At the start of every dry season fires creep southwards across the Central African Republic (CAR). Kasper Agger, a Dane who works for African Parks, a South Africa-based conservation group, can see them on his laptop thanks to a piece of NASA-made software that plots benign-looking flame symbols like boy scouts’ campfires onto a Google Earth map. Through December and January the fires edge close to Chinko, a vast nature reserve in the CAR. When the fires reach the park boundary, a light aircraft is dispatched to shower leaflets over the smoulder. Below, herders who come from hundreds of miles away receive illustrated messages in Sango (a local language), Arabic and French, warning them not to chop down trees, carry guns, hunt game or poach elephants within the park. Continue reading Cash, cows and conflict: African herders have been pushed into destitution and crime
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
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
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
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.