You could say that the mountain gorillas themselves are the best fundraisers for their conservation. Many tourists, after seeing mountain gorillas in the wild for the first time, have become ardent supporters of conservation projects in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. That’s definitely the case for Raemonde Bezenar, one of our biggest fans, who has raised tens of thousands of dollars for Gorilla Doctors and two of our key partners, Virunga National Park and the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Project. Raemonde has made generous personal donations and raised money hosting fundraising dinners and the annual Edmonton Gorilla 5K Fun Run.
Below, Raemonde details how she became involved with the Gorilla Doctors and the special relationship she has with the mountain gorilla orphans and their caretaker, Virunga National Park ranger Andre Bauma, at the Senkwekwe Center, which she helped build.
In 2007, I travelled to Uganda and Rwanda, home of the mountain gorillas. I arranged to do 9 gorilla treks, 4 in Uganda and 5 in Rwanda. Little did I know that the experience of seeing the gorillas in their natural habitat would change me forever. It is something so very special that it is hard to put into words. The only thing that I can say is that I left feeling like I really knew the gorillas, as I would know good friends. Knowing how endangered mountain gorillas are, I felt obligated to do whatever I could to help protect them and their environment.
I returned home to Edmonton, Alberta, and founded the Canadian Friends of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (CFMGVP), which became a nonprofit society on June 23, 2008. I spoke with Dr. Mike Cranfield, then Executive Director of MGVP (now Co-Director of Gorilla Doctors), about potential projects to support and he mentioned the Senkwekwe Center at Virunga National Park. At the time, mountain gorilla orphans Ndakasi and Ndeze, who had been rescued as infants in 2007 when their mothers were killed, lived at a house in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. The park and MGVP wanted to move the orphans to a location where the environment and altitude would be close to what mountain gorillas experience in the wild. I asked Dr. Cranfield how much that would cost. He said $30,000.
I thought about that and made the decisions to donate the required amount of money for the 40M X 40M enclosure for the orphaned gorillas. It was an unconditional gift for an incredible species. Soon after, the enclosure was built and Ndakasi and Ndeze were successfully transferred to their new home at the Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park.
In 2009, I returned to Africa and finally had the chance to meet the mountain gorilla orphans and their caretaker Andre Bauma. I knew all about how Andre had helped save Ndakasi after her mother’s death and then had taken care of her and Ndeze from the day they both were rescued. When Andre and I met for the first time, we opened our arms, embraced, and cried. It was a great moment.
I have the highest regard for Andre because of his dedication to the conservation of nature. The sacrifices that Andre has made and continues to make for the safety of the orphaned mountain gorillas Ndakasi and Ndeze, and now also Maisha and Kaboko, is very unique. He is protecting his children as any good parent would.
This year the proceeds from the Edmonton Gorilla 5K Fun Run will go towards supporting veterinary care for the orphan mountain gorillas at Senkwekwe. Now that conflict has enveloped Virunga National Park it’s more important than ever to support the people who care for the gorillas. It is because of donations from people like you and me that, despite many challenges, mountain gorillas are still thriving in Africa. I believe that this is something of which we should all be proud.
You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.
Please consider supporting MGVP by making a secure online donation. Every dollar you give goes to directly supporting our gorilla health programs and One Health initiative. Thank you for your generosity.