Ethan Kinsey Safaris

Adventures in East Africa

Posts tagged Responsibility
The Gorilla Story Part II. A Brief History of the Gorilla Groups in DRC.

If we needed a species as an icon to represent the conservation of Virunga National Park, in the DRC, it would be the Mountain Gorilla, or Gorilla beringei beringei, as it is known to taxonomists. In fact, it could be argued that without Mountain gorillas, the National Park, established in 1925 and formerly known as Albert National Park, wouldn’t exist today. Paradoxically, it was two collectors of gorillas for museums that recognized the unsustainable collection of Mountain gorillas. Charles Akeley who collected for the New York Museum of Natural History, and Prince William of Sweden with their prominent connections were able to lobby the Belgian King and gather international support to establish the protection of Mountain gorillas.

The gorilla story in DRC takes us back to 2 legendary silverbacks, Zunguruka and Rugendo who each led a habituated group of gorillas on different ridges in the forest behind Bukima ranger post. Both were habituated in 1986.

A white board in the rangers office at Bukima showing the group make up. Key: SB: Silverback, BB: Blackback, ADF: Adult Female, SUB: Sub-adult, Juv: Juvenile, Beb: Baby.

Current lead Silverbacks in the six groups accessible from Bukima Ranger Post:

Kabirizi group: Kabirizi

Bageni group: Bageni (Kabirizi's son)

Nyakamwe group: Nyakamwe (Humba's brother, son of Rugendo)

Humba group: Humba (Son of Rugendo)

Rugendo group: Bukima

Munyaga group: Mawazo (& Kasole)

Two stories:



If all of Rugendo’s sons are his, he could potentially be one of the most successful silverbacks to have led a gorilla group. At the time that he led it, it was a large group of 18 individuals. His son's names are highlighted in bold-italic.

Rugendo was tragically assassinated on the 15th July, 2001, in crossfire between warring militias, however, his genetics and legacy live on.

Rugendo had many sons:

  • Mapuwa

    • Left his father’s group in 1998, with two females.

  • Humba

  • Nyakamwe

    • Humba left with his brother Nyakamwe in 1998. In 2014 they interacted and split into two groups.

  • Senkwekwe

    • Senkwekwe took over the group, though as a young silverback he lacked the strength and experience to keep the group intact. Some of the females left, joining his brother’s group Mapuwa. Senkweke was murdered together with five other gorillas in 2007.

  • Bukima

    • (not Rugendo’s son) Is currently the dominant silverback of the Rugendo group. Kongoman and Baseka are both with him.

  • Kongoman

  • Baseka

  • Ruzirabwob a is a solitary silverback.

  • Zunguruka got his name from the habit of walking in circles. He had two sons, Ndungutse and Salamawho took over the family when Zunguruka died of old age.

In 1994, a wild silverback showed up on the scene and fought with Salama and Ndungutse. He did not win, but the wounds he inflicted on Salama eventually killed him leaving Ndungutse as the sole silverback.

The wild silverback was named Kabirizi.

In 1997, Ndungutse was assassinated. His sons Buhaya and Karateka took over the group, and after a series of fights, Karateka ended up as a solitary silverback.

At this point, Kabirizi returned to the scene and killed Buhaya. The females however refused to follow Kabirizi and were led by the oldest female Nsekuye.

At this point Munyaga, a lone silverback entered the scene and took over the group being led by Nsekuye. It wasn’t long before Kabirizi challenged Munyaga, this time winning and taking with him all the females. Munyaga remained with a small group of sub-adult males. Then in 2007 he went missing during a surge in rebel activities. At that time, Mawazo led the group although he was still a Blackback. He eventually matured and was able to acquire females of his own with his brother Kasole.

Kabirizi continued to succesfully lead his group that grew to 36 individuals. Then in 2013 he suffered a blow when his son Bageni, who had grown up to become a formidable Silverback, challenged him taking with him 20 individuals, including his mother, brother, and 2 sisters.

Ruaha Walking Safari Training (May & September 2017)

Incredible views along the Ruaha river.

Contact me to organize a walk in this incredible place.

May & September saw our walking safari training team in action again in Ruaha National Park. We approached our 3rd and 4th sessions for SPANEST with new energy and the confidence of having two sessions already under our belts. With 24 rangers per session we had our work cut out for us, but with the highly qualified team we ploughed forward.

Christoline Motta & Simon Peterson running drills in firearms safety & handling.

Jacques Hoffman coaches a ranger.

Each course began with a first aid component.

Wilderness Medical Associates provided the accredited Wilderness Advanced First Aid course with a focus on anticipating, preventing, and ultimately dealing with medical issues that could arise not only in the walking safari environment, but also in the general duties of a national park ranger. 

Mike Webster gets the practice going in patient assessments.

The next component was the safe and competent use of the large calibre rifles that are recommended for walking safaris. Unfortunately many walking safaris in Africa are set up for disaster should the unlikely occur and a life threatening encounter with a potentially dangerous animal happen. Worth mentioning and on a very positive note, Ruaha National Park now provides rangers who are walking with suitable rifles and equipment.

Simon Peterson & Christoline Motta assessing a ranger in proficiency.

The final component of the training was an intense immersion in walking wildlife. We spent hours on the ground practicing walking in proximity to potentially dangerous wildlife, avoiding detection, extracting from situations, and ultimately decision making in order to prevent compromising situations that could result in stressing wildlife and stressing clients. 

Following an elephant bull and learning about how to use wind direction, cover, and predicting the animals movements to view without disturbing.

Some things have to be taught in the classroom. Here Simon Peterson revises shot placement.

Elephant watching on foot is exhilarating. In the heat of the day, the elephants come to the Mwagusi to drink the cool water filtered by the sand. The river bank provides a great safe vantage point to watch unobtrusively.

Pietro Luraschi leads post walk analysis in improving the guest experience and maintaining safety.

Magesa, a ranger from Sadaani National Park discusses the interesting lives of Grey-capped Social Weavers. A walking safari is more about the little things.

Rangers enjoy a beautiful scene with a small herd of elephants drinking in the river bed. Watching behavior is important in learning about predicting what might happen and making decisions to avoid any confrontation.


Amboseli elephants on the Tanzanian side (2008).

November Part I: Elephants in Amboseli

I just opened Big Life Foundation’s Facebook page to see the news that 2 poachers were killed last week and a high-caliber rifle was confiscated in the Amboseli area. Having spent 16 days there this month guiding Nick Brandt as he photographed the elephants, it had been extremely distressing to see the behavior of the herds of elephants change, from calmly walking passed the car to turning and running as we approached; displaying obvious signs of alarm and panic. One particularly disturbing sight was a stampede of about 80 elephants coming from the water holes heading back to Tanzania where it had rained and they were obviously feeding. The trumpeting and cowering elephants passing the vehicle displayed behavior completely unheard of in the Amboseli area. These elephants have had so much exposure to research vehicles that they are known to be extremely relaxed. The elephant researchers later informed us that one of the females from the herd was missing and that they had found an orphaned calf, who we encountered later as well.

In the past seven years, Nick Brandt has spent hours with the elephants in this particular ecosystem, photographing them and taking some beautiful portraits of incredible individuals. The loss of some of the largest tusked bulls to poaching, elephants that he had photographed, prompted him to start a foundation focused on anti-poaching in the area. Commendably, Big Life Foundation is already effectively operating on the ground by cooperating with other organizations already managing anti-poaching operations on both sides of the border. The website is up (, and if you become a fan of BIG LIFE on facebook you can read the latest updates. During our 16 day visit, it seemed that once every 3 days another report of a killed elephant was coming in- from both sides of the border. These reports furthered the importance of Big Life’s presence, which, being a non-government organization can help to coordinate cross-border anti-poaching.

Adding to the sadness is the fact that during the extensive poaching that occurred in the 70’s, when black rhino went extinct in many parts of Africa; Kenya lost an estimated 85% of its elephants over a 4 year period. However, the Amboseli elephants managed to survive with very little poaching. Cynthia Moss attributes this to the Maasai in the area being uncooperative with poachers. This resulted in the Amboseli and west Kilimanjaro elephants earning a reputation as having extremely large tusked bulls whose numbers are now dwindling. The extensive research has added a tremendous amount of information we now know on elephants and their family structures.

Kilimanjaro sunrise (2008)

November part II. Lake Natron.

With the coming of the rains, Amboseli became too difficult for me to move around confidently, so Nick and I headed to northern Tanzania to the shores of Lake Natron and slopes of Oldonyo Lengai. Having driven the eastern shores in January this year (see blog article), I was excited to continue to explore the shores of the stunning and harsh landscape. Working with a photographer is interesting because the focus of the trip changes from an overall wildlife or cultural experience to the pursuit of the artists’ subject. It is particularly challenging because it involves trying to see the world through their schema.

We spent hours driving and walking the eastern shores of the lake and I hope to get back there sometime to explore some of the valleys and streams that come off the escarpment. Particularly enjoyable are the springs that seep fresh and sometimes hot water into the lake. The warmth allows algae to proliferate and feed a food chain including numerous flamingos and hundreds of tiny cichlids that swim up the little streams from the springs and create amazing ripple patterns as they try to escape your approach.

As usual the scenery was stunning and as I drove back to Mto-wa-mbu (River of mosquitoes) to start the next adventure, I was pleasantly surprised to see the beginnings of the zebra migration from the Tarangire ecosystem.

November part III. Mwiba and Ndutu.

Visiting a new area is always exciting, especially when it promises adventure. Having attempted to visit Mwiba earlier this year, I was particularly excited to get the chance to visit with friends and explore an area that looks promising for walking, fly camping and having fun. Within half an hour of driving into the private conservation area we were already walking around springs examining tracks and getting a feel for the place. As the sun began to set we explored a small rock canyon and then climbed a small kopjie to enjoy the sunset.

Reports of wild dogs in the area and the chance to see roan antelope prompted a little more driving around to cover ground, but nonetheless everyday had great highlights. The 19,000 hectare ranch borders Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Maswa Game Reserve and has traditionally been used as a hunting concession. The area is dotted with springs that attract game throughout the dry season and it was exciting to merely discuss the options of activities that are possible. I was chomping at the bit to get some activity in and on the first morning found myself climbing a Yellow fever tree and helping measure out plans for a tree platform from which to watch animals come down to the spring. We then enjoyed a 3 hour walk to the edge of the escarpment that looks out on Lake Eyasi.

I’ve included some photos with captions to describe more of the fun that we had in the area. 

The view of Lake Eyasi from the escarpment. Photo credit: Emily Cottingham.

Planning the waterhole viewing tree-platform. Photo credit: Emily Cottingham.

Cheetah cub in Ndutu who played with us. Photo credit: Mike Beckner.

Ethan KinseyResponsibility
Giving, A Unique Cultural Experience

The sun is already high in the sky as we set off through the ankle deep talcum powder dust. A woman holding a little basket with a small wet rag in the bottom leads us up the hill. Carefully wrapped in the little wet rag is a precious little eye drop bottle in which is an important clear liquid.

We walk up to the first house and where we are warmly met by kids with shy smiles each of who wants to shake our hand, and then turns around and giggles. The old “Koko” or grandmother sits on a small stool in front of her hut holding her grandchild. Two scrawny cows are eating the left over corn stover that has been brought in from the fields. No chickens are running around today and we greet everyone in turn.

“Koko takwenya”


“Mama takwenya”


“Layoni sobia”



and we are welcomed.

We proceed. While the woman deliberately unwraps the little bottle from the wet rag and unscrews the cap, a little boy climbs up into the chicken coop and grabs the first chicken. His mother takes it from him and holding it one drop of the precious liquid is squeezed into the chicken’s eye. We’re only there for two hours but we’re having fun and we’re having an amazing experience with people welcoming us into their homes.

Nearly 100% of unvaccinated chickens in Tanzania die every year from a virus known as Newcastle Disease. The nutritional impact of this on rural peoples is harrowing. Yet, a precious bottle of vaccination costs 2800/=, about the equivalent of $2.15, and can vaccinate 400-600 chickens.

We move on to the next house. The chickens are inside the hut and a small window provides amazing light as Nicol squeezes in the door opening, trying not to let any chickens out. She gets some amazing photographs and everyone is lining up to have their picture taken with a chicken.

The woman with the little bottle charges 50/=, the equivalent of 3.8 cents per chicken. Of course on our tour we pay the $1.30 it costs to vaccinate the 35 chickens our neighbors own. On this first round in the village, the 50/= will cover her costs but in the future, she may charge up to 100/= per chicken which will bring her income. Even at 50/= per chicken, she can make the equivalent of $30 per campaign. I’m reminded of the saying “give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime”. The knock-on effects of this simple vaccination program are really amazing.

We walk back to the house in silence. As a guide, providing a genuine cultural experience is difficult. We didn’t set out with that in mind, but it has turned out that way- and in a far more real way.