WWF is saddened by the death of Magayane Bazirushaka, a Virunga National Park ranger in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who was killed when a foot patrol was ambushed on Friday, April 8. The 15-member patrol was on the lookout for illegal charcoal production in the national park, famed as one of the last refuges of the critically endangered mountain gorilla.
A group of uniformed FDLR Rwandan militia, an illegal movement believed to include perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, opened fire on the rangers and Magayane took a bullet in the pelvis. The militia fled when the rangers returned fire. Magayane was carried back to the closest village where park trucks waited, but he died shortly after. His funeral took place on Saturday in his home village of Jomba.
Tourist treks to the volcano have been closed for a week while major patrol operations attempt to clear the area of the FDLR threat. Park rangers and regular army units have been working together to secure the area within the national park known to be heavily frequented by the militia and had destroyed two FDLR camps that were also centers for the illegal and destructive charcoal trade.
Some 400 park rangers protect Virunga National Park in eastern DRC, a region affected by a 12-year civil war and political instability. The park is home to mountain gorillas, lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, forest elephants and rhinos, among other wildlife. The rangers have remained active in protecting these parks, four of which have been classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Poaching, wildlife trafficking and habitat destruction remain the key threats to the survival of the wildlife in the park.
In January, three other park rangers and five Democratic Republic of Congo soldiers were killed in another ambush attributed to FDLR. More than 140 rangers have died in the line of duty since 1996 protecting Virunga National Park. A fund has been set up to help support the widows and children of rangers killed protecting the park. The Virunga Widows’ Fund can be found at www.gorilla.cd.
WWF is a long term supporter of the management of the park through the Congolese Wildlife Authority (Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, ICCN).
“WWF expresses sincere condolences to the family of Magayane Bazirushaka and to our partner organization, the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature,” said Matthew Lewis, WWF’s African species expert. “The Virunga park rangers put their lives on the line everyday and the world owes them a debt of gratitude for their courage and dedication in tackling poachers and armed militia to protect an irreplaceable part of our shared natural heritage.”