The New Times (Kigali)

23 December 2012

Congo-Kinshasa: DRC Crisis Worries Conservationists

Conservationists from the three countries of Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda are "greatly concerned" by the instabilities in the eastern part of DRC.

The three countries under their umbrella, Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) held a meeting recently to discuss issues regarding their body including the crisis in the eastern DRC.

"The political instabilities in DRC are not only affecting the lives of people but the wildlife. We are worried by these groups that are killing game rangers in Virunga National Park," said Dr. Andrew Seguya, Executive Director of Uganda Wild Life Authority.

"We appeal to the armed groups causing all the insecurities to stop their fighting and look for solutions to their cause," he said.

The ranger was killed on the Rwandan part of the three-nation Virunga Massif by militias of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), based in Congo.

He said that, the life of people and gorillas in Virunga is in danger because the crises are not giving them a favourable habitat.

The Greater Virunga Landscape incorporates Virunga National Park in the DRC, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda; and Kibale Conservation Area, Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area, and Bwindi Mgahinga Conservation Area in Uganda.

Seguya stated that, GVTC has managed to contain poaching in Virunga Massif that was becoming a serious concern to the countries.

He added: "We have promoted the economic livelihoods of the surrounding communities of the parks and people have turned away from poaching activities."

The activities include extending clean water to surrounding communities who normally go to the park to look for water and end up indulging themselves in poaching.

The meeting that convened in Kigali also welcomed the progress of collaboration between the three countries and discussed the progress and the future of the collaboration in Greater Virunga landscape.

Dr Cosma Wilungula, Director General of Congolese Institute of Conservation and Nature-(ICCN) said "Political disputes will someday come to an end but conservation will never end, this is our working strength."

"We are promoting conservation not politics, so the armed groups shouldn't interfere with our programmes regarding wildlife conservation."

Particular attention was given to collaboration in this period of armed conflicts in eastern DR Congo which has affected the work in Virunga National Park.

The board members expressed concern about the reported tracking of gorillas in the Mikeno Sector and strongly urged against all activities that endanger the lives of visitors to Virunga National Park as well as the wildlife especially the mountain gorillas.

According to Rica Rwigamba, Head of Conservation at Rwanda Development Board, despite crises in eastern DRC, it is safe to travel to all parts of the country.

"We ensure safety to tourists and the business community who are visiting the park and other tourism sites in Rwanda," she emphasised.

The Virunga Massif is the natural habitat for the mountain gorillas, which merely a few years back were on the verge of extinction.

Tourism is Rwanda's number one foreign exchange earner. Last year the sector generated $252 million.

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