The start of a new year is always exciting, and January was an exciting and busy month at Bisate that is for sure!
A couple of months ago we thought that our bookings might slow down a little in January, but this turned out to be so not true! Most of the evenings all our villas were filled with guests dreaming about their gorilla tracking. Our guests have been very happy and appreciative of all the activities and surprises that we organised for them. From the welcome song to the shoe-cleaning service, guests enjoyed every little detail. Most of our guests are already planning to return to Bisate Lodge and spend more time in Rwanda!
Climate and Landscape
Temperatures dropped this month and it was unusually cold. There’s nothing better then, than enjoying the fireplace in your room with a cup of Rwandan coffee or tea! The cold temperatures produced beautiful views of Karisimbi covered with snow. Although this is a very rare sight at any time of year, this January we had snow on the peak of Karisimbi several times. On the 1st of January it seemed like one third of the volcano was covered in snow: Amasimbi kuri Karisimbi (snow on Karisimbi).
It may be one of nature's more heart-breaking scenes: a mountain gorilla mother refusing to let go of her dead infant. The family Dumont staying at Bisate Lodge happened to witness this during one of their gorilla treks. When they arrived at the gorilla family, one of the females was carrying a dead baby. The trackers informed the guests that the mother had recently had a miscarriage. Our guests saw how the mother was cuddling the dead baby and how she refused to let it go.
This very rare sighting led me to investigate the mourning of gorillas further, and indeed their mourning has been witnessed on numerous occasions. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park, ranger Innocent Mburanumwe witnessed first-time mother Ruzuzi appearing to grieve over her less-than-two-week-old baby. Ruzuzi kept the body with her for more than a week, according to Mburanumwe.
Gorillas have long been known to exhibit care for the dead and Mburanumwe has also seen behaviour similar to that of Ruzuzi's on at least three other occasions.
Virunga veterinarian Jan Ramer said, "While we can never know what is really going on in their heads, it sure seems some gorillas do mourn – or don't accept that the individual is dead.”
"When an adult female died last year, her three sons stayed with her body for 24 hours," added Ramer, a regional vet manager for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project who has studied mountain gorillas since the mid-1980s. "I believe they were sad and confused, which is how I feel when I am mourning."
Although sad to witness it shows us how closely related gorillas are to us and how there is so much more to learn about them.
Reforestation and Conservation
Good news for the gorillas and a whole heap of other endemic flora and fauna of the Volcanoes National Park is that an ambitious project to expand the size of the park and thus increase gorilla habitat has begun. This visionary initiative is being led by the Rwanda Development Board in partnership with a variety of other stakeholders. The first donation of land took place during January when the Africa Wildlife Foundation presented the Government of Rwanda with 27.8 hectares of land to be incorporated into the park. As our part in the partnership, Wilderness Safaris donated 50 trees for ceremonial planting by the dignitaries attending the event and will play an important role in the reforestation of this land.
As Wilderness Safaris and Bisate move forward with the reforestation of the land we are thrilled to imagine the future possibilities for mountain gorillas (and other biodiversity) as well as local communities.
Rehabilitation of the Bisate property is ongoing. We now see the mountain buzzard Buteo oreophilus on a regular basis, a good endorsement of our reforestation programme since it is a bird of prey that inhabits montane forest at an altitude of 2 000 to 3 800 metres.
Even more exciting is the capture on our camera trap of a possible servaline genet, a genet species native to Central Africa. We are hoping to get clear pictures soon to confirm the species. The servaline genet's fur is rufous with black spots on its neck, back and sides. Its feet are black and the long tail is banded with wide black and narrow white rings with a bright tip at the end of its tail. It is short-haired and has a dark broken stripe along the spine.
On the last day of the month we saved a juvenile African goshawk that we found inside the management house. The poor thing must have entered via an open door and could not find his way out again. After releasing it on the grass the young goshawk rested a little bit before flying off and settling in one of the treetops.
Joseph and Maria, our tailoring duo from the community, were very busy this month. The month started off very well for Maria, who is now the proud owner of the sewing machine that Bisate bought for her in June last year. She had committed to pay back the value of the sewing machine so that she could really own it, the sewing table and a few essential tools like scissors and measuring lint. With the jobs she completed in 2017, she saved up half of her earnings so that she could pay back Bisate for the investment.
In January we asked Joseph and Maria for many different sewing jobs. We needed to fix and replace some uniforms, some of our guests asked them to make them shirts, the curio shop needed to be filled with new handbags and we needed small purses for our turn-down gifts. All in all Joseph and Maria had a very productive month! Most of our guests saw the duo working in front of Maria’s little house with their sewing machines whirring away!
Bisate Staff News
For many of our guests, the Bisate Dusabane dinner is one of the highlights of their stay at Bisate. Dusabane means coming together and sharing together. Rwandan culture is the central theme of the evening and the Bisate team explains to guests the use of traditional baskets and pots, the ways of traditional cooking and how sharing food and drinks is so much part of the Rwandan lifestyle.
The Bisate team also performs with beautiful singing and dancing between the different courses, of course wearing traditional Rwandan clothing (made by none other than Joseph and Maria – naturally!).
Our kitchen team had a big adjustment to make as the executive chef Lisl Meyer finished her contract in Rwanda in December. In January the kitchen team had to stand on their own, and with Jean Marie as the head chef at Bisate, the transition went very well. Beautiful dishes kept on coming out of the Bisate kitchen: tasty cheese platters for our wine-tasting evenings, a birthday cake made completely out of fruit for a guest who preferred a carb-and sugar-free treat, and savoury petit fours for pre-dinner snacks! All delicious and healthy with fresh ingredients harvested from our surrounding gardens.
For the pictures accompanying this newsletter we need to give special thanks to Chris Roche, Grant Woodrow and Lex Hess.
“To everyone at Bisate, Thank you for the most beautiful adventure of our lifetime. The gorillas were amazing! We feel so blessed to have learned about village life and Rwandan culture. We will be leaving part of our heart here in Rwanda. You are all so remarkable, so generous, kind, loving and welcoming. Thank you for sharing this magical place with us. We will be back! Murakoze!”
“Thank you for a wonderful stay at Bisate Lodge. It’s a truly beautiful lodge that is outdone only by the scenery, landscapes and the great lodge staff.”
“Our stay was nothing short of spectacular and the perfect way to end our visit to Rwanda. Everything about the lodge was extraordinary, but the warm, friendly and helpful people made the experience unforgettable. We look forward to our return.”
“Nothing compares!! Thank you for the most incredible stay. Already planning to be back. ASAP”
“Thank you so much for such a wonderful stay. Truly special with incredible experiences. We have loved every minute and thank you for the special memories! We will be back! Thank you Bisate team for your warmth and enthusiasm. We will never forget you all!”
“We were both so happy to share this wonderful lodge with all the amazing staff. Ingrid and Rob were so welcoming – we loved the welcome song, the visit to the village, the people, the food and visiting the gorillas. This is a magical place. We hope to return one day! Thank you!”