Fundraising is now underway after six rangers were ambushed and killed while in foot patrol in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park over the weekend.
The attack happened on Jan. 10 in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is home to the planet’s last wild endangered mountain gorilla population. The murdered men ranged in age from 25 to 30. A seventh ranger was hurt, but he is recovering in hospital and expected to survive.
“Preliminary investigations indicate that the Rangers were taken by surprise and had no opportunity to defend themselves, and that those responsible for the attack are local Mai-Mai groups,” the park said in a statement.
The militia group says its works to defend territory against other armed groups, but they also commit a host of other crimes and has been responsible for a number of killings in the park.
Dead are Surumwe Burhani Abdou, 30, Alexis Kamate Mundunaenda, 25, Reagan Maneno Kataghalirwa, 27, Eric Kibanja Bashekere, 28, Innocent Paluku Budoyi, 28, and Prince Nzabonimpa Ntamakiriro, 27.
The park operates a fallen rangers fund to help support families of rangers killed in the line of duty. But the park itself is also in need of financial aid to keep the biodiversity found within it safe.
2021 has taken the lives of another 6 rangers in #Virunga. Join us remembering the fallen #Virunga #rangers KIBANJA BASHEKERE Eric, aged 28 years & support their families DONATE at https://t.co/JqdY60FhXv— Save Virunga (@SaveVirunga) January 14, 2021
The men were on patrol in Africa’s oldest nature reserve around 7:30 in the morning when they were ambushed near Kabuendo, not far from the border of the Park.
“Virunga National Park deeply regrets the tragic loss of life among its Rangers, who work tirelessly and with dedication to protect both the Park and the neighbouring communities from the tyranny of armed groups,” the park said. “Their sacrifice will not be forgotten nor be in vain.”
@europeaid and @Global_Wildlife have once again stepped up to support Virunga and will double match any donations to the Park in the aftermath of Sunday’s tragedy. https://t.co/qnSRVXEmxp pic.twitter.com/vIMsaxWhQN— Virunga NationalPark (@gorillacd) January 14, 2021
Law enforcement has pledged to bring the killers to justice.
But the parks has been threatened for years by conflicts between armed groups despite crackdowns on lawbreakers.
To date, more than 200 rangers have lost their lives protecting the park. It’s considered the highest workplace fatality rate for any protected space in the world.
And, the violence has only gotten worse in recent years — and the situation more dire for Virunga. Another 12 rangers were murdered in the park last April — 21 people killed last year in total marking the park’s deadliest year.
“The upsurge in violent attacks and the killings of park staff has left Virunga in an enormously difficult situation going into the new year,” officials explain. “Protecting a national park in a region afflicted by decades of conflict has become all the more difficult with the successive challenges of the 2018-19 Ebola epidemic and now the 2020-21 COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbated by the ongoing loss of the entire revenue from tourism since March last year.”
ANNOUNCEMENT: As a result of the rapidly unfolding situation regarding the global spread of COVID-19, Virunga National…Posted by Virunga National Park on Wednesday, March 18, 2020
This recent attack has left staff “shaken and heartbroken.”
Fundraising efforts are now being matched by other organizations who have been moved to keep the park protected.
The park — and its wildlife — really does need help.
“Despite the risks, these brave men and women show up everyday to preserve one of the planet’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots for future generations,” the park said.
We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude for the recent outpouring of messages & support following the tragic loss of our 6 ranger colleagues. Knowing the unprecedented times we are all living, the only way forward is together & we thank you for being a part of our team.— Virunga NationalPark (@gorillacd) January 13, 2021
Main photo: Virunga National Park/Instagram