After Bloody Months, Africa's Oldest National Park Is Closed

Virunga national park needs to implement 'much more robust' safety measures
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 5, 2018 12:02 PM CDT
Africa's Oldest National Park Closed After Deaths, Abduction
This is an undated handout photo issued by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of Bethan Davies and Robert Jesty, the two Britons who were kidnapped during a visit to a national park in eastern Congo.   (Foreign and Commonwealth Office via AP)

Park ranger may not be a deadly occupation in America; the same can't be said for the Democratic Republic of Congo. After the deaths of at least a dozen rangers in the country's Virunga national park over a span of just 10 months, the park will be closed to visitors for the remainder of the year, the Guardian reports. The news comes after the highly publicized May kidnapping of two British tourists who were ambushed while being driven to their accommodations in the nearly 3,000-square-mile park, which is famously home to more than half of the planet's mountain gorillas; the female ranger accompanying them was shot dead. Rachel Makissa Baraka, 25, is believed to be the first female ranger killed in the national park, which, having been established in 1925, is the continent's oldest.

That incident spurred the park's closure until Monday, at which time the park's director announced the "profoundly difficult" decision not to reopen until 2019 so as to have time to put in place "much more robust measures" regarding safety. "This will require a very significant investment," Emmanuel Merode wrote in a letter, per Reuters. Virunga's history is a bloody one—some 180 rangers have lost their lives over the past two decades—and the Guardian details the current threats it faces, among them the Mai Mai militia and other armed groups, poaching, smuggling, and illegal charcoal production. (A beach Leonardo DiCaprio made famous that tourists flocked to has also been closed.)

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