Conservation news

Pygmy death shows need for land reform, group says

Kahuzi-Biega National Park rangers stand in formation at the park in October, 2016. Photo by Thomas Nicolon for Mongabay.

An organization that advocates on behalf of forests and forest peoples, Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), says that a key land reform issue is to blame for the August 26 death of a Pygmy native.

Christian Mbone Nakulire and his father Munganga Nakulire were looking for medicinal herbs in the forests of Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). According to FPP, Christian was shot and killed by armed park rangers who patrol the area for the regional conservation authority. His father suffered a gunshot wound to the right arm.

The rangers were reportedly guards for the ICCN (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature), the semi-governmental organization that oversees the management of DRC’s protected areas. Neither the ICCN for the FPP could be reached for comment.

Organizations that work with the Pygmy communities in the area, including The Indigenous Peoples and Vulnerable Minority Indigenous Peoples’ Centre, have condemned the killing and called for an investigation.

Local Pygmy response has also been strong, including a sit-in protest they staged a few days after the incident.

“We have never killed a gorilla, let alone an eco-guard or a tourist, so why are we killed in this way?” said Ntavuna, a Pygmy native and head of the Buyungule village, in the Miti group, according to a press release from FPP.

The organization also said that proper recognition of the land rights of the Pygmy indigenous people, the Batwa, is crucial. Had a planned land management road map been followed, FPP says that the Batwa would currently be living in three forest pilot areas with safe access to the forest and would be able to practice their ecological knowledge on their customary lands.

Such a neat solution would be difficult to achieve in Kahuzi-Biega.

The region is fraught with violence and the park is home to thousands of hectares of favored grounds for gorilla poachers and other armed groups, including bandits. More than one ranger has been killed there, the most recent victim was killed by gunfire in an ambush in October 2016.

Kahuzi-Biega covers more than 2,300 square miles and is patrolled constantly by guards who earn about $45 per month.

Banner image: Park rangers in Kahuzi-Biega National Park in DRC. Photo by Thomas Nicolon for Mongabay.

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