Published: Thu, June 07, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

DRC's Virunga park to remain closed after deadly attacks

DRC's Virunga park to remain closed after deadly attacks

An endangered silverback mountain gorilla from the Nyakamwe-Bihango family feeds within the forest in Virunga national park near Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, May 3, 2014.

On April 9, five rangers and a driver were killed. The Britons and driver were freed two days later.

But in a statement on Monday, Emmanuel de Merode, the Belgian aristocrat who is director of the park, said the decision had been taken reluctantly to close Virunga to tourists until the end of the year to allow a thorough review of security precautions and reinforcement of the 700 rangers now deployed to keep animals and visitors safe.

The park's communications unit told Reuters on Monday that tourist activities, initially suspended until June 4 to investigate the incident, would not resume until next year.

"The safety of our visitors will always be our highest priority". In a letter to tourist agents, the park's director Emmanuel de Merode said: "For Virunga to be safely visited, much more robust measures are needed than in the past".

Almost 200 rangers have died protecting the park in recent years.

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Virunga is located in the DRC's North Kivu province, and covers almost 8,000 square miles.

Virunga sits on the forest-cloaked volcanoes of central Africa and is home to over half the global population of mountain gorillas.

Virunga, which borders Rwanda to the south and Uganda to the east, faces various threats such as militias and wildlife poachers.

Warfare in eastern Congo between 1996 and 2003 killed millions of people, mainly through hunger and disease.

Political uncertainty has also soared since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down at the end of his second term in 2016, prompting fears the country could plunge back into civil war.

Park rangers look for gorillas in the Virunga National Park in this file photo from November 28, 2008.

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