Spidertracks and Wildlife Conservation: How Virunga National Park is Saving Endangered Species and Protecting Precious Ecosystems
Spidertracks equips Virunga National Park and famous pilot Anthony Caere in their incredible mission to protect endangered animals in the Congo.
In 2007, an illegal charcoal mafia massacred a family of mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park. With this unconscionable act, they meant to render unnecessary the protection of Virunga, whose main function is the conservation of these endangered animals.
Founded in 1925 (it’s Africa’s oldest national park), Virunga covers a 7,800-square-kilometre swath of land in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. It encompasses some of the world’s richest and most precious ecosystems — from lush tropical forest to vast savannahs to fiery volcanoes — and is home to a third of the planet’s mountain gorillas, as well as species like lions, hippos, elephants, African fish eagles, and two other great apes (the eastern lowland gorilla and the eastern chimpanzee).
Virunga’s mission lies not just in the protection and conservation of these creatures, many of which are critically or otherwise endangered, but in the future of the Congo itself. By efficiently managing the Park’s natural resources and working to build the industries and infrastructure in the communities around it, Virunga aims to create a sustainable economy in which both people and wildlife can thrive for generations to come — an already-difficult task made that much harder by the poverty and violence that run rampant in this war-torn region.
An ecological oasis in the midst of the Congo, Virunga is constantly beset by threats such as poachers. After the 2007 gorilla killings, the Park made sweeping changes to its safety system, restructuring its ranger force into a team of 600 strong and implementing an initiative called the Virunga Alliance — a public-private partnership with the purpose of ‘using development as an instrument for bringing peace and prosperity to the region.’
One of the tools in Virunga’s efforts to thwart poachers and other intruders is Spidertracks, which the Park has been using since January 2016.
‘I first used Spidertracks on my flight around the world. That’s how I knew it worked and how I knew it was safe. It’s one of the most-used tracking systems in aviation for a reason,’ says Virunga’s main pilot Anthony Caere, who rose to Instagram fame earlier this year after a video of him rescuing a baby chimp and flying him to safety went viral.
Anthony and Virunga use Spidertracks to keep tabs on their aircraft as they’re flying through the park. With the system’s real-time tracking capability, they can do their jobs in a dangerous area without having to worry about whether or not someone will be alerted if something goes wrong.
‘We’re flying in a war zone, so it’s very helpful to know that people are watching you,’ Anthony says. ‘If something happens, your team can act immediately. When I had my crash in 2017, everyone immediately got the message through Spidertracks. It just works.’
In addition to counting on the reliable tracking aspect of Spidertracks, Virunga also makes inventive use of the unit’s Mark button — a feature that allows pilots to pinpoint locations and send preset messages from the cockpit to the ground — to more effectively pursue their anti-poaching and mountain gorilla conservation efforts.
‘When we’re on a mission and we see something or someone who isn’t supposed to be there, we press the Mark button, and their position goes straight into the system,’ Anthony says.
Virunga has six Spiders that they use on a daily basis, and Anthony says he’d recommend the system to every pilot out there, private or otherwise.
‘Spidertracks is so simple to use, and it never fails.’
For more on Virunga and how you can aid them in their mission, head here.