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Rangers Abandon Gorilla Refuge as Rebels Invade Congo Park


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The plea went out to the world via email and Facebook yesterday:

Heavy fighting in DR Congo’s Gorilla Park started at 0400 today local time between the rebels of Laurent Nkunda and the army. It has now totally engulfed our Headquarters of Virunga National Park and the Gorilla Sector and our Rangers have been forced to flee into the forests. The rebels now are the only occupants of the Park Headquarters at Rumangabo. We have lost the entire gorilla sector.

This is a serious time. We need to get our 53 Rangers back to safety in Goma, 45km south of Rumangabo. The main road is blocked because of the fighting so they are walking through the forests of the park south, to Kibumba, about 20km away, where we aim to pick them up in trucks. We are trying to maintain phone contact but they don’t have much battery life in their phones.

There is something you can do right now that would help us enormously:

If you have about 3 minutes spare today, please send this cause to all of your friends, and ask them as vigorously as you can to join the cause.

The rebels are aware that we have public support all over the world. We need to build it up into an army of supporters and increase the pressure on the warring parties to allow us to continue our work in protecting the mountain and the rest of Virunga National Park. The knowledge that you are part of this cause is also a boost for the morale of the rangers.

We’d be extremely grateful.

Emmanuel de Merode

Director, Virunga National Park

National Geographic News published a report about this today, sent by our contributor in Kenya, Nicholas Wadhams: Rebels Seize Congo Gorilla Park; Hopes Dim For Apes.

It’s worth looking at the wider context of what’s going on.

As many as five million people may have been killed since what has become known as the Great War of Africa started in the Congo region ten years ago. Millions more have been displaced. It is said to be the bloodiest conflict since World War Two.

Much of the violence has centered on the eastern side of the country, which is a cauldron of armed groups that include the official Congo Army, rebel units of the army, United Nations peacekeeping troops, and who knows how many militias with who knows what agendas.

virunga map.png

 Map courtesy Gorilla.CD

At the root of eastern Congo’s woes, The Economist reported on October 16, is the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), composed in part of former Rwandan soldiers and Hutu extremists responsible for orchestrating the genocide of 800,000-plus people in Rwanda, mainly Tutsis, in 1994.

“According to victims, one of the newest groups to emerge is called the Rastas, a mysterious gang of dreadlocked fugitives who live deep in the forest, wear shiny tracksuits and Los Angeles Lakers jerseys and are notorious for burning babies, kidnapping women and literally chopping up anybody who gets in their way,” the New York Times reported earlier this month.

“United Nations officials said the so-called Rastas were once part of the Hutu militias who fled Rwanda after committing genocide there in 1994, but now it seems they have split off on their own and specialize in freelance cruelty,” the newspaper reported.

Caught in the swirl of this unfathomable horror is Virunga, home of many of the last of the mountain gorillas and the brave men and women trying to watch over them.


Photo of gorilla skulls from an unknown location by Michael Nichols/NGS

Additional information:

New Head of Gorilla Sanctuary Persuades Congo Army to Exit National Park (NatGeo News Watch)

Who Murdered the Virunga Gorillas? (National Geographic magazine)

Congo and Rwanda: Old foes, new threats (The Economist)

Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War (New York Times)

Gorilla.CD (Official Web site of Virunga National Park)