The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund was dismayed to learn yesterday of an attack on Emmanuel de Merode, chief warden of Virunga Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and is home to about one-fourth of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, which are critically endangered and number fewer than 900 overall. The Fossey Fund protects some 120 mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, directly adjacent to Virunga park.
“Emmanuel is a key figure in protecting the mountain gorillas of the Virungas, working under the most challenging conditions in DR Congo. He and his dedicated park rangers risk their lives everyday and indeed have lost many of their colleagues in the line of duty in recent years. We wish for his complete recovery and hope that his courage and determination will serve as increased inspiration to all those who believe in conservation,” says Fossey Fund President and CEO Clare Richardson.
“This is a difficult time for all those who work in and support gorilla conservation,” says the Fossey Fund’s chief scientist and vice president, Tara Stoinksi, Ph.D. “Such an attack reminds us of the dangers faced not only by the gorillas but also by the front-line staff dedicated to their protection. We applaud the ongoing courage of tireless conservationists like Emmanuel and look forward to his return as soon as possible.”
Since 2000, the Fossey Fund has focused its Congo efforts on the lesser-known but also critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas, which live in a vast landscape with minimal protection. Fossey Congo program leaders are currently working in Kahuzi-Biega National Park and remain in close contact with ICCN authorities, who have provided them with updates on Mr. de Merode’s condition. Urbain Ngobobo-as-Ibungu, who is the Grauer's Gorilla Research and Conservation program director for the Fossey Fund said: "Emmanuel is a dedicated and courageous conservationist. He faces risky situations in order to protect Congolese biodiversity. With his progressive vision, he has given hope to Virunga National Park as a protected area. He has given hope to Virunga's surrounding community as well and to all Congolese, that they can benefit from Virunga National Park."