DR Congo: Why tourists go to Virunga National Park
One of Africa’s most stunning parks — Virunga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo — has suffered a major blow following the killing of a ranger, and the abduction of two British tourists, who were later released. The attack has forced the park’s boss — Belgian prince Emmanuel de Merode — to announce a suspension of tourism.
The extent of the threat is reflected by the fact that between 1,500 and 2,000 armed fighters — according to Mr de Merode — roam Virunga and its surrounding areas. They belong to numerous different rebel groups, who battle for control of the region’s rich resources. They fish illegally, slaughter its animals, fell its trees — and kill, rape and abduct locals and foreigners alike.
“Over the 25 years that followed, the park staff endured an almost uninterrupted series of trials that included a refugee crisis from the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, which contributed to the severe destruction of park forests, and the proliferation of armed militias throughout the park… By the end of 2008 it seemed as if Virunga was finished,” it adds.
“We will keep tourism suspended until we can assure the security of visitors. That will be a long process, and it will hit the park hard, very hard, financially, but there is no way around it,” Mr De Merode told the BBC.
“Anything to do with Congo is edgy; it’s part of its allure,” wrote Jessamy Calkin in the Telegraph newspaper last year. “That isn’t to say it’s without royal approval — Virunga enjoys a healthy relationship with the Royal Foundation, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry’s charitable trust, and Virunga’s director, Emmanuel de Merode was a keynote speaker at the Duke of Cambridge’s United for Wildlife launch, in 2014,” she added.
“Climbing the volcano was amazing — it was a long trek but it was worth it for the incredible views at the top,” one visitor wrote on a travel site, adding: “However, for me the highlight was definitely gorilla trekking. The journey to get there was challenging as there was a lot of scrambling through the jungle, but it was a lot of a fun. As we were in a group of six, the experience was really intimate and we were able to get really close to the gorillas.”
“In the end, we will be judged [harshly] if we just stand by as the park vanishes. Our wish is that the park lives forever,” one of them said in a video about the world-famous park.