Fun Facts About Rwanda – The Country of Gorillas

Mountain Gorillas

Did you know…American zoologist Dian Fossey studied the social organization of the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. This great zoologist is remembered for her book “Gorillas in the Mist”. This book inspired the film of the same name directed by Michael Apted. Dian Fossey once wrote,”I imitated the gorillas’ chestbeats by slapping my hands against my thighs in studious mimicry of their rhythm. The sound was an instant success in gaining the gorillas’ attention…I thought I was very clever but did not realize that I was conveying the wrong information. Chestbeating is the gorillas’ signal for excitement or alarm, certainly the wrong message for me to have sent as appeasement”. It was Dian Fossey who awakened the Rwandan consciousness to their rich ecology.
The Volcanoes National Park, one of the natural wonders on Earth, is home to mountain gorilla, a symbol of Rwanda. This park is the first national park in Africa (1925). It is about the size of Saint Louis (Missouri,USA).The year 2009 has been declared “the Year International of the Gorilla” by the United Nations.

Did you know… When “Gorillas in the Mist”, a film on gorillas in Rwanda (Africa), was released in 1988, several American tourists visited Rwanda.
The Nyungwe Forest National Park, an area the size of Houston (Texas), is one of the best refuges for bird watching in Africa. This Rwandan park, set up in December 2008, is the home to 300 species of birds. It attracts many birds every year because of its abundant water and food sources. This tropical forest is also home to civets, serval cats, leopards, silver monkeys and other animals…
The Kagera National Park -it is about the size of Rhode Island (USA)- is a microcosm of Africa. There are many lakes, waterfalls, forests, and numerous species of wild animals (elephants, buffalos, lions, topis, gazelles, impalas, baboons, giraffes, leopards, zebras, crocodiles and hippos). The natural sanctuary was founded in 1934…
Rwanda is a tiny country but it has one of the most beautiful scenery on the African continent. Certainly its natural beauty impressed Dian Fossey. In the 1960s and 1970s Rwanda was known as the “Switzerland of Africa”…

Did you know…One of the smallest nations on Earth, Rwanda is the size of Vermont, containing 10,200 square miles (26,338 square kilometers). This African nation is completely landlocked, sharing its borders with Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (ex Zaire). This French-Speaking nation is located in the heart of Africa…

Did you know…The Republic of Rwanda gained full independence in 1962…
Rwanda & the United States

Did you know…The United States maintains close diplomatic relations with Rwanda. President George W. Bush went to Kigali in 2008. He became the second American president to visit Rwanda. In 1998 President Bill Clinton put Rwanda on the map when he arrived in Kigali…

Did you know…Between 1973 and 1990, Rwanda was one of the most peaceful places on the African mainland. During that time, unlike several African republics (e.g. Uganda, Somalia, Chad, Ethiopia), Rwanda did not have civil wars, famines and coups d’etat.
Rwanda was visited by John Paul II in 1990…

Did you know…In 2005 the movie Hotel Rwanda, based on the life of Paul Rusesabagina, was nominated for three Academy Awards -Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. The film “Gorillas in the Mist”, based on Dian Foossey’s 1983 book, won an Oscar Award in 1989…
Rwandan Heroes

Did you know…During the Rwandan War (1994-1995) Paul Rusesabagina saved numerous lives in his hotel. Today his name is famous in Africa.
Mathias Ntawulikura is the most outstanding athlete in the nation. Mathias finished eight in the 10,000 meters at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Atlanta (USA).
In the early 1990s, Agathe Uwilingiyamana, a former Minister of Education, became Prime Minister of Rwanda. She was one of the few ladies to be elected Head of Government in Africa.

Did you know…Rwanda has a population of 10 million people.
Sports and Recreation

Did you know…The Rwandan Olympic Committee sent 10 athletes to the Olympic Games in 1992. The athletes competed in two sports: track & field (7) and cycling (3). Rwanda is an Olympic nation since 1984… Soccer and athletics are the most popular sports in this tiny republic.

Save Our Gorillas

Gorillas are fascinating animals, capable of showing “human-like” behaviours and emotions such as joy and sadness. They are immensely powerful animals, with the capability of lifting objects humans would find impossible. However this strength along with their intelligence has provided little defence against humans encroaching on and destroying their habitat.

The rainforests of Africa are home to the four subspecies of Gorilla, which are the Western Lowland Gorilla and the Cross River Gorilla in Western Africa along with the Mountain Gorilla and the Eastern Lowland Gorilla in Eastern Africa. It is our seemingly insatiable demand for wood products and the ever increasing need for space to cope with the expanding population that has seen huge swathes of rainforest destroyed and with it, large numbers of the Gorilla population.

Hunting has compounded the impact of habitat destruction. Gorillas have long been perceived as dangerous animals that should be feared. This has caused local people to hunt them in order to protect themselves and their communities. However, this perception couldn’t be further from the truth, as gorillas are known for their gentle nature, only becoming dangerous if they feel threatened. Furthermore, poaching has decimated gorilla numbers in recent years. Despite severe penalties against poaching gorillas they are still-hunted for food and body parts, which are prized as trophies.

Genetically, gorillas are very similar to humans, sharing around 95% of our DNA. This means they are susceptible to many of the same ailments as us. They have suffered greatly due to viruses such as Ebola and other diseases such as measles.

The aforementioned are all severe threats to the gorilla’s survival and unless drastic action is taken to save the gorilla they face certain extinction in the near future.

Success Stories

Zoos and conservation programs around the world are working tirelessly to save our gorillas from extinction. Thankfully, their work has been very successful and in places, gorilla numbers are actually on the increase, which is fantastic news for anyone concerned about endangered animals, especially gorillas.

Earlier this year the Aspinall Foundation reported that three baby gorillas had been born at their rehabilitation project in Congo and staff were really pleased with their progress. It is programs like this that work hard to return gorillas to the wild were they really belong. In total they have returned over 50 gorillas to the wild. It is remarkable that these gorillas are not only surviving but have gone on to breed, which is helping the conservation effort further.

The Tragic Triumph of the Ghost Gorilla

When he was captured in the African country of Equatorial Guinea in 1966 (or ’67 depending on the source), he was proclaimed a miracle by the local villagers. But the real miracle was the fact that he managed to live to the ripe old age of 40 (80 in human years).

His name was Snowflake and this is his story

Snowflake’s first encounter with Lady Luck was when he was discovered as an orphaned gorilla by a hunter. Whether the particulars of his discovery are accurate or not, what is not in question is the good fortune that landed him in the hands of a Spanish naturalist for the princely sum of sixty pounds.

Snowflake suffered from a condition known as albinism (individuals with this condition are referred to as albinos) which occurs in individuals who lack the pigment melanin. Albinos typically have very pale skin and are also very sensitive to the sun and light in general.

There are those who may argue that it was misfortune rather than fortune that ultimately landed Snowflake in captivity, but the reality is, an albino gorilla would have next to no chance of surviving in the wild. Not only would Snowflake have had to deal with the daily ravages of ultra-violet rays from the equatorial sun, but due to his color he also would have been a walking food advertisement for natural gorilla predators.

Okay granted, gorillas have few predators other than man, but they do exist, and the one that springs foremost to mind is the leopard. The white color of his hair (gorillas have hair not fur) would have made Snowflake unmistakably easy to spot in the wild by a prowling predator such as a leopard, be it night or day.

Anyway assuming tale of his discovery is accurate, it may suggest that Snowflake was ostracized and ultimately abandoned by his gorilla group, including his mother. And why not! This scenario is not too far fetched; if man is not above discrimination or ostracization of those who are different, even in this present day and age, why should we expect radically different behavior from gorillas who also happen to be one of our closest relatives, as far as DNA goes.

How A Colorless Gorilla Put The Color Back Into Barcelona Zoo

Barcelona city embraced Snowflake as one of their own, or more accurately, they simply adored him! Known as Copito de nieve in Spanish, Snowflake soon enough became the City Mascot and the overwhelming crowd-puller at Barcelona Zoo. The young white gorilla was featured on postcards, stamps and posters and was responsible for drawing millions of tourists to the zoo.

But how did all that new found fame affect Snowflake? Well, in his 37 years at the zoo, Snowflake fathered 22 offspring (grandkids included) from three females, gawking tourists notwithstanding. Much has been made of his scowling demeanor and apparent irascible temperament, but as mentioned before albinos suffer from extreme sensitivity to light and thus characteristically squint…which on the face of a gorilla may seem like scowling.

Also it should come as no surprise that Snowflake was not much inclined to gambol and frolic in the sun for the zoo visitors’ entertainment…his condition largely precluded such tendencies.

And so what if Snowflake wasn’t always amenable to playing the game of be-nice-for-the tourists. Would you? Just imagine how you would feel if you were subjected to constant scrutiny, day-in-day-out, by rude, bad mannered hairless apes (people).

Having said that though, Snowflake’s situation could have been much worse; if he had stayed in the wild it is highly unlikely that he would have survived for long. Also, by the time Snowflake was introduced to Barcelona Zoo, many of the misconceptions about gorilla lifestyles had since been resolved.

It was due to such prevailing ignorance with respect to gorillas that not long before gorillas in zoos were fed on a diet of meat and kept in solitary cells. For a gregarious, vegetarian species, such conditions had to be sheer torture!

Death of A Star

Like any well known celebrity, Snowflake’s death in late 2003 caused a minor ripple on the Richter scale, and by the time the dust finally settled what remained was a city one-in-mourning yet strangely divided. (Snowflake was put to sleep because the symptoms of the malignant melanoma (cancer) which was diagnosed in 2001 were becoming increasingly painful…besides he was pretty old for a gorilla)

There’re many who claimed and felt that the zoo authorities had unashamedly exploited the ailing gorilla to the point of undue cruelty. The zoo authorities countered that they were merely giving the citizens of Barcelona the chance to bid a final farewell to the most famous of their eminent sons. But like a hit movie oozing with sequel potential the good folks at the zoo left nothing to chance.

Although none of Snowflake’s offspring turned out as albinos the authorities were indeed hoping to breed a dominant variant of the gene (another albino gorilla) from the offspring gene-pool. It is not unreasonable to speculate that they were hoping to recapture Snowflake’s superstar appeal with a next-gen Ghost Gorilla.

Gorilla African Safari []