Fatal Attack on Conservationists' Truck in Gorilla Park

Nick Wadhams in Nairobi, Kenya
for National Geographic News
July 11, 2008

In an African reserve infamous for gorilla murders, unknown gunners opened fire on a truck belonging to wildlife conservationists on Monday.

The attack killed two women and underscored the danger faced by humans in Virunga National Park in Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the world's most ecologically diverse—and politically contentious—nature reserves.

The gunners turned their weapons on the truck, owned by the conservation organization WWF, which confirms the account. Congolese park rangers had driven the truck toward the armed men after they had stopped a motorcycle in the Congo's North Kivu Province, home to half the world's 700 wild mountain gorillas.

An 18-year-old girl in the back of the truck died instantly. Another woman, identified as the wife of Virunga park ranger Kasereka Matembela, died of her wounds after fleeing.

Several other people in the truck, which was carrying 11 people, were also hurt, including WWF staff member Methode Uhoze. A bullet struck him in the toe.

"Caught Completely by Surprise"

"The rangers were caught completely by surprise and heavily outnumbered but were able to return fire before escaping," Virunga ranger Atamato Madrandele, who was not present at the attack, wrote in a blog published by the conservation group WildlifeDirect. (WildlifeDirect is funded in part by National Geographic Society, which owns National Geographic News.)

"The 18 year old victim died on the spot and Kasereka Matembela's wife ran away into the bush before dying of her injuries," Madrandele wrote.

"Others hid in the bush or under the truck itself, as the bandits stole everything in the truck, including phones, money, and GPS equipment. They even took the mattresses that the WWF staff had brought to sleep on. … "

Motives

WWF said it believed the attack was not politically motivated but that the gunmen were probably on the hunt for loot.

"We really believe that it was not our car that was really targeted as a conservation NGO working in the area," said Thierry Bodson, WWF's Virunga director of operations. "It was basically bandits who we hadn't encountered before who were looking for things."

Continued on Next Page >>


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