Caught in the Crossfire: Concern for the people and gorillas of Virunga National Park
The mountain gorilla sector of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is under siege after an infiltration by renegade soldiers last week. Above photo by LuAnne Cadd/ Virunga National Park.
The situation is complicated and evolving in each moment, but to help everyone understand the situation, Virunga National Park posted a summary of events and their locations on the website gorilla.cd. We encourage people to follow that website to stay up to date on the situation.
Unfortunately, one ranger has died in the last week.
“The resurgence of war in this area is a high risk for both critically endangered mountain gorillas and humans,” states Dr. Augustin Basabose, Interim Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme or IGCP, a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature.
“Though mountain gorillas are not directly a target of the opposing forces, the bombardments of heavy artillery in their habitat are sure to have a negative impact on their behavior and jeopardize their safety,” Basabose continues. “In addition, rangers who monitor habituated mountain gorilla groups on a daily basis were forced to suspend these activities. It will, therefore, be difficult to get any news on the status of these mountain gorillas until the fighting stops.”
The epicenter of heavy fighting between the rebels and the Congolese Army since Friday, in the Jomba area, is also the epicenter for IGCP community conservation activities as of late. IGCP’s Programme Officer and Country Representative in DRC, Altor Musema, remains in contact with the community associations IGCP works with in the area. “From the information I received this morning, there was no fighting through Sunday night in the Jomba area,” states Musema. “But the situation remains the same today because the rebels are still occupying villages surrounding Bikenge and Jomba patrol posts, including the village of Chanzu, where IGCP is currently constructing one communal and 11 household rainwater harvesting tanks.”
Please note that Chanzu is also known as Cianzu or Cyanzu.
IGCP has contacted most of the community associations that we work with (associations of beekeepers, associations that repair the buffalo wall, and associations who build household rainwater harvesting tanks) and hear that most people fled to neighboring Uganda as the fighting erupted last Friday and have fortunately stayed safe.
Over 150 rangers have died while on duty in Virunga National Park since 1990 and at least 23 mountain gorillas have been killed in Virunga National Park in this period due to recurrent conflict in the region.
Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park (established in 1925) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, is home to approximately 200 of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas and a small population of eastern lowland gorillas. Formerly known as Albert National Park, Virunga National Park lies in eastern DR Congo and covers 7,800 square kilometers. The park is managed by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN).