Back to Blog

Hope and Tragedy on Mount Tshiaberimu

Mount Tshiaberimu is located in the troubled Central Sector of the Virunga National Park

Its name means “mountain of the spirits”, so called because the indigenous Baswagha clan used to talk of dark-haired spirit animals living deep in the forests.

For almost a decade, the Gorilla Organization ran a pioneering conservation project here. Despite the immense logistical challenges, not to mention the high levels of insecurity, the team led by Jean-Claude Kyungu managed to build strong working relations with local communities and bringing levels of poaching right down. More importantly, the project succeeded in raising the numbers of ‘spirit animals’, in reality Grauer’s (or eastern lowland) gorillas up from around just 12 to more than 26.

Over recent years, however, numbers have been steadily declining. The area has fallen under the control of rebel militia on countless occasions. Poaching has been rife, and gorillas killed. And a serious decline in breeding age females has pushed the whole population to the brink. Tragically, in March 2023, the insecurity claimed the life of Freddy Mahamba, the first ranger to be employed by the Gorilla Organization to guard the Grauer’s gorillas. Mahamba was the 176th ranger to die in the line of duty since the National Park was created.

But still, there’s reason for some tempered optimism. After a thorough feasibility study, plans are underway to relocate two more female gorillas to the mountain. Translocation as it’s called in conservation circles comes with no guarantees. Nevertheless, following the birth of two gorilla babies on Mount Tshiaberimu over the past three years, hopes are high that the incomers will help kickstart recovery, providing the ideal legacy for Mahamba and all the people who have given so much to preserve the habitat and wildlife of this mystical mountain.

This story was originally published in the Summer 2023 edition of Digit News. Read the full newsletter here