A ranger and two Congolese soldiers protecting evacuating civilians in Virunga National Park have been gunned down in an ambush, park officials say. The men came under machine gun fire by a group of 100 unidentified militia members while attempting to secure an important transit route.
“We are deeply saddened by the deaths of these men who have served their community so honourably,” said Natasha Kofoworola Quist, WWF-Central Africa Regional Programme Office Representative. “We owe them and their families a debt of gratitude for their courage and sacrifice.”
Ranger Paris Paluku leaves behind a wife and two children. “Paris will be remembered as one of the most courageous men to have worked in the park,” Chief Warden Emmanuel de Merode said. “He was always at the head of any patrol, which put him at risk and ultimately cost him his life.”
Over 150 Virunga rangers have died in the line of duty since 1990.
Virunga National Park, located on Democratic Republic of the Congo’s border with Rwanda and Uganda, has been infiltrated by four distinct militia groups in recent weeks, according to de Merode. Local residents are said to be fleeing the area to avoid violence in “a large scale population displacement,” he said. The park is currently closed to tourists due the ongoing instability.
Earlier this week a militia group entered an area of park that is home to approximately 200 critically endangered mountain gorillas. Currently, the gorillas are not believed to be at risk.
“The situation remains volatile and must be contained so that insecurity does not spread into bordering communities or wildlife habitats,” said Raymond Lumbuenamo, Country Director of WWF-Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A patrol of Congolese and Rwandan rangers who were on a mission to remove poachers’ snares from critical mountain gorilla habitat were forced to flee into Rwanda at the outbreak of unrest. The men are now on their way to safety, according to WWF’s partner organization Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration.
At least 23 of Virunga National Park’s mountain gorillas have been killed since the outbreak of armed conflict in the region in 1990. In February, a mountain gorilla was found dead after being caught in an illegal snare intended for antelope.
There are only an estimated 786 mountain gorillas remaining across Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. WWF works in Virunga National Park to conserve forests, freshwater and species and to help communities better manage natural resources through our Virunga Environmental Programme and the International Gorilla Conservation Programme.