The United States convened a high-level summit last week in Gisenyi, Rwanda, to help protect the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas of Central Africa, seven of which were brutally murdered last summer. Led by Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans, Environment and Science Claudia McMurray, ministers from Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the DRC, expressed serious concern that militant groups operating in the DRC threaten people and wildlife while preventing authorities from managing -- and even entering -- parts of the DRC’s Virunga National Park.
In a Ministerial Declaration, the ministers of the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda emphasized their commitment to regional investment in tourism and related infrastructure to alleviate poverty and promote economic growth. Most importantly, the ministers underscored the need for security and stability in Virunga National Park, if increased economic activity is to become a reality.
Little more than seven-hundred mountain gorillas survive in the wild today. About a year ago, seven of them were deliberately and violently killed in Virunga National Park. The killings received worldwide attention. According to park rangers and conservationists working to save the gorilla’s rainforest habitat, the killings were a warning to authorities from charcoal traffickers not to interfere in their illicit trade. Charcoal, the chief cooking fuel in the region, is made from old-growth hardwood trees, many of which are illegally logged from Virunga National Park and other protected areas.
The U.S. government began supporting conservation in the Greater Virunga landscape in 2003 through the Congo Basin Forest Partnership and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Central African Regional Program for the Environment. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State McMurray said after the conference, “The commitment of our partners in Central Africa to strengthen conservation and security is clear. We intend to work with our international partners to build on the progress we made in Gisenyi to ensure that the precious resources of this region – most especially the rare mountain gorillas – can overcome recent threats and flourish well into the future.”