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Rwandan militia murder Congo 'gorilla guardian'

The Ecologist

13 January 2014

An attack on a Park Ranger patrol in Congo's Virunga National Park has left 4 dead and 2 injured. The perpetrators? Rwandan militias linked to the 1994 genocide.

Over 140 of Virunga's rangers have died since the beginning of the war in 1996, but the park's staff remains determined to protect the park.

One of Virunga National Park's rangers was shot and killed, and two others were seriously wounded when their foot patrol was ambushed by Rwandan FDLR militias in Congo's Virunga National Park.

Three militiamen were also killed and one was apprehended in the subsequent fighting.

Protecting mountain gorillas

The rangers were being deployed in the area to secure a major road running alongside the park for the public and to protect the national park from illegal forest destruction in an area that contains Congo's only population of critically endangered mountain gorillas.

The attackers were identified as FDLR Rwandan militia, an outlaw movement believed to include the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

The attack took place about 10 km north of the city of Goma in the area affected by violent battles between government forces and M23 rebels in October last year. This is the worst attack on Virunga Park patrols in over a year.

Attack motivated by revenge - and charcoal

The attack is thought to have been carried out in retaliation against the rangers' efforts to prevent the militias from regaining control of an area close to the habitat of the critically endangered mountain gorillas.

The ranger was buried this evening at the park headquarters at Rumangabo. The two injured were evacuated to the United Nations military

The area is sought after by militias for its lucrative illegal charcoal trade with the city of Goma, known to be a major source of revenue for illegal armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Recent studies by national park staff have shown the trade to be worth over US$35 million a year, much of which provides funding for illegal armed groups.

'Deeply saddened'

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague, Mbera Bagabo, who was killed in his efforts to protect the public and the park from illegal armed groups" said Virunga Park Director Emmanuel de Merode.

"Over 140 of Virunga's rangers have died since the beginning of the war in 1996, but the park's staff remains determined to protect the park."

Some 400 Park Rangers protect Virunga National Park in eastern DRC, a region affected by 18 years of civil war and political instability.

Virunga, which is Africa's oldest national park, and considered its richest in biological diversity, is home to important populations of mountain gorillas, lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, among other wildlife.

Wildlife heroes

The Rangers have remained active in protecting the park classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO throughout the succession of wars that have afflicted the area since 1996.

The Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) and its Rangers work throughout the country to protect the National Parks of Congo and their wildlife from poachers, rebel groups, illegal miners and land invasions.

Over 200 Rangers have been killed in the last 10 years protecting the 5 parks of eastern DRC, and Rangers have remained active throughout the civil war, often without pay or adequate support.

Africa's first National Park

Virunga National Park, Africa's oldest national park (established in 1925) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, is home to 200 of the world's last remaining mountain gorillas and a small population of eastern lowland gorillas.

Formerly known as Albert National Park, Virunga lies in eastern DR Congo and covers 7,800 square kilometers. The park is managed by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN).



The Ecologist also reported on 13th December 2013 about the threat to Virunga from oil exploration: Oil threat to Virunga's mountain gorillas.



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