As 2017 comes to a close, we look back on a year that has seen real highs and lows.
We have celebrated some of the great achievements of our colleagues including former Virunga Ranger Rodrigue Katembo winning the highly prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, and our supporters coming together to raise an amazing $1 million to kickstart an endowment fund for the Fallen Rangers Fund.
It has also been a difficult year. We have lost colleagues, seen communities attacked and friends hurt. We continue to struggle with poaching and militia in the northern and central sectors, but we are able to continue because of the sheer dedication of our staff, the faith and generosity of our donors and the goodwill and vision of the communities we serve.
The year was marked by the tragic loss of seven park rangers, whose bravery in service to the park will not be forgotten. Every loss takes a heavy toll on the Virunga community, and our thoughts remain with the families and friends of those who gave their lives to protect Virunga.
Despite the struggles, the park has an ambitious long term vision, which we believe is worth fighting for. To achieve this continual progress requires an enormous commitment from staff and our partners, and we are constantly grateful to them.
Virunga’s wild mountain gorillas are showing signs of very good health, with populations continuing to grow, notably with new births in the Rugendo and Bageni families. Over the summer the ranger team, alongside the Gorilla Doctors, performed a miraculous rescue of baby Yalala, a female mountain gorilla who was caught in a poacher’s snare and was found with a severely infected leg. Yalala faced a difficult recovery, but has settled in well at the Senkwekwe Centre, where she also received a new name – Musuka – which means resurrection in Swahili. She has also formed a rather unusual bond with an injured bushbuck named Pongo, which has also been cared for by park staff.
Yet, after such a moment of hope, there was also deep sadness when we lost our dear Maisha in July, and that was a huge blow for all of us here in Virunga National Park and the staff of the Senkwekwe Centre. We are so thankful for all the messages of condolence that we received from around the world.
The Virunga Alliance programme has taken significant steps forward, with electricity connections across local villages and towns continuing, and investments being made in new infrastructure projects including road building.
Tourism has also grown from strength to strength, with the opening of a new beautiful lodge at Kibumba, perfectly positioned for visitors seeking to see Nyiragongo and the mountain gorillas.
Many of Virunga National Park’s key projects rely on the generosity of our community of supporters around the world. We would like to take this moment to say how grateful we are for your enduring support this year.
Wishing you all a very happy 2018, from all the staff at Virunga National Park.