GRASP Backs Calls for DR Congo Peace Talks
The Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) welcomed Gabon’s recent call for peace negotiations between hostile forces in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, following weeks of fighting in the Virunga National Park that has threatened the security of critically endangered Mountain gorillas.
Gabon Foreign Minister Emmanuel Issozet Ngondet on July 11 proposed “serious and frank negotiations” to restore peace, following a meeting in Kinshasa with DR Congo President Joseph Kabila.
“Gabon strongly condemns and deplores the prevailing security situation in North-Kivu province,” Ngondet said.
On July 15, the African Union announced it was prepared to send a peace-keeping force into the region.
Fierce fighting between DR Congo government forces and rebel factions broke out in and around the Virunga National Park in mid-June. On July 10, over 800 people – including park rangers and their families – were evacuated, leaving only a small group to protect the park headquarters and an orphan gorilla sanctuary at the site.
Approximately 790 Mountain gorillas remain in the wild, and 79 of those are known to frequent the areas under siege.
“The loss of even a single Mountain gorilla can be devastating to the long-term viability of this species,” said GRASP coordinator Doug Cress. “GRASP is extremely concerned for the safety of not only the Mountain gorillas in the Virunga National Park, but also our partners that work in the region.We hope that Gabon’s proposal for peace negotiations is accepted, so that this fragile and important area can recover.”
The Virunga National Park spans 7,800 square kilometers that comprises both the Virunga Mountains in the south and the Rwenzori Mountains in the north. It was established as Africa’s first national park in 1925, and was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Mountain gorillas occur only in the higher elevations of East Africa. Although the wild population had dwindled alarmingly in the 1980s due to illegal hunting, disease and habitat loss, recent conservation efforts have allowed the species to slowly recover. Four orphaned Mountain gorillas also reside at the Senkwekwe Center sanctuary near Virunga Park headquarters.
Gabon and DR Congo are partners of GRASP and signatories to the 2005 Kinshasa Declaration, which promises the “protection of individual great apes and their habitats everywhere by demonstrably improving where necessary the quality and the enforcement of relevant laws.”
Gabon and DR Congo are also parties to the Gorilla Agreement, a UN treaty established to foster a regional approach to protect the gorillas of Central Africa. It was adopted under the UNEP-led Convention of Migratory Species, and works closely with the GRASP Partnership.
Ngondet said that Gabon’s interest in stabilizing the region stems from its long association with the United Nations.
“When Gabon was a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, she was following with a lot of attention what was happening in North-Kivu and worked closely with the United Nations Mission for Stabilization of Congo (MONUSCO) and the Congolese government, with a view of pushing the Security Council to take decisions which are in the interest of DR Congo,” the Gabonese minister said.
GRASP is a unique alliance of partner nations, United Nations agencies, conservation organization and private supporters that works to conserve great apes and their habitat in Africa and Asia. For more information, visit www.un-grasp.org.