Kinshasa – Democratic Republic of Congo nature officials have prohibited scientists and tourists from entering Virunga National Park, home of the mountain gorilla, due to escalating unrest in the region, it said on Friday.
“We have decided to block access to tourists and scientists, as it is very dangerous to go there at the moment. Our own park rangers are leaving certain observation posts unmanned as a result of rebel attacks” because the park is within the combat zone, Congolese National Institute for Conservation and Nature (ICCN) Nord-Kivu Director Alexandre Wathaut said.
About 150 rangers have been killed while on duty in a decade, the latest in an ambush on October 27 while one of his colleagues in their patrol was badly wounded. That attack was blamed on Rwandan Hutu rebels.
Virunga National Park straddles the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and Uganda and is known for its mountain gorilla population and extinct volcanoes.
Since the end of August, the government Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC), who have massed about 20 000 men in Nord-Kivu, have battled rebels loyal to renegade Congolese Tutsi general Laurent Nkunda, whose men number between 3 000 and 4 000, according to sources.