by Jessica Burbridge
Just months after the Congolese Army and UN forces secured the Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park after occupation by the M23 rebel group, the Gorilla Doctors were shocked to learn of the attack on Chief Park Warden Emmanuel de Merode on Tuesday, April 15. The warden was shot through the windshield of his truck as he drove from Goma to the Park’s headquarters in Rumangabo on a section of road known as “the corridor”. He sustained severe abdominal wounds, but fortunately, he is stable and is currently recovering in a Goma hospital.
"The Gorilla Doctors board and staff are relieved to hear that he is in stable condition; he is a true role model for conservation" said co-Director Dr. Mike Cranfield. "It seems somewhat ironic that the attack occurred following the announcement of the Virunga Alliance". The Alliance is a collaborative effort between businessman Howard Buffet and de Merode on behalf of ICCN. It aims to help the local communities prosper with new hydro-electric sources and a way to sustain the future of the park.
A Conservation Hero
A Belgian prince and anthropologist, de Merode grew up in east Africa. He was appointed Chief Park Warden, replacing Honore Mashagiro, who was linked to the Rugendo group massacre of silverback Senkwekwe, five females and an infant in 2007. He has worked in DRC since 1993 and Virunga National Park since 2001 and is widely considered one of the great conservation heroes of our time by the international wildlife conservation community. Over the last six years as Park Warden, Emmanuel has endured many hardships, struggling to keep his team of 680 rangers safe and well equipped, often having to negotiate with rebel leaders in order to continue to protect the mountain gorillas and other biodiversity in the park.
Watch Emmanuel’s inspirational TED Talk from Geneva, Switzerland to learn more about his work.
A World Heritage Site
Established in 1925, Virunga is the oldest national park in Africa and spans roughly two million acres. The park is extremely rich in biodiversity and home to an estimated 220 of the world’s remaining 880 mountain gorillas. UNESCO declared the park a World Heritage Site in 1979.
Over 140 of Virunga’s rangers have lost their lives in the line of duty since the beginning of the war in 1996. Most recently, park ranger Mbera Bagabo was killed on January 12, 2014 as he was on patrol in the Mikeno sector. Following the ranger’s death, de Merode stated that “the area is sought after by militias for its lucrative illegal charcoal trade with the city of Goma, known to be a major source of revenue for illegal armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Gorilla Doctors in DRC
With an abundance of natural resources, extreme poverty, and rampant rebel activity, DRC has been plagued with violence for many years. Despite the risks, Gorilla Doctors has continued to provide veterinary care to the wild and orphaned mountain and Grauer’s gorillas in both Virunga National Park and Kahuzi Biega National Park. Emmanuel de Merode has been immensely supportive of our work in Virunga National Park.
In light of the recent attack, the annual mountain gorilla orphan exams, as well as the quarantine exam for new orphan Kalonge, have been postponed until we can determine the security situation in and around the park. Gorilla Doctors is in contact with the staff at the Senkwekwe Center in Virunga National Park and all five orphans there are safe with their caretakers.
“The safety of our staff and colleagues is absolutely the number one priority. We will refrain from work in the area until we are quite confident that our staff will be safe” said Gorilla Doctors Co-Director Dr. Kirsten Gilardi.
On behalf of all Gorilla Doctors staff and supporters “get well soon, Emmanuel”!
You can follow the Gorilla Doctors health monitoring efforts on our Facebook page, where we post photos and notes from our monthly visits.
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