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Wildlife Watch: Parks in Zaire Cope with Volcanoes, Civil War

  • Thursday, May 1, 1997

THE VOLCANO NYAMULAGIRA ERUPTED recently in Zaire's Virungas National Park, the lava flow stopping short of a forest inhabited by chimpanzees.

The volcano, active over the course of about six weeks, did not affect civil-war refugees camped near the park. The regular eruptions destroy forest and create a mosaic of forest habitats on the lava flows, according to the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), a project jointly managed by AWF, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Park authorities have had much more to contend with than the volcano in recent months. Political instability has made it difficult, and dangerous, for the staff of the Zaire Institute for the Conservation of Nature to monitor mountain gorillas in the Virungas. So far, the IGCP reports, habituated groups are unharmed, but it has not been possible to survey wild groups.

Civil war is also making it hard to monitor and protect the rare northern white rhino (only 31 exist in the wild) living in Garamba National Park in northern Zaire. No news has come from the park since mid-February. Conservationists are guardedly optimistic, however, since the rebels have been sympathetic to conservation efforts elsewhere. Kes Fraser Smith of the African Rhino Specialist Group reports that the rhino is also threatened by people poaching for meat, a situation probably exacerbated by the dry season, and by the park staff's urgent need for support.

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