Wednesday, September 3, 2008

We got a tip-off last Thursday that someone in Goma was trying to sell a baby gorilla

We decided to set up a sting operation, where we would pose as wildlife dealers interested in buying the gorilla.

The local authorities gave us the go-ahead, so a team of rangers from the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature was put on standby to make any arrests.

We arranged with a local contact to meet the men involved; we were introduced to them and they told us that they were acting as middle men for the owner of a baby mountain gorilla, which was being kept elsewhere in Goma.

After several hours of negotiating and discussions, the men took us to the house where the animal was being held.

Young chimpanzee (Image: WildlifeDirect)
The sellers were arrested, while the chimp was taken to a sanctuary

We were led to a small room in the house, where a man opened a basket revealing a baby chimpanzee.

Clearly the men did not know the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee. The chimp had been in that basket for three months, since it had been taken from its home in the Virunga National Park.

We arrested the three middle men and a soldier who were at the house. The chimp was confiscated and will be sent to a sanctuary.

It has now emerged that the man who owned the house is a Major in the Congolese army. It was not a surprise that Major "X" (we can't name him yet as a result of legal reasons) was involved in the trade of baby chimps.

He has been implicated in poaching incidents before; more importantly, there is strong evidence that he is a ring-leader in the illegal charcoal trade.

We hope that the judicial proceedings following this operation will finally bring Major X to justice. This would represent a massive breakthrough in our efforts to protect the gorilla sector.


Emmanuel and Innocent with massacred gorilla (Image: WildlifeDirect)
Emmanuel (left) with Innocent and one of the massacred gorillas in July 2007
Big news for us this week; our friend and colleague Emmanuel de Merode has been appointed as the new head of Virunga National Park by the Congolese government.

Emmanuel was the former director of WildlifeDirect, the NGO that has helped raise funds for our work through our online blogs.

He is very experienced here in Virunga, and is well respected by the international community and the local Congolese alike.

We are absolutely thrilled with this development and we are looking forward to seeing Virunga move forward under his leadership.

With Emmanuel at the helm, it is hoped that we can make inroads into stabilising the park and regaining access to the Gorilla Sector, which is currently controlled by Laurent Nkunda's rebels.

At the end of the day, it will only be once peace returns to the area that we rangers will be able to get back to the job of monitoring and protecting the mountain gorillas. We reluctantly have become a paramilitary force, but we would much prefer to drop our weapons and simply return to being wildlife rangers.

Young chimpanzee (Image: WildlifeDirect)
The sellers were arrested, while the chimp was taken to a sanctuary

Another challenge Emmanuel will have to tackle is the charcoal trade that is continuing to be a threat to the forests of Virunga.

Last month alone, we confiscated 702 bags of illegal charcoal at our roadblock at Kibati.

After being sworn in by the Military Tribunal in Goma, Emmanuel will step into the role on 13 August, taking command of the 680 rangers serving within the park.

We all wish him the best of luck.

No comments: