"Unfortunately the risk to the gorillas isn't just from stray bullets, but also from rockets and grenades," Muir says. "The Congolese army clearly means business, but unfortunately they are up against a well trained and well equipped rebel group and it's not going to be easy. Only time will tell if the gorillas make it through unscathed."
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The Democratic Republic of Congo is currently a no-man's land where pillaging, carjackings, murder, rape and kidnappings are common, despite the presence of UN forces. Shirley McGreal, Chairwoman of the International Primate Protection League, commented, "Civil strife causes havoc to both humans and the animals who share our world. Often it is just the park rangers who stand between wild animals and death, so we are delighted to help the brave men who daily risk their lives to protect the mountain gorillas."
Robert Muir was staggered by the levels of humanitarian and environmental crises when he arrived in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the end of the latest round of civil wars in 2004. "I felt there was a need for an exceptionally capable team of rangers to secure the parks, as well as local populations, from the brutality of armed militias who are Congo's greatest scourge."
Motivated more by his heart than his head, Muir obtained initial funding from the European Union, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and UNESCO. Against stiff odds, he established collaborative agreements with the Congolese government and selected and trained a group of rangers now known as the Advance Force. This group of specially trained Forest Rangers engages in anti-poaching operations where it may encounter Ugandan, Rwandan or Congolese rebel groups. Soon the rangers will be returning to the Virunga National Park, home of the mountain gorilla made famous by naturalist Dian Fossey, to an area which has been under the control of Ugandan rebels for several decades. "Earlier this year, the UN Peacekeeping Force for DRC dispersed the rebel groups, but it is possible that many still remain," Muir says.
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Dian Fossey was an American naturalist and scholar who brought the plight of the mountain gorillas to the attention of the world. She was slain by unknown assailants at her research camp, Karisoke, the night after Christmas in 1985. She was a proponent of "active conservation," encouraging well-supplied anti-poaching patrols. Fossey considered her patrol groups, many of which she paid with her own funds, to be the "guardians of the gorillas."
IPPL is an international grassroots wildlife protection organization. Its mission is to promote the conservation and protection of ALL non-human primates, including apes, monkeys, and lemurs, around the world. IPPL has its headquarters in Summerville, SC.