Tag Archives: Mountain Gorillas

Fantastic Updates From Rwanda

From Valerie

Art of Conservation started the one-health awareness programs at the Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club. The Rwandan team: Valerie, Eric, Innocent, Olivier, and Eusebe continue carrying on AoC’s work!! If you recall, the Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club is one of the great local community initiatives that we have been supporting for eight years. Children are provided the opportunity to exercise, practice teamwork, and gain a sense of accomplishment. In addition to that the club also brings local people together leading to a stronger sense of community and pride while playing sports in the name of conservation.

My colleagues and I say, “Let us carry on this great initiative!” The children are eager to know more about what surrounds them in order to protect them!

Recently, our discussion began with review questions from previous lessons. I ask, “Somebody please tell me the name of Rwanda’s three national parks.” The children raise their hands saying, “Me! Please, me! Please!” This is different from what happens during our lessons with children in schools. They say, “Teacher, teacher!” It draws my attention and makes me happy when I see happy children wanting to respond to questions and eager to learn!

CHT at Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club. ©Conservation Heritage - TurambeChildren are excited to respond to the review question before I introduce the new topic of the day.

We distribute a map to each child. I ask them to point to the areas depicting mountain gorilla habitat.

Studying gorilla habitat. ©Conservation Heritage - TurambeEach child points and shows me the two places where mountain gorillas live: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Massif.

I keep on monitoring the children to make sure they all understand that our gorillas live in only two places. I know some children are young and they may have been distracted by a passing car on the road since the tennis courts are located next to a main road!

CHT at Ibirunga Tennis & Running Club. ©Conservation Heritage - TurambeI help our students study the map.

I guide the kids thoroughly on what the Virunga Massif means with the help of another close-up illustration. They now know that mountain gorillas are not only in Rwanda but in other neighboring countries namely, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They also learn the name of the park in each country. It is such a discovery for these children to know what the Virunga Massif is made up with.

One-health awareness in Rwanda. ©Conservation Heritage - TurambeOur youth sports kids ask questions as we study the Virunga Massif.

The next session is the art activity. During this session, children have fun. Their drawings are very good. The first excise they draw a proportional silverback mountain gorilla and the second exercise they draw their own mountain gorilla.

Eric working with kids. ©Conservation Heritage - TurambeWith Eric’s instruction, children have fun drawing a proportionally correct silverback mountain gorilla using a pencil and they paint their artwork with watercolors.

Coach Rachid joins. ©Conservation Heritage - TurambeHappily, Coach Rachid joins the children during the workshop. “Do gorillas live in one family?” he asks. This might be our next workshop topic. Let us think about it.

Gorilla drawings. ©Conservation Heritage - Turambe

Stay tuned for more blogs coming!


-Art of Conservation completed seven years of successful conservation programming in Rwanda with the exciting announcement that its local staff has launched their own nonprofit, Conservation Heritage – Turambe (CHT). Turambe means “let us be sustainable” in Kinyarwanda. Please keep up-to-date on more Art of Conservation & Conservation Heritage – Turambe news with our e-newsletter. Simply send us your name and contact information to [email protected] Thank you!-

Allison Contributes To The Gorilla Journal

From Julie

Allison Hanes writes about the work of Art of Conservation in the latest Gorilla Journal. In addition to Allison’s article, you’ll find other important news including a discussion on the economic value of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I’d like to thank editor Dr. Angela Meder for putting out such an informative journal and for incorporating Allison’s article in this latest edition.

Please click here Gorilla Journal No. 47, December 2013.

Please keep up-to-date on more Art of Conservation news with our e-newsletter. Simply send us your name and contact information to [email protected] Thank you!

AoC’s World Premier Short Film at New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival

From Julie

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Art of Conservation’s Allison Hanes and Cheryl Stockton helped present our World Premier Short Film at New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in October. This film was made to share with the public the successful work AoC has been carrying out in Rwanda for over seven years, as well as highlight our present expansion with new initiatives in Guyana, Panama, and other locations this year.

New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival October 2013

Thank you New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival for putting together talented compassionate individuals and groups doing amazing conservation work. It helps keep the spark alive being surrounded by the energy of such wonderful people doing such important work.

AoC’s Exhibition & Fundraiser is quickly approaching. Click here and get your tickets today!

For more information and ways to get involved with AoC please email [email protected]

Week One Visit to Art of Conservation

From Allison Hanes

Two full days of travel and three plane rides later I arrive late Tuesday June 4th in Kigali, Rwanda with Art of Conservation (AoC) board member Cheryl Stockton and photographer friend/colleague Andrew Walmsley. The first thing I notice off the plane is that distinct musky yet floral smell of Africa! It’s nice to be back to East Africa after two years. We travel by car up and around in mountains about an hour to Musanze welcomed by new friends, including four friendly dogs at The Garden House, a friend’s bed and breakfast nearby Art of Conservation. On our beds are beautiful paper maché gorilla masks made by the Rwandan AoC team and our full exciting itinerary for the month ahead.

The following morning after a proper African breakfast, Julie starts out our trip and adventure in Rwanda by picking us up and taking us to the Art of Conservation compound just a few streets away. Again we receive a warm welcome by Julie’s dogs, new friends, neighbors and staff. The tour is impressive, including a beautiful flower and vegetable garden with giant corn stalks, composting site, rain water collection tank, array of recycled bird feeders and birdhouses, art studio and several common areas filled with beautiful artwork.

Art of Conservation garden. June 2013Art of Conservation garden.

Bird house painting at Art of Conservation June 2013Bird houses in the works being painted and varnished by AoC staff and friends.

We make introductions. I share Ghirardelli chocolates from San Francisco and Cheryl “I Love NY” shirts for the staff. We instantly adore our smiling kind new friends.

Cheryl with team and new I Love You t-shirts. Art of Conservation June 2013Olivier, Cheryl, Eusebe, Valerie, Eric and Innocent full of smiles.

Allison and team with chocolate. Art of Conservation 2013Eric, Valerie and myself enjoying San Francisco Ghiradelli chocolates.

We unpack and layout our photography gear organizing lenses and learning all about our new toys, which some of us particularly myself, are yet to play with. Nikon, Canon, Apple and GoPro equipment overflow the table and we immediately start flicking through manuals and dialing in settings ready for our early morning trek to the mountain gorillas.

Enough equipment? Art of Conservation 2013Do you think we have enough equipment?

Thursday morning we are up before sunrise ready to hike up Volcanoes National Park. Cheryl, Julie and myself trek to the furthest gorilla family, Susa, which has three silverbacks. My previous experience of tracking gorillas for three months in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda proved useful in preparing me for the day ahead but I still found the trek not to be all that easy. The high-altitude was very noticeable especially since we had limited time to acclimatize. However, we made it to the group without any trouble and I managed to handle Andrew’s special 300mm f2.8 lens for the hour-long session. You can tell by my shots and GoPro filming comments that the equipment was heavy! I was still able to get some great shots and had a wonderful time. It was one of the best gorilla treks I have experienced, particularly because I could share the experience with new friends and colleagues.

Trekking gorillas. Art of Conservation 2013In the forest with Julie.

Furry mountain gorillas. AoC 2013Rwandan gorillas are much furrier than the Ugandan population because of the higher elevation and cooler climate.

We had a grand time and our guide “D” joined us in our celebration dinner at Muhabura Restaurant. Julie always likes to celebrate after a good day of gorilla trekking and we are full of laughs. Each day I feel luckier to work with such inspiring, talented, hard working and fun colleagues.

Friday we get right into meetings and prepare for week two classes. I’ve noticed pretty much everyday at AoC we find ourselves singing, dancing and acting! I’m learning so many new things here in Rwanda. We also paint birdhouses with Eric and Eusebe and end the evening with a party in AoC’s garden and bungalow. Julie’s friend Alberto cooks us up a feast and Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) friends and colleagues join us to make another great close to the night.

Group meeting in bingalow. Art of Conservation 2013Let the work begin.

Saturday we all meet at the tennis courts. One of AoC’s most significant programs is the Ibirunga Tennis and Running Club. Olivier was recently nominated president and Valerie treasurer. AoC murals, plants and flowers decorate the grounds. The nets look like they have had their run and I am happy to know that by the end of the month through a USTA grant the club will have two brand new nets!

Tennis with Art of Conservation 2013Julie runs tennis drills and exercise with the children. I pick up a racquet after several years.

Cheryl guiding yoga at the courts.  Art of Conservation 2013Cheryl cools us down leading us in a yoga session and then I get to play a good high-energy game of tennis with Johnny, one of the best tennis players in the community.

Ibirunga Tennis & Running ClubThese kids fill you with joy and energy!

After a great workout I quickly take a shower and we head off to find our Batwa friend or as Rwandans now call her – “marginalized indigenous woman.” However, the dramatic driving adventure in search of Marie Rose is unsuccessful and instead we follow Art of Conservation’s dear friend and partner Cecil to her village for dancing. We bring sacks for rice, beans and a jerry can of banana beer. Cecil is a very special woman that Art of Conservation has been working with for years and is famous throughout Rwanda. To learn more about her Saving the Forests Briquette Initiative read here.

Sunday we are still full of energy editing photos, working and preparing for the remaining few weeks. Monday is our first day of classes at one of our two local schools and the fun has just begun!

Singing for Gorillas – 2013 Children’s Performance Preparations at Art of Conservation

From Julie Ghrist

Art of Conservation is preparing for our 2013 children’s performances with music written and recorded by musicians Kaiser Cartel. Please watch our video below, thanks!

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Preparations for 2013 children’s performances at Art of Conservation

Brownie Troop Gets Behind-the-Scenes Visit to Santa Barbara Zoo

From Guest Blogger - Mary ElliotBy Mary Elliott for Brownie Troop 50305

When 11 second-grade girls gathered around Santa Barbara Zoo zookeeper Lacy Byrnes, they were quietly looking toward bachelor residents Goma and Kivu, two male Silverback gorillas munching on their afternoon treats while relaxing in their habitat.

Santa Barbara Zoo keeper, Lacy ByrnesSanta Barbara Zoo zookeeper Lacy Byrnes.

As Byrnes spoke about these disappearing creatures and their plight on the critically endangered list, the girls listened intently while gazing toward the great apes before them.

As part of learning about conservation, while also earning badges, Brownie Troop 50305 got a behind-the-scenes tour at the Santa Barbara Zoo by gorilla keeper Lacey Brynes. She explained the day-to-day life of the Santa Barbara Zoo’s two male silverback gorillas.

While working in facts about the gorillas’ plight, Brynes also talked about a more elusive species — the mountain gorilla, found only in their natural habitat at Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest in Uganda and the Virunga Massif in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Brownie Troop 50305 got a behind-the-scenes tour at the Santa Barbara Zoo Brownie Troop 50305 members, left from, Tilly Dozier, Alyssa Silva, Collette Johnson, Charlotte Hamilton, Lauren Elliott, Sequoia Chamlee, Elaia Hamilton, Carah Shapiro, Elizabeth Leka, Catherine Bryson and Leila Suleimanagich visit the Santa Barbara Zoo.

Their zoo visit is part of a bigger project in which the Brownies then learned more about the mountain gorilla, and how with only approximately 880 left in the wild, they face extinction.

With their new in-depth look at the gorillas and the knowledge and information still fresh after the zoo visit, the girls had the opportunity to write to girls their own age who live near the more endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Through Art of Conservation, the girls were able to ask girls their own age questions about living so close to such rare and raw beauty.

The exchange proved difficult in that no mail is reaching Rwanda at the moment. Julie Ghrist, founder of the Art of Conservation, suggested that the Brownies email their questions, and then she would have the girls in Rwanda answer via the Art of Conservation blog.

The 7- and 8-year-old girls questions were straightforward: “Why would someone want to hurt a mountain gorilla?” was the most commonly asked question. Followed by, “Have any of the girls in Rwanda ever seen a mountain gorilla up close?” They also wanted to know what it was like to live in a place that could top Santa Barbara in the exotic and extreme.

The correspondence between the girls is inspiring and recorded on their blogs, found on AoC’s website by clicking here. Art of Conservation runs education programs for children in rural communities bordering Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and allowed for the opportunity to open up conversation between two groups of diverse kids striving for the same goals.

Art of Conservation is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization operating in Rwanda that promotes conservation through educating and empowering communities. Art of Conservation provides innovative conservation and health education that directly affects the critically endangered mountain gorilla. AoC’s educational model encourages students to use creativity to build life skills and gain reverence for themselves, their community and the world. AoC also develops and supports local income-generating initiatives for adults that create sustainable growth.

The Santa Barbara Zoo gave the Brownies a behind-the-scenes tour of the lowland gorillas, and through its local programs and camps had educated many of the girls in the Brownie Troop before in some capacity. They also partner with a company called Eco-Cell. The zoo collects old cell phones and sends them to Eco-Cell, where they are refurbished and sold domestically and abroad. The money raised by the sale of these cell phones is used to fund the position of eco-guards in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These employees patrol and monitor the habitat of the Western lowland gorillas, and are an integral part in reducing the amount of poaching in these areas.

Brownie Troop 30505, led by co-leaders Mary Elliott and Liz Venegas, made friends and earned badges, but more importantly they learned that there is a connection in this world from our own Channel Islands, to the forests of Rwanda, and they can be empowered to help change the dwindling number of 880 mountain gorillas (just as much as the children living there). For if not for our children and their guardianship over Earth’s great treasures, these great animals, much like our whales, will go the way of extinction.

— Mary Elliott is a co-leader for Brownie Troop 50305.

Parks & Animals

From Julie
From Julie

Eric and Innocent are delivering a brilliant lesson this week teaching our students about Rwanda’s three national parks, their locations, and a few types of the animals that live within the protected areas. I am not a mapmaker – if anyone can correct me on the maps I am making I would appreciate it – but I am enjoying researching and developing more child-friendly versions for our classroom use. The maps are glued in the children’s notebooks for easy reference.

Rwanda's national park at Art of Conservation 2013Map displaying Rwanda’s national parks.

Because AoC is all about animals, Eric and Innocent decided to choose a few animals from each park which may be more well-known to the children and let them decorate their own. Giraffe, lion, baboon, owl, golden monkey and of course the mountain gorilla are the highlighted animals for the week!

Animals in Rwanda. Art of Conservation 2013Eric holds samples to get the kids going.

With alacrity the children begin coloring in their animals. The team then glues tongue depressors to the back and we have a classroom of bright masks. Asked if they would like us to file their masks in their envelopes they quickly said they would like to walk around their village with them and then take them home. We agree that that’s a great idea.

Animals & National Parks. Art of Conservation 2013Students with their newly decorated animal masks.

Monday Morning Yoga

From Julie
From Julie

Monday mornings are not the easiest days to jump out of bed, but because of amazing kids and communities we work with it makes it completely worth it! Just our 2nd class meeting with todays 50 boys and girls and the team and I know we are off to a great start. We only wish we could work with more and more kids!

Monday morning at Art of Conservation February 4, 2013Eusebe guides children in partner yoga poses to help build teamwork and trust.

We’ve been inspired by and use Tara Gruber’s Yoga Pretzels. Leah Kalish and Sophie Fatus add wonderful illustrations for the box set of cards.

Monday morning at Art of Conservation February 4, 2013Beautiful teamwork for the ‘boat’ pose.

Years of poverty, civil war, and genocide leaves people with a lack of trust. I think that before we can ask the local communities to really care about the mountain gorillas, their immediate neighbors, or much else we need to help them nurture their own souls. My team took a huge leap in faith when I suggested we practice yoga, breathing, stretching. And do you know what, they have embraced it all. I am so proud of them.

Monday morning at Art of Conservation February 4, 2013Really, who can’t smile at this?

May We Count On You?

Dear Friends,
In most parts of the world a child wouldn’t consider clean water, a tooth brush, or a chance to attend school a Christmas gift, but in Rwanda these gifts forever change the lives of children and their communities. Throughout the year, Art of Conservation brings hope and positive change to the children of Rwanda. When you donate to Art of Conservation, you help us not only help bring joy to children this holiday season, but you make an investment in the future of these children and their communities.

To continue our important work educating children, empowering communities, and protecting mountain gorillas in Rwanda we need you to donate as generously as you can right now.


New Ways For You To Help
To continue our important work educating children, empowering communities and protecting mountain gorillas in Rwanda we need you to donate as generously as you can.

  • Your $250 donation provides all students at an isolated school the opportunity to attend a weekend conservation workshop
  • Your $200 donation protects the health of children and mountain gorillas by supporting our installation of clean water tanks in rural schools
  • Your $100 donation funds a full year of conservation education for a Rwandan child
  • Your $50 donation allows a child to take part in our Sports for Gorillas program
  • Your $25 donation protects the habitat of the endangered mountain gorilla by educating local communities.
  • Your $20 donation provides toothbrushes and personal health items for 4 children
  • Your $15 dollar donation supplies badly needed books and art supplies for our classrooms

There are fewer than 800 Mountain Gorillas left in the world.
Their survival depends on your donation.

AoC Receives Best Holiday Gift EVER!
Our New Website Launches
The site designed and donated by the amazing Stockshot Studio launched a few weeks ago (we couldn’t wait, we unwrapped it early)! You can see our new updated information about AoC’s work educating children, changing communities, and protecting mountain gorillas in Rwanda, as well as stunning photography in our AoC Gallery from our multi-talented founder Julie Ghrist. Of course there is also our online AoC SHOP where you can buy a variety of AoC merchandise.

Everyone at Art of Conservation wishes you a happy holiday season and a new year full of peace and joy.

Up A Tree Like A Chimpanzee?

From Innocent
Hi. Innocent here with some news about our mountain gorilla night nest lesson. I ask, “If you were a mountain gorilla where would you make your bed every night? On the ground or up a tree like a chimpanzee?” “On the ground!” is the response from a classroom full of children. So for attendance I call each student by his or her name with a lot of enunciation and exaggeration. Upon hearing their names called out, students respond by saying – often in funny exaggerations and gestures as if they were on stage – the sentence of the day: Mountain gorillas make nests on the ground every night.

(Our visitors – Lori, Ellen, and Tracy – enjoy reciting the attendance sentence too!)

Given Eric and I visited the Sabyinyo gorilla family together a few years ago and we are in charge of this weeks lesson, we invite our students to apply this night nest idea to this particular gorilla group because we still remember many of its members.

Volunteers put on vests we use in performances with the names of particular gorillas from the Sabyinyo group.

Out of approximately 14 members that currently make up the Sabyinyo family, Eric and I still remember 11 of them as well as their respective role in the family: 1. Guhonda – silverback and leader 2. Gihishamwotsi – silverback 3. Gukunda – old female 4. Itabaza – Gukunda’s baby 5. Kampanga – old female 6. Ishimwe – Kampanga’s baby 7. Umutungo – adult female who recently joined the group 8. Umurinzi – adult female 9. Agasozindatwa – Umurinzi’s baby – 10. Shirimpumu – blackback 11. Isheja Big Ben – juvenile.

Gorillas usually build their nests around the dominant silverback to be safer and only infants (0-3 years old) sleep in the same nest as their mothers. Students act out the procedure of going to bed in the forest in the eyes of a mountain gorilla.

Funny, we just brought in bed sheets we bought at the local market pretending like they are tree branches or leaves, but we for sure know mountain gorillas gather, pull, and build their nests out of forest plants. They even make soft ground pillows by folding down flexible leafy stems. They also sleep very much like we humans, they sleep lying down or in sitting positions, or leaning on something.

Here is baby Ishimwe sleeping with mom Kampanga!

Mountain gorillas usually leave their sleeping sites when the sun rises at around 6:00am. In the morning, trackers return to the forest to the area of the night nests which help guide researchers, the Gorilla Doctors, and tourists in finding the gorillas more easily.

More soon.