Climate and Landscape
May proved to be somewhat of a transitional month at Bisate; days of ample rainfall at the start of the month have started to make way (though intermittently) for days of sunshine, with excellent views of Bisoke, Karisimbi and Mikeno volcanoes from the lodge.
With the changing weather, peak season has also begun. Bisate’s staff have been exceptionally busy, working long hours to ensure every guest leaves the lodge happy. They represent both Wilderness Safaris and the Rwandan people proudly and exceptionally well, and have been complimented by every guest who has stayed at Bisate to this point.
Reforestation and Wildlife
Another month of good, consistent rainfall meant that Jean-Moise and our agronomy department were very busy taking care of their saplings in the nursery on the property. They have also been busy weeding and making space for new saplings by removing alien vegetation (mainly eucalyptus, alnus and wattle) and the official number of saplings now planted on the Bisate property stands at 20 000. Together with almost 10 000 saplings in the nursery, which is growing steadily, this is really an outstanding achievement from Jean Moise and his team, and our reforestation efforts will make an enormous impact on the area in years to come.
Together with around 160 members of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) we have also created the Karisoke Forest. In the last montheach member planted a sapling on a part of the Bisate property that had previously been a eucalyptus forest. Thanks to all the DFGFI team members for contributing!
Ongoing reforestation efforts mean the changing habitat will allow for more and more forest species to reside around Bisate. Visually, the area around the guest units especially, and on Bisate Hill, have changed quite drastically in the last year and the hagenia, particularly, is growing at a rapid rate. A great example of this is the tree planted by His Excellency Paul Kagame on 1st September 2017. This hagenia, locally known as umugeshi, stands at about four feet after a little more than eight months. It also seems to have a resident Rwenzori bearded chameleon living in it!
While a couple of new butterfly and bird species were identified, one species clearly stood out. We were alerted by Benjamin, our F&B Manager, about a bird that had flown into the wine cellar. He expertly captured the bird and brought it up to show us. To all of our amazement it was none other than an African pitta. This bird was undoubtedly on its northward migration and stopped over on the property where it must have accidentally flown into the wine cellar. African pittas are a beautiful forest species, mainly residing on the forest floor, skulking in the undergrowth and thick vegetation. They are notoriously difficult to spot, secretive by nature and as such, high on any birder’s checklist. To our knowledge the bird has only been recorded twice in the last ten years in this region. We released the bird safely and it immediately resumed its northward passage. A great addition to our species checklist!
Our camera traps yielded some interesting results over the last month. The usual suspects were around, and two side-striped jackals are frequently recorded together on the camera traps. We are also almost sure that two different serval are moving through the property, having been recorded in very different areas here. Unfortunately we have not been able to identify them by spot pattern or any other characteristic just yet.
Another very intriguing set of images showed what is surely a slender mongoose on the rim of the volcanic crater. This would also be a new addition to the species checklist. Let us hope it shows itself again in the weeks to come.
The biggest news of all, however, comes not from Bisate directly, but rather from Volcanoes National Park, which, together with Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, and Virunga National Park in the DRC have released new numbers from a mountain gorilla census. Globally, there are now just over 1 000 mountain gorillas left in the wild – a number that has certainly increased substantially since the last census in 2016, when only 880 were counted. 604 individuals were counted in the Virunga Mountains, which means that the forests around Bisate Lodge host the most important population, as the forest here has the densest aggregation of family groups. This fact is most likely attributed to outstanding anti-poaching efforts and the fertile volcanic soil, which allows the most palatable plants to grow and rejuvenate the fastest. The fertile soil is also the reason that Volcanoes National Park shrank in the 1960s as it made room for agriculture and cash crops. However, with the projection of population moving upwards in recent years, the mountain gorilla remains Critically Endangered, requiring even more suitable habitat and space to be a stable species.
We were lucky to receive more generous donations sent by former guests; these were distributed around the Bisate community by Aline and Jean Pierre.
The ALWAYS SMILE foundation was founded by Bisate staff members last year, and headed by masseuse Orlane and barman Jean-Claude. Its primary function is to support the local community as well as staff members at the lodge. Up to now, members have been contributing a small part of their salary and gratuities on a monthly basis. Then in May, Orlane and Jean-Claude made the decision to put the accumulated funds to use. They identified 20 members of the community adjacent to Bisate who were really in need of help and with the funds managed to purchase health care for one year for these community members. This really is a perfect example of how “our journeys change lives.” And it was all thanks to the initiative of Bisate staff!
We continued with more training before the busy season began. First up was service training. The training helped reinforce the team bond and remind Bisate staff of what a special unit they are and what a unique lodge they work at.
Trainers Zara and Alex also had the opportunity to complete a few practical Lobster Ink exams, which meant that a number of staff members finished the staff training with further hospitality qualifications. Massive thanks to Zara and Alex for their hard work at Bisate.
The next and last training was arguably the most important. Three days of accident and emergency response and procedure training took place under the expert instruction of Dr Oliver. At first the management and senior staff took part in the training and then on the last day all staff members took part in a couple of practical scenarios. First Aid training courses are vital, and it was good to refresh everybody’s skills and confidence in their ability. It is knowledge we never want to have to use but are very happy to have.
We welcomed a number of new staff to Bisate in May. Some of them will move to Magashi in the coming year and are at Bisate to learn the Wilderness Way, whilst some are new additions to the Bisate team. They have all settled in well and are already part of our family here. A massive welcome to Patience, Eric, Sam, Rachel, Elie, Anivia, Aline and Angelus!
The efforts of all Bisate staff have led to consistently good feedback and comments from guests.
‘Wow! What a fantastic place to stay… we enjoyed every minute – friendly staff, delicious food, warm hospitality, gorillas, golden monkeys, perfect weather! Thanks you so much… we can’t wait to come back.’
‘What a wonderful place! We planted a tree, met with the people from the village, went to the Dian Fossey grave and above all saw the mountain gorillas! A truly unique experience! Thank you to Wilderness Safaris and the team at the lodge.’
‘We were blessed to be here! We made many friends, see you soon! Peace and Love! I love Rwanda!
‘Lovely, lovely, lovely. So peaceful. Phenomenal accommodation. Will miss you.’
‘Absolutely incredible experience – gorillas, staff, food, property! You must try the gorilla smash!’
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