- Date: July 30, 2015
- Author: Alex Batka
For over 20 years, Ghislain Somba Byombo has risked his life to protect wildlife in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). His reason for doing so is simple: he wants to save the animals he loves so dearly and keep the natural beauty of his country intact. In his role as current Deputy Park Director for Garamba National Park and former Park Warden for Virunga National Park (North sector), he understands this is a lofty goal—but refuses to be discouraged from achieving it.
The life of a park ranger is extremely dangerous—a fact Ghislain knows all too well. Early in his career he was targeted by a group of rebel soldiers. He was leading anti-poaching efforts in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve at the time, and the rebels identified him as an obstacle. They attacked him at home, but he managed to escape unharmed, and luckily his wife and children were away at the time.
A dangerous job
Unfortunately, this scenario is not uncommon. Many rangers are threatened and killed protecting wildlife from illegal poaching—the main challenge facing park rangers in the DRC. Elephants, whose numbers have dwindled from 20,000 to 1,700 in the region over the past 40 years, are a primary target of poachers entering the parks from bordering countries. Ivory commands a high price on the Asian black market, and poachers will go to great lengths to obtain it, even if that means killing the rangers protecting the elephants.
Though the situation seems dire, park rangers are doing their best to combat the issue. In addition to intercepting poachers in the field, Ghislain and others are working with schools, the public administration, and villages to teach them about the national parks and the negative impacts of poaching. Ghislain especially enjoys working with students to help them understand the importance of saving species like elephants. He believes if students and the overall community are educated on these issues, it will encourage them to protect the wildlife in their home country.
What WWF is doing
Every year, the Education for Nature Program (EFN) provides crucial funding to train rangers throughout Africa. This year, EFN funded Ghislain to participate in a park exchange program hosted by the National Park Service. Ghislain spent one month in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, surveying the parks and learning about water restoration, educational outreach, law enforcement and fire management. He is looking forward to implementing the new skills he gained when he returns home.