Rebel Attacks Threaten Gorilla Park -- Dramatic Video

Nick Wadhams in Nairobi, Kenya
for National Geographic News
October 13, 2008

A new round of fighting has broken out between rebels and government troops in the gorilla sector of the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park. The park is infamous for a series of gorilla murders in 2007. (Read "Who Murdered the Virunga Gorillas?" from National Geographic magazine.)

The warfare is preventing rangers from monitoring mountain gorillas in one of their few remaining habitats and has forced villagers to flee the town that is home to the park's headquarters, as shown in a dramatic video shot for the Virunga Web site (watch above).

Shot on October 9 in the town of Rumangabo—site of the main ranger station for Virunga's gorilla sector—the video shows dozens of people fleeing as artillery shells and automatic-weapon fire explode nearby.

"This place is unsafe place because we don't have the possibility to move from here," park employee Balemba Balagizi says on the video. "All the Rumangabo station is surrounded by guns, by heavy guns, so it is really unsafe now."

Across the region an estimated hundred thousand people have left their homes since renewed fighting broke out in August between the rebels and government forces.

Laurent Nkunda, formerly a general in the Congolese Army, leads the rebel group, which he calls the National Congress for the People's Defense (CNDP).

The park sector just south of Rumangabo is known as Mikeno. Of the estimated 700 surviving wild mountain gorillas, an estimated 72 gorillas live in Mikeno's thick, hilly jungle.

Major Escalation

The attacks shown in the video represented a significant escalation in the ongoing conflict; the rebels captured the Congolese military base at Rumangabo.

About two miles (three kilometers) from the town center, 43 park rangers had hunkered down to defend the Rumangabo ranger station but did not end up clashing with the rebels.

The rangers did, however, engaged in a brief firefight with armed looters, and one of the attackers was killed, said Emmanuel de Merode, warden of Virunga. (See "Belgian Named New Warden of Troubled Gorilla Park" [August 7, 2008].)

Continued on Next Page >>




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