Virunga National Park Ranger Attack
Virunga National Park ranger attack that occurred on the 24th of April 2020 is one of the most recent and deadliest massacres in the park. This ranger attack saw 13 rangers of Virunga National Park being shot dead with 2 more injured and 1 in critical condition, along with 4 civilians and their driver. The civilians were not in any way connected to the park. The injured civilians and rangers were transferred to Goma where they are receiving treatment from.
The rangers were on their way back to the park headquarters when they found a civilian vehicle that had been attacked. The rangers were then ambushed by the gunmen and in the ferocious attack that followed, a number of rangers ended up being killed. The park officials believe this attack was done by the rebel forces of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, who attacked a civilians’ vehicle and then ambushed the park rangers who were returning to the park headquarters. The Virunga National Park ranger attack took place at 11am on Route Nationale 2, close to Rumangabo, the park headquarters that was the rangers’ destination.
Much as the Virunga National Park officials believe the Rwanda rebel group were behind this attack, the rebel group has not come out to confirm this. The 13 rangers killed in this ambush have the numbers of the fallen rangers that gave all their whole to protect and conserver Virunga National Park and the gorillas in particular that inhabit the park rising to 175 over the years. The park has about 700 rangers enlisted in service and protection of the park and its visitors.
There have been unrests in the Eastern part of the Congo over the years and in Virunga National Park in particular as it was a perfect hide-out for most rebel groups. This has seen the park being closed off to tourists with the most recent closure being in 2018 when tourist activities were not operational, up until early 2019 when normalcy resumed. By the time of the attack a few days ago, the park was closed for medical reasons as it is believed that the primates are very much susceptible to the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure the gorillas’ safety therefore, tourist activities had been suspended.
Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest national park that was gazetted as a protected area to conserve the park’s biodiversity and the then critically endangered mountain gorillas, in 1925. The park is located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the province of Nord Kivu in Goma and covers a total size of 7800 square kilometres.
Virunga National Park is part of the Virunga Conservation Area that spans over to Rwanda and Uganda. The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, and it boasts of over 706 different bird species, various wildlife like the forest elephants, forest pigs among so many others including the endangered mountain gorillas that are a sensation to many travellers.
Travellers from far and wide flood Virunga National Park to take part in many tourist activities that include gorilla trekking, the Nyiragongo hike to see the boiling lava lake, bird watching, nature walks, mountain climbing of the other volcanic mountains in the park, chimpanzee tracking and habituation, cultural encounters among so many. The park management ensures safety of all its tourists as they are given a convoy to take them through the park and given maximum protection during park activities. With over 17000 tourists visiting Virunga National Park annually, revenue has been generated which contributes to economy of the country. Part of the revenue collected is also given to the local communities in and around the park to improve their livelihood. These locals are also assured of jobs and sources of income in the park say as porters, local guides and the women’s craftwork that is sold as souvenirs to the tourists.
Notwithstanding the current ambush on the rangers, Virunga National Park remains a safe tourist destination. Adventurers looking for the true African wild and off-beaten track travel should ensure to book through the park’s website directly or through very trusted tour operators who will ensure your safety as you enjoy your vacation. Travellers planning any travel to Virunga National Park without the help of a tour operator should make sure to have a security envoy with them to and from the park.