Friday, January 23, 2009

DIARY: PROTECTING MOUNTAIN GORILLAS!

Rangers standing next to the four dead gorillas (Image: Altor IGCP Goma)
In July 2007, armed men entered the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park and killed five critically endangered mountain gorillas at point-blank range, leaving the bodies where they fell.

Since September 2007, rebel forces have controlled the area, threatening to kill any conservationists or gorilla rangers who attempted to enter the area.

Recently, the rangers and their families had to flee from their homes and live in makeshift camps as the latest outbreak of violence engulfed the eastern part of the country.

Diddy and Innocent are long-serving rangers who have spent their working lives protecting the remaining gorillas in the war-torn region.

In this weekly diary, they describe life on conservation's frontline and the frustration of how current events are hampering their efforts.

FRIDAY 23 JANUARY - BEGINNING OF THE END?
CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda (Getty Images)
Could the arrest of Laurent Nkunda signal the end of the conflict

We have been receiving reports that CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda was arrested last night.

I don't know how it seems from the outside, but for us living through these events, it started with disbelief, then confusion, followed by amazement.

Right now, we don't dare hope that peace is finally here.

Last week, Bosco - a very senior CNDP commander - announced a comprehensive ceasefire with the Congolese army.

It was unclear if this was the official CNDP position, and many of us didn't pay much attention to it.

However, it soon transpired that the Rwandan chief of staff was present, together with senior Congolese military officers; that's an unusual mix.

Soon after, CNDP then formally confirmed the ceasefire.

Earlier this week, there were reports of significant Rwandan army movements into Congo. We had heard this before, and I don't always believe it.

Rwandan military moving into Congo is not a joking matter. But suddenly, there they were calmly marching past our park station at Rumangabo.

Ranger dismantling a snare (Image: Gorilla.cd)
Snares have been one of the biggest threats to the wildlife in recent months

On Thursday, we looked on as truckloads of Congolese military crossed the battlefronts into CNDP territory.

Now, they're all working together: Rwandan army, Congolese soldiers and the CNDP rebel force.

It remains to be seen what will happen to General Nkunda himself.

The rangers of Virunga National Park have been working under very difficult conditions during the war.

Many have been displaced with their families, some have been caught in the crossfire, and several have died in the line of duty.

We hope that this week marks the beginning of the end of this conflict and that the rangers can get back to work protecting wildlife.

In particular, there is much to be done in the area of the park that had until now been the front-line, such as monitoring the population of mountain gorillas and destroying the hundreds of snares that have been placed in the forest during our absence.

Emmanuel de Merode, Virunga National Park director

BBC NEWS REPORT.

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