Saving the wildlife ‘miracle’ of Congo’s Garamba park

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Garamba National Park, DR Congo

A young female elephant lies sedated as Garamba National Park rangers attach a GPS collar to track her movements (AFP Photo/Tony Karumba)
A young female elephant lies sedated as Garamba National Park rangers attach a GPS collar to track her movements (AFP Photo/Tony Karumba)

Chronic insecurity, regional conflict, tough terrain and isolation make Africa’s Garamba park perhaps the most difficult place on the continent to practice conservation. North-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where the park is situated, is a bad neighbourhood: South Sudan to the north collapsed in civil war in 2013, as did nearby Central African Republic a year earlier, while Congo itself is still plagued by armed groups including rebels, horseback raiders and renegade soldiers. Continue reading Saving the wildlife ‘miracle’ of Congo’s Garamba park

Armed groups line up to kill Congo’s elephants

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Garamba National Park, DR Congo

Rangers set out on the hunt for elephant poachers in Garamba National Park (AFP Photo/Tony Karumba)
Rangers set out on the hunt for elephant poachers in Garamba National Park (AFP Photo/Tony Karumba)

In a remote part of Garamba, a vast national park in Democratic Republic of Congo, a team of rangers loads assault rifles and backpacks into a helicopter as they begin their hunt for elephant poachers. During their nine-day patrol to protect the park’s precious beasts the rangers risk coming into conflict with the heavily armed poachers that prey on them. Continue reading Armed groups line up to kill Congo’s elephants

In Congo, a war for Africa’s elephants

Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Garamba National Park, DR Congo

Elephants stand in tall grass in the Garamba National Park (AFP Photo/Tony Karumba)
Elephants stand in tall grass in the Garamba National Park (AFP Photo/Tony Karumba)

André Migifuloyo and Djuma Uweko lived together, worked together and last October died together fighting to protect Congo’s elephants from voracious ivory-seeking poachers. In the continental war to protect Africa’s elephants, the rangers of Garamba National Park in north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are manning the frontline.

The two men grew up in the same small town of Dungu and joined the park service in their early twenties, a good job that pays a decent monthly wage of around $200 (180 euros). Migifuloyo became a ranger in 2011 and two years later Uweko followed. Both were quick to make friends with others and lived with their young families in Nagero, the park village by the Dungu River with its little red brick church and thatched homes. Continue reading In Congo, a war for Africa’s elephants

Did whistle-selling hipsters in California end a war in eastern Congo?

GlobalPost
Nairobi, Kenya

Soon after the end of the M23 rebellion that threw parts of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) into conflict for much of the last two years, a blog post titled “We Stopped M23” appeared on the website of a California-based nonprofit called Falling Whistles.

The slick homepage describes the organization as “a campaign for peace in Congo.” It urges visitors to “be a whistleblower for peace” by purchasing stylish metal whistles, hung on a chain or black cord, from the organization’s online store.

You’ve got options: A brushed copper whistle will set you back $58. The cheapest is $38, while the clearly popular “Gunmetal” whistle, currently out of stock, costs $48. Part of the profit from the whistle sales supports grassroots work in Congo. Continue reading Did whistle-selling hipsters in California end a war in eastern Congo?

Chaos in Congo: Part-I

GlobalPost
Rutshuru, DR Congo

M23 rebels in Rumangabo, eastern DR Congo (Jan-Joseph Stok)
M23 rebels in Rumangabo, eastern DR Congo (Jan-Joseph Stok)

Part-I: The horrors of eastern Congo

The figure in military fatigues and rubber boots stood on the rutted road, framed between green walls of tangled equatorial forest. He leveled his assault rifle at a small huddle of people kneeling in the mud next to their truck.

Around them were their scattered, meager belongings: burlap sacks of grain, cooking pots and small suitcases of clothes.

Continue reading Chaos in Congo: Part-I

Chaos in Congo: Part-II

GlobalPost
Rumangabo, DR Congo

A ranger in Virunga National Park, eastern DR Congo (Jan-Joseph Stok)
A ranger in Virunga National Park, eastern DR Congo (Jan-Joseph Stok)

Part-II: Africa’s oldest park is under attack

“We can’t move it, unfortunately. If we could, we would,” said Emmanuel De Merode, the director of Virunga National Park for the Congolese Wildlife Authority.

He is responsible for protecting a 3,000-square mile expanse of eastern Congo that is Africa’s oldest and most diverse nature reserve, home to at least a quarter of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.

It is also home to the M23 rebels and a breeding ground for insecurity.

Continue reading Chaos in Congo: Part-II

Chaos in Congo: Part-III

GlobalPost
Lake Edward, DR Congo

Virunga National Park (Jan-Joseph Stok)
Virunga National Park (Jan-Joseph Stok)

Part-III: Virunga National Park has a new enemy, oil

It is not just war threatening the future of Africa’s oldest and most diverse park. Oil is too.

“A more recent pressure which is of very great concern for the future of the park is petrol. There is a belief that there are large oil deposits under the park,” said Emmanuel De Merode, director of Virunga National Park, home to the storied mountain gorilla.

Continue reading Chaos in Congo: Part-III

Chaos in Congo: Part-IV

GlobalPost
Vitshumbi, DR Congo

A colonial-era house in Vitshumbi, eastern DR Congo (Jan-Joseph Stok)
A colonial-era house in Vitshumbi, eastern DR Congo (Jan-Joseph Stok)

Part-IV: There may yet be hope for Congo

On the face of it, Vitshumbi is a typical contemporary Congolese town: there is no running water, no electricity and no paved roads.

Belgian colonialists put up the only brick buildings more than half a century ago. The local economy has collapsed under the weight of national corruption and neglect. At first glance, it might seem that Vitshumbi has been stuck in reverse since the end of colonialism. You might think there is little hope here.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Continue reading Chaos in Congo: Part-IV

Armed wardens even the odds in war zone of gorillas v guerillas

The Times of London
Virunga National Park, DR Congo

Gorilla
Ten gorillas were shot dead in 2007 (Jerome Delay/AP)

The mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park have been fighting their way back from the verge of extinction after being targeted by hunters seeking bushmeat, trophies or exotic pets. Now they are being defended against a new danger: the rebel army that has seized the nearby city of Goma.

The diversity of this nature reserve in eastern Congo is startling: glaciers, rivers and lakes, moorland, alpine forest, jungle and savannah, lava fields and active volcanoes, but its 3,000 square miles are also a hotbed of rebellions, militias and insecurity. Continue reading Armed wardens even the odds in war zone of gorillas v guerillas

In Congo conflict, there are no good guys

GlobalPost
Goma, DR Congo

Men in Red Cross bibs and surgical gloves collected the bodies over the weekend, lifting them onto already blood-stained stretchers, and carrying them to hastily dug graves.

Outside the eastern Congolese town of Sake, the gravediggers removed ID cards in the hope that whatever relatives the dead men might have would eventually be told of their son’s, or their brother’s, or their father’s death.

Continue reading In Congo conflict, there are no good guys