Sadly this week there has been yet more trouble in Virunga National Park. Home to over half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population, the park, which is situated close to the border with Rwanda in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has hit the news a number of times over the past few months due to the massacre of nine gorillas within its borders.
This week, rebels led by General Laurent Nkunda took control of three patrol posts in the park, forcing the rangers who normally protect the park’s incredible wildlife to evacuate. One park ranger has been killed and at least one other was seriously injured in the conflict.
Map of the Mikeno Gorilla Sector, DRC © Wildlifedirect.org
The three patrol posts taken by the rebels – Bikenge, Jomba and Bukima – were strategic posts set up in the Mikeno sector of the park for the monitoring and protection of mountain gorillas. Fighting between the regular army and the rebels in this area forced rangers to evacuate, leaving the gorillas with no protection. At least one gorilla, an infant, has been killed, probably as a result of being caught up in the conflict. More than 300 refugees, including rangers and their families, were forced to flee the area.
Norbert Mushenzi, Director of the Southern Sector of Virunga National Park for the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) said, “If anything happens to the mountain gorillas now there is nothing we can do. As of today [3rd Sept] the sector is no longer under my control and we have been rendered powerless by these actions.”
General Nkunda’s forces are believed to have moved to the park in pursuit of Rwandan Hutu rebels, who have bases there. The general, a Tutsi, has accused the government of forming an alliance against him with the Hutu FDLR, accused of involvement in the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis.
Yesterday, a handful of rangers made their way back to the Bukima Patrol Post, which is now occupied by the Congolese military. However, Jomba is still being held by the rebels and there are reports of heavy fighting between these two posts.
I hope that by Monday I will be able to post some good news on this blog, but I fear that the troubles are far from over in Virunga.
If you wish to find out more about this terrible situation please visit the Wildlife Direct website, where you can read the latest news in the form of blogs written by the parks rangers themselves.