Five park rangers and a driver working in Virunga National Park were killed this week in an attack by suspected members of an armed militia group. A sixth ranger was injured, but is expected to survive, The Guardian reported. The assault is deadliest attack on rangers in the history of the reserve, known as one of the most dangerous conservation sites in the world.
Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), an area that has been plagued by armed conflict and political violence since the mid-1990s. Congolese forces, anti-government rebels, and militia from Rwanda and Uganda clash within the park’s boundaries over control of minerals and oil. A thriving charcoal industry relies on illegally harvesting trees from the park. In addition, Virunga hosts one of the world’s largest populations of critically endangered mountain gorillas, as well as several other rare and valuable species, making it a hotspot for poaching.
More than 170 rangers, most of whom come from communities directly bordering the park, have lost their lives patrolling and protecting Virunga in the last 20 years. The park staff killed in this week’s attack ranged in age from 22 and 30 years old, Mongabay reported.
“We are profoundly saddened by the loss of our colleagues,” Emmanuel de Merode, the chief warden for the park, said in a statement. “Virunga has lost some extraordinarily brave rangers who were deeply committed to working in service of their communities. It is unacceptable that Virunga’s rangers continue to pay the highest price in defense of our common heritage.”
For more on efforts to curb Virunga National Park’s destructive charcoal industry, click here.