The Virunga park, the oldest national park in Africa, will undoubtedly close until the end of this year because of the growing insecurity in eastern Congo. The park director, the Belgian Emmanuel de Merode, writes this in a letter that circulates on social media.
A park ranger arrived on 11 May, and a month earlier five park rangers and a driver were killed. On May 11, three people, including two British tourists, were kidnapped and released two days later.
On 15 May, the park management decided to halt the tourist activities for twenty days as a result of this deadly violence. In the letter, the Merode now writes that the park will undoubtedly remain closed to the public until the end of this year.
‘It is obvious that the Virunga region is particularly unsafe, and that this will remain so for some time’, according to de Merode. Four years ago, the park director himself was ambushed and under fire. He was seriously injured.
‘To be able to visit Virunga safely, much more robust measures are needed than in the past’, writes the park director. ‘That will require a huge investment, and it will also make it impossible for us to open the park again this year.’
The Belgian writes to be convinced that this is the only responsible decision he could take under the current circumstances.
In the meantime, the investigation into the 11 May incident continues. Additional safety measures are also taken.
On Thursday, the park reported that more than a thousand mountain gorillas, more than a third of the world population, stay in Virunga. Virunga is on the Unesco World Heritage List. The park, almost 8,000 km² in size, was established in 1925.