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Mountain Gorillas Believed Safe as Forest Fire Spreads

  • Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Virunga Heartland--The Rwanda National Park Service, local authorities, community members, police and a cadre of soldiers are battling a fire in Volcanoes National Park thought to be accidentally set by a local beekeeper. Dry conditions and a strong wind fueled the flames, which have crossed the Rwanda border onto the Uganda side of Mount Muhabura, which sits in Mgahinga National Park. An estimated 100-200 hectares of land have been burned over the past two days.

Muhabura is one of the chain of eight volcanoes that make up the Virunga Massif, which straddles the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. The region is home to the world's 700 remaining mountain gorillas; however, the fire is reportedly spreading in an area where gorillas rarely go.

"Mountain gorillas have rarely been found near where the fire has spread, and we hope none have been hurt. The dedicated mobilization of government officials -- ministers, Park authorities, local governments, army and police -- and the communities in fighting the fire in both countries bodes well for all the wildlife in the area," says Eugene Rutagarama, Director of the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP)--a coalition of AWF, Fauna and Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Rwanda's authorities are attempting to put the fire out, as are authorities in Uganda, using helicopters and other means. Uganda authorities have called on volunteers to help with the efforts. By some reports, this is the first large-scale forest fire in Volcanoes National Park in 20 years.

The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has been a leader in mountain gorilla conservation for over three decades, conducting that work today through IGCP.

AWF will update supporters as new information about the fire becomes available.

Latest media reports on fire in Virunga Massif:

Fire Breaks Out in Rwandan Gorilla Park, AFP, July 20

Fire Devastates Section of Gorilla Park Forest, ETN, July 20

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