Life as a Ranger in the DRC

GRAA member, Ghislain Somba shares some of his experiences as a ranger in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Ghislain

 

 

I share some of my experiences since I started working for the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) as a wildlife ranger. Since 23 April 1994, I have worked in 3 of DRC's most well known protected areas, Okapis Wildlife Reserve, Virunga National Park and Garamba National Park. These are all UNESCO World Heritage sites, but also all unfortunately in great danger.

The ICCN is the legal institution that manages protected areas in the DRC, and currently there are 9 protected areas as well as 63 related reserves that are in severely threatened because of the Mai-Mai militia, armed groups and Mbororo.

Challenges:

Rangers, are the technical officers who are recruited, trained and do combat patrols and cleaning operations in protected areas for surveillance.

In fact, working in conservation on the ground in DRC, is very frightening for yourself and your family, and almost worse than going to war because of the militia and armed groups waiting to attack.

A.Okapi Wildlife Reserve:

This protected area conserves a large population of elephant and okapi (Okapia Johnstoni), buffalo and good flora.

However, rebel leader Morgan Sadala's militia massacred the Okapis kept in enclosures for protective reasons and intensified elephant poaching. Also, precious materials are exploited.

On 24 June 2012 rebels Mai-Mai Simba attacked the station and killed these 16 Okapis and personnel of which the guards were killed, as well as Badusi Mugaotinikoni and Mama Anastasia Amisi were burned alive in the middle of the day.

I was also the target of the enemy when they surrounded my residence. By God's grace I escaped and saved myself using my AK 47, and the combat tactics that I learned.

B. Virunga National Park:

After the above events of the RFO (Okapi), I was transferred to North Kivu in the northern sector of Virunga where I served as sector manager, with the Coordination of Site Manager Emmanuel de Merode (Prince of Belgium) who has managed this protected area since 2008.

Many challenges face this park, including illegal fishermen in Lake Edward, armed groups who do the poaching in the park as well as the rapes and kidnapping as well as the deforestation by the communities.

Despite these challenges, we have managed to get a lot of acres back into the hands of conservation and wildlife is slowly coming back into the area.

C. Garamba National Park:

I started working in Garamba in March 2015, a park with savannah landscape and a part of forest gallery. There are still 2 species of savanna and forest elephants that live in symbiosis with other fauna such as the northern giraffe, buffalo, Sitatunga, hippopotamus, but poaching has intensified.

The threats are enormous and we need external support. Today, the Congolese Government through the ICCN signed the public-private partnership with African Parks for the management of the park.

Joseph Nkoni's Lord's Resistance Army, pastoralists commonly referred to as Mbororo, and gold miners pose a threat in this park. The LRA targets elephants for their trophies, and sell them to refuel their firearms and ammunition.

We continue our struggle, and we cannot give up in favor of the enemy, but we need the support.

We were pleased that the Director General of ICCN, Pastor Dr. Cosma Wilungula, and the Governor of the Province of Haut Uélé Mr. Jean Pierre Lola Kisanga, have on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the creation of the Park of Garamba set fire to a good amount of ivory, showing poachers and illicit traffickers their is zero value in ivory.

 

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