Emmanuel and the rangers have finally returned to the Mikeno sector of the Virunga National Park after 14 months of absence. They are conducting a census of the gorillas and have already met the Humba family. YOu can read about it on the Gorilla.cd blog
The story has been captured by AFP which is below
Gorilla love conquers war in DR Congo
First Posted 19:05:00 11/24/2008
RUMANGABO — It’s a striking example of how a little love can overcome a whole lot of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Rebels and the government, who have blighted lush Nord-Kivu province with months of fighting, have cut a unique deal to allow armed park rangers back into the famed Virunga reserve to care for its long-neglected gorillas.
The deal will allow ranger Innocent Mburanumwe to be reunited with a bald blackback ape that has occupied his waking dreams for the past 15 months, ever since CNDP rebels took over the eastern gorilla sector of the park in September 2007 and forced the rangers to flee.
“Kadogo’s my favorite, because of all the ones I’ve seen, he’s the only one that is completely bald. Kadogo was born bald! I can’t wait to get up there to see him again.”
Last month, the rangers had to flee again, this time from Rumangabo with their families after the rebels swept through the southern sector of the park.
“I grabbed a kid in each arm and ran,” says Mburanumwe. His wife and six children remain behind in Goma at a camp for the rangers’ families housing 1,500.
Over the next week or so, hundreds of rangers will shoulder their Kalashnikovs and head into the bush from their Rumangabo headquarters to begin a census of the apes, keenly watched by their new rebel minders.
It is a unique situation in the battleground that is Nord-Kivu, the first time that an armed group has been allowed through a front line to go about their business freely.
At least that’s the plan, painstakingly worked out between park director Emmanuel De Merode, employed by the Kinshasa government, and rebel leader Laurent Nkunda at a meeting last week.
De Merode pores over the map of the park and smiles gamely when told he’s like a player in a wicked board game, minefields at every turn, only in his case it’s Congo’s bewildering array of armed groups. There’s the Mai Mai, the Rwandan FDLR rebels, the government forces, and of course, the CNDP, his new partners in conservation.
“It’s a complicated situation and they’re all involved in natural resource exploitation. Now it’s a little simpler because the park is all controlled by the CNDP. But it’s a difficult situation,” said the Kenya-raised Belgian, above the noise of a screaming baboon.
“There’s always controversy. But the message is very clear. We are only here to do park management and we’re doing it because it’s a world heritage site and also to protect the natural heritage which is extremely important to the economic future of the country.”
But ranger Roy Nkoma Musubao said he has no room for fear, particularly of the FDLR, whose illegal charcoal trade in the park poses the biggest risk to the rangers.
“This is my job, my lifeline. Armed groups or not, the job has got to be done,” said Musaboa, 120 of whose comrades have been killed since 1997.
De Merode commands 680 rangers, including many who stayed behind when the rebels advanced, notably Pierre-Canisius Kanamahalagi, a 52-year-old who wears smart city clothes and an air of authority.
“There’s a misconception put out by Kinshasa that the rangers were chased out” says Kanamahalagi. “They were ordered out by the government for propaganda reasons!”
“I’ve been called a rebel by some because I stayed on to look after the gorillas. But the management recognizes I’m a conservationist. Even a hero. A hero,” he says, emphasizing the last word.
De Merode is too diplomatic to say, but the mysterious presence of Kanamahalagi at the park’s headquarters is part of a delicate two-step with his new partners in conservation, the price to pay for being allowed back into the park.
No one can be certain the highly vulnerable apes, which have not been seen for 15 months, have survived unscathed. The park is home to 200 of the world’s 700 surviving great apes.
But Kanamahalagi insists they are safe. “The gorillas we’ve seen are in very good health, apart from their natural habitat damaged by FARDC [army] bombardment recently. Happily it didn’t affect the gorillas.”
Tellingly, De Merode, speaking separately, said such evidence is “anecdotal” and will have to be checked out by qualified personnel.
According to Mburanumwe, the partnership is working so far. “We embraced those who were here when we got back, so the coalition is working.”