Quarters for Conservation: Projet Gorille Fernan-Vaz
Hello! I’m Sara Fee, a member of the Gorilla Care Team, and I’m the Champion for Projet Gorille Fernan-Vaz, one of three projects supported by Zoo Atlanta’s Quarters for Conservation initiative. Today, I’m pleased to share an update from the field from Nicholas Bachand, Executive Director of Projet Gorille Fernan-Vaz:
“The Projet Gorille Fernan-Vaz is a western lowland gorilla rescue and conservation centre in Gabon, central Africa. It is dedicated toward the care of orphaned gorillas who fall victim to the bushmeat trade, as well as toward protecting local wild great ape populations while ensuring that local communities thrive. With respect to the gorilla rescue centre, there are currently three divisions: the Sanctuary, the Rehabilitation Island and the Quarantine area. Currently, 10 local staff are managed by field veterinarian Dr. Martin Kabuyaya. Dr. Kabuyaya is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo and has worked in the field for several years in different eastern African countries with Mountain gorillas, Grauer’s gorillas, as well as chimpanzees and smaller primates.
Niout and Maya, two female gorillas rescued in October 2020, are currently in our quarantine facility while awaiting their very much anticipated integration with nine other gorillas at the Rehabilitation Island (also known as Oriquet Island). They have undergone, with support from the head veterinarian at the Centre International de Recherches Médicales de Franceville (CIRMF), three health checks over a span of seven months. Since July 2021, with help from the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance Primate Care program specialist Caroline Griffis, the focus has been to promote a stronger bond between these two females before any attempt to integrate them with other gorillas. In the meantime, one of the gorillas at the Rehabilitation Island has damaged an existing cage-enclosure system enough to hamper our ability to safely integrate Niout and Maya. We are currently mobilizing funds to revamp and strengthen these infrastructures. Since August 2021 though, Maya has been going daily into the nearby forest to help ensure that she keeps developing her skills. Unfortunately, since Niout is almost 13 years old, it is not safe for our caretakers to accompany her in the forest, but efforts are made daily to provide her with social and environmental enrichment.
There are currently nine gorillas at Oriquet Island though they have naturally segregated into two groups. Each group is led by young males who have grown up together. Much to our surprise though, the groups have recently merged. And although Cesse is clearly the most dominant, Sindila does once in a while test the waters to determine whether a coup is plausible. For the most part, all nine gorillas forage peacefully as a somewhat of a stable group.
Finally, there are two couples residing in our two interconnected forested enclosures. Our younger couple, Essogoue and Tani, is somewhat more challenging to manage. Essogoue is a young silverback who was rescued at roughly 1 year old and has since always been highly spirited. Tani was born in 1997 from two parents who were themselves victims of the bushmeat trade in the early 1980s and who were rescued by the CIRMF in Franceville, Gabon. And although Tani is also somewhat spirited, she has met her match with Essogoue. Tani was integrated with Essougoue in late 2018 to provide him with some social interaction and to provide her with more space. We have since been working actively, through enrichment and behavioral modification techniques, with them to ensure that they live peacefully with one another. Whereas for Cola and Caroline, two geriatric gorillas who were transferred along with Tani from the CIRMF to the PGFV in 2014, they continue to quietly enjoy each other’s company.
Lastly, we continue to collect produce for the gorillas from our three nearby communities of Assewe, Kongo and Ste-Anne. These communities have been instrumental during these times of COVID-19 when produce imported from Cameroon into Gabon has been reduced significantly. Dr. Kabuyaya and team have been recently installing a few solar panels in key establishments (e.g. school, village clinic) as a way to provide what little support we can.”
(Photos courtesy of Projet Gorille Fernan Vaz)