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Conservation Work Continues in Virunga Despite Instability

  • Friday, January 30, 2009

VIRUNGA HEARTLAND, DRC--The International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), the coalition AWF formed with Fauna and Flora International, and the Worldwide Fund for Nature, played an integral role in the recently completed survey of the habituated mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo's (DRC's) Virunga National Park, which revealed that despite continued conflict in and around the park, the habituated gorilla population has actually increased in the past two years.

With support and assistance from the IGCP DRC team, a group of ICCN (Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation) rangers completed 128 patrols on the monitoring exercise, which ran from late November 2008 to late January 2009. Preliminary results showed that the gorillas' numbers increased 12.5 percent, to 81 individuals from 72. Habituated gorillas are those used to human contact. The last survey was undertaken in August 2007. During the past 18 month period, 10 baby gorillas were born into four of the habituated families.

A new turn in the ongoing conflict in the region, however, has already added another layer of uncertainty to the health and stability of the growing population. With the arrest of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda on January 22, more fighting and political maneuvering has broken out in the region, with the gorillas again caught in the crossfire. Nkunda's group has been controlling Virunga National Park's Mikeno Sector, where the gorillas are found. After taking control of the sector close to two years ago, and park rangers evacuating to nearby Goma, a landmark agreement in November 2008 allowed them to return to their posts and restart gorilla monitoring.

IGCP has been assisting the rangers and their families throughout the conflict, including their move back into park headquarters at Rumangabo this past November. Despite the return to regular monitoring and the resilience of Virunga's gorillas, the political upheaval continues to leave a cloud over their future.

"We hope that through recent events reconciliation can finally begin," concluded Eugene Rutagarama, Director of IGCP. "Having shown their resilience, we look forward to a bright future of thriving communities, both gorilla and human, living in peace alongside each other."

IGCP will continue to face the challenges of the region and continue to build strong bonds with our partners in working towards this peace and prosperity.

To learn more about AWF's Virunga Heartland, click here.

To support IGCP, click here.

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