Tonight, a hero has a name …

We each have heroes in our lives, some quite personal and close, others remote to us.  Some to whom we can attached face and powerful emotion, others to whom our respect is a less tangible relationship.

For me, those who serve for a greater good, often anonymously, often at great personal sacrifice are a form of loosely associated, numerous (and uncountable), often faceless heroes that can range from volunteers helping rebuild New Orleans to Medecines sans frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) to the teacher who volunteers to help literacy classes to … well, my list is long.

Part of the back of the mind thought of ‘hero’ has been those who struggle to protect the environment amid even the worst of civil strife.

Yesterday, in In an Eastern Congo Oasis, Blood Amid the Greenery, The Washington Post gave voice and face to one group of such heroes.

They heard the gunshots around 3 p.m., at least two pops that echoed across the green mountains of this vast park tangled up in vines, fallen trees and years of war.

The park rangers knew immediately what it was, they said, and in their frayed uniforms and rubber boots, they began hacking their way with machetes into the jungle-like forest. This time, it was Rubiga.

The rare mountain gorilla had been shot execution-style — once in the back of the head and a second time in the hand. When the rangers found her hulking, lifeless body, her 2-month-old baby, barely alive, was still clinging to her chest.

“Everyone just started crying,” recalled Jean-Marie Serundori, who helped wrap the body in plastic sheeting and carry it down the steep mountainside on a wooden stretcher. “We love these gorillas.”

This is world of Virunga National Park, in the Eastern Congo. The world in which its Park Rangers risk their lives and limbs — often without pay — to keep scenes like this from happening, to keep from having to bury their loved ones.

These Rangers are part of a larger community who are, each in their own way, trying to bring sanity to the Congo after Civil War and strife that left at least four million dead and massive disruption throughout the society.  These Rangers are serving something greater than themselves even though “Like thousands of government workers across Congo, they are doing so despite having not been paid in more than a decade.”

It is not just the gorillas that are targeted — targeted for meat, targeted to clear the way for charcoal production, targeted … So too are the Rangers, with over 150 killed since the Rwandan Civil War.

These Rangers keep up their work, keep up their sacrifice, but we can wonder whether it is enough.

More gorillas have been killed during the past year in Virunga National Park than are known to have been killed during the worst years of the war. With only around 700 mountain gorillas left in the world — more than half of them in Virunga National Park — each death equates to something like a massacre.

Earlier this year, the first international organizations made it to the Park to try to help the Rangers.  

Throughout Africa conservationists are carrying out critical work to protect wildlife and habitats, under difficult, isolated and often dangerous conditions. Wild Life Direct was established to provide support to these conservationists via the use of blogs – this enables anybody, anywhere to play a direct and interactive role in the survival of some of the world’s most precious species. We believe that the Internet provides an unprecedented means of bringing the remarkable efforts of these dedicated people to the attention of the world.

They claim not to take a penny from their individual donors (the European Union covers their administrative fees) and to leverage the internet to foster knowledge about and support for their efforts to support those, like these Rangers, who are fighting for the survival of endangered species.

“When a man dies, you have some questions, like: What mistakes did he make? Or what might have been wrong with him?” said Ngobobo, the chief warden, who decided that Rubiga’s grave should be just a few feet from his office in the park. “But when an animal is killed like that, you really see the absurdity of man. . . . It’s completely absurd.”

Tonight, a hero has a name … Ngobobo.  

Elie Mundima
The Commander of the Advance Force of Congo Rangers fights to save Virunga‘s wildlife

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