Births and deaths are part of the regular cycle of life, but when life is taken from someone before their time, it is a tragic loss. The International Gorilla Programme mourns the continued loss of rangers in Virunga National Park, most recently, in the mountain gorilla territory of Mikeno Sector.
Virunga National Park reported the July 29th incident on their blog on gorilla.cd on July 30th:
“At 1:00 PM yesterday, one of our vehicles transporting people from Rumangabo to Goma fell upon a public transport minibus being looted by suspected FDLR militias. There were an estimated 30 men, many of whom were positioned on either side of the road with heavy machine guns. They immediately opened fire as the vehicle arrived and instantly killed two of our rangers, Michel Imanirafasha and Philippe Nzabonimpa. A third ranger was shot through the chest, but managed to escape into the forest, and was later picked up by another minibus. That driver received a shrapnel wound to the head, but was able to steer the vehicle on and take the wounded to the hospital, a 40-minute drive from the site of the ambush.”
Sadly, the loss of Michel Imanirafasha and Philippe Nzabonimpa bring the total number of rangers killed in service with Virunga National Park this year to eleven, each death bringing a substantial loss to the park, their communities, and most profoundly their families. Virunga National Park has set up a fund to support the families of the fallen rangers on their website at gorilla.cd.
“It is sad news for mountain gorilla conservation when the very people in charge of their protection are unduly targeted and killed in the course of their duties,” stated IGCP Director Eugene Rutagarama. “IGCP is committed to supporting rangers in their very difficult and dangerous job by providing equipment and constructing patrol posts. If only we could also provide protection from incidents like these.”
The threats faced by park staff and conservationists from militias in the area has not stopped the conservation efforts both within the park and surrounding it. ICCN continues its operations to protect the park as well as continues efforts to develop tourism attractions, and is making extraordinary progress on both accounts. See www.visitvirunga.org for more on tourism in Virunga National Park.
IGCP also continues to operate in the Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park supporting projects that reduce human-wildlife conflict including support to the HuGo groups, maintenance and reinforcement of the buffalo wall, and work with beekeeping and other community associations. Soon we will begin work to on the construction of communal and household rainwater tanks in communities surrounding Mikeno Sector.
Photo: ICCN/Virunga National Park