Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Tourism Activities in Virunga National Park Suspended, Park Closed

All tourism activities in DR Congo’s Virunga National Park have been suspended. These include mountain Gorilla trekking, Nyiragongo & Nyamuragira volcanoes hiking or any foreign visit to the area. The closure was announced on Friday 13th May 2018 by the park’s chief warden Mr. Emmanuel de Merode – the Belgian prince.
According to the statement on the park’s website, tourism in Virunga national park will be suspended until 4th June 2018 but it is yet to be confirmed whether it will stay that way or if the suspension is indefinite. This has come as a result of a series of insecurity to both the park rangers and tourists in the recent months. The park can no longer guarantee the safety of its visitors.
The decision to close the park came up after the release of two British tourists who were kidnapped together with their driver and the death of a female ranger – 25 years old Rachel Masika Baraka who lost her life while trying to protect the two tourists - Bethan Davies and Robert Jesty from being kidnapped but sadly in vain! It is still unknown how the two were released and as to whether the kidnappers have been caught.
Working as a ranger in the Virunga national park is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world but these men and women have made a choice to die for a cause; Mr De Merode himself survived a deadly ambush in 2014 as he was shot 4 times in the stomach and legs.
Ms. Racheal Baraka was the eighth ranger that Virunga has lost in this year and the first female ranger to die in the line of duty!
Virunga national park is Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse natural park covering 3,000 square miles and its huge size makes it a big challenge to pacify considering that there is an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 armed fighters within the region that belong to different militia groups.
The closure will definitely be a big blow as tourism has been contributing $2M of the $9M required budget to maintain conservation efforts. The park has so far received 17.000 visitors since it was re-opened in 2014
Those with booked trips to Virunga are advised to get in touch with their booking agents and find alternative solutions or work out refunds as it cannot be confirmed when the park will be open again to welcome visitors!