One cannot say too much, nor say it too loudly, about Virunga National Park, its biodiversity and the people who depend on it and protect it.
Virunga has just emerged from a period of intense armed conflict, which has been vividly portrayed in the film Virunga, which is currently being shown throughout North America and soon in Europe. While I haven’t yet seen the film itself, I have seen the trailer, and know that this is the story that we all need to be aware of, and take collective action in response.
I am back in the office after a recent trip to Virunga National Park, following the shocking attack on the Park’s Director, Emmanuel de Merode, that he is recovering from and has issued a public statement about. Looking into the eyes of colleagues and friends, and seeing what they have been able to be sustained through the conflict period and the initiatives underway now has affected me deeply both personally and professionally.
Tourism is again open in Virunga National Park, and is a potentially powerful driver for conservation and the important work of rebuilding community and economic development. This socioeconomic transformation built upon nature-based and Great Ape tourism is indeed possible as demonstrated in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda, and the same potential is there in Virunga lying in wait.
I am impressed at how quickly the park and its supporters are mobilizing the restoration and new construction of tourism infrastructure, as well as making new, rich experiences possible in addition to the mountain gorilla encounter. And that the mountain gorilla encounter as I experienced it follows IUCN best practices, which makes the potential for positive benefits from tourism even more possible. Optimism and dedication against all odds is instilled within every person you meet working for the protection of the park – the rangers, park staff, conservation NGOs and programmes, and community members as well.
And tourism is not the only potential driver for sustainable socioeconomic transformation, read more about the Virunga Alliance and a recent article about the initiative and the park here.
Virunga will not be deterred, despite the level of unacceptable loss it continues to endure, and some of the threats at its doorstep. We all have an obligation to acknowledge that loss, condemn that loss, and rally behind the park and its protectors in every way possible. We will not be deterred.
One cannot say too much, nor do too much, for Virunga National Park. Principles that IGCP continues to carry with us in all of our work in true solidarity with the park and its people, helping to ensure that the gorillas are thriving, sustainably, for the generations to come.
Anna Behm Masozera, IGCP Director