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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

US Urges Restraint in Hong Kong Protests

Protesters angered by Beijing's decision to only approve candidates that it sanctions for Hong Kong's leadership elections in 2017 More

Archive of Forgotten UCLA Speeches Offers Snapshot of History

Recordings of prominent voices in social change, politics, science and literature from 1960s, early 1970s now available on YouTube 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.
Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenyai
X
Gabe Joselow
September 29, 2014 6:20 PM
Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Video

Video Reconstruction? What Reconstruction? Life After War in Gaza

It’s been a month since Israel and the Palestinians agreed to a ceasefire to end 52 days of an air and tank war that left 60,000 homes in Gaza damaged or destroyed and 110,000 homeless. Sharon Behn reports that lack of reconstruction is leading to despair.
Video

Video US, Saudi Arabia and UAE Hit Islamic State's Oil Revenue

The United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have bombed oil facilities operated by Islamic State militants in Syria. It was a truly collaborative effort, with the two Arab countries dropping the majority of the bombs. The 12 refineries targeted were estimated to generate as much as $2 million per day for the terrorist group. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has the story.
Video

Video Russia's Food Sanctions Raise Price Worries, Hopes for Domestic Production

Russia retaliated against Western sanctions imposed for its actions in Ukraine by halting food imports from the West. The temporary import ban on food from Australia, the European Union, Norway and North America has Russian consumers concerned that they could face a sharp increase in food prices. But in an ironic twist, the restrictions aimed at the Kremlin have made Russia's domestic food producers hopeful this can boost their business. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Washington to Pyongyang: 'Shut This Evil System Down'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is calling on North Korea to shut down prison camps and other human rights abuses following a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into "widespread and systematic human rights violations." VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid