The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo has created a crisis in Virunga
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The Battle for Goma
The city of Goma appears to be back to “normal” although banks are still closed, and no one is certain what will happen next and how life will change.
The Virunga Alternative Energy facility in Munigi on the edge of Goma was in the center of the battle when the cease-fire ended on Monday afternoon. Balemba and about 30 rangers hid in the offices, crouched on the floor during the worst of the fighting with mortars and tanks firing at each other just meters away. Thankfully they suffered no injuries, and the facility was undamaged.
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 mountain gorillas and a small population of eastern lowland gorillas. Formerly known as Albert National Park, Virunga 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).
Virunga NP Rangers: Some 273 park rangers protect Virunga National Park in eastern DR Congo, a region affected by a 12-year civil war and political instability. The park is home to mountain gorillas, lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, okapi, forest elephants and buffalo, among other wildlife. The rangers have remained active in protecting the park, classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Poaching, wildlife trafficking and habitat destruction remain the key threats to the survival of the wildlife in the park.
Mountain Gorillas are critically endangered. They live in only three countries: DR Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. A new census last year put the total world population of mountain gorillas at a minimum of 880, representing the 400 individuals in Bwindi and 480 mountain gorillas in the Virunga Massif. Both populations of mountain gorillas have had positive trends in population growth over the last decade.
Small though their numbers are, the census reveals that the mountain gorilla is the only great ape whose population is increasing despite continuous pressure on its habitat. This positive trend is due to the strong collaboration among the three countries where mountain gorillas live and the collective efforts on the ground by park staff, surrounding communities and local government, and non-governmental organizations.
The Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) and its rangers work throughout the country to protect the National Parks of Congo and their wildlife from poachers, rebel groups, illegal miners and land invasions. Rangers worked throughout the civil war to protect the 5 parks of eastern DRC, rarely receiving a salary, with over 130 killed in the last 15 years in Virunga National Park alone.
Report dated: 3 August 2012. For more information go to www.gorillacd.org/blog