Park guards flee Virunga National Park amidst hostility
Earlier I linked to the news that rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo had taken over the gorilla's protected zone in the east of the country. Today it’s being reported that park guards were forced to leave the area as the result of heavy fighting between the factions.
As National Geographic reported:
Today the fighting between rebels and the Congolese army heated up near Bukima, the park's main gorilla monitoring station.
Rangers could also hear the exchange of heavy gunfire near park headquarters at Rumangabo, according to Norbert Mushenzi, director of Virunga's gorilla sector for the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN).
"Rangers and local inhabitants are fleeing from all around the park, and the mountain gorillas are totally unprotected," Mushenzi said.
With less than 700 mountain gorillas alive in the wild (half of which live in the Virunga National Park) the situation is dire. The fighting between the rebel factions is a continuation of the Hutu/Tutsi conflict that resulted in the Rwandan genocide of the mid-90s. The fear is that, in addition to rebel groups killing the gorillas for food, illegal charcoal traders may take advantage of the guards' absence to burn the forest.