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AWF's Best of Tanzania Safari

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC--AWF is pleased to invite members to participate in an exceptional 13-day safari to Tanzania in late July that will be led by AWF's Craig Sholley.

The trip is limited to 12 participants and offers an outstanding opportunity to visit some of the great safari destinations of Tanzania while learning about conservation projects that link wildlife protection with improving human well-being.

"It is a special treat to travel with Craig Sholley. He is an outstanding naturalist, seasoned guide and terrific photographer, whose knowledge of Africa, wildlife and AWF's program is unsurpassed. Everyone who has had the chance to travel to Africa with Craig is treated to a life-changing experience," says Gregg Mitchell, AWF's Vice President of Marketing and Philanthropy.

The 13-day trip begins on July 25 and extends through August 7. The cost is $6,360 plus air fare. Designed exclusively for AWF members, the trip is structured as a "high-end" safari at a price that is far more affordable than one might otherwise expect.

This trip will include visits to AWF's elephant science camp in the West Kilimanjaro region as well as to the wonderful Tarangire National Park and AWF's Manyara Conservation Ranch in the Maasai Steppe Heartland. Travelers will proceed to the Ngorongoro Crater, a World Heritage Site, and to the spectacular Serengeti National Park.

"Having taken a very similar trip, I can personally attest to how wonderful this safari will be," says Gregg. "AWF plans trips like this on occasion for our exceptional supporters, people whose charitable giving means so much to us."

To download the safari brochure, click here.

If you have questions or would like to express interest in the trip, contact Craig directly by phone at 202-939-3339 or email him at

But, he said, "Our job is protecting the gorillas, even if we get injured."

The difference that dedication makes is notable within the region. To the south and across the border in Congo, where the war is particularly intense, wildlife officials worry that the animals in Kahuzi-Biega National Park are being slaughtered in huge numbers: There are estimates that hundreds of the roughly 2,000 eastern lowland gorillas there have been killed for food or in the fighting and perhaps all the elephants.

For several reasons, not least the violence, the same level of conservation has not been possible there as in the Virunga mountain range, where Volcano National Park is situated.

"The Virungas are the exception," said Dieter Steklis, vice president for science and research for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, who recently wrote a chapter with his wife for a book on the gorilla population in the Volcano park. "And it's because of the enormous protection they have."

Ms. Fossey, the American primatologist who wrote "Gorillas in the Mist," first visited the gorillas in the Virunga range in 1963 in Congo, then four years later founded the Karisoke Research Center on the Rwandan side. She was killed in 1985, but her work and that of others is credited with reversing a sharp decline in numbers. While there were 450 gorillas estimated to live in the park in 1960, there were only 254 in 1981.

By the census of 1989, the number rose to 324. The next year, a civil war in Rwanda exploded and the fighting in the immediate region has not really stopped.

Fighting is not the only threat. In 1994, up to a million Hutu fled Rwanda, crossing into Congo, then Zaire, after Hutu extremists carried out a genocide of at least half a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu. The refugees lived in fetid camps, and then, as now, scientists worried that diseases that take many human lives could also harm the gorillas.

To combat the dangers to gorillas and the park itself, Ms. Lanjouw, of the gorilla conservation program, said a combination of efforts were begun in the 1990's by international conservation groups, the governments of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo and local park staff like Mr. Kanezero. The staffs of all three parks began cooperating, starting joint patrols and a paper-and-pencil way of monitoring gorillas that could be used under the worst of circumstances.

They kept up antipoaching programs and worked to find alternatives for local people who use the park for wood, food, water and traditional medicine. Outside groups are still paying the salaries of all the park workers in Congo.

In recent years, even in times when the park is closed, local staff have been following most of the gorilla groups every day to make sure they are intact and well. "We must see the whole family," said Felix Semivumbi, 36, a guide. "If you don't see all the gorillas you have to have an idea why."

For all the work, the danger in the park, and particularly in Congo, more violent now than the Rwandan or Ugandan sides, has prevented a full census. But based on the rangers' observations in all three countries, experts recently assembled the estimate of 358 gorillas in the Virunga range, which Ms. Lanjouw said she believes is a slight underestimate. Another 300 mountain gorillas live north of here along the border of Uganda and Congo in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Even without the estimate, the guides and trackers who work in the park said it has been clear that the numbers are rising.

Claude Seruhungo, the park's assistant warden, said that only a few years ago there were few babies in a family of gorillas called the Susa group, the largest group that tourists can see. Today, several tourists accompanied by armed soldiers walked through farmland, then hiked 20 minutes through a forest of bamboo and vines to find the group. It is now quite busy with nine babies and six juveniles running around, literally swinging through the trees.

The guides looked over the gorillas to be sure that all 34 in the group were there and healthy (one is missing a hand, another a foot, from poachers' snares). Sick gorillas are treated by veterinarians. The mere presence of rangers helps keep poachers away.

The guides clearly like the gorillas, who have been habituated to human contact. The men make ape noises when they get near, which sounds something like a grunted "Mhem!"

"I am telling them to come, that we are friends," said one guide, David Sibomana, 33.

It is less clear, though, how much the gorillas like the humans. Tolerance seems to describe things best: one male gorilla named Munyinya was sighted sitting just off a path, as unconcerned as if waiting for a bus. But not long after the tourists came close, he ambled off in what looked distinctly like irritation.

Whatever the gorillas' opinion, many conservationists believe that controlled tourism helps save gorillas because tourists bring in money. But tourists have been victims of violence too, including the eight killed in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest two years ago. Not many have been coming, despite the recent increase in safety.

Even if the wars all end, there is still the basic battle of species to contend with. At the park's border, a farmer named Esperance Nyiramahirwe, 27, chopping at the soil since dawn, said she favored protecting the gorillas. "They are God's creatures," she said. "And God created us."

But Rwanda is poor and the need for farmland is great. Gorilla experts say they need to convince local people that the gorillas and the forest are important, even potentially profitable. Despite her affection for gorillas, there is perhaps a more relevant reality to Ms. Nyiramahirwe's life. "We don't have enough land to feed our family," she said.

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