News / Africa

Congo Gorilla Defenders Compete with Rebels for Charcoal Market

Emmanuel de Merode runs Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest wildlife park, which has been closed to tourists for more than a year due to eastern Congo’s civil war. Photo taken August 11, 2012.
Emmanuel de Merode runs Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest wildlife park, which has been closed to tourists for more than a year due to eastern Congo’s civil war. Photo taken August 11, 2012.
David Arnold
In the remote forests of Africa’s oldest wildlife park, and at the heart of a civil war that has decimated the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s eastern region, the rangers of Virunga National Park are waging their own battle.  They’re fighting to save the surviving families of mountain gorillas and 200 other endangered species, as well as the forests and savannahs of this U.N. World Heritage site.
 
Their formidable enemies include rebel units of the anti-government M23, a force comprised mostly of ethnic Tutsis, and several other militias, including the infamous Joseph Kony’s Lords’ Resistance Army from Uganda. 
 
The Virunga rangers also combat poachers, who kill the gorillas to sell their heads and limbs on the black market, and a small industry of park trespassers who produce illegal charcoal.

The park’s warden, Emmanuel de Merode, estimates the rebels earn up to $35 million a year in charoal sales to support their wars.  He also suspects the illegal charcoal manufacturers are responsible for the deaths of some gorillas because the animals are a “hindrance” to the illegal industry.
 
De Merode took charge of the park’s security – and later its regional economic development – through an agreement between Kinshasa and the African Conservation Fund in London. He is a descendant of Belgium’s King Albert I, who established the park more than 80 years ago to save the gorillas that have since gained world renown.

Challenges for Africa's oldest wildlife park

Today, as de Merode looks across Virunga’s eastern boundary at Rwanda, he sees a nation recently plagued with massive genocide but now reporting tourism revenues of $281 million because of the world’s fascination with gorillas.
 
Virunga, however, is directly in the path of 15 years of a civil war in which an estimated 5.4 million people in the DRC have died. Officials claim 90 percent of the fatalities – half of them children – have died not in warfare but as a byproduct of the war: cholera, malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition. 
 
Since the park has been closed to tourists for more than a year due to the armed violence, the goal of building a tourism industry around the park’s wildlife is uncertain as de Merode defends the park and tries to build the regional economy.
 
The park maintains a corps of about 300 well-armed and highly trained park rangers. They patrol more than 7,800 square kilometers of near-pristine African environment: brilliant white glacial fields atop the Ruwenzori Mountains in the park’s north, the deep red flows of Nyiragongo’s volcanic lava in the park’s south, the gorillas in the Mikeno Mountain foothills, a few hundred hippos on Lake Albert and its marshes, and more than other 200 endangered species in between. In their battle to secure the park’s environment, more than 130 rangers have been killed.
 
In addition to the flora and the fauna, the rangers are also defending such park-sponsored developments as new roads, a small hydroelectric project, nine schools, a health clinic and a better way to make charcoal briquettes – a vital commodity for the region’s 4 million rural population.
 
Building a better briquette

Virguna’s economic planners came up with two kinds of charcoal. In the park’s innovative manufacturing site, local workers produce “the fireball”, a safer, more efficient charcoal-like briquette in a compressed form for local consumers.  The fireball is a combination of cassava paste and charcoal dust recycled from the vast and less efficient charcoal-making companies of Goma, compressed into the shape of a golf ball and sold.
 
Village women in the region – many of them victims of rape by rebels as they searched for firewood in the forests - are employed in hand-pressing donut-shaped briquettes using locally appropriate technology prescribed by a development lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
 
Kim Chaix, a New York fundraiser and charcoal advocate who works with park administration on several development projects said armed rebels are now close to the charcoal manufacturing site.
 
The charcoal briquette-making project continues for now, but the goal of a thriving tourism industry and the survival of the mountain gorillas remains uncertain.
 
Even while the park is closed to tourists, Chaix and de Merode plan to attract more investment for the production of palm oil, papaya enzymes and soap, and commercial crops of indigenous bamboo for their briquette-making enterprise.
 
“We’re trying to create peace and economic security for four million people who live within a day’s walk of the park,” Chaix said.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Arkansas, North Carolina have approved similar laws that gay-marriage opponents say help maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More