Virunga Conflict Driving Refugees into Gorilla Habitat

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, continued fighting has intensified the environmental and humanitarian crisis. In spite of WWF's provision of emergency fuel wood supplies for people in temporary camps, pressures on nearby Virunga National Park are increasing.

Because people displaced by the conflict are still in desperate need of fuel wood and building materials - bamboo or wooden sticks - they are now forced to enter Virunga National Park, home to more than half of the world's 700 remaining mountain gorillas. In addition to causing serious damage to the park, women and children gathering wood risk sexual violence when they leave the refugee camps.

WWF is concerned that temporary camps in and near Virunga National Park may last much longer and cause long-term environmental damage. There also appear to be new sites developing as a result of the incoming waves of refugees.

Bamboo is a primary food source for the mountain gorilla. Its continued harvest by displaced peoples could be devastating for Virunga's gorillas and for the surrounding communities that benefit from gorilla tourism income.

WWF is active on the ground to reduce the environmental effects of this conflict and help meet humanitarian needs. Recently, the WWF-supported Virunga Environmental Program (PEVi) in the Democratic Republic of Congo celebrated the planting of its 10 millionth tree. Among other objectives, PEVi promotes privately-owned tree plantations, encouraging economic development and the creation of alternative wood sources outside of Virunga National Park.

In coordination with the United Nations, WWF is purchasing wood from these plantations to supply wood for cooking and shelter to the more than 375,000 people fleeing the war zone who have settled in and near Virunga National Park. This initiative also has long-term economic benefits for local communities. A 1,235 acre plantation can produce approximately $1.5 million in revenue over 10 years from timber or charcoal production.

WWF has worked for more than 30 years to protect the Congo Basin and continues to be active in the field, engaging conservation partners and protecting great apes for future generations. WWF is also a member of the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), that has been providing equipment and logistical support to the ICCN (Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature) rangers - including a special unit that made regular patrols until it was forced out by the fighting. The IGCP is a partnership of three international organizations - WWF, African Wildlife Foundation and Fauna & Flora International - that ensure the conservation of mountain gorillas and their forest habitat in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.