Celebration and Mourning: the Abraham Awards

Each year in Kinshasa, the Abraham Foundation gives out awards to individuals who have dedicated their lives to the protection and preservation of their environment. The ceremony was held the end of September and eight Virunga National Park rangers were honored for giving their lives to protect the park. Three of the widows came to represent the group.

It was a full house at the ceremony that included the American Ambassador, Antonia Abraham, the Minister of Plan, and the Director General of the Parks Service, ICCN.

Terese Hart who planned the awards wrote, “Preparing the Abraham Ceremony this year was often too sad to bear. Last year we gave awards to the widows of eight park guards who died defending Congo’s parks; this year there were 10 deaths and it didn’t stop there. Rebels killed three more guards as we prepared the ceremony. Why in Virunga, the most exquisite and varied park in Africa? Why are there still gangs of rebels? When will this war end?”

The line-up of honorable men who either gave their lives, made serious sacrifices, or contributed significantly toward conservation is impressive and moving. Although their stories cannot all be told here, their names deserve to be mentioned and those who died remembered.

Rangers honored in memoriam:

  • Augustin Kirikiyehigha, Patrice Bateterana and Vincent Kimbumbu — 24 January 2011 in Virunga National Park;
  • Muhindo Mburungani, Mastaki Rumama – 31 January 2011 in Virunga National Park;
  • Katchupa Changwi – 20 February 2011 in Virunga National Park;
  • Paluku Mayani – 6 March 2011 in Virunga National Park;
  • Magayane Bazirushaka – 8 April 2011 in Virunga National Park;
  • James Biangbale and Kambale Bemu – 23 December 2010 in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, ambushed and killed when they questioned elephant poachers.

The American Ambassador gives Chief Ramazani his award.

Chiefs and Village Leaders:

  • It is not only park rangers who stand up against armed men. Chief Kpilimbalo who lives on the border of the Bili Uele Reserve refused to cooperate with elephant poachers and instead reported them to authorities. Following some death threats, he fled with his entire village into the forest.
  • Two other traditional leaders who rallied their divided population toward the cause of conservation were also honored: Mwami Saambili worked with his people and Virunga Park staff in an area of high insecurity to clarify park borders; Ramazani Okota convinced all the village chiefs in a critical zone to support the future of Lomami National Park.

Major Guy is unequivocal about right and wrong. He talks to the rebels and instructs the cartel and tax collectors

Congolese Armed Forces Major Guy Kolongo arrested poachers and disciplined troops and other rogue individuals who tried to illegally profit from the environment.

Congolese Minister of Agriculture, Norbert Kantitima, and the Nindja chief near Kahuzi Biega National Park accepted an award together for their commitment to protect the park boundaries during the war in 2000, that in one incident alone cost the lives of 10 people.

Two ICCN park rangers and one park director
(Radar Nishuli) were also honored for their ongoing commitment to conservation in Kahuzi Biega, Garamba, and Salonga National Parks. One ranger, Baketshi Bunda, spent several months in jail, wrongfully accused by poachers, while another managed to rescue a small girl kidnapped by the ruthless Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) during one of many successful patrols.

“The Abraham ceremony gathered…these heroes together in Kinshasa, together with diplomats, politicians, and conservationists,” Terese Hart wrote. “Thus their determination was honored and we, the audience, were reminded of what our priorities must be.”

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