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Nyakagezi group returns to Uganda
01 April 2005

When the African continent was divided into nation states, from the late 19th century onwards, the boundaries were often drawn, for convenience, through areas of very low population density. These were also likely to be places of great natural beauty and home to endangered or migratory animals.

The Virunga volcanoes – the mountain gorilla habitat, on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the DR Congo – is one such example. In fact, the Virunga conservation area is made up of three national parks, each managed by its own wildlife authority, each with its own problems.

For the Ugandan authorities the current problem is that their sector, known as Mgahinga, is home to only one habituated group of mountain gorillas, the Nyakagezi group.

In November 2004, this family of eight gorillas, led by the silverback Nyakagezi, disappeared over the border into Rwanda not to be seen again until April this year.

While the Nyakagezi group has always crossed the border in search of food at certain times of year, they have usually returned within a few weeks.

This stay of almost six months has not only baffled observers but has caused speculation in the Ugandan press.

They accuse Rwanda, Uganda’s rival in “gorilla tourism”, of luring the gorillas to stay on its side of the border, ensuring more tourist dollars for Rwanda and dissuading people from Uganda.

While the Ugandan authorities dismiss this as rumour mongering, the former head of public affairs for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Lilly Ajarova, admitted to Digit News that some permits had been refunded. “Most of the people who had booked in advance were happy to visit the gorillas at our other site at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park instead,” she said, “but in some cases we had no option than to refund the £200 ($360), one-hour permit.” In the Ugandan capital, Kampala, in May, the newly appointed director of UWA, Moses Mapesa, announced that the Nyakagezi group had reappeared with a new female and a new baby in tow, bringing the group size to ten individuals.

“Contrary to speculation,” he said, “we were always confident this group would return.”
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