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  • John Kahekwa

March 2016 : Representative of the POPOF UK visited the work in the field

In March 2016 Mr Richard Milburn, the representative of The Pole Pole Foundation UK, visited the conservation and educational activities being run by The Pole Pole Foundation in and around the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the South Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Richard was greeted at Rusizi, on the border between the Republic of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He spent two weeks with local communities based in Miti, a village close to the access point to the habituated Eastern Lowland Grauer’s gorillas in the highland sector of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

On the first day, Richard and John Kahekwa went into the Park and tracked the gorilla group of the famous silverback, Cimanuka. They walked for about 40 minutes before they found them in a dense part of the forest where the members of the group were feeding. They saw several members of the group and spent a wonderful time observing them for about an hour. The babies were in high spirits and showed off with classic behaviour such as chest beating and hand clapping whilst the silverback male, Cimanuka, groomed the hair of his alpha female, Mwinja.

After watching them for a while, Richard said “They really are quite different to mountain gorillas. They are less hairy and the silverback is much bigger.”

In the days that followed, Richard visited the local community projects being run by The Pole Pole Foundation. He visited women who were former poachers who had been given education and training by POPOF and were now working as teachers. He visited the local kindergarten, primary and secondary schools which had been set up and are now being run by POPOF. Richard was very impressed by the work being done, and enjoyed the songs which the women and pupils sang.

Richard visited one of the fish ponds which has been set up by The Pole Pole Foundation and fished for fish there with the help of some of the local schoolchildren.

The representative of The Pole Pole Foundation UK, accompanied by the local POPOF members, attended a football match between the POPOF secondary school at Anga-Miti vs another high school team. The match was arranged to raise awareness of the protection of the Grauer’s gorillas and the benefits that brings to the local communities. The teams looked very smart in their football kit.

Richard also visited the tea plantations which are being run by a famous international tea-growing company mindful of the special conservation needs of the area.

On his final day in the area, Richard visited the chimpanzee orphanage at Lwiro, to see the work that goes on at the centre. He also went to see the spirulina cultivation project being run by POPOF near the Lwiro centre. Spirulina is a highly-nutritious algae which is grown in tanks and is being used in the treatment of malnutrition in children in the areas surrounding the Grauer’s gorillas’ habitat.

The representative of The Pole Pole Foundation UK had a lovely time in Miti, and was very pleased to see the important work being done by The Pole Pole Foundation. Richard flew back to London feeling happy and reassured that the projects that he works to support are having a beneficial impact on the communities surrounding the Kahizu-Biega National Park which will, in turn, help to conserve the Eastern Lowland Grauer’s gorillas. Richard said “The trip was most enjoyable and it was good to see this beautiful, peaceful corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo once again.”

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