Why we need help
Our goal is to ensure the protection of 700,000 hectares of equatorial Africa and everything that lives on it now and in the future. It is hard to exaggerate how important that goal is, how difficult it will be to achieve, or how appalling the consequences will be if we fail. We need help.
Some of the species that live in the park are endangered. If these animals die their species will die with them. But extinction is not the only form of permanent loss. The forests destroyed by the carbonisateurs who make charcoal, can’t be put back. The populations of large mammals once gone cannot be replaced. And the integrity of the park’s pristine environment – critically important for scientific research – once compromised, can never be restored.
The odds are against Virunga’s survival. Protecting an area like this would be difficult anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa at any time. Right now and right here, it looks well nigh impossible. Decades of war heaped upon generations of misrule and exploitation have left the people of North Kivu desperate. They live without access to water or electricity, their roads are barely recognisable, their society is broken seemingly beyond repair. Corruption is everywhere and justice nowhere to be found. Life expectancy is staggering slowly into the late 40s. Understandably some of the people here have come to see the park as a source of food and fuel. To make matters much worse some of the armed groups that have proliferated here in these last chaotic years have positioned themselves between the supply of the park and the demand of the local people, in order to make enormous profits. For us the monster poverty has two heads: poaching and deforestation.
Defending Virunga’s forests and animals from these two threats is a tough job. Virunga is long and thin – with an 1150 km perimeter – it borders two countries, has a massive range of terrain and almost no roads. The defining principle of this place is diversity, and so it makes nothing like a natural fortress. No army in the world would attempt to take, hold or fortify it. And when you read about people taking a city or a country in this part of the world they mean the airport, the radio station and the presidential palace: the power of many governments in the third world has the same range as a rifle fired from the capital city. By contrast we are trying to protect every part of Virunga and every living thing in it. And we’re trying to do it with 400 lightly armed rangers, some pick-up trucks and a plane.
Our supply of money and other resources is intermittent, which makes the job of protecting the park harder still.
If we fail and Virunga is left unprotected it will be overrun and plundered. The forests will be cut down and burned and the gorillas will be pushed higher up the mountains in search of food. There, ill-equipped for life at that altitude, they will die of pneumonia. The other large mammals will be slaughtered and their flesh will be sold on the bush meat market. At best, ultimately, some parts of the park will be settled and used for agriculture or grazing. At worst it will be abandoned as a scarred and desolate wasteland. Failure here would have terrible consequences not only for Virunga, for the other protected areas in Congo and for the project of wildlife conservation worldwide.
We want to train, equip, pay and treat our Rangers in the way that they deserve. That means buying expertise as well as uniforms and equipment, and supporting the families of Rangers who have been killed or injured in the line of duty.
We want to protect the park in partnership with the people who live in and around it. We want their lives and their communities to improve because of Virunga not in spite of it. That means organising education programmes, navigating complex negotiations and, most importantly, managing building projects.
We need money. We also need ideas, help, knowledge and experience. You can give money through the website safe in the knowledge that your gift is going straight to the field and you can see the good you are doing by following our progress through the site. If you have something else to offer Virunga then you can get in touch using the contact details on the website.