Funded by Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe, Claude Sikubwabo and Vital Katembo conducted a training course in law enforcement in February 2000. According to the most recent census, 13 gorillas are estimated to occur in the 45 km2 protected area. Claude Sikubwabo reported that there is a 90% probability of observing the gorillas. Although the local population has not completely accepted the park boundaries and fields are still planted illegally inside the park, the situation has improved considerably over the last few years. This can be attributed to intensive talks between Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo and Vital Katembo (DFGF-Europe) on the one hand and the involved farmers and local community chiefs on the other.
In our last issue, we reported about the slaughter of large mammals in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park during 1999. Meanwhile, the ICCN/GTZ project (ICCN: Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, GTZ: Gesellschaft fuer technische Zusammenarbeit) for the conservation of this park has successfully reduced poaching. In January 2000, 3 more gorillas were killed (their hands and heads were cut off), but since then no gorilla poaching has been recorded.
Although the situation in Kahuzi-Biega is evolving in a positive way, consistent rumours report the presence of several gorilla babies in Bukavu town. This is extremely worrysome, since poachers usually have to kill several gorillas to capture the infant. In 1999, 13 gorillas of the habituated family of Mugoli composed of 19 individuals were killed in this way. This situation is so worrysome that we are considering whether to stop habituating new gorilla families to tourism, as we fear this makes them more vulnarable to poaching.
The gorillas in the old part of the park were counted in 1996; at that time their number was 258. In February 2000, only 70 gorillas were recorded. We hope the inventory starting in July will find some more families. In 1996, the number of elephants in that area had been about 350 and at the beginning of 2000, only traces of 5 individuals were found. The vegetation has changed markedly in the meantime as the elephants are missing: The plants grow much denser now and the elephant paths that were also used by other animals do not exist any more. The following text is a summary of the ICCN/GTZ conservation project's report for May 2000.
Many of the problems that have handicapped the management of the national park for more than 3 years were solved in May 2000. But the major problem still remains: 95% of the park is not controlled by the park authority.
The guards now have permission to wear uniforms with the logo of the ICCN and the inscription "gardes du parc" (Park Ranger). Thanks to these uniforms, they can no longer be confused with the fighters of different warring factions. Of 100 complete uniforms financed by UNESCO, 77 were distributed to the guards and leading staff. Before receiving these uniforms, 64 guards and 5 leading staff were trained in paramilitary techniques. The new uniforms and the training helped to boost morale of the guards.
This morale was reinforced furthermore on 19 May, when the administration handed over 9 functional arms to the Tshivanga station and promised that the arms recovered by the guards during their habitual work will become property of the park.
At the same moment, we were authorized to control passing vehicles at the roadblock in Tshivanga. As before 1996, all passing vehicles and their cargo are checked again by rangers, making it more difficult for dealers in park resources to transport their loot along the Bukavu-Kisangani road.
Another breakthrough was achieved when the governor of South Kivu province declared void 11 provisional occupation contracts in the corridor, totalling 1,200 ha. With this intervention, we hope that the problem of large-scale farmers illegally occupying the corridor of the park in complicity with certain state services has finally begun to be resolved. This is applauded by large parts of the population, who were concerned that the park would be totally destructed by a few rich people with the acknowledgment of the administration.
Many people have been displaced by fighting from the western to the eastern side of the park. Such population movements pose a direct threat to the park, since the safer areas the people flee to are extremely densely populated (over 300 people/km2). The areas deserted by them are occupied by warring groups that use the park's resources for food. Currently, we observe that at least 50% of 35,000 displaced people we recorded in the eastern villages have regained their original villages. They now urgently need food aid and assistance, otherwise they may be forced to use the park's resources for their survival.
No gorilla deaths were recorded during the months February to May. A new family was discovered with 5 individuals; the number of gorillas is now exactly 70. We collected a trap with a cut off gorilla hand. The handicapped gorilla was not observed. We continue to see 5 elephant traces. In collaboration with WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), a census is scheduled from July onwards, to survey the current status of large mammals - especially gorillas and elephants - in the highland sector.
More than 90% of the park remains out of control of ICCN and is occupied by different armed factions (map on page 6). They are exploiting minerals and other resources. Bushmeat is the major food source for the estimated 2500 persons installed in mining sites within the park. The work of the rangers will remain complicated because they will go against vested interests. The only way to recover the rest of the park would be to demilitarize the whole park and surroundings, including the major airstrips that are used to evacuate the minerals.
Crossing language, cultural, and political differences a common goal has united the abilities and commitment of an impressively large group of international individuals and organizations toward the singular possibility of responding to protect a national community of wildlife in crisis. The Democratic Republic of Congo Parks Emergency Relief Mission evolved through the common vision of Michel Hasson (Nouvelles Approches, Belgium), Ian Redmond (Ape Alliance, United Kingdom) and Jo Thompson (Lukuru Wildlife Research Project, USA). Together, with the assistance of numerous people and organizations, we recognized that only an emergency on-the-ground response could make a difference on behalf of wildlife amidst the chaos of warfare.
Forced to flee my study site in the summer of 1998 as word of armed conflict advanced across the terrain of the Democratic Republic of Congo, I regularly scoured the news for reports of Congo and maintained intense links with Lukuru workers and contacts that remained in-country. The conflict made information and details about the situation on-the-ground hard to come by and sporadic at best. I knew that the outbreak of war had resulted in the disarming of park rangers across Congo, the forced abandonment of most "protected areas" by park guards, the influx of foreign occupiers with a disregard for local traditions and laws about wildlife, large-scale movement of resident human populations and subsequent absence of agricultural subsistence, a heightened demand for bushmeat for domestic consumption and economic betterment, large-scale availability of automatic weapons of mass destruction and ammunitions and wide-spread human destitution. Heavily armed rebel factions, militia and numerous groups of belligerents occupied many "protected areas". The supply of automatic weapons and ammunitions provided poachers with the opportunity to successfully hunt large mammals (especially apes and elephants) and dramatically changed the course and magnitude of wildlife extermination.
My search for information had been defined by the area south of the Congo River, the global limit of bonobo habitat and included monitoring the status of bonobo research sites and the Salonga National Park, directly along the battle front-line. However, once park rangers returned to their posts and reestablished patrols, substantial reports began to emerge detailing the widespread annihilation of wildlife across the whole Democratic Republic of Congo. After reading his report where he described the poaching and devastation of Upemba National Park, in July 1999 I contacted Michel Hasson. Our joint focus became the dramatic loss of critical species and wildlife communities as a result of human armed conflict across different sites and habitats of Congo. We continued to hear details of wildlife slaughter. I had to sound the alarm. I knew that the disintegration of the 7 National Parks, loss of the magnificent wildlife and plants harbored within and endemic only to the Democratic Republic of Congo, would constitute an irreparable loss for the world as a whole. This is not a Congolese crisis - it is a global crisis.
We needed help raising international awareness. Furnished with increasing details of unchecked, protracted poaching from across Congo, in October 1999 I reached out to Ian Redmond whose personal notoriety and position as Chairman of Ape Alliance offered a leap in exposure and strengthened our effort. He distributed my two-part missive and map to members of the Ape Alliance. Within a matter of days, Ape Alliance members began to contact him asking what they could do to help. With their pledges, other groups stepped forward to join our team.
Once permitted to return to their posts, park rangers did not have the basic means to do their jobs nor simplest essential supplies to survive. The rangers persist as a very experienced group of men, committed to their tasks, known to risk their very lives to protect their charges, personally faced with desperate economic circumstances and truly the only ones who will ultimately conserve and protect wildlife in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It became clear that we needed to respond to the rangers with survival and motivational provisions. We decided to organize an immediate, short-term, "bottom-up" emergency response effort providing resources and support to Congolese park rangers. The success of this tangible conservation effort continues because of the joint in-country energies of the ICCN (Institut Congo pour la Conservation de la Nature), resident contacts and local NGOs, especially GTZ (Guy Debonnet and Carlos Schuler).
Believing in the critical nature of communication, cooperation and collaboration, I contacted all individuals and groups known to be working in Congo and coordinated information to ensure avoidance of duplicated efforts and finances, especially with regard to the future UNESCO project to support the Congolese World Heritage Sites. Through their generous responses our colleagues revealed that our Relief Mission remains distinct from but complementary to the UNESCO project.
It would require far too much space to identify all the people contributing to the Relief Mission. They will be acknowledged at a future date when we (Michel Hasson, Ian Redmond
and I) compile a report of closure to our mission. However, at the time of this writing our sponsor organisations include IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), Born Free Foundation, Columbus Zoo of Ohio, Gorilla Haven, HSUS (Humane Society United States), Fund for Animals, Chester Zoo, DFGF (Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund-Europe), Friends of Washoe and Primate Conservation. Individual contributions have been received from throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, United Kingdom and Japan.
We determined that based on the Relief Mission financial status we would be able to assist 3 parks initially and, as additional contributions become available, we would direct our aid towards other parks with less critical concerns. Our first priority became the Kahuzi-Biega National Park. In January 2000 Michel Hasson joined Jean-Francois Segers on a trip to Kahuzi-Biega. Shortly thereafter, Ian Redmond made a journey to the park Kahuzi-Biega. These personal visits provided an abundant opportunity to communicate needs of the rangers and solidify relationships between the Relief Mission and rangers. Kasereka Bishikwabo (Conservateur Principale de Kahuzi-Biega) provided a priority list of needs for the park.
We have been able to successfully provide the items identified by the rangers including rain gear (ponchos and coats), rubber boots, clothes, blankets, books, soap, 100 back packs (knapsacks), sleeping bags, tents, water canteens, five Garmin GPS units, rechargeable batteries, a computer, a color printer, a scanner, computer software, materials to repair ranger houses, medicines and office supplies. Nouvelles Approaches has provided all channels of transport and shipment to eastern Congo in cooperation with officials. The first shipment to Kahuzi-Biega departed from Belgium on 15 January 2000. The second container destined for the park shipped out from Belgium on 4 April. On 22 April another box was transported to Kahuzi-Biega by Jean-Francois Segers. Preparations for subsequent shipments of supplies destined for Upemba and Kundelungu National Parks in Katanga progresses. The rangers now know that they do not face this crisis alone. We care and will actively do what we can to help through concrete actions.
To avoid administrative costs, the Relief Mission coordinators (Michel Hasson, Ian Redmond and I) volunteer our time, efforts, and finances. We have made the certainty of secure delivery of supplies our first priority. We purchase specific items and deliver them into the hands of the respective Park Conservateurs via secure contacts in-country, assuring that each dollar spent has arrived at its destination. Our effort will not result in an in-country structure or welfare program. In order to respond to specific needs, we communicate with each aided park prior to purchasing their supplies. Unfortunately, we cannot securely reach all parks at this time and must focus on those areas with greatest need. Today, Maiko National Park remains insecure due to the active presence of Congolese Interahamwe and Mai Mai militias in that area. Virunga National Park continues to be supported by IGCP (International Gorilla conservation Programme), DFGF, Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe, as well as the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project. Garamba National Park remains secure with the support of Projet Parc National de la Garamba and the UNF Project for the World Heritage Sites. We consider Salonga National Park strongly in our field of vision, although it remains insecure for the moment. Maiko and Salonga National Parks will be areas for future aid.
Under the broad umbrella of our Relief Mission, other needs have been identified. ICCN and GTZ produced a conservation education magazine called le Gorille - Parc National de Kahuzi-Biega 2 as a follow-up to le Gorille 1 (1999). ICCN and GTZ had insufficient funding to print their second publication, so they contacted our Relief Mission. This printing did not fall under our objective and our limited funds must finance targeted specific goals. However, IPPL (International Primate Protection League), Nouvelles Approaches and Wild Images provided funds for printing le Gorille 2 as a sister initiative of the Relief Mission. The human population in and around the Kahuzi-Biega Park receive this critical publication at no cost. Translated to English, we widely distributed le Gorille 2 to individuals and organisations whose interests and goals focus on African wildlife conservation.
As public awareness of the wildlife crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo grew, many individuals contacted me to request options for action that did not require a financial contribution. In January 2000 I compiled a list of US officials key to diplomatic will in Central Africa and made the list widely available, including posting it on several websites. I encouraged writers to implore US government officials to use policy and practice to promote national stability, security and peace in Congo. This campaign has been successful and continues to advance as another sister initiative of the Relief Mission.
When Ian Redmond returned from Kahuzi-Biega in January he brought with him a request for additional items outside the Relief Mission budget and goals. Specifically the park defined the need for a vehicle to be used in patrolling accessible areas, general transport and heavy-duty haulage of materials. Born Free Foundation provided the funds to purchase this vehicle and Ian Redmond personally delivered it to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park.
Several other endeavors under the Emergency Relief Mission include (but are not limited to) the active involvement of members of the European Parliament via IUCN-Netherlands and WWF liaisons. Other groups have responded to our awareness raising of the bonobo crisis in Congo in fellowship with the Relief Mission. The US Department of State has offered direct diplomatic assistance. We will continue to respond to the needs identified by sources in the Democratic Republic of Congo whose concern focuses on protection of wildlife and the vital communities that they contribute to.Jo Thompson Dr. Jo Thompson has been studying wild bonobos at the Lukuru Wildlife Research Project since 1992. She conducts survey and educational campaign expeditions. Since 1997 she has incorporated research, conservation and education efforts within the South Block, Salonga Park.
Remaining true to its willingness to help the Congolese National Parks in these difficult times, Nouvelles Approches a.s.b.l. (association sans but lucratif) made contact with the Parc National de Kahuzi-Biega-GTZ project "Integrated Conservation in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park" in December 1999. We wanted to take advantage of our president's numerous trips to Bukavu to make ourselves useful. When he came back from his first stay in Kivu, Jean-Franois Segers, our president, told us about his encounter with Carlos Schuler from the GTZ, who was suffering from feelings of despair, abandonment and lack of understanding. Carlos Schuler had lived through daily gorilla slaughters. He started sounding the alarm at the beginning of the war in 1996, but no one seemed to listen.
Enquiring about the way we could help, Carlos Schuler answered by presenting his most immediate problem to Jean-Franois Segers. The authorities of the park, using and abusing diplomacy and persuasion, had managed to convince the poacher bands to stop their animal slaughters in exchange for a promise of amnesty and of their integration into the conservation project. Nevertheless, money was lacking to give these new recruits some equipment. The reconverted poachers, often pygmies, were not very demanding. Boots, raincoats, clothes. So if we could ...
The following week, bundles of boots and clothes were ready to be sent. The only problem that remained was to organize the transport. To our great delight, our airline company DEMAVIA offered us the airfreight as a contribution to our action.
I decided to join Jean-Francois Segers in his next trip. We met Carlos Schuler the day following our arrival in Bukavu, and we planned a visit to the gorillas. It should be pointed out that that tourists are not allowed to visit Kahuzi-Biega for the moment because of the war. I discovered the Tshivanga station, its personnel, its reconverted poachers, and its houses under restoration.
A visit to the gorillas is an unforgettable experience. I was vaguely anxious about confronting such powerful animals. How would we be greeted? We progressed with difficulty in an entanglement of lianas that our trackers cut with machetes to facilitate our progression. We suddenly heard a noise ahead of us, and there appeared a dark shape, which disappeared immediately. I hardly saw anything. I had just experienced the first intimidation charge of the dominant male without even being aware of it.
Later, we had the opportunity to come near him, and I was finally able to admire Mugaruka. His right hand is missing. He had preferred to tear it off than remain a prisoner of the steel jaws that held him. He survived probably thanks to the medicinal virtues of the plants he eats. When I see him watching us without seeming to be doing so, I cannot help thinking that this animal "knows" Man is responsible for his misery, the same Man who is following him now. Why does he tolerate us? How could I describe the feeling of shame that I was overcome by? Why do I consider him as a being capable of thought? These questions, inspired by his look, remain unanswered.
When we returned to Brussels a week later, we heard good news. Jo Thompson from the Lukuru Wildlife Research Project, who had proposed that we collaborate to help the Congolese parks, had achieved support from organisations in various countries and had collected the first funds. Ian Redmond of Ape Alliance had revealed a particularly dynamic partner in this operation. We could now proceed to the next stage: supplying the park with articles that were most urgently needed. The authorities of the park had given us a list of such items.
We also came back from Kivu with an additional challenge: the printing of a small magazine entitled le Gorille. The aim of this half-yearly publication, which is distributed free of charge in the whole region, is to explain to the Congolese populations the importance of nature conservation, and the protection of gorillas. The first issue had a resounding impact, but the publication of the second one was delayed for both technical and financial reasons.
We proposed to take care of the printing, and to double the number of copies. Once again Jo Thompson made use of her gift of persuasion, and soon we received more funds from generous donors. In particular, I would like to express my thanks to Diane Walters from IPPL and Eli Weiss for their contribution. If the 20,000 copies of le Gorille 2 reach everybody in Bukavu and the surrounding area, it is mainly thanks to these donors.
We would also like to take the opportunity to announce that the following items are on the way to Bukavu: bundles of clothes, rugs, boots, about 100 knapsacks, boxes of schoolbooks and material for children together with a brand new computer, a scanner, and a printer. This time, the company SIPEF that allocated us 5 m2 in one of its containers, provided the transport.
And it continues. Jean-Francois Segers travelled to Bukavu at the end of April and took with him 5 GPS equipped with multiple memories. And, last but not least, Ian Redmond made a trip to bring a Land Rover for the park and gave it to the authorities in Bukavu.
However, it is not the time to sit back and become complacent. The first step has been made, but the race is far from being won. In the Kahuzi-Biega National Park gorillas are still being EATEN, the forest is being destroyed, and some landowners still invade the lands of the park. So ...Michel Hasson (translation: Caroline Storms) Michel Hasson was born in Kalemie and spent more than 20 years in Central Africa. Now he is working as a dentist in Belgium and spends his free time as deputy manager of Nouvelles Approches to coordinate all the activities in Brussels.
Following improvements in security in northwestern Rwanda and the reopening of the Parc National des Volcans for gorilla tourism in July 1999, field activities of the Karisoke Research Centre greatly increased and two new assistants were recruited to the DFGF-I (Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International) project. Since undergoing paramilitary training, the Karisoke trackers have been able to work full-time and each gorilla group is visited daily. Karisoke researchers have been allocated military escorts 4 days per week since September (gorilla tourism is operational 7 days per week on demand).
During 1999 there was a total of 8 births, and 8 deaths or disappearances in the 3 groups studied at Karisoke, a population of 87 gorillas. Pantsy, a 33-year-old adult female, was last seen on February 10, and probably died of old age. Pantsy, two juveniles and 3 infants disappeared while we were unable to monitor the gorillas on a daily basis.
Arusha, a juvenile male, died in the presence of Karisoke trackers in September and we await results of advanced laboratory analyses. Simba seems to have died of natural causes aged 31, and was found dead close to her night nest 2 months after giving birth to a stillborn infant in September. One young silverback became solitary, so the study population has decreased by one since the end of 1998.
We are currently witnessing high levels of aggression between adult male gorillas. Three silverbacks in the 40-strong Pablo group have been seen to fight violently with lone silverbacks and with silverbacks of Beetsme's group. All have sustained extensive wounds, and 14-year old Ndatwa died from septicemia following an interaction. A young silverback from group 13 also died, and he too is thought to have been wounded in a fight.
Competition between males influences many aspects of gorilla biology, and we hope soon to better understand competition and male reproductive success through paternity determination in the Rwandan gorilla population. Park staff are collecting hair and faecal samples from known individual gorillas for genetic analysis.
During the first 8 months of 1999, anti-poachers had to stay with the gorilla trackers whilst in the park, and thus collected snares visible from their route but could not deviate from the main paths. Although full patrols were not possible before September, the Karisoke anti-poaching patrols removed and destroyed 770 antelope and buffalo snares from the park during the year. Many hyrax snares were also collected in September. These are not typically encountered by Karisoke anti-poaching patrols, and it is believed that poachers from Congo entered the Rwandan portion of the Virungas to hunt hyrax and bushbuck.
An estimated 20 elephants came out of the park in September and trampled crops. The sightings were made at night by the local population and were the first in Rwanda for many years. There was a similar reappearance of elephants and buffalo in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, and these movements were attributed to a deteriorating situation in parts of the Parc National des Virunga.
Despite the vigilance of the anti-poaching patrols and the gorilla trackers, a juvenile gorilla was trapped during an interaction between Pablo's group and a solitary male in February 2000. The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Center team was alerted immediately and able to intervene to remove the wire snare within 24 hours.
Karisoke was represented on a Technical Commission for the Protection and Restoration of the Parc National des Volcans, which spent several days in the field determining the location of the park boundary in areas that have been cultivated, and where the Eucalyptus boundary markers had been uprooted. The length of the park boundary was measured prior to CARE-International and IGCP (International Gorilla Conservation Programme) implementing a tree-planting program to demarcate the boundary.
A GIS program has begun as part of a collaboration between DFGF-I, the National University of Rwanda and Georgia Institute of Technology. In September 1999, newly developed technology belonging to Earth Search Sciences Inc. was tested in Rwanda, and high-resolution maps will be created using "hyperspectral image data" collected during flights over the Virunga Conservation Area. Remote sensing will facilitate monitoring of the ecosystem and an assessment of degradation of the montain forest following almost two years of insecurity and human settlement in the park.
The extent of human occupation was revealed by the amount of waste removed during a "park clean-up" organised by IGCP, and funded by the Dutch Government. Local people who had taken refuge in the park in 1997 to 1998 were employed to locate sites and remove refuse such as clothing and cooking utensils. The operation was carried out around the volcanoes Visoke, Sabinyo and Muhavura. The team dug up and burned several tonnes of tobacco, wheat, cabbages and other crops which had been planted in the forest. The clean-up will continue sporadically as more sites, particularly latrines, are discovered.Liz Williamson, Jessica Cantlon and Chloe Wilson Dr. Liz Williamson began to study gorillas in Gabon from 1984 to 1990. She was involved in gorilla surveys in Congo/Zaire and Cameroon in 1994 and 1995. Currently she is the Director of the Karisoke Research Centre. Jessica Cantlon is working as an assistant for Karisoke. She graduated in Anthropology. She is spending one year carrying out behavioural research on the gorillas and assisting the Director of Karisoke. Chloe Wilson is working as an assistant for Karisoke. She graduated with a BA Honours in Classical Studies. Now she is spending one year carrying out behavioural research on the gorillas and assisting the Director of Karisoke, Rwanda.
The vets moved back to Ruhengeri in a house where they constructed a new laboratory (funded by the Cincinnati Zoo) appropriate for their enlarged research activities. It has one room for analysing and preparing samples and tissues and a storage place for drugs and samples. It is very light and equipped with a refrigerator for sample storing donated by the Koontz company in Albuquerque/New Mexico. The project bought a deep freezing facility which allows them to store samples at -170 °C. This is important for the preservation of delicate samples as virus and tissue. Furthermore the lab is equipped for microbiology research such, with incubators, bunsenburner and other equipment. Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project vets moved back to Ruhengeri in a house where they constructed a new laboratory (funded by the Cincinnati Zoo) appropriate for their enlarged research activities. It has one room for analysing and preparing samples and tissues and a storing storage place for drugs and samples. It is very light and equipped with a refrigerator for sample donated by the Koontz company in Albuquerque/New Mexico.
The vets have implemented two research projects. As the transmission of diseases to gorillas is thought to be one of the major threats to mountain gorillas, the development of better protection against disease transmission is essential. A study is therefore conducted on the health status of tourists coming to see the gorillas. As the hygiene and health of the people around the park might facilitate disease transmission, a study on rodents entering the park has also been started. Both projects will be continued for a longer period of time.
The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project vets continue to monitor the health status of the gorillas in Rwanda and D. R. Congo and investigate the impact of humans on a gorilla group under habituation. All gorillas showing respiratory disease, bite and cut wounds have recovered without intervention in the period described.
In January the 14-year-old silverback Ndatwa from the Beetsme group died and the vets of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project carried out a post-mortem. The silverback had huge wounds: the muscles of his right upper arm were destroyed, and half of his ear was missing. He showed signs of septic lung infection which might have been the final cause of his death. The remains of 3 more silverbacks - skeletons or corpses in advanced state of autolysis - have been found and buried. They are believed to be the skeletons of the over 30-year-old silverback Umugome, the second silverback of group 13, Kwilinda and a wild silverback. Most of them were reportedly involved in fights before their skeletons were found.
The vets treated the 3.5-year-old female Mitimbili who was found with two digits of her right foot in a wire snare. The foot showed deep wounds on both sides with extensive muscle damage. The animal was anesthetised, the wounds were sutured and after having received antibiotics, the animal was released into the group. Although it lost the two digits due to a stop in circulation, the wound healed nicely and the animal recovered completely.
The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project has now offical permission to carry out health care for the gorillas in the Kahuzi-Biega Park. The project's vets took part in several training sessions on health related problems for the local defense people, guides and trackers of mountain and eastern lowland gorillas in Rwanda and Congo.
The crisis in which Africa's Great Lakes' region has been gripped for about 10 years impacts upon all components of society. The region's fauna and flora are no exception. The economy is in a desolate state and the population has become extremely poor, some people survive by poaching animals in protected areas and by destroying the timber resources (e. g. through the production of charcoal, trade in precious timber etc.). The park's resources are sold extremely cheaply and undercutting competition with legally produced materials in the majority of public markets around the protected area. As the guards were disarmed in November 1996 and because they basically have no operational funds available, poachers and others whose occupations have a negative impact on the park are at an advantage and can operate easily.
In North Kivu, trouble started already 14 years ago in the extreme north of the Virunga National Park. Subsequently, the guards withdrew from that sector to concentrate on the area south of Beni. In this way, the lower part of the great Semliki Forest was left without protection. The greatest negative impact on the park's biodiversity, however, has been observed since 1994, when Rwandan refugees arrived en masse on Congolese territory (former Zaire), and were installed on the boundary of the Virunga National Park. Several hectares of forest were cut in the park. Village forest plantations (woodlots) were cut before the trees reached maturity and the wood was sold in the refugee camps. Consequently, the entire region of North Kivu has been virtually deforested. UNHCR, WFP (World Food Programme) in collaboration with GTZ (Gesellschaft fuer technische Zusammenarbeit - German developmental aid organisation) and CARE have supported local NGOs in their reforestation activities, but the implementation has not yet reached a level where the population's demand for firewood or building material can be satisfied. People continue to help themselves from the forests of the park.
The attention of the international community has to be drawn to the unprecedented negative impact political events in the region have had on the fauna. In 1990, hippos numbered about 10,000; in March 1995, fewer than 4,000 were left. Between November 1996 and March 1997, the park guards abandoned the central part of the park because of the war. Subsequently, it was occupied by the Mai Mai who wreaked carnage among the hippos, distributing the meat to sympathisers or selling it in the villages. Park authorities have estimated that close to three quarters of the hippos remaining in 1997 have been killed since the Mai Mai departed. Only the guards' return will protect the hippos. Their presence would be a deterrent to poachers. Guards are always looking for possibilities to associate with soldiers to initiate more effective mixed patrols.
In August 1998, a second crisis rocked the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, effectively cutting this part off from Kinshasa. Sporadic but repeated attacks by the Mai Mai started up again in the central part of the park. Several times, the guards were chased back to their posts and the remaining assets of the park are constantly plundered.
One of the two main factors currently putting the park at risk is the insufficiency of wood supplies from tree plantations. The second one is the presence of people in the park itself, such as the Mai Mai, dissidents from the Rwandan Interahamwe who have re-grouped in the forest of the park, civilians engaged in poaching and troops, who, having been installed in the park without food, have resorted to poaching with fire arms. Markets selling meat originating from the park have re-opened their doors in all big villages around the park. In the area between Rwindi and Beni, the magazine Coulisse published an article in July 1999 with the title "Long live the poaching in the Virunga National Park: hippos for US$ 10 a head, antelopes for US$ 3!" Further on in the article, the magazine informs the reader: "Kanyabayonga has become a meat city to such a point that the inhabitants suffer from toothaches because they've eaten too much meat. This situation is the work of the soldiers who indulge in poaching in the Virunga National Park." This is only one example of many.
It has to be noted that the war in Congo is the factor that forces all these groups of people to resort to poaching. For the rebels, the main goal of the war was to conquer Kinshasa. Other concerns had to wait until the capital was taken. As soon as the Lusaka treaty for a cease-fire by all parties was signed, everything was supposed to change. The whole population thought that the cease-fire would allow a glance at the internal situation of the controlled territories and give an opportunity to cleanse the park of Mai Mai and Interahamwe, the main perpetrators in poaching and the greatest threats to security in the area. Park staff thought that once security had been re-established, tourism would start up again and the park would have the necessary resources to function properly. This has not been the case to date. Insecurity still persists in certain areas of the park.
The park has no funds and poaching becomes worse every day. The park needs the means to function properly and especially needs support to allow the guards to stay in their posts in order to ensure at least some surveillance. Dissemination of information in an awareness campaign is an important tool to convince the political authorities to support the park, especially as some of them tend to use the park for political campaigns and publicity.
The park has lost almost all its infrastructure and does not have any possibility to generate its own revenue. Sightseeing in the central part of the park has been closed since 1996. Gorilla tourism, which generated a considerable income for the park, has also been closed since August 1998. The park staff's salaries haven't been paid for a very long time: some haven't received their salary for 5 years. The guards' wives and older children become traders or work in the fields to support their families. Some poaching by park staff can also be observed. The staff still hopes that one day everything will be alright and their salaries will be paid.
At the moment, park authorities base their remaining hope on existing environmental assets for tourism such as the presence of habituated gorilla families and large mammals of the plains, such as elephants, buffalo herds, antelopes, etc. However, sufficient funds are needed to ensure the protection of these assets, as they are under great pressure.
The Virunga National Park is a World Heritage Site in Danger. Since 1994, experience has shown that support for operations and to increase motivation of park staff can help to protect and conserve park resources. International NGOs such as IGCP (International Gorilla Conservation Programme), DFGF (Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund) and Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe have demonstrated means of saving and maintaining the gorillas in the Virunga National Park South and on Mt. Tshiaberimu. Their operations were based on the support of staff in their posts (including bonuses for good performance), help with running costs in the guard stations, help with medical care and other things such as food for the patrols, provision of equipment etc.
Therefore we encourage international conservation organisations to join together with those organisations, who have never abandoned the conservation of the Virunga National Park. If the examples set are followed, they will not be disappointed in the results. We urge UNESCO and IUCN to start up their support project for the park and the Peace Parks concept.Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo Claude Sikubwabo Kiyengo conducted a gorilla survey in the Maiko Park from 1989 to 1992, and in 1994 he took part in the gorilla census in Kahuzi-Biega. Since 1995, he has been working for the ICCN in Goma.