Elephant Rangers Die in Congo Gun Battle
Poachers out-gun park protectors
Four wildlife rangers died and a helicopter suffered damage in a furious gun battle with elephant poachers in the Garamba national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. African Parks — the rangers’ manager — announced the deaths on Oct. 9.
The incident occurred when the men, all members of a 10-man Garamba patrol team, tracked the collar of a poached elephant to a poachers’ camp in the western Azande hunting area. An exchange of fire ensued during which the out-numbered Garamba unit was forced to disperse.
The African Parks helicopter that was part of the operation was immediately deployed to help rescue the rangers. Despite coming under fire it managed to retrieve six members of the patrol unit and drop them at a safe area where they re-grouped. Two men were flown back to the park headquarters at Nagero, one of whom had sustained injuries. The helicopter took multiple hits and was unable to fly back for the remaining men. The four rangers that were evacuated managed to walk to the closest road, a two-day walk from the site of the attack. Yesterday, the bodies of the remaining four men were discovered when a reinforced patrol team managed to access the site of the incident.
Despite extensive efforts by the Garamba park management team to elicit reinforcements from other international forces in the region in order to help retrieve the four missing men, and track and apprehend the poachers, very little support or assistance was forthcoming. Some logistical help was provided by MONUSCO [the U.N. peacekeeping force] to retrieve the bodies of the four men.
Garamba is on the front line of the wildlife war. In 2012, Sudanese militants, corrupt Ugandan soldiers and terrorists from the Lord’s Resistance Army killed 50 elephants over a period of five months. In mid-March of that year, poachers shot 22 elephants and chopped off their tusks and genitals to sell to trinket markets, mostly in Asia.
As the park administration explains:
In June , a 50-strong LRA group attacked our rangers and an hour-long battle ensued. Several LRA militants were injured whilst our scouts managed to retreat without injury. A substantial LRA camp was subsequently discovered in the park accommodating over 100 LRA men, women and children.
In the wake of this incident, the Congolese army sent 32 soldiers to reinforce patrols whilst the U.N.’s MONUSCO forces sent 15 soldiers to assist with security at Nagero. With this increased activity, the LRA camp was abandoned and the rebels retreated possibly to the adjoining Azande [hunting zone].
In the face of such increased threats, a security consultant was engaged in 2012 to conduct an advanced anti-poaching course for 80 Garamba rangers. On completing the course, 35 rangers were selected to form an elite Rapid Response Unit that will be deployed to combat poaching and security threats. …
Forty new rangers were recruited and trained during the last quarter of 2013 and deployed into the field, increasing the total ranger complement to 180 and expanding the scope of anti-poaching activities.
It’s dangerous work. In 2015 alone, eight rangers have died in Garamba. Just over a thousand elephants remain in the park.