Congo RDC Congolese Today The UN shoot on civilians in the east of the DRC Reply To: The UN shoot on civilians in the east of the DRC


I left their camp touched by their singing, their dances, but above all, I left feeling a sense of urgency; these forgotten people of North Kivu will have to see better days. I turned towards my colleague, Joseph, and in broken French I asked him how soon we could provide them with what they had asked for. Their request was minimal: all they asked for were blankets and kitchen pots.

We went back to our car and on the way back to our camp in Rumangabo I started to think. They tell me that pygmies were the first inhabitants of this land, but now they live in improvised tents, without access to social services, making a meager living through sporadic day jobs here and there. The roofs of their tents can’t stop the rain from pouring inside and nights get pretty chilly around here.

The wars and political instability of the past few decades have put these people at the bottom of the priority list. Frankfurt Zoological Society has identified about 1,250 Batwa pygmies who currently live around the Mikeno sector in Virunga. This area of the park is important because that’s where the mountain gorillas live. These displaced communities illegally occupy the land on which they live. As part of The Forgotten Parks initiative, Frankfurt Zoological Society has already acquired land for these people. With funding from the World Bank, we will build houses with and for the Batwa Pygmy community, as well as health posts and schools; these facilities will serve both the Batwa Pygmy community as well as the Bantu (non-pygmy Congolese).

We already support Pygmy children with the provision of school equipment and uniforms. Their teachers tell us they are doing well in school. More important than offering these people the means to get by and make it to the next day, is to give them access to equal social and economic opportunities so they can pull themselves out of the extreme poverty they are living currently in.

Frankfurt Zoological Society is working with the Batwa Pygmies and several Pygmy NGO’s to help Pygmies find their new position in the Congolese mainstream society, allowing them to fit in, while also being sensitive to cultural differences. We will provide them with training in agriculture, apiculture, and small-rearing. We are currently working with partner Pygmy NGOs to ensure that our program is effective and relevant to the needs of the Pygmy community. In a year’s time we will provide them with a brand new cultural centre, where their folklore, traditions, dances and songs will be preserved and promoted.  We are hoping to be able to bring tourists to the new Pygmy village, where they will be able to experience first hand an ancient culture. This will generate revenue to the community, and perhaps even more importantly, boost their morale and their sense of self-value as a distinct ethnic group in the DRC.

Fostering healthy communities can only benefit Virunga and its amazing wildlife; decreasing forest dependency will help towards the protection and conservation of the park. This initiative reflects FZS’ comprehensive approach to nature conservation; it is as much about people as it is about wildlife.