Rebels kill 12 rangers protecting gorillas who posed for viral selfie

Rebels kill 12 rangers protecting gorillas who posed for a selfie with human ‘parents’ who raise them at orphanage in DR Congo

  • Congo says Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda carried out attack
  • ‘Specialised unit’ stormed Virunga national park killing 12 rangers and five others
  • They were ambushed near the park’s HQ close to borders of Rwanda and Uganda
  • Just days before the attack ranger Mathieu Shamavu posed for a viral selfie with the world-famous gorillas mimicking his posture – it is not known if he is dead

Rwandan rebels have slaughtered 12 rangers protecting gorillas who went viral in a selfie with their human ‘parents’ just days before the attack at Virunga national park. 

Congolese Major General Maurice Aguru Mamba said the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) were behind the April 24 attack. 

Around 60 FDLR fighters from a ‘specialised unit’ ambushed a convoy of civilians that was being protected by 15 rangers. As well as the 12 rangers, another five were killed, with others gravely wounded. 

Just days before the attack, ranger Mathieu Shamavu had posed for a photo with two of the gorillas standing with remarkably upright postures. It is not clear whether Mr Shamavu was killed in the attack. 

Just days before the attack ranger Mathieu Shamavu had posed for a photo with two of the gorillas standing with remarkably upright postures. It is not clear whether Mr Shamavu was killed in the attack. 

A motive for the attack remains unclear. However, the park – which was the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary in 2014 – is surrounded by rival militias and 176 rangers have been killed in the last 20 years. 

Its rangers are armed and sniffer dogs are used to keep the gorillas and visitors to the national park safe. 

Major General Mamba said his CORPPN corps, assigned to protect the national parks, had ‘credible sources’ who had informed them the attack was carried out by the Hutu rebels.   

Rwandan President Paul Kagame last Monday denied persistent rumours that Rwandan soldiers had infiltrated eastern DRC to fight the FDLR, whose leaders were involved in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide that killed about 800,000 people – mainly Tutsis. 

The DRC army has been fighting an array of armed groups in the east of the vast central African country for nearly three decades.

Visits to Virunga have been suspended since March 19 in DR Congo’s bid to halt the new coronavirus pandemic.

The park previously banned visitors between May 2018 and the start of last year after two British tourists were kidnapped. They were later released unharmed. 

The rangers’ coffins are draped in the DR Congo during their funerals last month

Military personnel salute over the coffins of the Virunga national park rangers last month

Last month’s attack is the latest setback for Virunga which is facing severe economic challenges due to the coronavirus halting tourism which accounts for 40 percent of its revenues.  

‘Tourism, in spite of all the setbacks, has actually been a great success for Virunga,’ park director Emmanuel de Merode said at the beginning of April.

In March, an off-season month at Virunga, the park took in around $280,000 from tourism. That revenue stream is now gone.

Aircraft used for monitoring are grounded and the park is facing the increased burden of supporting not only its 1,500 staff and their families but also impoverished surrounding communities.

Price inflation linked to the pandemic is driving food costs up, and de Merode had said he worried this could fuel poaching, particularly if local armed groups see it as a lucrative business opportunity.

‘The level of poaching now is low. But that could quickly change for a lot of reasons,’ he said.

Congo park ranger who took viral selfie with two gorillas reveals how he captured their ‘human-like’ poses 


Mathieu Shamavu said he had been checking his phone at the Virunga Park in eastern Congo when he noticed the two female orphaned gorillas Ndakazi and Ndeze mimicking his movements.

He then took a picture with the animals who looked as if they were posing for the camera. Shamavu then posted the photo on social media, where it quickly went viral.

The two gorillas had been orphaned 12 years ago when their families had been killed by poachers.

The centre, according the its management, is the only place in the world which is dedicated to the care of orphaned mountain goriallas.

As the gorillas arrive in the sanctuary at a young age, they learn from their caretakers, said Shamavu.

The rangers are guardians of the park that was primarily gazetted to protect the endangered Mountain Gorillas. Pictured is Mr Sadiki in one of many selfies with his gorilla friends 

He said: ‘In terms of behavior, they like to mimic everything that is happening (around them), everything we do’.

He added that the caretakers at Senkwekwe Mountain Gorilla Orphanage Center try to give the animals as much access as possible to their natural environment, but they inevitably exhibit ‘almost the same behavior as humans.’

Senkwekwe is named after one of the wild silverback gorillas that was killed in Virunga in 2007.

The orphans need constant care, so the rangers live nearby and spend their days with them – feeding them, playing with them, keeping them company.

Head caretaker Andre Bauma said the caretakers and the Gorillas are family.

He said without their own relatives nearby, the gorillas treat the rangers as their own.

‘They know we are their mum. They are a member of the family. We are their friends,’ said Bauma.

Virunga is billed as Africa’s most biodiverse national park, spanning tropical forests, snow-peaked mountains and active volcanoes.

It’s also one of the last bastions of wild mountain gorilla populations. Parks in the mountains of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda have the last remaining mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.

But it’s in eastern Congo, an area that has suffered from years of armed conflict.

Fields of crops bordering Virunga National Park, in the northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo

Virunga’s management has had to take extraordinary measures to keep its visitors safe from the on-and-off fighting in the region – protecting them with a highly trained guard of elite rangers and sniffer dogs, and working closely with communities surrounding the park.

After a park ranger was killed by gunmen and three foreign tourists were briefly held captive, the park closed until it could secure the safety of visitors. It reopened in mid-February this year.

But all this costs money, and the state park says it wouldn’t be able to survive without private donations from visitors.

Virunga’s management hopes the viral gorilla selfie will help boost the park’s profile, and encourage more people to contribute to the vital work of conserving the mountain gorillas and their unique natural habitat. 

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