Good news from WildlifeDirect‘s Senior Warden, Paulin Ngobobo: permission was granted to allow access to the Patrol Posts enabling the wardens to search for gorillas and establish current group status.
His most recent entry reads as follows (but be sure to check out his blog for more details documenting his efforts):
“Yesterday we finally managed to have a meeting with one of Laurent Nkunda’s rebel commanders. This meeting was to discuss the gorilla killings and to explain that this has to be stopped.
We set out with Rob Muir from Frankfurt Zoological Society at 0600 from Goma and teamed with MONUC Battalion Commander Lt. Colonel Rajeesh Parmar at 0800. Then we picked up a convoy of 3 UN patrol vehicles and one UN military observer (Milobs) armored vehicle and headed out for Jomba. This is one of the key gorilla sites close to the Uganda border where the rebels have their headquarters.
Shortly after our arrival at 10.30 a company of men came striding down the hilltop in camouflage gear – most of them carrying heavy weapons and rocket launchers. Quite a few were also carrying spears too. Myself, Rob, Lt. Col Parmar and Col Yav (of the Congolese army) met with Col Makenga of the rebel forces. Rob thanked MONUC for facilitating the meeting and thanked Makenga for agreeing to see us.
I was then able to talk with Makenga and Yav for about one hour, explaining who the rangers were, what we were trying to achieve in the park, and how important it is to protect the mountain gorillas and other wildlife even during times of war. I requested access to the Patrol Posts in the gorilla sector so that my rangers could search for the gorilla groups and establish their status.
Col. Makenga granted my request. The rebel commander’s pledge gives us some hope, and I will be carrying out our first patrols from Bikenge next Tuesday.”
Reading his first hand accounts of life as a Congolese Warden has put many things into perspective for those of use who work in ex-situ conservation (and everyone for that matter)… encounters with armed forces are certainly not everyday occurrences for most of us. Thank you and good luck to Paulin and his team!