Crisis in Congo
We are extremely concerned for gorillas and for our field staff. The Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was closed in May and some rangers evacuated as a rebel force entered the area. In November, rebels surrounded the city of Goma, where the Fossey Fund's Congo offices are located. Our Goma offices are open when safety allows, as the security situation remains uncertain.
Our gorilla monitoring and protection teams work in very remote areas from which information is incredibly slow to arrive. Our staff who travel between Goma and these areas are particularly vulnerable because travel can take many days and security may change while they are enroute. Our staff in Goma are unable to go to our office when the city is not secure and we have plans for their evacuation if needed.
The current situation makes it urgent for the Fossey Fund staff to have a satellite phone network, better internet access, additional all-terrain vehicles and motor bikes, quicker access to a bush plane and additional staff to manage communication and transportation needs.
We need to be able to move our Congolese and expat staff quickly and efficiently from areas that are becoming too volatile into safer regions. But at the very least, we need emergency personnel or military to know exactly where staff are and the nature of the situation around them.
Please make a donation today to help us create a stronger communication and transportation system.
Current Fossey Fund Congo Security Report
Update posted 12/20/12
Last week, our Grauer’s gorilla research and conservation program in Congo was able to launch gorilla patrols again. Our trackers experienced a longer absence from the field than expected due to the security situation in Goma, the provincial capital city.
While the M23 rebel group was in control of Goma, banks and microfinance institutions were shut down and airport traffic was stopped, making it impossible for us to purchase the supplies and equipment necessary for our teams to go back into the forest or to transfer money to the field. Fortunately, we are happy to report that our teams in the REGOUWA, COCREFOBA, and RGPU nature reserves were all able to resume their work beginning last week, and will return from the field just before the holidays on Dec. 23. We are also happy to hear that the Congolese park authorities (ICCN) have been able to resume some monitoring of the mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park, which had also been suspended due to security conditions.
The Fossey Fund's gorilla monitoring in Rwanda is operating fully, even after an attack on one of our anti-poaching camps there on Dec. 2, and the death of one tracker as a result.
Update posted 11/27/12
We are able to continue our programs in DR Congo in spite of continued insecurity, with our Goma office open during the day and our work continuing. We are providing emergency funds for our staff, their families and collaborators, to ensure that they can manage for extended periods of time without normal access to banking and other businesses.
We are sorry to learn about recent rebel splinter group incursions from DR Congo into several villages in the Gisenyi area of the Rwandan border. Our staff in Rwanda are all safe and operations there are normal. No special precautions or extraordinary measures have been needed for our Rwanda programs.
Update on Goma area, posted 11/26/12
It is unclear what the upcoming days will bring for Goma and surrounding areas in DR Congo, given political developments over the weekend between rebel and government forces. The Fossey Fund remains vigilant and prepared, given the precarious nature of the security situation. Today, the Fossey Fund office in Goma is open and despite the uncertainty, our staff are working to catch up (after remaining in their homes last week). For safety reasons, the staff are leaving the office earlier in the day than normal, and do not venture out of their homes at night. We remain in constant contact with them.
Our programs and staff in other areas of DR Congo continue with normal operations.
Update on Goma area, posted 11/23/12
Our office in Goma, DR Congo, re-opened yesterday, as businesses there begin to resume some normal operations. With the border open again, our top staff from Congo plan soon to join our weekly meeting at our Karisoke headquarters in Musanze, Rwanda.
Throughout this crisis in Congo, our operations there have remained in place in all locations, and we continue to pursue our planned objectives. We plan to have several Grauer’s gorilla patrols in December, and continue to provide round-the-clock caregivers for two rescued orphan Grauer’s gorillas in Rumangabo since their arrival in September, and for another rescued gorilla in Kinigi. At the GRACE gorilla rescue center near Kasugho, we continue normal operations.
Update on Goma area, posted 11/20/12
We remain in close contact several times a day with our staff in DR Congo, as the security situation there continues to evolve. Although the political/military status in Goma, DR Congo, has changed as of today and a rebel group occupies the city, our Congolese staff there remain safe and in their homes, preferring not to evacuate. Our Goma office remains closed for the time being. Our head staff reports that the fighting there calmed down this afternoon.
Our gorilla protection, research and community programs in other areas of DR Congo continue and are unaffected by the current situation in Goma, carried out by our Congolese field staff.
Update on Goma area, posted 11/19/12
As fighting worsened this weekend around the city of Goma, DR Congo, we are taking precautions to protect our Congolese staff who are based there, and making plans for their evacuation, including their family members, if needed.
The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund currently has four Congolese staff based in Goma and all have reported in safe, in their homes. One other staff person from a different area of Congo is also currently in Goma. Our top staff person in Congo is carefully monitoring the situation and remains in continuous communication with our chief operating officer, who is located across the border in Rwanda.
The Fossey Fund does not have any expatriate staff in DR Congo at this time, following increased security issues in various areas that began earlier this year. Our gorilla protection, research, and community programs have continued, carried on by our Congolese staff. All our field staff elsewhere, including those at the GRACE gorilla rescue center, are unaffected by these recent developments and have reported in safe.
General update, posted 7/23/12
MONUSCO and DRC government sources inform us that both Walikale and Ndjingala have been retaken by FARDC (Congolese military) forces who mounted a counteroffensive last Thursday. A Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund team leader visited Walikale Friday and confirmed that the situation at Walikale town is now calm and business have reopened. We are evaluating the situation to determine when our field expeditions can restart.
General update, posted 7/19/12
We are concerned today about the spread of violent activity into several areas where we work and which are home to endangered Grauer’s gorillas, especially reports that the town of Walikale has been overrun by rebels, displacing local citizens. However, we are grateful that our staff in the region have reported in safely. We have postponed expeditions in the area for the time being.
We continue to keep our Goma-based staff and resources in place, and they are also reporting in as safe.
There has been no change in status reported from our staff in Kasese (where we do gorilla tracking) or Kasugho (where the GRACE gorilla rescue center is located), where conditions are still quiet.
(We are maintaining a travel embargo for all expatriate staff until further notice. Updates or changes in areas we work are posted as they become available. For older notices, scroll down below the most current entries.)
General update, posted 7/11/12
The ongoing crisis in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to create challenges for our work in the area, as it has for all those working and living there. We are carefully monitoring the situation in each area where we work, while carrying on with our conservation and research operations as much as possible. We are maintaining a travel embargo for all expatriate staff until further notice. Updates or changes in areas we work are posted as they become available. (For older notices, scroll down below the most current entries.)
Goma, where our DRC offices are located:
7/11/12 On this day, the Congolese government required businesses in Goma to close for the day, due to insecurity. As a measure of prevention, we have heeded the government's advice and closed our Goma office for the day. We are not aware of any immediate danger to our staff. Our Grauer's gorilla program manager is today at our Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda to participate in a scientific meeting and our office staff in Goma are staying home until further notice.
7/11/12 Our research and conservation work in Grauer's gorilla areas continues here, with three field expeditions planned by local staff.
7/11/12 Our research and conservation work continues in Grauer's gorilla areas here, with field expeditions planned this week.
Kasugho, location of GRACE ( the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center):
7/11/12 There are no reports of insecurity in the area where GRACE is located. Daily care of the gorillas continued uninterrupted, supervised by our Congolese veterinary technician.
Virunga National Park in DRC:
7/11/12 Our colleagues with ICCN (the Congolese wildlife authorities) are facing very difficult times, as the mountain gorilla sector of Virunga National Park in Congo has witnessed violent clashes and loss of life.
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda:
7/11/12 Rwanda is unaffected by current situation in DRC. The park is safe and open to mountain gorilla tourism.
6/28/12 There are serious new developments in several areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo regarding the ongoing civil unrest. Most notably we are saddened by recent news of the loss of life at the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in the Ituri Forest, North Kivu, where several Congolese wildlife authority staff (ICCN) , and other project staff and all the okapi in this sanctuary have been killed by armed mai mai rebels. This is a disturbing escalation of the violence and is of particular concern to us,as the mai mai are active throughout North Kivu.
5/18/12 There is a general recommendation from OCHA to avoid all areas not under the National Army control, and to limit movement within the areas in conflict. MONUSCO will escort convoys for urgent humanitarian travel.
6/28/12 Conditions in Goma are unchanged since 5/22/12 report below. Our staff in Goma are not permitted to travel to our programs in the remote program sites listed below.
5/22/12 OCHA warned of an increase on attacks on NGO personnel, cars, and facilities in Goma, due to the presence in the city of large numbers of FARDC deserters and other units that have come to Goma from front-line positions. NGO personnel is seen as having money, and of being easy targets. A UNHCR staffer was killed a few days ago, and there are several reports of NGO cars being targeted by bandits. OCHA recommends no travel at night in the city, increase security at NGO facilities, and in general to keep a low profile.
5/18/12 Secure and there is no order to evacuate. Strong presence of National Army.
Staff members Steve and Escobar arrived safely in Goma from our remote gorilla monitoring sites.
Masisi, this is the area between Goma and Walikale::
5/18/12 Several villages in the area have changed hands between the national army, the rebels, and back to the national army.
6/29/12 Local teams returned to work this week. No travel to the area by other staff is permitted.
5/18/12 The town of Walikale is still in the hands of the national army, and their forces there have been augmented by troop movements from other areas of the Walikale region.
Biruwe Research Station:
6/29/12 Our conservation work in this area is continuing. No travel to the area by other staff is permitted.
5/18/12 Tracking team is conducting gorilla monitoring and data collection patrols in northern Walikale area.
6/29/12 Local teams are returning to the field to work next week. No travel to the area by other staff is permitted.
5/18/12 Tracking team is conducting gorilla monitoring and data collection patrols in southern Walikale area. No security problems reported in this area, which is quite remote. Exciting new gorilla sites have been identified, and scat samples have been brought for initial analysis.
Kasugho, location of GRACE (gorilla rehabilitation and conservation education center):
6/29/12 Staff at GRACE are reporting conditions to be calm, but tense due to the known presence of FDLR rebels. We are concerned about the escalation of violence in several areas of DR Congo and the spread of rebel activities in various areas leading to insufficient military protection elsewhere. There are reports of sporadic presence of FARDC troops, but no permanent return to the military post yet.
5/20/12 Expatriate staff member returned to Europe to develop support for GRACE while waiting for the situation in DRC to become more secure.
5/18/12 Employees who are Congolese nationals are on site at GRACE and reporting no disturbances. The FDLR is visible in town wearing uniforms and carrying automatic weapons. Expatriate staff are in Goma.
5/20/12 Our staff member, Urbain, was traveling overland between Lubutu and Itebero (about 130 miles) when he was stopped by MaiMai militia, who searched the vehicle to assure he was not transporting weapons or military personnel. This MaiMai group, called "Raia Mutomboki" has been clashing with FARDC troops in the Masisi.
Urbain was not harmed. Urbain decided not to go into the Itebero forest and we are not allowing staff to travel to the Itebero area until there is news that the area is more stable. Gorilla tracking is continuing by our partners already in the area.
5/18/12 Ongoing evaluation for feasibility of Gorilla monitoring and biodiversity data collection involving international researchers.
Virunga National Park in DRC:
6/29/12 We are getting reports of increased violence in the DRC’s Virunga National Park, across the border from Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Rebel groups have again made the job of the Congolese wildlife authorities (ICCN) who protect the mountain gorillas there very dangerous or impossible.
5/18/12 There is ongoing fighting in the Rutshuru area.
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda:
6/29/12 and 5/18/12 Rwanda is unaffected by current situation in DRC. The park is safe and open to mountain gorilla tourism.
Acyronyms: DRC=Democratic Republic of Congo FARDC=National Army of DRC MONUSCO=United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo NGO=Non governmental organization=non profit organization OCHA=United Nations Office for Coordination of Human Affairs UNHCR=United Nations High Commission for Refugees VPN=Virunga National Park in DRC
Update on progress to strengthen Fossey Fund field communications and transportation systems.
We are currently creating a plan for improved communications and transportation in all our field programs. As donations are received and we can begin implementation we will report here in more detail.
6/29/12 We have increased security as well as communications equipment in the most critical areas. Thanks to donations of several new satellite phones we are able to stay in touch with our staff in all areas. Donations also allowed us to make a order for urgently needed tents and other field equipment, which has been received and is now in the field. Nevertheless, the ban on all Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund expatriate travel in DRC remains in effect until further notice. The only exception is for Juan Carlos Bonilla who makes frequent management visits to Goma.
5/22/12 With donations received to date, we were able to hire a computer systems specialist to put in a new computer server and network in Rwanda. He established a network so that all DRC-based computers will back up regularly to the server in Rwanda via the web. This ensures the safety of our financial, technical, and science data that resides in Congo. Two staff members in DRC were provided SAT phones. Emergency cash procedures were established. Evacuation plan is being drafted.
5/21/12 Offers of in-kind support were accepted for a GPS unit and 4 SAT phones. Those will arrive in Rwanda in early June to be distributed to staff in DRC.