Tag Archives: evolution

Visit to Erupting Volcano in The Virunga Massif

A few days ago I grabbed my backpack and crossed the Rwandan border into eastern Democratic Republic of Congo to catch a view of an erupting volcano. The volcano, Nyamulagira, is located in the 7800 square km Virunga National Park which is managed by the Congolese National Park Authorities (ICCN) and its partner the Africa Conservation Fund.

A path to the eruption.  DRC.  AoC 2011A great group of hikers and I are safe with ICCN rangers and guides leading us the way to Nyamulagira during afternoon hours.

You are probably asking yourself, “But how are the gorillas and the forest?” Fortunately they are ok, for now. Please read more here from ICCN.
Source: Gorillas and Volcanoes by LuAnne, gorilla.cd
Gorillas: The gorillas are safe and far from the eruption site. There has been no noticeable change in their behavior according to the rangers who monitor them. They have lived around volcanoes for as long as anyone knows, so a small eruption about 13 km away seems not to disturb their world.

Nyamulagira at left of fissure.  DRC.  Art of Conservation 2011.My foot is supposed to help you see the distance we maintained from Nyamulagira’s erupting fissure. The 400,000 year old volcano itself stands to the left of my foot. The new lava fountain flowed out from the flatness nearby Nyamulagira.

Once we arrived at the camp site which ICCN quickly created for excited onlookers, we dropped our heavy packs and grabbed our cameras to get a closer look. As the sun went down, colors accompanied by nature’s guttural growling left us all in wonderment.

Room with a view.  DRC.  Art of Conservation 2011During the night, we peered from our tents at the spectacle that never ceased giving us an amazing exhibition.

At 4:30 in the morning, guides woke us for our last closeup viewing of the eruption. We walked as close as permissable to take more photos as well as reflect at nature’s way with the rising of the sun on our backs.

Eruption in DRC.  Art of Conservation.   2011Nyamulagira last erupted in 2010. November 6th it began again.

Close up of erupting volcano in DRC. AoC 2011View of Nyamulagira’s lava fountain.

Just goes to show us, the laws of nature are still alive and well. Thanks goes to all those at ICCN to make this special trek possible.

A-ha! So That’s Where They Come From!

To answer the question, “Where do gorillas come from?” the team and I take our students to the open fields near their classrooms and guide them on a safari through time beginning with the formation of Earth around 4.5 billion years ago. We preface our journey by explaining to the kids that the process of life changing over time has made for interesting things to evolve and inhabit Earth along with great mass extinctions wreaking havoc and land masses shifting. By physically taking this walk along our timeline, the children’s views of the world opens up exponentially. It’s also an exercise in which to gain a better understanding of the past, present, and future.

A Safari Through Time.  Art of Conservation 2011.After having traveled through most of the major events in Earth’s history, children reach for the great ape masks from Olivier and the rest of the AoC team at the point in which our tailless existence came into being.

Orangutans evolve before the other great apes and early hominids. Then arrives gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos.

Great Apes - chimpanzees.  AoC 2011A student holding a papier mache chimpanzee mask made by our staff artists.

Despite massive glaciers covering much of Earth during the Ice Age, mammals are still surviving and evolving during this very cold period.

Great Apes - gorillas.  AoC 2011.It’s been an extremely long and fun walk through time to finally reach the evolution of gorillas, but we made it! Students take turns holding papier mache gorilla masks.

Mountain Gorillas evolved from Lowland Gorillas which colonized The Virunga Massif less than half a million years ago soon after these volcanoes formed.

Great Apes - modern humans.  AoC 2011Modern humans, in all of our shapes and sizes, evolved something like 200,000 years ago.

Continents are at their modern-day positions and Earth now has 7 billion people on it. Yikes! That’s a big comparison gap to that of the population of mountain gorillas… 700 to 800!

A Safari Through Time.  Art of Conservation 2011.Our safari is over for now. We contemplate what will happen tomorrow, 100 years from today, and millions of years from today.

I Am a Great Ape!

During our recent safari through time lesson with our students, we inevitably stepped closer and closer to the point around 8 and 12 million years ago when the 5 Great Apes began representing what they – and we – are today. Orangutans evolved in Asia while gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos evolved in Africa. Modern human, the non-hairy Great Ape, now covers all parts of the globe.

Studying the 5 Great Apes. Art of Conservation, Rwanda 2010Students learn a little more about gorilla classification at this point in Planet Earth’s history – approximately 6 million years ago. In Volcanoes National Park, located not far from where our lesson is taking place, a subspecies of Eastern Gorilla, the mountain gorilla, inhabits the forests.

Our walk through time - we reach modern humans. Art of Conservation, Rwanda.2010Around 200,000 years ago, modern humans evolved and have now developed in all shapes, colors, and sizes!

Drawing the 5 Great Apes. Rushubi Primary School, Rwanda. Art of Conservation 2010Returning into the classroom, students begin their drawings of the 5 Great Apes – some kids using our papier mache masks for help.

I am a Great Ape.  AoC kids draw pictures of the 5 Great Apes. Rwanda 2010.A collection of drawings.

Drawing the 5 Great Apes at Rushubi Primary School in Rwanda.  Art of Conservation 2010Another picture of students while drawing the 5 Great Apes.


After showing the kids where Planet Earth is in relation to the sun and the other planets in our universe, we talk about when and how our planet was formed. Next, we go outside to take a safari through time.
Our universe.  Nyange Primary School.  Art of Conservation 2010Providence, Nyange Primary School teacher, holds the solar system.

Classroom teacher, Jean Bosco, during a walk through time with Art of Conservation. 2010  Jean Bosco, another Nyange Primary School teacher, directs the students to the start of our journey, the formation of Planet Earth 4.5 billion years ago.

Studying the time line. Art of Conservation at Rushubi Primary School in Rwanda. 2010Stopping briefly at the many stages of Earth’s history and finally to the present day, students then have time to go back and take notes.

Land masses have continually shifted throughout time. Mass extinctions have occurred. Dinosaurs ruled. And just recently the 5 great apes evolved into their present day forms.

Not the end, but where we are today. Evolution at Art of Conservation. 2010.Finally, modern humans evolved. But what comes next? We shall have to see.

Evolution: A Safari Through Time, Day 3

If you’ve been watching our lesson on evolution, Day 1 & 2 of our safari took us to the formation of Planet Earth 4.5 billion years ago, followed by the first signs of life around 4 billion years ago, continents shifting, mass extinctions, dinosaurs. Our last leg of the trip, Day 3, we come upon the 5 great apes – orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and hominids. As for what’s in store for the next million years, I don’t know!

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Video Day 3.

Evolution: A Safari Through Time, Day 2 AND Thank You Stockshot Studios

Thank you Stockshot Studios for your generous donation of $210.00 on the 23rd of September. The team at AoC and I appreciate your support. Big hugs and love to you!

Last time on Evolution…
At the base of the Virunga Volcanoes, we prepare our timeline. Then students begin their safari 4.5 billion years ago with the formation of Planet Earth.

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Video Day 2.

Evolution: A Safari Through Time, Day 1

To teach Art of Conservation’s students about evolution, we travel through time from the formation of Earth to today.

Join us on our journey.
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Video Day 1.

Where Do Gorillas Come From?

During our first 2 years of conservation education classes, the AoC team would frequently hear students ask, “Where do gorillas come from?” The first time I heard the question was when a park service employee was visiting the class and sharing information about the forest, mountain gorillas, and his job duties. He was hesitant to give an answer or explanation. I thought, wow, what a shame people who work so closely with the endangered mountain gorillas do not feel comfortable discussing the evolution theories behind one of our closest relatives. This got the AoC team really thinking about how we could use this as a topic for a lesson. Thus began our own research on how, why, and when our great ape ancestor started evolving. Where did we start—with the formation of Planet Earth 4.5 billion years ago!

Julie asks the students questions. “When was Earth formed?” “Was the planet as we see it today?” “Are you the same as you were one year ago today or have you changed?” Photo by Molly Feltner.

We step outside to the schoolyard to begin our walk through time. First stop, the formation of Earth. Students hold props, such as papier mache dinosaurs and great ape masks, until the time is right to introduce them onto the scene of life. Photo by Molly Feltner.

Our safari has brought us up to 144 million years ago when the Earth is blooming with flowers and plant-eating dinosaurs like the stegosaurus are dominating the landscape. Photo by Molly Feltner.

Well into our story and getting closer to the appearance of the great apes, we learn that the present day location of the continents has not always been as it is.

I can safely say that universally all kids love dinosaurs! Our students had not heard of them before a few weeks ago when we were discussing the meaning of threatened, endangered, and extinct species. AoC volunteer Molly Feltner made this beauty of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Kids are crazy about it. Photo by Molly Feltner.

We have to travel a long evolutionary journey before we finally come upon the 5 great apes. It is easy to describe the obvious differences between monkeys and apes with the kids. They see golden monkeys nearby with their long, beautiful tails walking on all fours as well as occasionally seeing the mountain gorillas when they come out of the park to eat eucalyptus bark, without a tail and occasionally running on their two feet. Photo by Molly Feltner.

Using gorilla masks to help with our lesson, we stop a moment to talk about gorilla classification. Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla beringer beringer) are a sub-species of Eastern Gorillas (Gorilla beringer). Photo by Molly Feltner.

After gorillas we meet chimpanzees, bonobos, and finally the youngest of the hominids species, you and me, Homo sapiens. Photo by Molly Feltner.

More soon on evolution and “Where Do Gorillas Come From?”