Thirty-nine wildlife rangers dedicated to protecting some of the world’s last mountain gorillas are unaccounted for in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Fears are growing for the workers who were forced to flee into dense forest after their headquarters were stormed by rebels on Sunday.
The rangers, who patrol and protect Virunga National Park assisted by EU funds from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), have no food, water or shelter and are surrounded by warring armed groups.
ZSL’s Africa Programme Manager, Dr Noëlle Kümpel, said: “The situation in Virunga is incredibly dangerous; the safety of the rangers caught in the crossfire is our first priority.”
“These people have devoted their lives to protecting Virunga’s mountain gorillas – whose survival now also hangs in the balance.”
Dr Emmanuel de Merode, Provincial Director of the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) said: “Virunga is in an unprecedented crisis. The fighting continues to spread in all directions, the rangers have lost control of the southern sector of the park, and 39 gorilla rangers are still missing. We urgently need support to protect the rangers and their families.”
ZSL is supporting the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN)’s emergency appeal to help the gorilla rangers of Virunga and their families by raising money for vital supplies.
More than 120 rangers have died in the last decade of civil war and instability while protecting Virunga’s wildlife. Many have worked with little or no wages to guard the Park’s unique wildlife and last fragments of unspoilt forest.
Now Virunga National Park’s 200 mountain gorillas are under severe threat as armed rebels invade their habitat and the humanitarian crisis in DRC deepens.
Dr Kümpel added: “This humanitarian crisis is likely to have a devastating effect on conservation efforts in this area for a long time to come.”
“The Park’s dedicated rangers are critical to its future and they need continued support. We are asking people to log on to the Park’s website at Https://gorilla.cd/ or Https://www.zsl.org to donate money which will go straight to them and their families.”
The rest of the rangers based at the Park headquarters at Rumangabo and those at other patrol posts in the southern and central sectors of the Park have been evacuated along with their families to a camp in the town of Goma. Funds are urgently needed to provide basic food, water, sanitation and medical care for the 670 people in the camp, which also experienced a cholera outbreak this week.