Why is this interesting? - The Congo Edition

On conservation, poaching, and new violence

Colin here. We cover African conservation topics frequently in WITI, partly out of fear that these vital issues will continue to be overshadowed given everything that is going on in the world. We’ve talked about COVID in Africa and its implications for tourism and the economy, new models of conservation in Chad, as well as rhino relocation to Tanzania. There are many positive systems and energy being put in place, particularly around the future of African leadership and tourism

But there are also some terrible setbacks. One happened a few days ago in the Democratic Republic of Congo, an area of incredible biodiversity set in 3,000 square miles.

Six rangers were ambushed and killed in Virunga National Park. They were part of an anti-poaching team seeking to protect the park from poaching and other illicit activities. The Times reports:

Officials attributed the attack on Sunday to Mai-Mai fighters, an umbrella name for a loosely affiliated group of local militias who are battling for power and resources in eastern Congo. The park has for years been the site of repeated attacks from rebels and militia groups, along with poachers and loggers, leading to the killing of hundreds of rangers.The latest assault comes barely a year after assailants killed 17 people, among them 12 rangers, in the park. Emmanuel de Merode, the park’s director, was shot and injured in 2014, and tourists have been kidnapped during visits to the national park.

Why is this interesting? 

As with other areas of Africa, the lack of tourism is having a huge impact on both the pressure and the aggressiveness of some of these rebel groups. Virunga Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major habitat of the mountain gorilla. The park is closed due to the fear that tourists could spread the virus to apes. Before that, it closed in 2018 after tourists were kidnapped

And without tourism, the second-and third-order effects are dire: there’s an uptick in poaching, sometimes targeted towards the gorilla population, as well as the rise of militia attacks on rangers. Reuters expands:

The economic impact of COVID-19 has caused a spike in poaching, threatening the habitat of more than half the world’s mountain gorillas, park authorities said, just as rangers are forced to reduce their presence to shield from the virus...Higher food prices, fewer job opportunities, and a collapse of tourism revenues mean people living in and around the park have had to turn to the forest to survive, finding alternatives such as hunting for bushmeat.

Virunga is a national wonder: there are forests, savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes, and the peaks of the Rwenzori mountains. Like many other nature reserves around the globe, its funding and success are directly driven by its ability to attract visitors. Virunga had made huge strides in this direction and there’s a real concern that the pandemic and its aftershocks could put those efforts back a decade or more. (CJN)


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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).