The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, expressed concern this week over violence in the North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Mr. Matsuura supported the statement made earlier by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, calling on “all parties to immediately cease hostilities and pursue in good faith efforts to resolve peacefully the issues.” The Director-General declared, “The escalation of violence in recent weeks threatens the integrity of a DRC World Heritage site, Virunga National Park, which comprises outstanding biological diversity and provides the habitat for the last populations of mountain gorillas, a highly endangered species. According to the information I have received, the park rangers can no longer patrol and the gorillas’ habitat is threatened by the persistent shooting.”
The Director-General also urged the international community to uphold its obligation to ensure the protection of World Heritage List sites.
There are only 200 gorillas left in the park, which has been listed as a World Heritage Site in Danger since 1994. Only about 700 mountain gorillas remain total of the highly endangered species. This past Sunday, rebels seized the park headquarters, and many rangers fled and are missing. In the last decade, over 120 rangers have lost their lives protecting the park.
Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga National Park was founded in 1925. It holds the greatest range of habitats and vertebrate species diversity of any African park, yet, sadly, the conflict, humanitarian crises and economic collapse that have marked the last few decades in the DRC have severely damaged conservation efforts.