Though rebel soldiers are still situated deep in the gorilla sector of the Virunga National Park in DR Congo, there is some 'light at the end of the tunnel', the park authorities have stated.
Towards the beginning of May, a rebel army of around 1,500 men under the command of rogue general Bosco Ntaganda entered the section of the park that is home to a small but massively important population of mountain gorillas. The illegal incursion into the protected area led to fierce fighting between the rebels and the regular Congolese army, with as many as 20,000 people having fled communities located on the edge of the park for the relative security of Goma.
Worryingly, heavy fighting has been taking place just a short distance from several gorilla families, with regular ranger patrols cancelled for now. Though no gorillas have been harmed, elephants and buffalo have been killed by rebels, while it is also feared that the soldiers, and the looters that tend to follow in their wake, will leave behind hundreds of snares in the forest, placing gorillas in jeopardy. However, the latest reports coming from within the park suggest the worst could be over.
"There are signs pointing towards a potentially peaceful resolution to the current conflict within the next two weeks or so through negotiations involving the Congolese and Rwandese governments and the mutineers," said Cai Tjeenk Willink, business development officer for the Virunga National Park.
Rangers have managed to check up on several of the park's resident mountain gorilla families, including the 16-strong Humba group, and have confirmed that no individuals have been physically harmed by the fighting. However, as of July 12, it is expected that the park will remain closed to tourists for the rest of the month, as well as for all of August, with this drop in tourism likely to have a devestating impact on the local economy.