For the first time in more than a year, mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) Virunga National Park have been seen by park rangers, and are reported to be doing well.
Thanks to successful negotiations led by the park’s director, Emmanuel de Merode, the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) has been allowed to reenter and work in the southern part of the park.
“We were very worried about the mountain gorillas as we had not any contact with them for over a year, but ICCN rangers have already seen many of the mountain gorilla families and we are happy to report that most of them seem to be doing well,” said de Merode. “We are continuing our census of the gorillas and are reinstating our antipoaching operations.”
Last September rebels took control of several park sectors – including those with mountain gorillas – forcing park rangers and their families to evacuate the area. Since that time, the ICCN had not been able to monitor the gorillas. WWF has been providing equipment and logistical support to the ICCN, the government agency tasked with safeguarding the DRC’s protected areas.
Solutions for people and nature
While this is good news for the southern sector, the central and eastern areas remain very unstable. Because of the fighting over half of the ICCN’s staff and their families – more than 2,000 people – who work in Virunga National Park are now living in temporary sites.
The armed conflict in the region has forced thousands of others to flee their homes, and there are now an estimated 145,000 displaced people living in six sites just outside of the national park. The people living in these sites are in desperate need of food, shelter and fuelwood.
WWF is partnering with the United Nations and other organizations to provide firewood from sustainable sources to alleviate pressure on Virunga National Park’s forests. Established in 1987, the WWF-supported Virunga Environmental Program (PEVi) in the DRC contributes to the long-term health of Virunga's ecosystem and surrounding community. Among other activities, the project promotes privately or community-owned plantations that encourage economic development and the creation of alternative wood sources outside of Virunga National Park. PEVi also develops community-based management for the sustainable use of natural forests outside of the park.
In coordination with the United Nations, WWF is purchasing wood from these community plantations to supply wood for cooking and shelter to people fleeing the war zone who have settled near Virunga National Park. WWF has also been distributing fuel-efficient cooking stoves, which use half the amount of wood as a normal stove.
“WWF is working with humanitarian organizations responding to the conflict to help them adopt environmentally-friendly practices. Virunga National Park and the surrounding landscape are important sources of food and income for local communities. ‘Green’ disaster response provides better service for survivors and preserves their natural resources,” says Dr. Richard Carroll, managing director of WWF’s Congo Basin program.
WWF’s work in the Congo Basin’s Virunga landscape builds on more than 20 years of supporting Virunga National Park and its surrounding communities. In that time, WWF has helped promote sustainable livelihoods, provided environmental education and increased protection of critically endangered species like the mountain gorilla.