News - tours and travel
Virunga National Park (DR Congo) closed until 2019
Tue, 5 Jun 2018, 16:2516:25 PM | IS
Many travelers hiked to the summit of Nyiragongo volcano from where one can look down on the world’s largest active lava lake (image: Ingrid Smet)
Virunga National Park authorities announced that the park, recently closed after a serious security incident, will not re-open before 2019. VolcanoAdventures can therefore not offer any expeditions to Nyiragongo volcano and its lava lake until further notice.
A Virunga silver-back tries to relax whilst one of the young mountain gorillas is playing on his back (image: Ingrid Smet)
On Friday 11 May, local militia forcefully abducted 2 British tourists and their Congolese driver whilst killing the Virunga NP ranger who tried to protect them. Eventually the three were safely returned but the park closed down immediately for at least the next 3 weeks. On Saturday 2 June the chief warden of Virunga NP, Emanuel De Merode, released an official statement in which he announced that the park would not be re-opened before the end of the year.
“We are investigating the incident and assessing all the additional measures that need to be taken to provide the strongest possible assurance that every reasonable step has been taken to keep our guests safe. To this end, we have hired an internationally respected specialist security firm to audit our security measures so that we can make a balanced and rigorous assessment of visitor security. We are also hiring additional security staff, both locally and internationally, to strengthen our team and our security protocols.”
“However, it is abundantly clear that the Virunga region is deeply affected by insecurity and that this will remain the case for some time. For Virunga to be safely visited, much more robust measures are needed than in the past. This will require a very significant investment, and makes it impossible for us to re-open tourism this year.”
Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and covers about 7800 square kilometres of the volcanic chain in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between lake Kivu and lake Edward. Besides offering unique scenery it is also home to hundreds of endangered animal species, including the critically endangered mountain gorillas. Located in a very politically unstable and violence-struck region of central Africa, the park lost many rangers and wildlife conservation battles since its foundation in 1925. Its future was particularly uncertain after a civil war raged in the region from 1997 to 2003 and local poachers, illegal charcoal mafia and armed militia subsequently moved into the park.
But things turned around when ten years ago the ICCN (Institut Congolais pour le Conservation de la Nature) partnered up with the Virunga Foundation (VF) and jointly appointed the park director, Emmanuel De Merode. Thanks to both public and private funding they set out on an innovative turnaround strategy that combined nature conservation inside the park with economic development and stability for the people living around the park. Certain sectors of the park that were once again under control of the Virunga Alliance were finally reopened to visitors in November 2014. Since then increasingly larger numbers of more adventurous travellers visited the park to explore highlights such as Nyiragongo volcano with its lava lake and the mountain gorillas whose numbers have once again increased to 1000. So despite the loss of many rangers in those sectors of the park where poachers and militia are still active, the new park management and reopening of certain sectors for tourism was a success story until the abduction on 11 May.
This recent security incident followed the deaths of at least a dozen of a rangers in increasingly more violent conflicts with militia and poachers over the past 10 months. In this light the Virunga NP authorities take the responsible decision to close the park until after the national elections planned in December 2018 to seriously re-assess and improve visitors’ security.
Links / Sources:
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