See also:
» 17.03.2011 - Congo halts oil exploration in Virunga Park
» 16.12.2009 - DRC conservation initiative receives international recognition
» 20.10.2009 - DRC and Morocco elected to new forest financing programme
» 04.08.2009 - World bank signs first biocarbon agreement in DRC
» 19.01.2009 - Save Congo's remaining forests
» 27.07.2007 - DRC: Cry over gorilla executions
» 07.02.2005 - Landmark Congo Basin conservation treaty signed
» 03.02.2005 - Brazzaville summit addresses Congo Basin's forests

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Congo Kinshasa
Environment - Nature | Politics

Congo's Virunga Park celebrates 80th anniversary

afrol News, 20 April - The Virunga National Park in eastern Congo Kinshasa (DRC) is one of Africa's oldest and most famous parks. Celebrations marking the 80th anniversary of the Virunga Park were however dampened with the recent murder of a ranger by rebels who use the park as a military base and cause destructions.

Established in 1925 as Albert National Park, the park was later renamed in the 1970s as the Virunga National Park. Virunga was inscribed on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger in 1994. Now 80 years old, however, the park faces tougher challenges than ever.

On Friday, 15 April, ranger Paluku Dunia was shot dead by rebels while out on patrol in the park. In another incident, four rangers from the park's Rwindi station were also ambushed by rebels. Fortunately, they were let go after their personal belongings and tools were stolen. Other incidents have been reported in the park, which have led to the deaths of locals living in the area, including men, women and children, according to the enviromental group WWF.

- We are very saddened by the death of one of our colleagues in the field, said Marc Languy of the WWF's Eastern Africa regional office. "As a result of civil unrest in this region, the park has suffered a very high, unprecedented level of encroachment," he added.

Since civil war and ethnic strife erupted in north-eastern Congo Kinshasa in the early 1990s, poachers, refugees, soldiers and rebels have ravaged the 8,000-square kilometer Virunga National Park, which borders Uganda and Rwanda. The northern border of the park is often invaded by "Ugandan rebels", and "Rwandan rebels" have established bases in the southern part near Lake Edward, according to WWF.

- High-level lobbying is needed against all those who are arming these rebels and wreaking havoc in the park, said Déo Kajuga Binyeri, Provincial Director of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN). "The government, as well as the international community, must ensure that rebels using Virunga and the surrounding area are removed so that the national park can recover."

The occupation of parts of the park by rebels has not only prevented rangers from patrolling the area, but has been responsible for serious ecological damage. "It is estimated that 1,700 hectares of forests are lost each year by those plundering the park's natural resources," WWF says. In addition, thousands of animals have been killed for food and trade, including the endangered mountain gorilla.

The Virunga National Park is one of the most biologically diverse regions of Africa, with over 700 species of birds and 200 species of mammals. The park is part of the Virunga massif, which holds half of the remaining 700 mountain gorillas in the world.

Some 380 mountain gorillas occur on the extinct volcanoes forming the Virunga Range. Most of these gorillas range within the southern part of Congo's Virunga National Park and the Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) in northern Rwanda, while a few use the Mgahinga National Park in southwestern Uganda.

- Thanks to conservation efforts during the past decades, mountain gorillas have survived civil unrest and war in the region, Mr Languy said. "Eighty years on since the park's initiation, growing violence once again poses a serious threat to both local communities and the future of the mountain gorilla," he added.

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