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Visit to the gorilla family of film stars

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By SUSAN MUUMBI
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One early misty morning last month in Gisenyi, Rwanda, our guide Jerome explained that we would be climbing Bisoke mountain to see the Titus family. We were a group of six women representing various media and travel groups from all over the world.

Gorillas can live up to 4,000 metres above sea level, Jerome explained, but sometimes it gets too cold and they move to lower areas.

According to information received the day before from the rangers who look after the gorillas in the mountains, the family was not very high up. Our hike was thus rated medium.

The Titus family is famous. According to his Wikipedia page, Titus was a silverback mountain gorilla observed by researchers almost continuously over his entire life.

Titus was named by US primatologist Dian Fossey. His fame first came with his part in the film of Fossey’s life, Gorillas in the Mist (1988) and later as the star of a BBC documentary The Gorilla King (2008).

Titus sired more children than any other gorilla on record, and by 2004 controlled the largest known gorilla troop in the world. He died in 2009, at the age of 35. We were going to visit his children, grandchildren and other relatives.

At the bottom of Bisoke mountain at Volcanoes National Park, we hired porters to carry our bags and give us a hand up the steep slippery stretches of the climb. The terrain was slightly muddy at the start, and became swampy by the time we were nearing the area where the gorillas were.

After about two hours of steady climbing, Jerome received word that we were close. The porters stayed behind with our bags and we went ahead, cameras in hand. And there they were.

The family is now led by the silverback Pato. The group has two silverbacks, Pato and Urwibutso, but Pato is the dominant one.

A third male, Segasira, aged 12, will soon become a silverback. The youngest of the family, baby Macibiri, stayed close to mother Kurudi.

The family was relaxing, some slept while others chewed on succulent leaves. Gorillas get all the water they need from plants. They made crunchy yumyum sounds while chewing, clearly enjoying their stinging nettles and bamboo shoots.

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We watched them for a while. Macibiri stayed close to Kurudi who was mostly minding her own business. Segasira was the most active; he stood up and beat his chest to remind us who was boss in this territory. He pranced around and at one point, when we were lined up taking pictures about 15 metres away, he came bounding towards the group.

Mountain gorilla

Mother Kurudi and baby Macibiri from the Titus family, in Mt Bisoke. PHOTO | SUSAN MUUMBI | NMG

We crouched down, as Jerome had instructed us earlier, to show that we were no threat. Between Laura and I, we gave him way. But as soon as he had passed, he stretched out his back leg and kicked Laura in the lower back!

Jerome assured us that this was normal teenage behaviour, and Segasira was just showing off. However, Laura, a city girl from Los Angeles, was having none of it and that was the end of her visit.

A few off us continued to follow the gorillas a few metres further, and hung out with Urwibutso who was sitting a few metres away, chomping on leaves.

Too soon, our hour was up, the gorillas sauntered away, and we started our descent.

Halfway down, the rain came down — continuously — it didn’t help that some of us had neglected earlier advice to take our raincoats with us.

Feeling highly accomplished and totally drenched, we got back to the tour vehicle that was waiting at the bottom of the mountain.

The gorilla population in the Virunga mountains that cover parts of Rwanda, Uganda and the DR Congo has risen to more than 1,000, according to the latest census.

This is good news for the critically endangered species, but if their habitat cannot handle the increasing numbers there could be serious fighting for space. Mountain gorillas live inside the protected park. Outside the park, however, the land is surrounded by human settlements and farms, which have reduced much of the original forest cover.

Some organisations are helping to increase the park land. In January, African Wildlife Foundation handed over 27 hectares of land to expand the habitat of mountain gorillas. The organisation has supported Rwanda’s mountain gorillas for the past 40 years. The 27 hectares added to the park’s 16,000 hectares.

Wilderness Safaris, which operates Bisate Lodge near Volcanoes National Park, reforested the park near the lodge.

“In 2017 and the first half of 2018 we planted nearly 20,000 indigenous trees adjacent to the park on a 42-hectare piece of land,” said Chris Roche, Wilderness Safaris chief marketing officer.

Rwanda certainly treasures its gorillas heritage for posterity.

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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