Wednesday, April 16, 2014

UPDATE: Human-gorilla conflict

Updated April 21, 2014

This short post is an addition to this blog entry on human-gorilla conflict in Virunga National Park.

The director of Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode, was shot by 3 gunmen in an ambush yesterday, April 15, 2014. He was rushed to Heal Africa hospital in Goma, and survived a surgery to remove the bullets, which hit his stomach and thorax. He is now in Nairobi recovering with his family.

Virunga National Park chief warden shot in ambush

He was traveling alone from the city of Goma to the park's headquarters in Rumangabo at the time of the attack. Directly preceding the ambush he had a meeting with a public prosecutor in Goma, where he handed over sensitive information that would compromise the results of a lengthy investigation of SOCO International, the company conducting oil exploration within the park.
Source: The Origin
There is no word on a motive yet, but considering his position in the park, I am certain his list of enemies is long. On the bright side (there's always a bright side), in his position, a long list of enemies means he's doing a good job of protecting the park from illegal and harmful activity-- such as illegal charcoal production, mining, fishing, and poaching, and as of recently, oil exploration.

The chairman of SOCO International, Rui de Sousa, vehemently denies any involvement with the shooting saying that such a suggestion is “completely unfounded, defamatory and highly inappropriate.” Their official press release can be found here. But that hasn't stopped many news stories from making readers draw the connection, for example, with headlines like "Gorilla park chief shot after delivering file on oil company." Emmanuel himself doesn't appreciate the speculation.

de Merode carrying an orphaned gorilla in Virunga National Park
Source: Virunga National Park

In a UN meeting on April 16th a senior official, Irina Bokova, spoke out against the attack and publicly urged the Congolese authorities to serve the attackers a nice dose of justice. She further called on the international community support the tireless conservation efforts of the DRC. Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen, but tragedy often makes people band together for a cause- perhaps now that cause can be the protection of Virunga National Park.

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