Ranger Bizimana Karabaranga Emery was killed on the morning of October 15. He succumbed to his injuries after being shot by unidentified armed men during an operation in Virunga National Park’s central sector.
A statement by the park said Emery was 31 years old and had joined the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) in 2017 when he was assigned to the park’s Mobile Support Unit. He leaves behind a wife and two children. “Virunga National Park is deeply indebted to Ranger Emery for his distinguished service and expresses its deepest condolences to Ranger Emery’s family and loved ones.”
Emery’s death followed the recovery by ICCN rangers of a large area of the park previously held by armed groups. The ICCN were supported by the Congolese National Army (FARDC) in the operation.
Opened in 1925, Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and one of its first protected areas. It covers and area of over 8 000 km² in the Kivu region in the east the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 1979, the National Park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its rich diversity of habitats and its protection of rare mountain gorillas.
Since the early 1990s, the park has been impacted by political turmoil following the Rwandan genocide, when thousands of refugees fled to the Kivu region, and military presence escalated. The First and Second Congo Wars further destabilised the region, anti-poaching operations were obstructed, and park personnel and wildlife were killed. As many as 40 000 people entered the park daily in search of firewood and food, huge areas have been deforested and many animals have been poached.
Park protection efforts were stepped up in the following years to deter armed rebel groups and poachers from operating inside the park. Park personnel are given paramilitary training and often work together with FARCDC.
In April 2020 12 park rangers were killed when armed men attacked a civilian convoy. In January 2021, six rangers were killed in an ambush in the national park.