The Sarambwe Reserve in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), adjacent to Bwindi National Park in Uganda is home of about 20 endangered mountain gorillas.
It is regularly occupied by armed groups from surrounding states such as Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Congo inclusive.
In the troubled province of North Kivu, a few kilometers North of Goma, inhabitants are faced with insecurity as it is difficult to work with gorillas in the area.
However, this does not prevent them from organizing to protect these primates.
This establishment has been led by Jean-Paul Kambere, a Congolese who since his adolescence has devoted his life to defend the great apes, an essential but complex mission.
An independent journalist and Congolese blogger, Joseph Tsongo went to the scene and met him.
Since 2016, the Mountain Gorilla has been classified as a “critical danger” of extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
To preserve the habitat of the gorillas and to raise awareness of their protection, Jean-Paul Kambere has been working in the shade for several years.
According to him, there are about 17 gorillas today in the reserve. He was just 15 years old when he joined the Sarambwe gorilla community (Recogasa) team, set up by local communities in 2003.
An illiterate, Jean-Paul, learned to recognize the traces of the gorillas through many findings such as their excrement, footprints among others.
He is passionate about their cause and is today the main interlocutor of the local and international associations on the spot.
While the villagers diabolized the gorillas, he volunteered for several years to raise awareness of their cause, to induce them to stop trapping or to grow timber on the reserve.
It is said that Jean-Paul remained in the forest near the gorillas during the last rebel occupations of CNDP (The National Congress for the Defense of the People), an armed group that has become a political party.
In 2005, the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), according to local sources had previously doubted the presence of gorillas in Sarambwe, acknowledged the action of Jean-Paul.
It later got involved though not fully, deploying patrolling Eco guards in charge of tracking and protecting the gorillas and in the end abandoned the reserve notably because of insecurity.
It is only when Brousse and Xavier Gilbert, President of the French Association decided to really work with Jean-Paul and give him the means.
According to the information it sent to France, forests have been burned since April 14, 2017 leading to deforestation.
These fire starts are often voluntary, “It is the farmers who set fire to be able to transform the land into agricultural land,” said Xavier Gilbert.
Brousse also denounces the presence of Ugandan soldiers East of the reserve. The ICCN confirmed to France that these soldiers and Eco guards were deployed on the Congolese side.
“They are erecting barriers to keep more gorillas in Uganda in order to develop ecotourism,” says Paul NLemvo, ICCN’s chief of staff. Xavier Gilbert confirms.
“Gorillas do not have passports and cross the borders as they want”. In short, each country would like to have as much as possible in its territory.
Benoit Kisuki, in charge of monitoring ICCN’s international conventions, nonetheless assures France that a meeting was held in June 2017 between the two countries.
This resulted in a vow to respect the free movement of gorillas though the Ugandan Army denies any deployment outside its territory and did not wish to dwell on the subject, despite our questions.(Uganda Gorilla Trekking Safaris)