Hero in Focus: Former Child Soldier On Mission To Save Congo Wildlife

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Park Ranger Risks Life to Save Virunga National Park

Nothing can stop Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, a former child soldier, to fight for his passion to save Virunga National Park from the peril of total destruction.

Risking his own life from the dangers of militia threats and poachers, Katembo was unstoppable to put an end to poaching of gorillas and oil exploration that threaten the preservation of the park.

With conviction, Katembo said in an interview, “Even if I or others are not able to (make this happen), then the future generations will have this information and will do it.”

Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park, has been tormented for many years with illegal poaching that resulted in fear of mass extinction of wild animals.

Oil exploration has threatened the habitat of the park’s critically endangered wild animals particularly mountain gorillas, elephants and lions.

But the good news is, Katembo is ready to risk his life to stop all these threats to the conservation of the park. And, many are following his footsteps.

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The protected park is Africa’s most biologically diverse protected area. The park’s 7800 square kilometers (3000 square miles) includes forests, savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes, and the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori mountains.

a mountain gorilla in congo.
A mountain gorilla in Congo.

Savior of Congo’s Gorillas

Katembo, a park ranger in the Virunga, has made a name for saving gorillas from the brink of extinction as well. The park ranger asserted that the job is dangerous. In fact, the presence of militia groups has made life harder for the park rangers. More than 160 of Katembo’s colleagues and community members were killed in recent decades.

Amid the danger, Katembo is determined to save Congo’s gorillas from the peril of extinction. His advocacy to save the gorillas has attracted support from the community and his colleagues as well.

His colleagues experienced ordeals in the fight against illegal poaching.

Some of them were illegally arrested, others paid the ultimate price for the protection of Virunga,” says Katembo. “They really fought with their heart to protect the park.”

Virunga is home to about a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas.

The Recognition

Katembo’s dedication to save Virunga from the hands of opportunists and poachers has drawn admiration from conservationists and people around the world.

The ranger’s passion for wildlife and conservation gained recognition. In fact, Katembo won this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize. The environmental prize entails recognition of Katembo’s heroism in preventing oil exploration inside Virunga.

A Former Child Soldier

Political instability and insurgencies are not something new in the African nation. Katembo for one, experienced the realities of war. He was a child soldier for eight years. He was 14 years old in 1989 when he was taken as a child soldier, during the country’s long running armed conflict.

When peace was finally restored, Katembo worked at Virunga, in 2003, protecting the land and healing the community. And he was successful with his job.

Katembo’s hard work finally reaped beautiful outcomes when his story was documented in Netflix which in return put a spotlight on the crisis in Virunga. The documentary film garnered support and campaigns by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that halted oil exploration in Virunga.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.