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Fri, January 1, 2010

Mountain Gorillas Not Known to Be Near Volcano Eruption

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January 2010

Mountain Gorillas Not Known to Be Near Volcano Eruption

Mount Nyamulagira (10,033 feet), located in the Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), erupted over the weekend. This volcano, considered one of the most active in the world and in continuous activity since 2006, is part of the Virunga volcanic chain that stretches between Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC. The neighboring Mount Nyragongo erupted in 2002, causing the destruction of a large section of Goma, the city where the Fossey Fund's DRC offices are located.

The Virungas are the habitat of the mountain gorilla, although there are no known mountain gorilla populations in Nyamulagira. Our partner ICCN (the Congolese wildlife authority) reports the existence of chimpanzees in the area, and is assessing the risk to those populations. The current estimate of damage to the forest is relatively small, approximately 25 hectares.

Due to distance and topography, none of the Fossey Fund field offices are in any immediate danger. The volcano is about 20 miles north from the Fossey Fund and our partner UGADEC (the association of community nature reserves in Congo) offices in Goma, behind Mount Nyragongo. The Karisoke Research Center is located in Rwanda, approximately 31 miles to the east of the volcano, on the other side of the Virunga range.

However, the field offices of ICCN are located on the slopes of Nyamulagira at Rumangabo, about 10 miles northwest of the crater. Pierre Kakule, from UGADEC in Goma, reports that all staff are safe but alert. We are in contact with ICCN to offer assistance as needed, and will provide periodic updates on the situation.

The Rwanda Development Board and Tourism and Conservation (RDB and T&C) office is reporting that there is no interruption to tourist visits to the mountain gorilla groups in Rwanda. The RDB conservation director reports that all five chains of volcanoes in Rwanda are inactive, and that lava from the Congo volcano is flowing further away, toward northern Kivu in DRC.

Pierre Kakule reports that the lava has flowed into the Congo side of the Virunga Park, threatening a chimpanzee sanctuary, but that other rare species, including the mountain gorillas, are not near the flows at this time. Contingency plans are set up to evacuate human communities if they are affected. In Goma, where Fossey Fund offices are located, there is no immediate danger, although warnings have been issued for the effects of gas and dust from the eruption.

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