Fighting in the Congo: Mountain Gorillas at risk
The fighting in the Congo has intensified in the last few days, but there are some victims of the conflict that are being forgotten: the Mountain Gorillas of the Virunga National Park. The park is home to 200 endangered gorillas, but their rangers were driven from the park on October 26 by the forces of Laurent Nkunda, and had to flee for their lives. The future of the gorilla population in the area is now in serious jeopardy.
The rangers blogged about being driven away from the park, having to leave their gorillas behind.
Confusion is probably the only way to describe the situation. There is a lot of shooting in town, with some heavy weapons further away. Everyone is staying at home. There has been some looting, mainly armed men stealing cars and motorbikes. Laurent Nkunda made a statement on television and radio announcing a unilateral cease-fire, which is encouraging, but unfortunately does not translate into a peaceful evening.
We’ve suffered a barrage of rumours including the invasion of the Rwandan army, Angolan mercenaries coming in from the west, just about everything, none of which is terribly helpful. I keep in regular touch with the team as the cellphone network is still working well. They are all in good spirits.
The park has many orphaned gorillas as well, and for now they are being watched over by two of the doctors, but they are unable to move them anywhere or get them out of the country and away from the fighting.
The rescue operation of the rangers was a difficult and dangerous one.
As the rangers stated on their blog:
Fighting was very intense yesterday, and we have struggled to make significant progress in bringing our staff to safety. 14 rangers who made it to Goma are resting at the camp with their families. The two that were badly dehydrated are now under observation at the local health centre. It’s an incredible achievement on their part to have made it.
It a huge relief for us that some of our rangers are beginning to trickle back to relative safety in Goma, but we remain deeply concerned for those that have been left behind. They stayed in Rumangabo to protect the station. Their lives are at risk because they are in a conflict zone and have no food or medical supplies. Those that escaped into the forest are in even greater danger as they have no water and are vulnerable to the militia groups that are dispersed throughout that area.
We are trying to put pressure on the warring parties to ensure their safety, establish their whereabouts, and to try to bring them supplies, but the intensity of the conflict since Sunday morning is a huge challenge.
This posting also contains a list of the rangers that are missing and whose whereabouts are still unknown. It is fairly long one.
It was on Sunday that the rescue operation began.
The Rangers started off on Sunday at 9am as a group of 14 - and also with 4 members of the military who were also fleeing the rebels. They walked through the park, often trying to emerge onto the road, but heard many bombs and mortars and so had to go back into the forest. With no water they tried licking rocks to quench their thirst, and also tried sucking up the moisture from the mud, by putting a piece of clothing between their mouth and the moist mud.
So for now, the gorillas are being left to fend for themselves, except for the young babies and orphaned gorillas, but it is a dangerous time for all of them to be in the middle of such a deadly conflict.