by Rick LoBello
With this blog post I am announcing a new conservation initiative called Operation Virunga 2020. This operation hopes to organize a group of passionate conservationists who are able and willing to travel to East Africa and meet with non-profit organizations and government and park officials to help save Virunga National Park, one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet and home to the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas.
Ever since I completed my guidebook to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda I have tried to keep up with all the news from Virunga National Park just across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. What has been most promising is all the news coming out of region on the numbers of critically endangered mountain gorillas and how they are increasing. Unfortunately, despite all this good news, what is happening in the DRC threatens the mountain gorilla like no other threat to the species.
When I revised my book in 2018, Virunga National Park had closed due to increased violence in the area as a result of increased attacks on park rangers and the abduction of two British tourists. Tourism has resumed, but overall the situation in the park is not good and to many, it is getting worse by the day. In 2014 a new threat to Virunga National Park emerged from the British Petroleum Company Soco International. Soco was planning to explore for oil inside the park even though the park is protected by the DRC. According to the World Wildlife Fund oil development in the park would threaten local communities that depend on the park’s natural resources. At Lake Edward for example, more that 27,000 people fish for a living and over 50,000 people depend on the lake for their drinking water. Worldwide opposition with the support of the European Union and the Netflix film Virunga has helped, but in April, 2018 the DRC government was seeking to explore for oil in the park. Months later the government decided to move forward with plans to drill in the park.
No matter how well the Rwandan and Ugandan governments protects Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda, what happens in the DRC, where over 5.4 million people were killed during the Congo War of 1998 to 2003, is critical to the conservation of the Virunga ecosystem and the future survival of one our planet’s most magnificent creatures.
No park is an island and there is little doubt that the gorillas and other creatures in the Virungas are threatened by human activities on any side of the border as I discuss in my book, Guide to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, Home to Critically Endangered Mountain Gorillas. The state of the park at Virunga National Park is hotspot for conservation in this part of the world. If you are interested in being a part of this group or being a sponsor please contact me and let me know of your interest using the contact form below.