; the second largest rainforest on earth. (2)

    Why they need our help:
    Classed as "Endangered" on the IUCN Red List of species, Bonobos face many threats to their future survival like deforestation and poaching. Depending on what website you read their numbers range from 10,000 to 50,000, but they all agree that this number is decreasing.

    In 2003 the DRC came out of a decade long war claiming over 4 million lives. This put tremendous pressure on natural resources and decimated the Bonobos natural habitat. Logging is still an issue and the common agriculture practice of slash and burn farming is quickly consuming their home. Bonobos are hunted for their meat, parts are used in witchcraft and the babies get sold into the pet trade.

    The Bonobos future does not look bright, and remember they are all living in one country. Please check out these organisations below who are working to make sure the Bonobo is here to stay:
    2 -
    3 -

    Saturday, 4 January 2014

    My 2013 blog round up & get ready for #apeweek.

    Well I chose to start my blog in November 2013 and by the end of the year it had had over 1,600 hits. This is beyond what I could have imagined and I am truly grateful to everyone who stopped by. 

    Below is a list of my posts in case you missed one, also next week I will be writing about one ape a day in what I am calling #apeweek, lets learn about our distant cousins and know how we can help save them, enjoy: