Gunfight in the Gorilla Park
Protecting endangered species is dangerous work
Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of three adjoining natural reserves — the others are in Uganda and Rwanda — that contain the only remaining habitat of the world’s roughly 800 mountain gorillas. Virunga’s Congolese rangers protect the park from poachers and rebels.
It’s dangerous work. On Aug. 7, park officials announced on Facebook that a ranger had died in the line of duty.
We deeply regret to announce the death of our ranger Easter Ishara Birindwa, killed during a Mai Mai attack on one of our positions in the northern sector of the park yesterday evening.
A force of Mai Mai militias estimated at between 20 and 30 armed men attacked the ranger position in the early evening, burning down the patrol post. A reinforcement of rangers arrived 4:00 A.M. this morning and after a sustained armed confrontation with the militias, were able to recover the position.
Ranger Ishara Birindwa was a young ranger of 21, who successfully graduated from the ranger training in Ishango in 2013. His service record was excellent during his tragically short career.
The Mai Mai are just one of eastern Congo’s rebel groups. A few years ago, the Mai Mai joined forces with impoverished local villagers near Virunga and machine-gunned hundreds of the hippos in Lake Edward, causing a collapse in the lake’s fish stocks. Hippo excrement is a vital food source in lake ecosystem.
But the rebels aren’t the greatest danger facing Virunga. British oil firm SOCO has been lobbying for permission to explore for minerals in the park — and has even reportedly bribed Congolese army officers in order to gain access.