A park ranger at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo died Thursday after an attack at a ranger post, park officials said.
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Analysis – The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has decided to degazette parts of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites to allow for oil drilling. Environmentalists have reacted sharply to the decision to open up Virunga and Salonga national parks – a move that is likely to jeopardise a regional treaty on the protection of Africa’s most biodiverse wildlife habitat and the endangered mountain gorilla.
Democratic Republic of Congo’s government said on Friday that it has decided to open up parts of Virunga and Salonga National Parks, home to mountain gorillas, bonobos and other rare species, to oil drilling.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to half the world’s mountain gorillas
Kinshasa has defended its right to declassify sections of the parks over the protests of environmental activists. The two UNESCO World Heritage sites are home to countless rare plants and animals.
One of Africa’s most stunning parks – Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo – has suffered a major blow following the killing of a ranger, and the abduction of two British tourists, who were later released.
The attack has forced the park’s boss – Belgian prince Emmanuel de Merode – to announce a suspension of tourism.
This will be another setback to efforts to earn much-needed income to protect the World Heritage Site from the lawlessness that has gripped the region since the fall of long-serving ruler Mobutu Sese Seko more than two decades ago.
How dangerous is Virunga?
Boasting Africa’s most diverse wildlife, Virunga – which stretches across 7,800 sq km (3,000 sq miles) – is one of the most dangerous parks on the continent.
The extent of the threat is reflected by the fact that between 1,500 and 2,000 armed fighters – according to Mr De Merode – roam Virunga and its surrounding areas.
They belong to numerous different rebel groups, who battle for control of the region’s rich resources.
They fish illegally, slaughter its animals, fell its trees – and kill, rape and abduct locals and foreigners alike.
Read more from source: Gorillas, guns and guerrillas – a deadly mix in an African park
The Britons were visiting Virunga National Park when they were ambushed by men who killed the park ranger travelling with them.
Two Britons who were kidnapped and held hostage in the Democratic Republic of Congo have said they are “very relieved” to have been released.
Bethan Davies and Robert Jesty were among three people abducted by unidentified armed men while visiting Virunga National Park, a renowned gorilla sanctuary in the east of the country.
In a statement, the pair said: “We are very relieved that there has been a positive outcome to the kidnapping and are very grateful for the excellent support we have received. We do not plan to comment further.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was “delighted” to announce their release.
“I pay tribute to the DRC authorities and the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation for their tireless help during this terrible case,” he said.
A 25-year-old park ranger travelling with Ms Davies and Mr Jesty was killed and their driver was also taken captive, a park spokesman said.
Read more from source: Britons kidnapped in DR Congo gorilla sanctuary ‘relieved’ to be released
A search is continuing for two British tourists who were kidnapped in a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
DRC army spokesman Major Guillaume Kaiko Ndjike told Reuters that soldiers had joined rangers in the search operation at the Virunga National Park.
The park’s director said the tourists’ vehicle was ambushed by gunmen, who killed a ranger and seized the driver.
The Foreign Office said it was supporting the families.
It also said it was in close contact with the DRC authorities.
Local media reports say the ranger shot dead was a female guard, while the UK citizens – who have not been named – were taken along with their Congolese driver.
Park director Emmanuel de Merode told the AFP news agency: “I confirm that our vehicle was attacked. Three people were kidnapped, including two tourists.”
The incident took place just north of the city of Goma, North Kivu province.
The BBC’s Louise Dewast, reporting from the country’s capital Kinshasa, said the situation was “very serious”.
Read more from source: Search for kidnapped UK tourists in DR Congo