Willing to pay the ultimate price to protect animals
A baby mountain gorilla sits on her mother’s shoulders on the slopes of Mount Mikeno in the Virunga National Park, Eastern DRC, December 12, 2008. REUTERS/Peter Andrews
by George Soros
Protecting the environment can be deadly.
At least two defenders fighting against environmental destruction around the world were killed each week last year. Many more people engaging in peaceful struggles to protect nature regularly face down serious threats or violence.
Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been the scene of one such struggle. Over the past 20 years, roughly 130 of its park rangers have been killed while protecting the park and its communities from rebel forces, poachers and other threats.
A park ranger carries orphaned female mountain gorillas Ndeze and Ndakasi at a protected location at Rumungabo in Virunga National Park, August 17, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly
Virunga is one of Africa’s most biologically diverse parks. More than 218 species of mammals, 706 species of birds, 109 species of reptiles and 2,000 species of flora are spread over 3,000 square miles of lush tropical forest, semi-arid savanna and snow-capped mountains. One quarter of the globe’s remaining mountain gorillas live there, as well as the endangered Zebra-like Okapi, which is found only in Congo.
In addition to rebel groups and poachers, the park has been under threat for decades from the illegal charcoal trade. Now it faces grave danger because of the arrival of the oil industry.
A coalition of community members and local groups, led by anti-corruption and environmental activists Alphonse Muhindo and Bantu Lukambo, has sought to prevent an oil company, SOCO International, from drilling in the park. The activists say that oil exploitation could irreparably damage Virunga’s fragile ecosystem, increase instability throughout the region and ravage established park programs for sustainable development and tourism.
SOCO International claims that its investments “can help alleviate the pervasive poverty that has for decades been the stimulus for much of the region’s instability and conservation’s primary threat.”
A bullet-riddled sign marks the entrance to Virunga National Park, occupied by rebels and other armed militias during years of conflict near Goma in eastern Congo, August 30, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly
Local activists, however, have argued that the park would better benefit local communities if hydropower, tourism and sustainable fishing projects were developed instead. These industries have major long-term economic potential…