Photos: Territorial conflict threatens Congo’s endangered gorilla

UPDATED ON OCT 16, 2019 10:07 AM IST
A male Eastern lowland gorilla, a survivor in a critically endangered species reduced to about 250 members, rests in the forest of Kahuzi-Biega National Park in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Since summer 2018, some local communities have started logging in this protected area, threatening gorilla habitat. (Alexis Huguet / AFP)
Their home is a haven in the province of South Kivu -- a battleground for rival militias for a quarter of a century. But these gorillas also face an emerging threat from a conflict with local Pygmies, who claim that they were robbed of ancestral lands when the park was extended in the 1970s. Last year, Pygmies began to move onto land inside the park’s perimeter and started to cut down trees, mainly to make charcoal. (Alexis Huguet / AFP)
According to the park authorities, Pygmies have destroyed 350 hectares (864 acres) of woodland -- an act of deforestation that gnaws away at the gorillas’ habitat. In 1994, the park was listed by UNESCO as among World Heritage Sites in danger. “The invasion began in August (2018). In December, it accelerated,” said Hubert Mulongoy, the park spokesman. (Alexis Huguet / AFP)
A grave of a ranger killed during his service. At least three people have been killed in clashes between the Pygmies and park rangers, although the circumstances of the deaths remain unclear. In Munyange village on the edge of the park, Pygmy chief Jean-Marie Kasula said his community had simply “decided to return to our land in strength.” “We’ve been suffering for 48 years,” he said. “(...) This is our Eden!” (Alexis Huguet / AFP)
The park’s management say a community of about 6,000 Pygmies living on the edge of the park have been egged on by influential figures in the region. Army officers, provincial ministers, members of the provincial legislature and traders were outraged when a new park director, De-Dieu Bya’Ombe Balongelwa, set about closing their farms, located deep inside the park, after his appointment in April last year. (Alexis Huguet / AFP)
De-Dieu Bya’Ombe Balongelwa, Chief of Kahuzi-Biega National Park, stands at courtyard of the park headquarters. “There were armed men on the farms. These were purely military operations,” Balongelwa said. “The farmers vowed to use every means to undermine us. Using the Pygmies to come and destroy the park is one of them,” said the director, who is given round-the-clock protection by two armed rangers. “I’ve done what others didn’t dare do.” (Alexis Huguet / AFP)
A hotel at sunset on the island of Idjwi in the middle of Lake Kivu. The deforested zone is a tiny slice of the protected terrain -- a tropical highland treasure almost the size of Delaware, extending over 6,000 square kilometres (2,300 square miles). The park reaches up to neighbouring North Kivu and Maniema, largely lawless provinces where militia violence, poaching and illegal traffic in minerals are rampant. (Alexis Huguet / AFP)
But the conflict and the chopping down of trees affect the showcase region of the park: its higher ground that is home to gorillas accessible to the well-heeled visitors, who typically number about 2,000 a year. The front line is scarcely an hour’s drive from the capital Bukavu, located in a densely populated region like everywhere on the shores of Lake Kivu. The demographic pressure is all the way to threatened land in the park. (Alexis Huguet / AFP)

A male Eastern lowland gorilla, a survivor in a critically endangered species reduced to about 250 members, rests in the forest of Kahuzi-Biega National Park in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Since summer 2018, some local communities have started logging in this protected area, threatening gorilla habitat. (Alexis Huguet / AFP)

Their home is a haven in the province of South Kivu -- a battleground for rival militias for a quarter of a century. But these gorillas also face an emerging threat from a conflict with local Pygmies, who claim that they were robbed of ancestral lands when the park was extended in the 1970s. Last year, Pygmies began to move onto land inside the park’s perimeter and started to cut down trees, mainly to make charcoal. (Alexis Huguet / AFP)

According to the park authorities, Pygmies have destroyed 350 hectares (864 acres) of woodland -- an act of deforestation that gnaws away at the gorillas’ habitat. In 1994, the park was listed by UNESCO as among World Heritage Sites in danger. “The invasion began in August (2018). In December, it accelerated,” said Hubert Mulongoy, the park spokesman. (Alexis Huguet / AFP)

A grave of a ranger killed during his service. At least three people have been killed in clashes between the Pygmies and park rangers, although the circumstances of the deaths remain unclear. In Munyange village on the edge of the park, Pygmy chief Jean-Marie Kasula said his community had simply “decided to return to our land in strength.” “We’ve been suffering for 48 years,” he said. “(...) This is our Eden!” (Alexis Huguet / AFP)

The park’s management say a community of about 6,000 Pygmies living on the edge of the park have been egged on by influential figures in the region. Army officers, provincial ministers, members of the provincial legislature and traders were outraged when a new park director, De-Dieu Bya’Ombe Balongelwa, set about closing their farms, located deep inside the park, after his appointment in April last year. (Alexis Huguet / AFP)

De-Dieu Bya’Ombe Balongelwa, Chief of Kahuzi-Biega National Park, stands at courtyard of the park headquarters. “There were armed men on the farms. These were purely military operations,” Balongelwa said. “The farmers vowed to use every means to undermine us. Using the Pygmies to come and destroy the park is one of them,” said the director, who is given round-the-clock protection by two armed rangers. “I’ve done what others didn’t dare do.” (Alexis Huguet / AFP)

A hotel at sunset on the island of Idjwi in the middle of Lake Kivu. The deforested zone is a tiny slice of the protected terrain -- a tropical highland treasure almost the size of Delaware, extending over 6,000 square kilometres (2,300 square miles). The park reaches up to neighbouring North Kivu and Maniema, largely lawless provinces where militia violence, poaching and illegal traffic in minerals are rampant. (Alexis Huguet / AFP)

But the conflict and the chopping down of trees affect the showcase region of the park: its higher ground that is home to gorillas accessible to the well-heeled visitors, who typically number about 2,000 a year. The front line is scarcely an hour’s drive from the capital Bukavu, located in a densely populated region like everywhere on the shores of Lake Kivu. The demographic pressure is all the way to threatened land in the park. (Alexis Huguet / AFP)

About The Gallery

Eastern lowland gorillas are critically endangered species reduced to about 250 members in Democratic Republic of Congo's Kahuzi-Biega National Park. For an hour each day, the gorilla and his dozen-strong family host a handful of wildlife tourists, guided by armed eco-guards. But these gorillas also face an emerging threat from a conflict with local Pygmies, who claim that they were robbed of ancestral lands when the park was extended in the 1970s.

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