On average one Virunga National Park ranger is killed every month trying to protect the endangered animals living in this part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Poaching in central Africa has turned into a war in which heavily armed militia target elephants, rhinos and gorillas. The years of conflict have also added to the dangers the staff face in their work as the Chief Warden of the Virunga National Park, Emmanuel de Merode, has been telling Newsday. (Interview on 12 April 2018 with BBC World Service)
It’s mainly to do with the situation, the geographical situation of Virunga National Park. It’s in a region that has suffered a succession of armed conflicts, and because of the nature of the work, rangers are expected, it’s their duty to continue the work whatever the conditions. And so they regularly find themselves in situations of violent conflict. And because of that, on average, we’ve tragically lost one of our staff per month in the past few years.
The way it works for a ranger is that he’s a serving law enforcement officer, and has responsibility for upholding the law in the area that is their jurisdiction. And that means a great many things and that put them in harm’s way during periods of armed conflict.
Essentially they have to ensure that the law is upheld and that means correcting all the wrongs that are happening, and protecting not just the wildlife but also the people that happen to be moving through the park. That’s where the danger lies, it levels many of our rangers up against the armed militias. That means that they are regularly attacked. In March we tragically lost two of our staff, the two rangers who were killed were captured, they were tortured and subsequently executed as a act that would constitute a war crime.
So, given these recent developments, we have to take a series of measures. The first is to do everything to secure our staff, and the second measure is that we have to confront this situation, we can’t unfortunately walk away from it.
That involves strengthening the ability of the rangers to uphold the law and to enable them to do their work safely and to address these issues that are leading to the presence of armed militias in the park.
More AMAZING pictures at: Brent Stirton