The Gorilla Doctors fear for the health and safety of the critically endangered mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo as rebels clash with the Congolese army in the park’s gorilla sector. Virunga National Park is home to about 200 of the world’s remaining 783 mountain gorillas.
On May 8, a reported 1,500 troops loyal to Bosco Ntaganda, the military chief of staff of the CNDP rebel group who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, entered the gorilla sector of the park. Virunga National Park, which employs 275 rangers for the entire park, was forced to withdraw its staff from three of the five patrol posts located in the gorilla sector. Fighting between the rebels and the Congolese army broke out on May 10, culminating on May 13 with the Congolese army shelling rebel positions within the park. On May 12, a ranger and two soldiers were killed in the park while protecting a road used by civilians fleeing the rebels.
“We are worried about the mountain gorilla population from direct exposure to war and trauma as well as unregulated exposure to troop encampments which could harbour infectious diseases that could be fatal to the gorillas,” said Gorilla Doctors Co-Director Dr. Mike Cranfield. “The secondary effect of the conflict is the inability of our veterinary team and the Virunga National Park staff to monitor the health of the gorillas and perform medical interventions if necessary. We are all hoping for a quick resolution to the problem.”
Chief Park Warden Emmanuel de Merode has been posting regular updates about the situation on the Gorilla.cd blog. Rumangabo, the Virunga National Park headquarters and site of the Senkwekwe Center for orphaned mountain gorillas, remains secure. The Gorilla Doctors Congolese staff is safe in the Congolese city of Goma, which is 1.5 hours’ drive from Rumangabo.