After holding our patrol post at Bukima during the worst of the fighting, we finally got the period of calm we needed to check on our mountain gorilla families. On March 16th, when the heavy fighting shifted to Kibumba (which is still very close by), we began our search. By March 19th, we managed to locate all seven gorilla families that move throughout the Bukima, Bikenge, and Jomba areas. They are the Rugendo, Humba, Kabirizi, Bageni, Mapuwa, Munyaga, Lulengo families.
In addition to their well-being, we are happy to report the birth of a new baby in the Humba family. Humba’s family now stands at seventeen. We will report back to you on the name of the mother and provide pictures as soon as we are able to visit them again. Last week, our main concern was simply to locate all the groups as quickly as possible.
For the past two weeks, there have been renewal of fighting within the M23 rebel movement and security has been the biggest concern. The fighting was most intense, for about a week at Rugare, which is about four kilometres south of Rumangabo. The station was put on high alert , as thousands of terrified families from the village of Rugare took refuge around the park station. The school that we built in 2008 was made available to them as a temporary centre. There was heavy mortar fire for six days and close combat in the village.
The approach for Virunga staff is now well rehearsed. Non-uniformed staff worked from Goma, and rangers continued as best they could on the ground. A teams of 12 rangers kept our positions active in the Gorilla Sector at Bukima and Bikenge. Ranger Sekibibi reported back yesterday that three of the groups, Kabirizi, Humba and Mapua were in good shape, and the others should hopefully be located in the coming days, but there is no significant cause for concern at this stage.
Thankfully the fighting moved south to Kimbumba where a decisive battle was fought, and the defeated faction of M23 was effectively neutralised, bringing a degree of calm to the area. Yesterday we received confirmation on the news that Bosco Ntaganda was on his way to the International Criminal Court. The displaced families have largely returned to their homes and we’re hoping, praying, that this may signal the end of what has been a truly difficult year.