Arlington, Va., USA - The alleged ambush and
shooting of conservationist and Virunga National Park Chief Warden Emmanuel de
Merode yesterday, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was an appalling act
of violence against a person who has dedicated himself to safeguarding Africa's
wildlife and natural heritage.
Sadly, it is one more
event in a place where escalating violence has nearly become the norm and where
innocent people live under constant threat of danger.
“Emmanuel de Merode is
one of the world's true conservation heroes, having committed his life to saving
one of the most important protected areas in Africa and indeed in the entire
world,” said Dr. Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation
"In solidarity and
support, the team and I at Conservation International extend our very best
wishes to Emmanuel for a full and complete recovery."
Virunga National Park
was Africa's first national park and has long been a treasured UNESCO
World Heritage Site
. Home to roughly a quarter of the 880 wild mountain
gorillas left in the world, Virunga is situated on the border with Uganda and
Rwanda and covers 800,000 hectares. Conservation
International staff work
in Eastern DRC with local authorities and
communities to support sustainable development in a place that includes some of
the most remote and intact forests in the greater Congo Basin and in the
A consequence of this
natural wealth and neighboring conflict, the park also has been under pressure
from the likes of poachers and armed militias that target its world-renowned
gorillas and illegally log its trees to sell charcoal. Today, the park is being
courted by international oil companies seeking to explore and potentially drill
within its protected borders.
"There is a direct
connection between conservation and security. When we invest in safeguarding
countries' natural capital and empower local people to protect their wildlife,
we help to support the livelihoods, security, and well-being of communities who
depend on nature's ecosystems for their well-being,” Mittermeier added. "When we
fail, threats to people's lives escalate."
International advocates for international governments to adopt best practices in
environmental peacebuilding and conflict avoidance, based on principles grounded
in the rights-based approach to development and conservation.
"We hope that the DRC
government promptly investigates this crime, pursues justice for Mr. de Merode
and steps up protections for people living and working in Eastern Congo," said
Dr. Albert Mwangi, senior vice president for Conservation International's Africa
and Madagascar Field Division.
Note to editors:
Conservation International (CI) – Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity for the well-being of people. Founded in 1987, CI is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area and employs more than 800 staff in 30 countries on six continents, and has nearly 1,000 partners around the world. For more information, please visit our website at: www.conservation.org
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