The huge male melts the appetizing bamboo shoot, lies down with the sputum and even releases some gases with a noise: he does not suffer in any way from the growls of the cows and the spatula blows of the farmer. At about fifty meters.
This “Silverback” gorilla and his family live near the embankment that marked the end of the volcanic national park in Rwanda that day, now the Great Monkeys Narrow Sanctuary.
Rwanda shares the famous Virgin Massif with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Located in the heart of the densely populated Great Lakes region, this chain of eight majestic volcanoes, along with the Ugandan Bwindi Forest, is the world’s only habitat for mountain gorillas, whose population is growing.
“According to the 2010 census, there are 880 mountain gorillas. In 2015, another census put the total at 1,063.
With amazing dark fur, thick and shiny, this primate has been “endangered” since 2018 and is not “in serious danger” like all other great monkeys.
Mountain gorillas have come a long way. In the 1980s, when the famous American primatologist Diane Fossie was assassinated here, the Massif number was only 250 after decades of brutal hunting.
Since then, their numbers have quadrupled, especially due to improved security and community involvement. In Rwanda, 10% of tourism revenue ($ 25 million before Kovid) goes to residents in the form of projects and 5% through the Compensation Fund.
Formerly “hated”, the primates are now nicknamed “milkmen”, laughs an old resident of the town of Musanze, which borders the park.
“Tourists spend money for them and this money comes back to us in the form of food, shelter and better living conditions,” said Jean-Baptist Ndez.
This wonderful resurrection is not without consequences.
With nearly twenty families known and supervised by Rwandan authorities (compared to 6 25 years ago), the density has increased. And these primates, accustomed to humans, go to their neighbors.
“We often see gorillas coming out of the park and looking for food outside (…). They spend more time outside the park and further away from the border, ”said Felix Ndagizimana, country director of the Diane Fossie Gorilla Fund.
Hercules-Strong monkey, which weighs up to 200 kilograms, is susceptible to human diseases such as influenza, pneumonia or Ebola.
Density within the sanctuary poses other threats. The interactions between these families are well developed and provoke fights in which children are most at risk.
Concerned about the slowdown in population growth, the fund conducted a study on a specific area of the park ten years ago: which concluded that the number of “infanticides” in particular had risen to five.
“Infanticide is a big problem because it has a huge detrimental effect on population growth,” Felix Nadgizimana said.
This density problem is very important in Rwanda today, where half of the park’s surface area disappeared in the 20th century due to population pressure.
Benjamin Mugabukomey of the International Gorilla Protection Program, a regional organization, said the gorilla family lives only in the Ugandan part of Virunga and that the park is “big” towards the Congo.
Rwanda has decided to expand its park surface area by 23% in five to ten years. An ambitious project, which is set to begin in 2022 and will require the restoration of the forest, but also the conversion of 4,000 farming families.
“This is a process that we handle very carefully,” Park Director Prosper Uwingley stressed, adding that feasibility studies as well as accurate mapping of relevant families are underway.
Kigali provides for compensation, but also the construction of “model villages”, a model that originated from land in Musanje. In addition to the huge school and egg factory, the brick buildings feature impeccable apartments and furniture.
The regime has been praised for its development plans, but in a country criticized for its tyranny, officials say the extension is a “responsibility” towards monkeys and an “opportunity” for humans.
But on the edge of the park, a farmer digging his black clay is worried when he throws some stones from an enormous gorilla.
Gorillas “no problem”, sweeps this potato producer.
But “this place is so fertile, it has allowed me to feed my family,” he said. “Wherever they want to move us, the soil is not so fertile. So the money they give should make sense for our livelihood.