As to prove that poaching is organised crime Mai mai rebels, likely linked to poachers, raided the headquarters of the remote Upemba National Park last weekend, reports the Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) which is working to rehabilitate the park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Fortunately, no one was injured in the raid, but equipment was stolen. The raid comes only a few weeks after a different group of rebels murdered seven people and shot dead 13 captive okapis at the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.
The Mai Mai rebels are leftovers from the DRC’s long civil wars. They arrived at the headquarters heavily armed with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades according to a blog on the attack. The blog can be found on the FZS’s website. FZS is working in a programme called Call from the Wild to rehabilitate a number of parks in the DRC, including Upemba, that have been decimated by decades of war and a booming bushmeat trade.
Upemba National Park was once home to teeming herds of zebra, elephant, and antelope, in addition to lions and rhinos. However, decades of civil war and rampant poaching, left most of the park empty of animals, though it still contains the DRC’s only herd of zebra.
Another example of what seems ongoing practice happened on February 26 this year, when three elephants were slaughtered in Kaboja, a town close to Upemba National Park. According to the Congolese wildlife authority one of the three slaughtered elephants was pregnant. This brutal act was carried out by Congolese military, led by a captain. Furthermore, he admited that he and his friends shared the ivory with the head of territory.
Over 100 elephants have fled Upemba National Park to inaccessible neighbouring areas around the park due to heavy poaching within the park in recent years. These elephants are now in serious danger as the village of Mbwe occupies the ecological corridor and prevents the animals from returning to their habitat. ICCN has made a call for support from the Congolese authorities as well as the international conservation community to help bring elephants back into the park where they will be protected. Otherwise the last elephants of Katanga will simply disappear.
Furthermore, in 2004, Upemba Naitonal Park suffered a devastating attack from mai mai rebels who killed seven park rangers and one of their wives.
Dumistrascu said the most recent raid on the headquarters wouldn’t deter the group’s mission. “FZS is determined to continue its work in Upemba National Park, we have made great progress over the last year in rehabilitating the park’s infrastructure and the Lusinga headquarters and we continue to believe that this park has great potential in DRC. We will, however, continue to follow our security protocols and make sure that our staff is safe at all times.”
The above news item is reprinted from materials available at Mongabay and Call from the Wild. Original text may be edited for content and length.