Thursday, 27 April 2017

CONGO'S WILDLIFE HERO: AFRICA SAFARI NEWS

THE SACRIFICE OF A FORMER CHILD SOLDIER TO SAVE CONGO’S WILDLIFE
Gorillas in Africa, Africa safaris, Safari Africa, Safaris in Africa

Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, is this year’s Goldman Environmental prize winner a former child rebel and who was forced into a militia rebel group at the age of 14 years as the country was ravaged by military conflicts and political unrest but left a few years later after his mother helped him to escape. Mr. Katembo Rodrigue is the 2017 lucky winner of the Goldman Environmental prize; a highly globally recognized award given to those who fight selflessly to save nature and wildlife within their communities.
After returning to school, Katembo was determined to regain the opportunities he lost during his childhood so he decided to study biology in college due to his love for nature and wildlife, and went on to earn a master’s degree in similar discipline. He was drawn to a career in public service, and became a park ranger at Virunga National Park in 2003. He flourished in this role, and with a reputation for high integrity and exceptional leadership, Katembo quickly rose to fame and became warden of the park’s central sector—which was an area of interest to many oil companies.
 Virunga national park is the oldest conservation area in Africa and the crown jewel of Congo in ecotourism. It is an area of extraordinary biodiversity and a good habitat place for about a quarter of the world’s population of mountain gorillas, hence a popular venue for gorilla trekking safaris in Africa. Congo is one of the most highly valued habitats for Gorillas, alongside Uganda and Rwanda, where the latter are known for mountain gorillas, and the former is popular for Lowland Gorillas. These East – central African countries have risen to fame as prime safari destinations in Africa due to abundant wildlife diversity, which favors safari tours in Africa, hiking safaris, birding tours and cultural tours.
The Virunga Park’s protection also ensures surrounding communities’ access to water and food, as well as important economic opportunities for the 3,500 people employed by the park, ecotourism operators, and a small hydroelectric plant.
Due to this, Katembo made a vow to protect the wildlife in the park where he was made warden to control the central sector, a hub for oil exploration. In 2011, during one of his regular morning patrols, he came across a fleet of vehicles that claimed they had legal authorization to drive into Virunga National Park and set up an oil exploration base by the river. They offered Katembo a bribe to give them, an offer that he declined, holding firm to his principle that the park belongs to the people of Congo and to the world.
In 2016, Katembo helped shut down eight quarries and removed more than 1,400 small-scale miners who were illegally mining for coltan—a metal often used in smart phones. However, extractive industries and armed rebels remain the most serious threat to the understaffed and under-resourced park, its biodiversity, and Katembo’s safety.
Due to SOCO’s (A British oil company) departure from Virunga, wildlife in the park has shown signs of recovery. Populations of hippos and elephants, which had been poached heavily as part of SOCO’s attempts to devalue the park, have stabilized. With enhanced security in the park, civilians are free to access water and fish at Lake Edward.
Since then, Katembo has been promoted to become director of Upemba National Park, another national park in the DRC where he has continued to protect the park and wildlife from poachers, military, and extractive industries. Thanks to his leadership, dozens of elephants have returned to the park, Zebra numbers are on the rise, while deforestation is decreasing in various protected areas in Congo.
Katembo has paid heavily for his environmental activism, both in DRC and in Africa and hence the award of Goldman Environmental Prize is worth the efforts.