Virunga National Park in Crisis

UPDATED STATEMENT FROM VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK ON RECENT ATTACK

April 24, 2020. It is with great sadness that the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) confirms the identities of the Virunga Park Rangers and employees who tragically lost their lives as a result of the attack that occurred this morning at 11 am on Route Nationale 2 near the headquarters of Virunga National Park in Rumangabo.

ABEDI IYALU Kadhafi, Ranger, aged 23 years
ANUARI BIHIRA Lumumba, Ranger, aged 27 years
BADI MUKANDAMA Djamali, Ranger, aged 27 years
FAZILI JUSTIN Junior, Ranger, aged 29 years
KAMBALE MUTSOMANI

Jean-Louis, Ranger, aged 31 years
KAMBALE TEREMUKA Jules, Ranger, aged 28 years
KASOLE JANVIER Joseph, Ranger, aged 30 years
MASUMBUKO MALEKANI Ruphin, Driver, aged 40 years
MUGISHO KULONDWA Augustin, Ranger, aged 27 years
MUHINDO ISEVIHANGO Jeannot; Ranger, aged 30 years
MUHINDO KATEMBO Jacques, Ranger, aged 29 years
NDAGIJIMANA NDAHOBARI Héritier, Ranger, aged 27 years
PALUKU KALONDERO Moise, Ranger, aged 30 years

All of those that lost their lives leave behind families, colleagues, parents and grieving friends. Three other Rangers are seriously injured and one remains in a critical condition. They have been evacuated to medical facilities where they are receiving appropriate care. In addition to Virunga National Park staff, 4 civilians, not related to the Park, sadly lost their lives and a further 2 were injured.

Initial investigations indicate that the Rangers were on their way back to their headquarters when they encountered a civilian vehicle that had been attacked and subsequently came under a ferociously violent and sustained ambush. We can confirm that the perpetrators of this attack were the armed group “FDLRFOCA.”

The Rangers of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature are agents of the State responsible for the application of the Law on the Conservation of Nature. They do not have military status and their actions do not fall under the law of conflict. The Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature will spare no effort to bring to justice, in accordance with the law, the perpetrators of this vile attack.

These tragic events will not be allowed to undermine Virunga National Park’s commitment to economic and humanitarian development programmes in partnership with, and for the benefit of, the communities that surround the Park. More than ever, those communities aspire to live in a climate of stability, justice and peace.

Our thoughts and prayers are tonight with the families and friends of all the victims, including the innocent civilians, as well as the injured Rangers.

The park was established in 1925 as Africa’s first national park and is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site since 1979. In recent years poaching and the Congo Civil War have seriously damaged its wildlife population. The park is managed by the Congolese National Park Authorities, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) and its partner the Virunga Foundation. The Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) is a Congolese governmental partner tasked with the protection and conservation of the Virunga National Park and Kahuzi-Biega National Park, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Members of the ICCN are charged with the overall protection of the parks and the endangered Mountain Gorilla.

If you love Yellowstone then subscribe to this channel

by Rick LoBello

Please help keep this blog alive by following it with your email address. Look for the follow link on the lower right or bottom of your screen. Contact us if you would like to contribute.

In just a few words this morning: If you love Yellowstone and miss hiking the park’s trails then you really need to follow and subscribe to Stan Mill’s YouTube channel. Here is his latest upload, there are over 80 others. Mill’s channel is all about the amazing wildlife in Yellowstone National Park. It includes amazing encounters with grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, cougars and more.

IF you would like to see some of my videos about Yellowstone to help you during the pandemic here are two.

Hello from Yellowstone with Rick LoBello
An Evening at the Old Faithful Inn

All National Parks Closed

 National Parks Conservation Association Photo

Big Bend National Park Temporarily Closed

No entry will be allowed into the park, except for employees, residents, and other authorized persons. Through traffic will be prohibited, as will travel on Terlingua Ranch Road within park boundaries. Until further notice.

The National Park Service is modifying its operations on a park-by-park basis in accordance with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local public health authorities. While most facilities and events are closed or canceled, many of our outdoor spaces remain accessible to the public. Before visiting, please check with individual parks regarding changes to park operations. If you choose to visit a national park, please ensure that you follow CDC and state and local guidelines to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and practice Leave No Trace principles. Updates about the NPS response, including safety information, are posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus.

Discover Yellowstone watching the Old Faithful webcam

Old Faithful Geyser;
Jim Peaco;
February 2014;
Catalog #
Original #IMG_4471
All Yellowstone Images courtesy the National Park Service.  Please follow this blog by entering your email address on the lower right.   I am looking for volunteers to help develop this site.   Have time on your hands?

 

by Rick LoBello

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Yellowstone National Park is closed, but you can still visit the park in a very special way by watching the Old Faithful webcam.

When I worked as a Park Ranger in Yellowstone back in the late 1970’s, one of my most memorable assignments was the year I operated the Old Faithful Visitor Center.  Back in April of 1978 I was the only Park Naturalist on duty at the visitor center.  The Park’s Geologist at the Time was Rick Hutchinson.  Rick and I spent many hours at the VC talking about all the thermal features from the view of the information desk where I would predict the next Old Faithful eruption for the benefit of a handful of park visitors.
There were some days when I counted only ten visitors. Those were the days, almost perfect solitude.

Like the geysers name, it was pretty easy to predict eruptions using a stop watch.   The same formula I used then works pretty much today.  If  Old Faithful has a short eruption,  the next one will be in 60 minutes (plus or minus 10 minutes). If it has a long eruption, it will be 90 minutes (plus or minus 10 minutes) before the next eruption.  Try it when you watch an eruption on the webcam.

The park superintendent was John A. Townsley and he wanted to encourage visitation in the park before the busy summer season.  That same year the park was inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage list — the United States’ first World Heritage Site .  Townsley decided to open the road to Old Faithful a few months early.   Lucky me, I was asked to take on the assignment.

At the time I was working as a seasonal Park Naturalist at Big Bend National Park.  When I got the call I loaded up everything I owned in my little Toyota Corolla and headed to Mammoth Park Headquarters to get my keys and learn more about my assignment.

Years later whenever I need my Yellowstone fix and I can’t make it to the park I started  visiting the Old Faithful webcam.  The cam is pointed at the Upper Geyser Basin and Old Faithful.  Different park staff and volunteers move the cam from one spot to the next during the day focusing on making sure it is pointed at Old Faithful during its next eruption.   I only wish there was sound to go with it so just recently I came up with a new way to experience the cam.   I look for YouTube videos of winter snow storms and play the sounds on one windows screen while watching the Old Faithful Cam on another.    It’s not a perfect set up, but it works for me.

The nice thing about the cam is that you never know who might walk by.  If you are really lucky you might see wolves chasing bison or a grizzly bear, but more often there are some pretty amazing sunrises and sunsets.   Now that so many of us are at home, next time you are looking for a new online experience check out this cam.   There are others from different locations in the park, but the Old Faithful cam is the best.

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Want to learn more or sign up as a I Love Parks volunteer?   Contact Rick here.

 

 

 

 

Operation Virunga

 

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.

 

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El Paso Preservation and Conservation Committee seeking comments on planning document

In response to a “We the People” petition that gathered 6,252 signatures supporting the preservation of public lands in northwestern and northeastern portions of the Franklin Mountains, a Preservation and Conservation Plan Committee was established by the Public Service Board (PSB) in late 2015. The purpose of the committee was to establish conservation standards for development and for preservation of PSB managed lands adjacent the mountains and Franklin Mountains State Park.

The committee was made up of a diverse mix of community members and backgrounds, all with the goal of ensuring a high quality of life for present and future generations.  A report was completed and presented to the PSB earlier this year and is now ready for public review.  It contains scientific data to assist in decision making about the existing resources managed by El Paso Water Utilities (EPWU) and in our region by the City of El Paso as well as organizations, government agencies, individuals, developers and business owners. The proposed map included in the report (page 3) identifies lands to be preserved with no disturbances, specific areas to have very limited disturbance, master planned land in the past, and where conservation development may take place. Conservation development is working with the land keeping the terrain, trails water flow, and wildlife corridors in mind.  To read the report in full and provide comments via a survey go to: http://fronteralandalliance.org/conservation/projects/enrich-el-paso-report

The committee will receive public comments via a survey link until November 30, 2018. Replies may also be mailed to: The Frontera Land Alliance, 3800 N. Mesa St., A2-258, El Paso, Texas 79902.

 

Big Bend to control feral hogs

F55004CC-1DD8-B71B-0B17080CEC650D76Feral hogs compete with native species in Big Bend National Park.

Earlier this year the National Park Service invited public comments on a plan to manage non-native, exotic animals in Big Bend National Park. The 30-day review and comment period for the park’s Exotic Animal Management Plan and Environmental Assessment ended in February and the verdict is now in.   On June 13, 2018 Regional Director Sue Masica signed the decision document, a finding of no significant impact (FONSI), that will allow for limited aerial shooting as well as live trapping of these non-native species, using the most humane feasible methods.

“These invasive animals threaten the native plants and animals the park is mandated to protect,” says Acting Superintendent Tom Forsyth. “This plan provides the framework to manage them while minimizing the effects on park visitors. This plan will aid park management as we steward these resources for future generations.”

To protect the park’s natural and cultural resources and the visitor experience, the National Park Service will manage aoudad (Barbary sheep) and feral hogs using lethal means. Control of these populations as proposed as these non-native species compete with and consume native species, alter species composition, threaten biodiversity, and impair the visitor’s ability to experience natural conditions and scenery.

Aoudad have been in the park for the past three decades, and have increased significantly in recent years. Estimates suggest 200 to 400 aoudads now inhabit the park. Aoudads are major competitors to native desert bighorn sheep. Feral hogs are present in low numbers in the park’s northern extremity, and are expected to invade the heavily vegetated, 113-mile Rio Grande corridor in coming years. Additionally, the park wishes to prevent feral hogs from invading the Chisos Mountains, a small range within the park that contains rare montane woodlands and hosts endangered, rare and isolated native species.

Control actions will employ the most humane feasible methods. No poisons, snares, or leg-hold traps will be used. Only lead-free bullets would be used to minimize impacts to scavengers. Aerial control of aoudads and feral hogs would primarily occur during the hot summer months, when few visitors use the park’s backcountry. Aerial control would likely occur only several days per year, and a total of 20 days per year would be the maximum allowable helicopter use for all aspects of exotic aoudad and feral hog management. Ground-based control would occur during many times throughout the year, but would avoid the busier visitor use periods and locations.

Dawn of the bats

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Bat flight at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

One special morning each year, curious visitors join park rangers at the entrance of Carlsbad Cavern to witness the homecoming of hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats.

Between April and October these bats call Carlsbad Caverns National Park home. Each sunset, hundreds of people witness their mass exodus from the cave in search of food and water, but far fewer people are present as these creatures of the night return at sunrise with their bellies full. Join us Saturday, July 15, 2017 for the Dawn of the Bats, a FREE special event celebrating the bats as they arrive home in small groups and dive back into the safety of the cave.

5:30 a.m. – The main event begins at the outdoor amphitheater when we will view the bats returning to the cave.

6:30 – 7:30 a.m. – Naure walk to explore the life of bats in the park.

8 a.m. – Noon – Bat themed activities in the visitor center including kid’s programs, talks about bat research being conducted in the park and more!

No reservations necessary. We hope to see you there!

Location:

Outdoor Amphitheater

Fee Information:

FREE