Tag Archives: Mountain Gorilla Vet Project, Inc. (MGVP)

Brilliant Golden Monkeys

Team AoC sends their condolences to the families and friends of the individuals killed and a speedy recovery to the people injured in Virunga National Park on 9 July 2008.


A previous lesson exposed our students to drawing an anatomically correct GOLDEN MONKEY, one of the endangered animals living in the nearby Virunga Forest.

Today, Valerie, Eric, Fahad, and I encourage free play as students draw a golden monkey’s face with what they imagine to be its happy expression.
Three golden monkeys by three artists.

Students have fun with color.

Forest Elephants next…


Where Do Gorillas Come From? Illustrating Evolution

Hi Sheryl, Sherri, Louise, and Sara. What a treat to hear from all of you. We would LOVE it if you join us walking through time! Please feel free to help us as we add events to the timeline – we left out a few – but for now I hope this helps the students have a better understanding of how and where their glorious gorillas come from? We’ll slowly add more evolutionary events for future classes. Seems there are some experts in human origins and evolution amongst you all! Louise, perhaps someday I could visit Koobi Fora Research Camp in the Turkana Basin. I promise not to get in the way of your team! So, gals, I hope you like the student’s drawings below. Thanks for your interest and encouragement.

Starting 4.6 billion years ago with the formation of PLANET EARTH and onwards to the introduction of the PROKARYOTE cell we stop at the ORGANGUTAN evolving in Asia approximately 8 million years ago. In the field outside of the classroom, I am perplexed by what the kids are pointing to. I turn around and look at the volcanoes in the near distance and discover the kids are pointing to tourists hiking up a volcano on their trek to view the mountain gorillas.

Then it was time to move into the classroom to put what we just learned on paper. Students use oil pastels on pastel paper for their illustrations.

Illustration by Shingiro adult student, Jean de Dieu MUNYAZIBONEYE.

TUYIRINGIRE’s illustration. Thirteen years old.

Claudine NYIRABAGENZI’s picture. Fourteen years old.

Students talk about their work.

Jolise TUYISHIME’s drawing. Fourteen years old.

This particular lesson is now on display at l’hotel Muhabura in Musanze Town. Here, Valerie discusses the lesson with a visitor.

Where Do Gorillas Come From?

“Where do gorillas come from?” a student asks our guest speaker, a guide from the park service, (ORTPN). We hear a bit of nervous laughter and no further discussions. I ask myself, “Why?” It isn’t an easy question to tackle, to be sure. Should Team AoC avoid addressing this wonderful question which we receive from nearly every group we work with?

Valerie, Eric, Fahad, and I agree to design a basic interactive lesson about Earth, life, and the great apes, but first we need an evolution timeline crash course of our own! We read and receive help from Dr. Magdalena,
MGVP’s Regional Field Veterinarian. We also agree we need to keep it simple – filling in the spaces of evolutionary development over time. Preparing the students for the following week’s class, we ask them to consider three questions:
1. When was Planet Earth formed?
2. When did life first appear on Earth?
3. Where do gorillas come from?

The approximate time of Planet Earth’s formation seems to be a good place to start. In a previous post, I introduced you to Alphonsine, a Rwandan artist living near Parc National des Volcans, who makes all kinds of things from dried banana leaves. Alphonsine giggled as she walked away with our command of a big round ball, and yet she produced just what we were looking for, Planet Earth.

In the field near the classroom, we take a walk through time, beginning approximately 4.6 billion years ago. Kids meander about Planet Earth.

Stepping forward just a few steps, we stop at the Prokaryote approximately 4 billion years ago, suggesting the simple cell represents first signs of life on Earth.

Now a really big leap on our timeline and we jump to find the ORANGUTAN evolving in Asia approximately 8 million years ago. Volunteers help by wearing papier mache masks made by Eric and Fahad.

Weeks of planning and preparation for the exercise were quickly coming to an end. Valerie and I got somewhat nervous and wanted to see how the masks looked and if they would be ready. We were thrilled when we saw the 5 great ape faces drying in the sun at Fahad’s house. Valerie inspected further by testing the chimpanzee mask. The chimp is my favorite.

Six million years ago GORILLAS were evolving.

HUMINOID, what will become modern human, and CHIMPANZEES split on our evolutionary timeline.

BONOBO’S, Valerie’s favorite of the great apes, branched from CHIMPANZEES approximately 2 million years ago. Above is a photograph of Eric and an adult student from Shingiro.

And here we are, MODERN HUMANS – not a final stopping point, but where we are presently.

After our walk on the timeline, we head into the classroom.
Coming up next, our student’s oil pastel drawings illustrating WHERE DO GORILLAS COME FROM?

My dog Ibyiza helps Eric paint signs.


“The night sky is full of unanswered questions.”

THANK YOU, Theresa, for your March 6, 24, 31, April 17, and May 1 donations. Team AoC truly appreciates your kind generosity!

Recently I read Origins Reconsidered – In Search of What Makes Us Human by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin. I learned a great deal as well as thoroughly enjoyed the entire book. However, Part Six: In Search of the Future, contains one particular sentence which continues to resonate within me, “The night sky is full of unanswered questions.”

One Saturday and Sunday not too long ago after students put away their art materials and were returning to their seats for our few remaining moments of closing remarks, I found myself asking the children if they gazed into the dark night sky and if they did what did they think about. I assigned the students a little homework which entailed looking at the sky before going to bed and asking themselves three questions – questions about anything.

Here are just a few questions that students shared the following week:
When the moon is not full, does this mean the moon is broken?
Can stars fall down?
If a star falls down, can I find money at the place where the star landed?
Are there people on the moon?
And probably the most asked question was about rain.
Where does rain come from?

Valerie, Eric, Fahad and I answered some of the questions as best we could, but the primary purpose for the exercise was to provoke curiosity as well as accepting that not all questions have one finite answer and many questions may never arrive with conclusive answers. Isn’t life about asking questions? In turn, do we not spend a lifetime sifting through and exploring only to be spurred on by more questions?

We are into our second year of Art of Conservation classes and almost every group of students will ask, “Where do gorillas come from?” So continuing with life’s questions, we presented our current students with three questions:

1. When was Planet Earth formed?
2. When did life begin on Earth?
3. Where do gorillas come from?

Please join us as we explore together in the upcoming blog.

And thanks, Dr. Leakey, for your inspiring and insightful words.



Thanks, Paula, Sheryl, Wanda, and Antonio, for your recent comments! It’s great to hear from you all.

Does a country at PEACE help MOUNTAIN GORILLAS? I would say so. The children at Nyabigoma Primary School who are participating in Art of Conservation classes illustrate people caring for people in their drawings as a way of depicting people’s positive impact on the environment.

Recently, at Nyabigoma Primary School, Team AoC had the pleasure of speaking with the governor of the Northern Province of Rwanda, Boniface RUCAGU, as well as the mayor of Musanze District, Celestin KARABAYINGA and Director General of ORTPN, Rosette Chantal RUGAMBA. The governor points to a drawing on display made by one of the children and asks me what it means. I happily share with him that the drawing is a result from our discussions on conservation. And with this particular drawing, the student is expressing his view of a POSITIVE impact people may have on the environment – living in peace and caring for our family and friends. Needless to say, all agreed!

We are standing in front of art made by Art of Conservation students at Nyabigoma Primary School, a school built by means of Rwanda’s tourism revenue sharing scheme. Pictured from left to right: Mayor Celestin KARABAYINGA, ORTPN’s Director General Rosette Chantal RUGAMBA, Governor Boniface RUCAGU, and School Master Cyprien NTABARESHYA.

Bebe NAHAYO’s picture of peace.

Elvis Costello asks, “(What’s so funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?”

AoC student BIZIMANA’s picture.

Special guests and speakers at ORTPN’s function in Kinigi continue on to more locations in which community based programs are operating. School children dance and sing.


Let’s RUN!

And we’re off!

Team AoC, Eric, Valerie, Fahad, and I, occasionally go for a run after AoC’s children’s classes which are held on the weekends. After leaving Nyabigoma Primary School, we usually park the truck nearby at a point where many of the tour operators drop off their clients for the commencement of their mountain gorilla or golden monkey visit. The visitors will walk along cultivated fields and pass by family compounds and perhaps a goat or two before reaching the buffalo wall – a dry stone wall which is about one meter high and one meter thick. Once one climbs over the wall, one has entered the protected forest of Parc National des Volcans. The setting is beautiful here in Kinigi District, the Northern Province of Rwanda, but certainly not void of problems facing the local human and animal population.

Look who’s coming….Eric and Valerie!

It may not appear to be a very steep incline, but once Eric, Valerie and I turn around and head ‘up hill’ the breathing gets a lot more difficult! Ah, but it feels so good!

Counting to ten in Kinyrwanda while doing pushups is…FUN?

During the weekends while we are running around up in Kinigi, tennis is going on down in Ruhengeri/Musanze Town.
(Please see Sports for Gorillas)
We have a new tennis coach, Tony. I will introduce you to him in an upcoming post.

Cooling down, balancing, breathing and stretching.

Team AoC’s work is done for the day so we travel down the ‘hill’ to Ruhengeri/Musanze Town and collapse!

More again soon,

One-Health Hanky News

In the previous post, we make the hankies and now Team AoC is ready to distribute them to our Art of Conservation students along with a discussion on how and why we want to stop the spread of germs and a lesson on more daily healthy habits as part of our ongoing One-Health education.

Also, I wish to send my appreciation to Mary, Sara, Lucia Cristiana, Theresa, Nancy, Sherri, and Lisa for your recent comments of support and encouragement. Thanks, gals.

Valerie, Eric, and I watch the children’s reactions as they receive the hankies.

I begin by asking the kids what we do when we sneeze or cough or have a cold. They suggest turning away or grabbing leaves. They also give a suggestion equivalent to what I know as the ‘farmer’s sneeze’ which receives lots of laughs. Being from Iowa and spending time in the country, I know this method and only hope not to be down wind from the guy sneezing or blowing his nose.

A volunteer hands out hankies.

So out with the hankies and we offer more guidance on how to stop the direct transmission of ‘germs’ such as coughing into one’s elbow and/or their new hanky, washing hands after the toilet and before taking meals.

Valerie laughs as the children wave their hankies and toothbrushes and paste in the air.

In addition to addressing the health risks of transmission of germs, we promote dental care with toothbrushes and paste for everyone. Our hope is that this sets in motion daily habit forming, but it’s definitely questionable. Can parents afford to replace tooth paste when this runs out? Will someone opt to sell these new things at the market to get a little bit of money? Will a mother use the hanky as a diaper for a baby? Will someone steal the new things? All the aforementioned are highly probable. I know the project’s work is hardly finished. It will takes lots of time and energy to bring about changes.

This boy gives a demonstration on brushing teeth.

More demonstrations.

And now down to the business of drawing.

You’ll see the drawings of today’s art lesson on an upcoming post.

I receive many comments from you, readers, about how cute the kids are and I totally and completely agree.

Please help WildlifeDirect plan the next five years. Please take the user survey. The link is on the home page and it is short. Thanks.

Until next time,

Gorillas, Art Students & 150 Hankies!

I just received notice of two donations from anonymous contributors, one on 1 May and the other on 9 May. Thank you very much! I truly appreciate your generosity.

sniffle, SNEEZE, cough, sniffle, sneeze, COUGH, sniffle, sniffle, cough, cough, SNIFFLE….

Our project, Art of Conservation, works directly with the people who are living next to a protected area, in this case, Parc National des Volcans. Our students practically live side by side with the endangered mountain gorilla.

Recently, Team AoC incorporated lessons emphasizing the importance of personal hygiene by encouraging students to form healthy daily habits. We know research shows there is strong evidence suggesting that many primate species are susceptible to many of the infections that people are afflicted with and that the transmission of infection can occur in both directions. We encourage a one-health approach to life and try our best to set examples for the students to follow.

Can we motivate our art students to better care for themselves which inevitably spirals to better health for their families, better health for their communities, their land, water, forest, gorillas and other animals and then back again?

A hanky may seem an insignificant item toward the efforts of one-health, but small steps can help.

Go to the local market to purchase panels of fabric.
Miscalculating the amount of fabric needed to make 150 rectangular-shaped hankies, Jacqueline, a member of AoC house staff, and I returned numerous times to the market asking the friendly woman pictured above if she could find more of that same fish design. She always tracked down more for us.

Call Jean de Dieu NGIRIRA, a previous Art of Conservation guest speaker and ORTPN staff member, and ask him how to get in touch with his wife, Jacqueline, who is a seamstress in Kinigi Town.

The connection is coordinated and I meet Jean de Dieu and Jacqueline at Jacqueline’s shop in Kinigi Town to discuss the order.

Jacqueline gets busy straight away at her foot pedal sewing machine.

Team AoC will give each student enrolled in our present program, 150 individuals, a hanky.

STEP 4 (Optional)
Give everyone else you know a hanky.
AoC house staff, Muzehe, Phocas, and Jacqueline, decide it best to carry their hankies on their head. Additionally, they prepare my two dogs for their morning walk.

I am sure my family and friends think I dressed the dogs up, but really it wasn’t my idea! (Although a splendid idea, indeed!)

Into the classrooms with the hankies – coming up.

Help WildlifeDirect plan for the next five years….please take the user survey.
Thank you.


Nzeli and the Flying Dart: Dr. Lucy Tells A Story

Art of Conservation welcomes Dr. Lucy, MGVP’s regional veterinary manager and WildlifeDirect’s Gorilla Doctors, to this weeks classes.

Lesson Where Art Tells a Story is the theme for students to consider as they listen to Dr. Lucy share the story of Nzeli, a female mountain gorilla in Bwenge Group in the Karisoke Habitat.

Our students receive the worksheet pictured below for illustrating a beginning, a middle, and an end to this real life action that takes place in the nearby forest,
Parc National des Volcans.

Worksheet. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Let’s take a look at the BEGINNING of our story with the help of class volunteers. Valerie, with her ever-expanding knowledge of veterinarian terms, interprets for Lucy.

Shingiro’s adult class.
Nzeli, an adult female gorilla, is being pursued by two male gorillas – Bwenge, an old silver back of Bwenge Group and Twizere, a lone silver back. The males flank Nzeli and pull her arms and legs resulting in serious injuries to her foot and hand.

Saturday’s kids class.
After receiving a call from the forest from ORTPN staff, Dr. Lucy knows she must check on Nzeli and possibly intervene as the reports are suggesting the female gorilla is severely injured.

Sunday’s kids class.
Lots of giggling here from students and volunteers as two boys pretend to fight over the young girl seated and acting to be Nzeli. The other volunteers pictured above act as members of Bwenge Group and won’t enter into the ensuing romantic entanglement.

Below, student’s illustrations of the story’s BEGINNING.
Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 3

Moving now to the MIDDLE of our story, Dr. Lucy asks for volunteers to pose as trees. Using the dense vegetation as her cover, she pretends to prepare the blow gun she would normally use to administer antibiotics to her patients. The vets would never let any of the gorillas discover what is about to happen…a syringe, frequently referred to as a ‘flying dart’ is filled with antibiotics and is placed inside a 54 inch-long tube which then attaches to a blow gun. When triggered, the gun, with an oxygenated cartridge, propels the flying dart and hopefully hits the patient in the correct place – all occurring without any gorilla taking notice.

Posing as trees in the forest, volunteers shield Nzeli’s view of Dr. Lucy who will clandestinely prepare her flying dart and blow gun.

When first asked how veterinarians give medicine to a wild gorilla in the forest, some guesses included the vet giving an ill gorilla a banana with the medicine hidden in the fruit. Not a bad idea, but we soon learn it’s not that easy.

I think our students developed a better understanding of how wild gorillas are given medicine when the veterinarians believe it is necessary. The pictures below show the vet in a distance and not right next to their patient.
Picture 1

Picture 2

Picture 3

Again, volunteers posing as trees.

Dr. Lucy in action!
Picture 1

Picture 2

Intending for the flying dart to hit Nzeli’s upper thigh, Dr. Lucy holds the empty syringe near our actresses leg.

THE (happy) END. Nzeli recovers from her injuries with the help of antibiotics and – just as my dad who was a MD often prescribed to aid many ailments, ‘Get it out in the sun!’
Picture 1

Picture 2

Let the art begin!

Thanks to Dr. Lucy and all of our guests who graciously take time to visit Art of Conservation classes and speak with our students. Through discussion and art lessons, we all gain a better understanding of what it entails to care for wild animals, forests, and people. Perhaps budding artists and / or veterinarians are blossoming as we speak.

Until next time,

GOLDEN MONKEYS:Animals of the Virunga Forest

We just love GOLDEN MONKEYS! Cercopithecus mitis ssp. kandti

Kids in Saturday’s Art of Conservation class learn about golden monkeys.

Pencil drawing and watercolor by Pacifique MFITUMUKIZA.
All AoC classes this week begin with Eric’s instruction on how to draw a mountain gorilla. Then Fahad follows with instruction on how to draw a second animal one can find in the nearby Virunga Forest. Shingiro adults studied Forest Buffaloes and now Saturday’s students consider Golden Monkeys.

Pictures made by NTIRENGANYA.

Found in the bamboo forests, this primate weighs 10 to 15 pounds.

TUYIRINGIRE’s pictures.

Habitat loss through agriculture, wood extraction, human encroachment and illegal harvesting continue to be the major threats to this animal.

Student BIZIMANA’s creative expressions of a Golden Monkey.

Thank you Theresa and Professor Minor for your recent comments. I’ll share here the quote Vernon Minor shared with me.
All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once one grows up. Pablo Picasso.

Fahad still busy at the chalkboard.

A student examining his work.