Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 June 2019

Virunga National Park reopens months after attack on tourists

Two Britons were kidnapped and a ranger was killed in an ambush that forced Congolese park's closure

Virunga National Park rangers have faced poachers and militias. Ryan Carter / The National
Virunga National Park rangers have faced poachers and militias. Ryan Carter / The National

A national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo made famous by an Oscar-winning documentary has reopened eight months after the kidnap of a tourist group and the murder of a park ranger.

Virunga National Park, long plagued by poachers and oil companies, was closed in July 2017 when two British tourists were abducted and held for three days. A ranger who came to their defence was shot and killed by a Congolese militia.

Gunmen attacked a vehicle taking the tourists from the city of Goma to their accommodation in the national park.

But park officials insist new security measures mean the park is safe to visit. Virunga reopened to tourists on Friday.

“We have taken enough time to be sure of an improvement of security for visitors,” Virunga’s director, Emmanuel de Merode, told Reuters.

It is Africa’s oldest national park and largest tropical rainforest reserve, covering 7,800 square kilometres.

Warfare in eastern Congo between 1996 and 2003 killed millions of people, mainly through hunger and disease. Since tourism was relaunched in 2014, Virunga has received more than 17,000 visitors.

A 2014 documentary on Netflix that focused on the conservation work of Virunga’s park rangers brought it more ­attention and shed light on the plight of the park with the various special interests at play there.

But militia still control large areas of territory in and around Virunga, and more than 175 rangers have been killed protecting the park.

“We continue to work on putting the security of our personnel and our visitors at the core of our operations,” Mr de Merode said.

Updated: February 17, 2019 07:02 PM