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Five rangers killed in Virunga’s deadliest week yet

Five rangers have been killed in an ambush in the Virunga National Park, but gorilla conservationists are more determined than ever

The Gorilla Organization’s staff in central Africa have stressed their determination to continue fighting to protect the critically-endangered great apes at the end of a week that has seen five rangers and another National Park employee killed in the line of duty.

In the deadliest attack in the history of the Virunga National Park, the rangers and their driver were ambushed in the central section of the vast natural reserve on Monday. All of the men were aged between 22 and 30, and most were married with children.

Sadly, this was by no means a unique incident. Just last August, another five rangers were killed by militia while they were guarding the northern boundary of the National Park, along the shoreline of Lake Edward. In all, some 175 rangers have been killed in the line of duty since the park was established back in 1925, with the number and frequency of attacks having risen markedly over recent years.

A group of Mai Mai militia are believed to be responsible for this latest attack. According to the Gorilla Organization’s staff on the ground in DR Congo, the militia have been making their base within the boundaries of the National Park. As well as providing them with shelter, the forests of this part of the Congo also sustain the rebels, with duiker and small buffalos hunted for food. Many such armed groups are active in the illegal charcoal industry and so regularly come into conflict with ranger patrols, often with deadly consequences.

“This is another dark week for gorilla conservation,” says Jillian Miller, Executive Director of the Gorilla Organization. “All around the world, wildlife defenders are making the ultimate sacrifice, nowhere more so than in eastern Africa as they work to keep mountain gorillas safe from harm. We’re determined to ensure that such sacrifices weren’t made in vain, so it’s imperative we keep on with our grassroots conservation and development projects in DR Congo, now more than ever.”

The DR Congo is home to around one quarter of all the mountain gorillas left in the world. The Gorilla Organization has been active in the country for more than 20 years. Over that period, the mountain gorilla population has risen steadily, though numbers remain critical. As well as the threat posed by militia and others involved in the illegal charcoal trade, poachers are also an ever-present threat in the forests of the Virunga National Park and their snares will sometimes trap gorillas.