Conserving Virunga For and With Congolese is the most Challenging Job in Conservation

The following excerpt is based on an old ‘revised’ guest blog by Esther Marijnen, Blaise Muhire and Judith Vermeijden. It looks into the challenges of conservation amidst conflict, violence and poverty in Eastern DRC and more particularly within and around Virunga National Park.

It reminds us an important lesson about conservation:

Conserving Virunga For and With Congolese is the most Challenging Job in the World.

Saving Virunga is not only about fighting big oil, rebels and the illegal extraction of natural resources, it is about breaking with the past, the conflict and mistrust and bringing communities and park authorities closer to each other. They need and can build together a better future for the people and the Congo. Local Communities in North Kivu and Congolese Citizens at large have the right to peace and development; they have the right to choose for the sustainable development option and fight for the survival of Virunga.

And yes, in order to do so Virunga park needs to deal with past conflicts, avoid new ones, break with a whole system of allegiances and build a new conservation model for the region, where communities are not just an empty word on paper but become a real actor of change, a trustworthy partner.

This is the biggest challenge ahead: Conserving Virunga For and With Congolese. 

“There are still things to improve, there is still more to do, but up till now, those who have eyes, and who look can see a difference”

Let’s learn and continue with and for the communities (SV)



Recently, the movie Virunga, and concerted efforts by numerous NGOs have focused attention to one of the main threats to the Virunga National Park: the prospect of oil exploitation within and near its borders. Yet, there are two other, inter-related threats to the park that have received comparatively less attention, but that must be addressed for ensuring its survival nonetheless: first, populations trespassing on its territory, often as part of wider contestations of its limits; and second, the presence of a multitude of state and non-state armed actors who are commonly involved in unauthorized resources exploitation. In this contribution, we present a brief analysis of these phenomena, drawing on fieldwork conducted periodically between 2010 and 2015 in and around the park.