Two satellite images by NASA, one from February 13, 1999 and the other from September 1, 2008 (see below), show that Virunga National Park is under assault from deforestation. Located in the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) the park has been assailed by entrenched conflict between rebels and government forces, as well as slash-and-burn farming, the charcoal trade, and a booming human population.
The oldest national park on the continent, Virunga National Park is most famous for supporting around half of the world’s Critically Endangered mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). In addition the park is also home to the eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthi), considered Endangered; okapi (Okapia johnstoni), Near Threatened; eastern lowland gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri), Endangered; and both savannah elephants (Loxodonta africana) and forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis).
According to a press release by NASA, the “rate of forest loss shown in these two images is the highest among all national parks in the [DRC].” Nearly 60 percent of the DRC is under forest cover with about 45 percent of the country still covered by old-growth forests. The DRC currently contains more tropical forest than any other nation in Africa. However, ongoing conflict lingering from the Second Congo War and widespread poverty have put many forests under threat.
Deforestation isn’t the only issue facing the beleaguered Virunga. A UK-based oil company, SOCO International, has announced plans to perform exploratory drilling inside the park for oil. The plan has been opposed by the UN, the World Wide Fund for Nature, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and most recently the British government. Still, the government of DRC has suggested it will allow the company access to the park.
(10/01/2012) The British government has come out in opposition against oil drilling plans by UK-based, SOCO International, in Virunga National Park, reports Reuters. The first national park established on the continent, Virunga is home to one of only two populations of mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) in the world. In March of this year, two oil exploratory permits came to light granting SOCO seismic testing inside the park by the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
(09/19/2012) Zebra racing across the yellow-green savannah is an iconic image for Africa, but imagine you’re seeing this not in Kenya or South Africa, but in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Welcome to Upemba National Park: once a jewel in the African wildlife crown, this protected area has been decimated by civil war. Now, a new bold initiative by the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), dubbed Forgotten Parks, is working to rehabilitate Upemba after not only decades of conflict but also poaching, neglect, and severe poverty.
(09/12/2012) In a massive, wildlife-rich, and largely unexplored rainforest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), researchers have made an astounding discovery: a new monkey species, known to locals as the ‘lesula’. The new primate, which is described in a paper in the open access PLoS ONE journal, was first noticed by scientist and explorer, John Hart, in 2007. John, along with his wife Terese, run the TL2 project, so named for its aim to create a park within three river systems: the Tshuapa, Lomami and the Lualaba (i.e. TL2), a region home to bonobos, okapi, forest elephants, Congo peacock, as well as the newly-described lesula.
(07/26/2012) Mai mai rebels, likely linked to poachers, raided the headquarters of the remote Upemba National Park last weekend, reports the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) which is working to rehabilitate the park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Fortunately, no one was injured in the raid, but equipment was stolen. The raid comes only a few weeks after a different group of rebels murdered seven people and shot dead 13 captive okapis at the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
(07/05/2012) Officials have pointed to an infamous elephant poacher known as ‘Morgan’ as the head of the murderous attack at the Okapi Wildlife Reserve station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) late last month. The attack by Morgan and his crew left seven people dead, including two wildlife rangers. The poachers also shot dead 13 captive okapis at the headquarters, which were considered ambassadors for the imperiled forest. One okapi remains alive, but injured and conservationists are not optimistic about its survival. UNESCO and the the NGO Fauna and Flora international have issued an emergency appeal to raise $120,000 dollars within two weeks for the victim’s families as well as for rapidly rebuilding the station.