Announcements that the Virunga National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, will be getting more EU funding after already spending some 30+ million Euros over the past 25 years, have met with instant demands that safeguards must be provided by the regime in Kinshasha on several areas of concern.
irunga National Park is a 7800 square kilometer World Heritage Site that lies on the eastern border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is the is the second oldest national park in the world, behind only Yellowstone, and the oldest in Africa. It is the most diverse national park on the African continent that boasts savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, forests, active volcanoes and the ice fields of the Rwenzori Mountains. Among Virunga’s numerous species of wildlife, the park is home to approximately 200 of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas that live on the slopes of the Virunga volcano ranger which includes active Nyiragongo volcano and the largest lava lake in the world.
Despite this, the forests, amazing animals of the park, and even the rangers are in a desperate fight for their survival. The park has suffered through wars, militia attacks, extreme poaching, and a constant struggle to stay alive through human and environmental pressures on the park, and lack of funding.
Mountain gorillas, elephants, hippo, and other wildlife have been killed for food, money, and politics. The hippo population dropped from 25,000, the largest concentration in the world, to about 1200. Serious anti-poaching measures are necessary to protect the wildlife of the park.
Through all this, the dedication of the rangers and staff has cost many lives. Although conditions are improving and the park has seen a massive resurgence in the last 3 years, rangers continue to be killed in random and planned attacks, and their wives and children left behind with little support.
First must any oil prospecting cease completely, and ongoing work be halted with the surveyors and other teams withdrawn and not to return. Secondly must the regime guarantee the geographical integrity of the park and not, as it suits greedy and corrupt politicians, gradually excise areas which might have oil deposits underground to the detriment of the entire ecosystem and primate habitat, as after all the Virunga park is one of the worlds’ greatest biodiversity hotspots.
Earlier in the year was the Belgian Virunga Chief Warden Emmanuel de Merode nearly killed in a targeted ambush and while he has since recuperated and resumed his duties, none of those behind the assassination attempt have been brought to book.
The EU support is to be channeled through a programme named Biodiversity for Life or in short B4Life but conservationists concerned with Kinshasa’s environmental, security and human rights records have already vowed to take this to the European parliament if necessary to ensure that ironclad safeguards are this time built into the financial support programme to prevent, as was the case in the past, the regime handing out oil prospecting and mining concessions in direct violation of the spirit of prior agreements.