Everyone at Fauna & Flora International (FFI) was devastated to hear the tragic news that six rangers in Virunga National Park – one of the last refuges of the endangered mountain gorilla – have been ambushed and killed by armed assailants, the second such deadly attack in the park within the past 12 months.
The region where mountain gorillas live has been plagued by instability for many decades, and few would deny that this beleaguered World Heritage site in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has suffered disproportionately. Since its inception, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) and the park authorities in the three range countries – DRC, Rwanda and Uganda – have been forced to operate against a backdrop of violent conflict, human tragedy and economic hardship.
Even in that context, the frequency and severity of recent incidents has reached unprecedented levels and left everyone involved shell-shocked. It is less than a year since a brutal attack by armed militia left 17 people dead in Virunga, including 13 park staff.
This latest news is a hammer blow for Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), the park authorities whose rangers patrol and monitor the Virunga Massif on the DRC side of the shared border with Rwanda and Uganda.
FFI’s Director of Operations for Africa, Alison Mollon, who was based in Virunga from 2011-2014 and has seen the devastating effects of the conflict first hand, said: “The rangers of Virunga National Park are the bravest of men and women; the conservation world is privileged to have them on our side because they knowingly put their lives on the line every day when they go to work. How fortunate we are that we don’t have to make that daily decision.”
As one of IGCP’s coalition partners, FFI has supported this work for several decades, and we recently drew on our Partner Crisis Support Fund to relieve the mounting pressure on ICCN and the other frontline organisations whose conservation efforts are pivotal to the survival of mountain gorillas.
Achieved against a backdrop of civil war, unrest and social deprivation, the recovery of these great apes is one of the conservation world’s greatest success stories. But this success has come at huge personal cost to the rangers whose bravery, selflessness and commitment has often been the only thing standing between the gorillas and extinction.
We look forward to the day when these sickening incidents are confined to the history books. In the meantime, our thoughts are with the friends and families of the six rangers who have lost their lives.