National Geographic : 2008 Jul
(Continuedfrom page 47) a day, and this does not include the needs of Rwanda, which has outlawed the production of charcoal to protect its forests. This much charcoal cannot be transported without a fleet of trucks. The Congolese army has the trucks, and it has suppliers in the forest: the Hutu militias. A sack of charcoal sells for $25 on average. Do the math: De Merode estimates that in 2006, when gorilla tourism brought in less than $300,000, the Virunga charcoal trade was worth more than $30 million. Robert Muir, project manager for the Frank furt Zoological Society's Virunga National Park conservation effort, says that charcoal produc tion has already devastated approximately 25 percent of the old-growth, hardwood for est in the southern half of Virunga National Park, and at the current rate of destruction, the entire southern sector could go up in smoke in ten years. "But it can be stopped, it must be stopped, and it will be stopped," he says. Muir, an Englishman who speaks fluent French (as did his mother), who has the guts of a gunner (his father was a colonel in the British military), whose first language was Cantonese, who passed his youth in Cyprus chasing but terflies and scorpions, who holds university degrees in ecology and anthropology, has been in Goma for four years. He spent the first three years trying to protect Virunga's rangers. Now he has turned his considerable passion to the charcoal trade. Just outside his office are 50 sacks of charcoal that he personally helped the rangers seize. Muir explains the challenge: Nkunda's forces won't leave Virunga National Park until the Hutu guerrillas leave, and the Congolese army won't leave until they're both out. It's a stalemate no one really wants to end. Not when there's so much money to be made off charcoal. (Nkunda claims he has banned all tree felling in his regions of control. While that may be true for the Mikeno sector, he has reportedly taken over charcoal operations near Kirolirwe.) And if the charcoal production isn't stopped, the forest will 58 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC * JULY 2008 be gone: no habitat, no gorillas. Muir under stands that the removal of all military from the area-perhaps 15,000 Congolese soldiers, 4,000 Hutu (FDLR) guerrillas, and 4,000 Nkunda (CNDP) troops-is the ultimate answer, but given politics in Congo, the park itself could be gone by then. "Nothing happens in meetings," Muir says. "You want to get something done, you go into the field. The FDLR has been controlling the forests, making charcoal, at the base of Nyiragongo. For six months no one has been able to get in there. The UN has agreed to lead a combat patrol. You're welcome to come along."