Five wildlife rangers and a driver were killed in a militant attack on the Congo’sVirunga National Parkthis week as they guarded the region’s critically endangered mountain gorillas.
The park employees, aged 22 to 30, were ambushed and killed in what wildlife officials said was the deadliest such attack in recent history. Another ranger was injured. At least 170 rangers have been killed in the past two decades.
We thank you all for your kind messages of support. This tragedy is a devastating reminder of the bravery of the rangers. Angèle will run the@LondonMarathonwith her colleagues top of mind. Any donation you can give would be hugely appreciated:https://t.co/xnYJHj3jpfpic.twitter.com/nnuFNFyatI— Virunga NationalPark (@gorillacd) April 11, 2018
“We are profoundly saddened by the loss of our colleagues yesterday,” Emmanuel de Merode, Virunga’s chief warden, said in a statement. “Virunga has lost some extraordinarily brave rangers who were deeply committed to working in service of their communities. It is unacceptable that Virunga’s rangers continue to pay the highest price in defense of our common heritage and we are devastated that their lives have been cut short in this way.”
Officials blamed a militant group known as the Mai Mai.
Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park, is home to about half of the world’scritically endangered mountain gorillas. Park rangers are tasked with defending the great apes and hundreds of other species from habitat destruction and bushmeat poachers, often working forabout $250 a monthand with limited supplies.
#VirungaThe mountain#gorillapopulation now stands at more than 1,000, while the numbers of other animals, such as forest#elephants, is also rising, and#touristsare returning in significant numbers. Photograph: James Oatway@Guardianhttps://t.co/BDt73pYA70pic.twitter.com/uWeOPfDX8F— Save Virunga (@SaveVirunga) April 11, 2018
Rangers are routinely injured or killed during confrontations with armed locals attempting to loot trees for charcoal or hunt wildlife. De Merode himself wasshot by unknown attackersin a 2014 ambush, but survived.
“People who wear a uniformget injured all the time,” de Merode told The New York Times last year. “This is part of my job. I would regret it terribly if I gave up.”
The sprawling park is protected by more than 700 rangers, many recruited from local villages. Their struggle against poachers and commercial oil exploration was chronicled in theNetflix documentary, “Virunga,” in 2014.
De Merode has long touted plans to developseveral hydropower projectsin the park to bolster the local economy, helping to deter poor residents from illegal moneymaking schemes. Officials also have tried to increase park tourism during breaks in violence, and said visitors have been returning in “significant numbers.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.