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Virunga Park in DRC Forced to Close Until Next Year

by Shelby Hawkins on June 15, 2018
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Africa’s oldest national park was forced to close due to waves of violence springing up in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Virunga National Park is known for its volcanoes, tropical forests and its expansive biodiversity. Home to half the world’s critically endangered mountain gorilla population, this park is a spectacle that tourists from all over the globe travel to see.

The original plan was to keep the park closed until the fourth of June, but in an unfortunate series of events, the park had no other choice but to close until next year because they could not ensure the safety of its visitors and employees.

This past year alone 12 park rangers have been killed. The latest being Rachel Masika Baraka who was shot. Last month in an unrelated event, two British tourists were abducted by militia known as Mai-Mai and held over night until rescued by DRC officials.

Aside from the violent attacks on people, illegal deforestation and poaching have become more prevalent.

What is Causing This Surge in Violence?

According to CBS news, The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been facing severe political, economic and social issues. As the poorest nation in the world, the citizens have become victim to things such as disease and a loss of influence; it is a nation that faces a lot of instability, and instability often causes violence.

Violence surfaced in DRC during its civil war and it is rising again in the form of the rebel militia Mai-Mai.

Mai-Mai, who essentially started at a buffer against the invading, and neighboring Rwandan forces, stayed in the area. They have tended to exploit situations for their own personal benefit and no longer represent the nation, but exercise as a separate faction.

“They are known as Mai-Mai, but that’s a term that generally covers all rebel groups and they have shifting alliances,” CBS News foreign correspondent Debora Patta says, “They shift according to government, according to different rebel groups in the area. On top of that, you also have additional instability. This is a country in which the current president, Joseph Kabila, was supposed to step down when his second term in office came to an end in 2016. He has so far refused to do that.”

As Patta stated, President Kabila has remained in office despite prior promises to step down after his second term. In fact, there are supposed to elections in December, but violence has flared up over this as well. Hopefully by next year tensions will be eased and the violence will subside. If not, the park and DRC will simply lose tourists.

How Will The Loss of Visitors Affect DRC?

Losing visitors of course means losing money. Tourists spend a tremendous amount of money to visit the country and also enter the park.

Virunga National Park also resides in Rwanda, so tourists and people interested in the incredible site can go the Rwandan side, which is considered to be a much safer option anyway.

Aside from hurting the economy even more,  a loss in tourism will damage the gorilla population as well. Money that visitors pay to see the primates and experience the incredible nature goes directly to the endangered species’ conservation.

The park announced last year that the population, which was originally around 900, has went over one thousand.

“They [the gorillas] get caught up in this violence,” Patta explains, “They get attacked as well. The poachers set snares for other animals and they get caught in those. There is illegal charcoal mining in the area, and the general instability impacts the gorillas. Throw in the climate change, which is impacting their food resources normally available to them. This is not good news for the gorillas.”

To continue the conservation, money is going to have to be used from another source, which the park has not confirmed yet. An increase in security is also necessary to keep the gorillas and conservatory afloat.

Violence against Virunga National Park has proved to not only be devastating to the gorilla population, but this unique landscape is also an integral part of the country that is unfortunately being compromised.

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Shelby Hawkins
My name is Shelby, like the mustang, and I am an avid lover of photography, literature and desserts. I identify as a proud feminist and Pan-Africanist; hopefully that manifests in my writing.
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