Political Turmoil and the Gorillas of Virunga

National Geographic has an interesting story about how the arrest of a Congo warlord is putting the Gorillas at Virunga National Park:

After a 15-month-long absence, the rangers were able to return in November 2008 after the park’s director, Emmanuel de Merode, struck a deal directly with Nkunda to allow his rangers to resume their work.
It’s unclear how that arrangement–and the protection of the gorillas–will be affected by Nkunda’s arrest.
“We’re being swept around by [political] events right now, but the national park has made a very concerted effort to remain apolitical,” de Merode said Friday from the city of Goma, located outside Virunga.


Here is the problem:

In recent days Congolese government troops and CNDP rebels have been seen together on the ground throughout the region.
“There’s been a very dramatic shift over the last 48 hours … the Congolese government forces have established authority over [the area],” said de Merode, the Virunga park director.
Congolese government forces have been accused in the past of taking part in the illegal charcoal trade, which represents a major threat to the mountain gorillas and their habitat. Much of the charcoal is made from old-growth forest harvested inside Virunga National Park.

The roots of the conflict see to extend back into the 1990’s though:

A former general in the Congolese army, Nkunda, who is an ethnic Tutsi, took up arms several years ago against Congo’s government, claiming it wasn’t doing enough to protect minority Tutsis from the Hutu militias who had fled to Congo in the wake of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

I find it sad that the ethnic strife from 14 years ago is still creating conflict – this time in a neighboring country – and is now interfering with efforts to save the mountain gorillas.

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