Gorillas Believed To Be Safe As National Park Fire Extinguished

The Rwanda National Park Service, local authorities, community members, police and a cadre of soldiers are battling a fire in Volcanoes National Park accidentally set by a local beekeeper.

The fire started when Serugendo Faustin set down an implement used to drive away bees. On Saturday morning July 18th, Faustin went to harvest honey near the National Park’s boundary when a strong wind took hold of the flame on his “urujyo”, or pitcher, igniting the grass and quickly spreading up Muhabura Mountain. Dry conditions and a strong wind fueled the flame, which eventually crossed the Rwanda border onto the Uganda side of the mountain, named Mgahinga National Park.

Approximately 300 hectares of land have been burned to date. Muhabura is one of the chain of eight volcanoes that make up the Virunga Massif, straddling the borders of Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

Serugendo reported himself to the local military camp, explaining what happened. He was burned on the face, hands and knees, and has been treated at a local health clinic. The Park Service, military and the police immediately mobilized local communities to help in fighting the fire. IGCP Information Management Officer Maryke Gray explained that the Park’s gorillas are likely not in harm’s way. “According to the latest census, this area is not used by gorillas”, stated Gray, who had just returned from the scene. “We know there are no habituated gorillas in that part of the Park.”

IGCP Rwanda Program Officer Mediatrice Bana visited the site as well, and met with Chief Park Warden Prosper Uwingeli to offer assistance. “We realized that it is very difficult to mobilize and monitor communities now as they are so exhausted,” stated Bana. “We found that it will be manageable to organize groups of volunteers, who will work with the Park staff on different aid activities.” On Monday evening, July 20th, a group of about 70 Park staff and community members will stay in the forest overnight to try and extinguish the fire. They will be joined on Tuesday, the 21st, by two additional groups of police and soldiers.

Large forest fires in the area are rare. The last one to break out in Mgahinga National Park was in 1978. IGCP is continuing to offer its expertise and assistance in fighting the fire, and will stay involved after it has been put out. We will bring you further updates as warranted.

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