Rangers of Virunga National Park Evacuate, while Infant Mountain Gorilla in Rwanda Dies From Snare
VIRUNGA HEARTLAND, July 18, 2012 -- Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC's) Virunga National Park shows no sign of stopping as fighting between the Congolese army and rebel group M23 took a turn for the worse on July 6. Virunga National Park, Africa's oldest national park, is home to approximately 200 of the world's critically endangered mountain gorillas.
Rangers of Virunga National Park got word of a possible attack on a military base just a few kilometers from park headquarters in Rumangabo, and on July 8, the decision was made to evacuate rangers and their families, approximately 800 people, to a temporary camp in Goma, a city in eastern DRC.
The rebels moved throughout the Mikeno Sector but reportedly did not enter Virunga National Park or cause major damage in the villages they occupied around the headquarters. Even so, tensions have made daily monitoring of habituated mountain gorillas impossible since early June. Although the last time that all six families were seen, they were reported to be safe, their current status is unknown. African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), through its partner, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), is hoping the mountain gorillas have been able to avoid conflict and that fighting will ease soon to allow for monitoring. IGCP is a coalition of AWF, Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature.
"Our thoughts are with the rangers, families, and mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park during this unsafe and difficult time. Although mountain gorillas are not a direct target of the conflict, losing ground in their monitoring is troubling, and their safety is compromised when the region sees any type of civil unrest," said Craig Sholley, mountain gorilla expert and vice president for philanthropy and marketing at AWF.
"The evacuations of all the staff to the displacement camp in Goma went very well, with everyone both in Rumangabo and in Goma doing an extraordinary job," Emmanuel de Merode, Virunga National Park warden, wrote on the park's website on July 9. "The conditions in the new camp are very tough, with everyone living in terribly cramped conditions under tarpaulins, but they have safety, food, and drinking water."
Sad News Across the Border
Meanwhile, mountain gorillas residing across the border in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, are also facing difficulties. On July 15, Ngwino, an infant mountain gorilla, died after being caught in a poacher's rope snare. Despite an intervention by the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program, an NGO with which AWF/IGCP works closely, the rope caught on Ngwino's leg caused injuries beyond repair. With advanced gangrene in her foot, gangrene that had spread to her arm and thorax, and a severe shoulder wound (most likely caused when the other gorillas tried to free her from the snare), Ngwino is the second mountain gorilla known to have died from a poacher's snare this year. The first was an unhabituated mountain gorilla in February. Ngwino's body was recovered and will soon be transported to the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project office for necropsy.
A second infant mountain gorilla, Akarusho, is still missing after being freed from a snare on July 3. Field staff in Volcanoes National Park is continuing to search for him to ensure he has not sustained further injuries from the snare.
AWF is saddened by the news of Ngwino and hopes Akarusho is found safe and healthy. Even in areas of political stability where daily mountain gorilla monitoring is possible, snares and other dangers pose deadly threats for this critically endangered species.
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Founded in 1961, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is a leading conservation organization focused solely on the African continent. AWF's programs and conservation strategies are based on sound science and designed to protect both the wild lands and wildlife of Africa and ensure a more sustainable future for Africa's people. Since its inception, AWF has protected endangered species and land, promoted conservation enterprises that benefit local African communities, and trained hundreds of African nationals in conservation--all to ensure the survival of Africa's unparalleled wildlife heritage. AWF is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Kenya and registered as a 501(c)(3) in the United States. For more information, visit www.awf.org.
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