IGCP has played an integral role in a recently completed survey of the habituated gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, which revealed that despite continued conflict in and around the Park, the habituated gorilla population has actually increased in the past two years.
With support and assistance from the IGCP DRC team, a group of ICCN (Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation) rangers completed 128 patrols on the monitoring exercise, which ran from late November 2008 to late January 2009.
Preliminary results showed that the gorillas’ numbers increased 12.5 percent, to 81 individuals from 72. Habituated gorillas are those which are used to human contact. The last survey was undertaken in August 2007, shortly after the killings of 10 gorillas. During the past 18 month period 10 baby gorillas were born into four of the habituated families.
A new twist in the Eastern DR Congo conflict, however, has already added another layer of uncertainty to the health and stability of the growing population. The arrest of rebel leader Laurent Nkunda on January 22 has led to more fighting and political maneuvering in the region, with the gorillas again caught in the crossfire. Nkunda’s group, the CNDP, has been controlling the National Park’s Mikeno Sector, where the gorillas are found. After taking control of the sector close to two years ago, and Park rangers evacuating to nearby Goma, a landmark agreement in November 2008 allowed them to return to their posts and restart gorilla monitoring.
“This is a political battle that has nothing to do with the gorillas, yet they are at risk of being caught up in it,” stated IGCP Director Eugene Rutagarama. “There is hope that all parties seem to agree that the gorillas are a natural resource that must be protected. If the political stakes are ratcheted up even further, there is a risk that the gorillas could be left unmonitored, or worse.”
IGCP has been assisting the rangers and their families throughout the conflict, including their move back into Park headquarters at Rumangabo in November 2008. Despite the return to regular monitoring and the resilience of Virunga’s gorillas, the political upheaval continues to leave a cloud over their future. “We hope that through recent events reconciliation can finally begin,” concluded Rutagarama. “Having shown their resilience, we look forward to a bright future of thriving communities, both gorilla and human, living in peace alongside each other.” IGCP will continue to face the challenges of the region and continue to build strong bonds with our partners in working towards this peace and prosperity.