GOMA. Kidnappings and murder have forced the famed Virunga wildlife park in the Democratic Republic of Congo to close for visitors until 2019, the authorities said Monday.
Africa's oldest national park, famed for its population of mountain gorillas, has been plagued by the wave of violence that has been wracking eastern DR Congo for years.
"It is clear that the Virunga region is deeply affected by insecurity and that this will be the case for a certain time," park director Emmanuel de Merode said in a statement.
"So that Virunga can be visited in safety, much more robust measures are needed than in the past," the Belgian added.
"That will require very significant investment and that makes it impossible to reopen to tourism this year."
The park closed provisionally on May 11 until June 4 after the shooting dead of a ranger and the kidnapping of two British tourists in an attack by a local militia.
Park rangers look for gorillas in the Virunga National Park. The famed conservation area has been closed until next year following a series of murders and kidnappings. Courtesy Photo
The Britons and their driver were freed two days after the attack.
Then on May 21 two soldiers and a civilian were murdered by armed men who attacked a convoy driving through the park.
On April 9, five rangers and a driver were killed.
In the last 20 years at least 176 rangers have been killed in Virunga. De Merode survived an attack in 2014.
"We have called on a respected international security service to carry out an audit of our security measures," the park statement said.
Numerous militia and armed gangs roam North Kivu province near the Rwanda and Uganda borders fighting for control of territorial and natural resources.
Established in 1925 close by Lake Kivu and the Nyiragongo volcano, Virunga is home to about a quarter of the world's population of critically endangered mountain gorillas, as well as to eastern lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, okapis, lions, elephants and hippos.