FRESH FIGHTING CAUSES COLLATERAL DAMAGE TO VIRUNGA RANGER POSTS
Gorilla conservation in the Congo DR has just become even more difficult as reports emerged via Rwanda that a fresh outbreak of fighting has seen the vitally important ranger post in Bikenge, at the edge of the park, extensively damaged through shelling, almost making it appear as if it was deliberately targeted by one of the opposing forces to clear the way for more sinister things to happen.
Conflict in Eastern Congo has been continuing for decades but even before the first Congo war the area was often described as the Wild East of what was previously Zaire before returning to its original name Congo after Mobutu Ssese Seko was overthrown..
The neighbouring ranger post at the Virunga boundary in Bukima was also reportedly evacuated as the safety of the staff there could no longer be guaranteed, after the shelling of Bikenge.
It was at the same time also learned that a ranger patrol was a few days earlier ambushed by suspected militias with a reported three park staff killed in the process.
Attacks on rangers and park outposts in the past often were the precursor to poaching incidents, when gorillas, other primates and game were killed for bush meat and trophies, and although there are no reports at present of any poaching going on. However, the absence of patrols in the face of immediate danger to the park staffs lives does not permit right now to establish what exactly has been transpiring inside the park nor was it possible to ascertain that the habituated gorilla groups are safe.
Travel advisories have been coming down thick and fast to avoid travelling to Eastern Congo and the fighting at if not inside the park will once again dramatically reduce the income from visits to the gorillas, while leaving the park administration and management in further tatters and again spoiling the reputation of the park, something conservation NGOs and park management have been working hard to mitigate in the past.
Transboundary gorilla conservation has been at the heart of the cooperation between Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo DR wildlife management bodies but the periodic fighting across the border inside and outside the Virunga National Park has been making joint patrols, joint anti poaching operations and joint tourism activities very difficult at best and as is the case right now again next to impossible. The loss of park staff who lost their lives in the pursuit of conservation is deeply regretted and condolences are once again expressed to their families and friends. Watch this space.