Monday, August 31, 2015

It's a Jungle Out There


And that is why the silverback male spent his time sleeping during our visit.

If you look closely at the image above (click to bigafy!) you can see a rather nasty wound on his arm. When he did stir during our visit, it was mainly to clean out this wound.

Which is no doubt why we didn't see any bugs on or about the wound.

Our park guide explained that the trackers had witnessed an encounter between this male and a lone silverback. A fight. In which this wound was suffered.

As with most such tussles between male gorillas, it was over women. The lone silverback wants some. This guy doesn't want to share. As per the trackers, it seems that this male was injured in more ways than one. Two female members of the troop have not been seen with it since the fight. This may be because they went off with the other male. But they may be with the troop but not visible. The group we visited has over twenty members. And while we had great looks in a nice open area we saw only fifteen or so members of the troop. And even if they did leave with the other male it does not mean that they will stay with him.

This wasn't his only wound as he had a cut on his foot as well.

The park guide and trackers were less sure of the origins of this wound. It has the appearance of the snare cut, not a fight injury.

Regardless of the origins both wounds had to be taxing to him. And thus his desire to rest and let them be. And hopefully heal without complications.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


As with the Golden Monkeys, Gorilla tours are also available at Volcanos National Park. Advance planing is required as the visits are limited and quite popular, although there are eight habituated groups versus two for the monkeys. Again limited to eight people per tour and for one hour with the beasts.

And as with the monkeys, one begins the day at the park headquarters, entertained by the same dance troop (I wonder if it is always the same or if it varies; and as we visited on back to back days we saw the same dancers?). After the introductory talk we were off.

We started in the same village. Here we arranged for porters to carry our gear. I engaged a porter on both days, although as it turned out I probably did not need one on either. But even if I had known that I still would have taken one. The fee was a small one for me, US$10 per person, but a significant sum for them.  Furthermore it forges a positive link between the villagers and the wildlife in the park (the park fees also find their way back to the villages).

We walked through the same farm fields as the day before up until the last half mile or so. We entered the park west of where we saw the monkeys via a different gate into he park wall. I wonder if the two species avoid each other? Again we had an armed guard but we did not see any elephants or buffalo. Nor were we ever afraid while in the presence of the gorillas. And again there were trackers who were out bright and early to find the troop and direct us to our encounter.

And again luck was with us as not far into the park we came upon this sight.

A gorilla in the wild!

It had found a spot to rest, a mid morning siesta, as it would turn out just a few meters from the rest of the group. Thus just around the bend ...

... the main part of the troop were sprawled out relaxing, including one curious youngster who took a few steps toward us before heading off to play (more on him or her later).

But for the most part the troop was just lying about, paying us no never mind.

Some just resting.

Some scratching.

Some snacking, like this one up in a tree.

And several grooming together ...

... or alone.

The rule was that we had to be seven meters away from the gorillas, in part to prevent disease transmission from us to them (we have doctors while they do not). But they had no such rule to follow. And we had to move back once or twice as they approached. One even walked up from behind the our group, unbeknownst to us, and stepped on the foot of the person next to me as it passed on by.

The troop's silverback spent most of the time seemingly asleep.

Despite occasional stirrings he never stood up, dashing our hopes of a full view of this magnificent being. More on this in a subsequent post.

About that youngster I noted above, well there two young gorillas, one a year old and one but nine months.

And they spent the entire hour we were with them playing.

Quite ruff and tumble.

But surprisingly, all the time silent. They easily stole the show.

I had mentioned earlier that our luck held. The gorillas could have been anywhere on the slopes of the volcano. And while they were not quite as close as the monkeys the day before, our hike once inside the park was a mere half hour to forty-five minutes. And this included rest stops for some steeps bits for which we needed to catch our breath. How lucky were we? The day before the trek to this troop was three hours up the volcano side. And then three hours back.

We were also very lucky that they had chosen a spot out in the open. They could have just as easily been scattered amongst the vegetation, with us seeing a head here and a butt there. Instead we were treated to group interactions right before us. Magical.

You can see these and more gorilla images in my SmugMug gallery. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Golden Monkeys

Those volcanos in the prior post are in Volcanos National Park.

In Rwanda.

And among the beasts that live on them are mountain gorillas.

But that is a topic for another post.

This post will feature a different primate, the Golden Monkey.

The photo above shows how we mostly saw them, up in the bamboo, munching away.

The visits to the monkeys are controlled by the park authorities. There are two troops which have been habituated to human visits. Groups of eight visitors lead by a park ranger can visit the troop for one hour. There is only one visit per troop per day. Doing the math that means on sixteen visitors per day. So you need to reserve your place and get your permits well in advance. Fortunately, our tour company, Wildside Nature Tours, did just that.

The adventure begins at the park, where we are entertained by a group of native dancers.

Then after a introductory review of the park, the monkeys, their habitat, and the rules of engagement, its a short drive to the trailhead.

The trail starts in a village and winds through farms fields towards the park. The monkeys can be anywhere in the park. Thus the hiking time to them is unknown. Fortunately there are spotters in the forest, tracking the monkeys, so our ranger guide knows where to take us.

And before we even get to the park we come upon this fellow. All alone in a potato field. This would be a good omen.

Munching on potatoes. The farmers do not chase or harass the monkeys, as they are protected park animals. It also helps that the farmers are reimbursed for the loss of crops to the monkeys.

We continued on to the park. There are two things to notice in the image below.

One is the stone wall. While this helps to restrict access to the park to specific points of entry, the wall is easily climbed over. But as the fees for visits to the park are funneled back into the local community, there is strong incentive to protect the park and its inhabitants. Children are taught in school to respect the park and its animals. And thus the wall isn't really to keep humans out.

The second thing to notice is the gun.

Perhaps it is protect us from this guy?

Naw, he's just yawning.

No the gun, and the wall, are for the same animals. Elephants and cape buffalo. The wall to keep these large forest denizens from wandering into the farm fields and villages. The gun to protect us should one of these beasts take exception to our presence in "their" forest. Alas, we were not to encounter any animals other than the monkeys in the forest.

The main reason for this is that we did not go very far into the forest. The monkeys, as perhaps foretold by the lone male we encountered on the hike through the fields, were just on the other side of the park wall.

There was a large group of monkeys all around us, albeit up in the trees and difficult to see.

All too soon our hour was up. It was time to go.

It seems the monkeys were not quite ready to say goodbye.

Or maybe they just wanted some potatoes.

In either case they followed us out of the park. And we got more monkey time.

Whereas we can only spend an hour with the monkeys, they are under no such constraint when it comes to spending their time with humans.

And so we got very nice looks of the troop, out in the open, in bright sunlight.

A wonderful way to end a magical encounter with these sadly endangered creatures.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


There are beasts on them there volcanos ...

Making More Monarchs

Getting busy in the back garden ...

We planted milkweed to provide breeding habitat for monarchs. And the monarchs have responded. I just hope we have enough milkweed for all the caterpillars we're gonna have.

Every Despot Needs a Villain

Recently on CNN's State of the Union program host Jake Tapper asked:

"At the national level, who deserves a punch in the face?" Without missing a beat, Chris Christie answered, "Oh the national teachers union ..."

And Christie, attempting to deflect scrutiny from his dismal, scandal ridden performance as New Jersey governor, and curry favor with conservative voters, has chosen to vilify teachers.

As Isaac Asimov noted, "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent."

And Chris Christie has revealed himself as the thug he is.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Scenes from Skimmer Nation

A few (ok a bunch) of images from my visit to the Malibu Beach Wildlife Management Area.


I'm starting to notice a theme here ...

Yes they are noisy.

"Feed Me!"

"No, Feed Me!"

Only one bird had a band (bird bling must be expensive).

That flying stuff looks fun ...

... I can't wait until these things work!

There's a big world out there ...

... explore!

This sun it hot!

That's better.

Not fooling me.