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Mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park threatened by heavy artillery

Virunga National Park, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has evacuated staff from three of five patrol posts around Mikeno Sector, the mountain gorilla sector of the park, due to heavy fighting between rebels and the Congolese army over the weekend.

The Chief Warden for Virunga National Park, Dr. Emmanuel de Merode, said in a statement released by the park “We are deeply concerned with the safety of the mountain gorillas who are exposed to the dangers of artillery fire, but we must also take care of our staff who have to be evacuated from the combat zone.  As soon as there is a lull in the fighting, we will return to check on the gorillas.”

The intense fighting, which began Thursday evening in and around the park’s gorilla patrol posts of Bikenge and Jomba, caused serious damage to Bikenge, forcing rangers to abandon their positions. Staff at Bukima patrol post evacuated late Saturday evening following information of rebel infiltration in the area. Two of the five gorilla posts remain open.

In the last three years, the park has experienced a dramatic increase in tourism with over 5,000 tourists visiting the park, demonstrating the most promising sign of potential future stability in the North Kivu region. Virunga National Park has suspended tourism attractions due to the movement of rebels into the gorilla sector and attractions will remain closed until the security situation is stable.

“We admire the courage and resolve of Dr. de Merode and his staff in protecting the wildlife of Virunga National Park,” comments Sam Mwandha, Executive Secretary of the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration or GVTC. “We hope the fighting will be over soon so that park staff can resume their duties of protecting this landscape and its flagship species, the mountain gorilla.”

As reported by GVTC last week, transboundary collaboration within the Virunga Massif remains strong. “It is in these moments we appreciate the true value of transboundary collaboration,” states Maxime Nzita Nganga, Deputy Executive Secretary within the GVTC. “This mechanism and the incredible efforts by all partners in both DRC and Rwanda that allowed for the safe return of a coordinated patrol caught deep in the park when the militia moved into Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park.”

Starting on Wednesday, May 16, a routine regional meeting involving staff from the protected areas, NGOs, and government partners will take place in Kasese, Uganda. These regional meetings, coordinated by the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration allow for information transfer and collaborative actions between and among the transboundary protected areas of the Greater Virunga Landscape.

 

 

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