Congo’s wildlife rangers remain targets of militias


Since the stark news emerged from the lowland forest around Ituri, that militias had vented their anger and frustration on the ICCN headquarters in Epulu with a large scale attack, killing at least 6 staff or family members back in June, little seems to have changed for those on the ground, still under daily threat for their own safety and the safety of the animals. The over 100 personnel attached to the ICCN offices fled in terror, as the killers then set out to rape any woman still in sight before ransacking and looting the offices, finally torching buildings before leaving the scene. Up to now, from reports received, little if anything has changed for the survivors of the gruesome attack.

Ranger killings, even at the Virunga National Park, have become only too common by militias fighting regime troops or battling amongst themselves for control of mineral rich areas where slave mining is then introduced, seriously affecting the country’s ability to protect and preserve its precious wildlife.

At Epulu, in addition to wreaking the havoc already described, to the shock of the global conservation fraternity at the time, the internationally acclaimed and renowned Okapi Conservation Project was also wiped out as the goons mowed down the helpless animals held in shelters. 13 of the rare animals were killed and at least one more injured, leaving years of conservation work in tatters and ruins.

It is understood from a regular source from Goma, working in the conservation field, that their Ituri colleagues had been under growing threat and despite desperate pleas to Kinshasa for a troop contingent and extra security, that request was repeatedly ignored, making the regime almost an accomplice in the incident by neglecting and abrogating their state duties.

That suspicion was confirmed by the source, who on condition of absolute anonymity said: ‘Much of the fighting which is going on is not so much about political control but about control of mining, about their ability to poach rare wildlife. We suspect that in fact some government officials are paid off from the loot to keep a blind eye on these things. Where government troops are nearby, they too are open to take and get bribes because they are often not paid for months. This is getting worse by the day and is worse than the Mobutu regime was. If we raise such issues, we are threatened with deportation or worse. There is really no rule of law left in this part of Congo. We try with little means to keep conservation going, raise funds to build something and then it is looted or destroyed in seconds. When you wrote about the impact of piracy and how it affected the islands and the East coast countries of Africa, the world was affected too but there was a reaction. Here it affects us but the world is not bothered. The loss of the okapis is a big blow for the survival of the species. Let the world know what is going on there because it seems no one else is bothered’.

It is understood that the Okapi reserve was in fact put on the UNESCO World Heritage list some 15 years ago and declared ‘endangered’ not long afterwards. Combined with the regime’s responsibility to have the last population of the Northern White rhinos wiped out in Garamba National Park, when a ministerial ‘NJET’ at the very last moment brought the rescue to a halt, as an airlift was just about to go underway to bring the animals to the safety of a Kenyan conservancy, this leaves any resemblance of Congo’s commitment to wildlife conservation in doubt if not shreds. Congo oh Congo, whenever will this end?