It has been almost nine months of renewed insecurity in North Kivu Province in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which includes the area where IGCP works alongside Virunga National Park for the conservation of the park’s mountain gorillas. However, this week, that insecurity – in the form of outright armed battle – came to Goma, the provincial capital and home to over a million people.
Goma is also where we have one of our field offices and is the home to five of our staff- two conservationists and three staff members that support their work. Culminating last Monday afternoon through Tuesday, a rebel group known as M23 forcibly took over control of Goma.
In short, it has been a long and weary week.
IGCP is far from alone in this difficult situation. Many conservation organizations have bases in Goma, their staff implementing conservation activities throughout North and South Kivu provinces, in one of the world’s most biologically diverse regions, but also the most threatened due to habitat loss, rampant poaching and resource extraction.
IGCP was fortunate to be able to have a meeting Thursday bringing together Goma staff with some of the Rwanda team, myself included. We met in Rwanda, just across the border from Goma. It was nice to see everyone in person and to be able to put our arms around each other. They and their families survived unharmed. The problems at the moment are lack of electricity and safe water. And, of course, not knowing what may come next. We put plans in place to keep them as safe as possible during this uncertain period.
Despite holding recent witness to the horrors of war, their resiliency is astounding. Then you realize that they have all, unfortunately, been through this before. Conflict has been a continuous thread in this region and is part of the conservation story, and that of the conservation of mountain gorillas.
But despite this, the number of mountain gorillas has been slowly, but steadily climbing over the last few decades. It is a testament to the people, like the ones who endured through this week, who get up in the morning and go to work for conservation, even under some of the world’s worst circumstances. I am honored and humbled to work with them.
On behalf of our whole team, I also want to say thank you to all of the well wishes we have received over this week. It has really been an encouragement, to say the least. It helps us realize that we are all in this together. Anna