The group WildlifeDirect says Mai Mai rebels have killed one wildlife officer - and critically injured three other people - in the eastern DRC. The group says the attacks on three patrol posts occurred early Sunday morning in the gorilla sector of Virunga National Park.
Samantha Newport is the communications director for WildlifeDirect. From Goma, in eastern DRC, she spoke with VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the rebels.
“There are a group of rebels in Congo call the Mai Mai…born as a nationalist movement…in opposition to the invasion from Rwanda, Uganda and other neighboring countries. But over the years these rebels have kind of deteriorated, for want of a better word, into individuals who just seek the destruction of the national park for their own financial gain,” she says.
Newport says the Mai Mai are blamed for the “massacre” of hippos last year in Lake Edward. She says 10 years ago, the hippo population there was 28,000. It’s now only 350.
The Sunday morning attacks occurred at three patrol posts at Burusi, Kalibina and Ngai.
“They’re groups of rebels who tend to proliferate through the park. And they try and forge relationships with communities that are living illegally in the park. And try and reinforce their illegal fishing, land invasions (and) poaching). And then they try and do their utmost to really quash the morale of the Congolese rangers, who are fighting very hard to protect the park,” says Newport.
Dr. Richard Leakey, chairman of WildlifeDirect, says, “Since the beginning of armed conflict in the DRC in eastern Congo over 150 rangers have been killed on active service.”
Newport says that Virunga is Africa’s oldest park and one of the most important on the continent.