Mai Mai is an umbrella term for local militias who have been active since Congo’s civil war in 1997. They are prolific recruiters of child soldiers and are notorious for committing human rights abuses. Mai Mai Simba describes itself as a “self-defence” rebel group that operates in the Okapi area. The Simba rebels led by an elephant poacher known as Morgan launched a violent attack on the Okapi Widlife Reserve headquarters in 2012, as a response to a crackdown on poaching and mining in the park. The group killed six people and took 28 women hostage.
News Article | July 17, 2017
Four Congolese park rangers and one porter have been killed in an ambush in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. A large group of journalists and park rangers were attacked on Friday 14 July in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve by an armed local rebel group. It is believed that the journalists – one from the US, two Dutch, and one Congolese – were covering a story about the work of the rangers in the forest. The attack is thought to have been by Mai Mai rebels from the area who have been carrying out illegal poaching and mining activities. They have previously come into conflict with rangers. Following the attack, three rangers and the US national were reported missing, while the rest of the group, including 11 rangers, escaped to another Okapi reserve base. The bodies of four Congolese rangers from the state park authority, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN), and one porter were found the following day, on the evening of Saturday 15 July. They were killed during an ambush while escorting the journalists back from a visit to the Bapela gold mining site, Unesco confirmed. “The rescue mission started in the night between Friday to Saturday as soon as we knew that something happened. We don’t know if there were casualties on the attacker’s side,” said Rosmarie Ruf, project manager at Okapi Conservation Project. The US journalist was found “safe and healthy”, Mambasa territory administrator Alfred Bongwalanga told the Associated Press. “We are aware of reports that the US citizen reported kidnapped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been found safe,” the State Department said in a statement. “The US Department of State has no higher priority than the protection of US citizens overseas. Due to privacy considerations, we have no further comment.” One of the journalists involved in the incident has been identified by the AFP as Lisa Dupuy. The Dutch foreign ministry confirmed that Dutch nationals were “involved in an incident in Congo and are now safe”. Ruf said the journalists and rangers would have been vulnerable to attacks in the forest, as they would have travelled by foot. “You have to walk hours and hours through the forest. You can’t see your enemy from far away until he’s there.” Mai Mai is an umbrella term for local militias who have been active since Congo’s civil war in 1997. They are prolific recruiters of child soldiers and are notorious for committing human rights abuses. Mai Mai Simba describes itself as a “self-defence” rebel group that operates in the Okapi area. The Simba rebels led by an elephant poacher known as Morgan launched a violent attack on the Okapi Widlife Reserve headquarters in 2012, as a response to a crackdown on poaching and mining in the park. The group killed six people and took 28 women hostage. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve, a Unesco world heritage site, occupies one fifth of the Ituri forest in north-east DRC. It is home to multiple endangered species, including elephants, chimpanzees and okapis. Approximately 5,000 of the last 30,000 okapis live in the reserve. But the area is also vulnerable to poachers and illegal miners who exploit its rich natural resources. The country has been plagued by unrest following civil wars, and the people who protect its biodiverse land are often in extreme danger. In April, two park rangers were killed by poachers in the Garamba national park. In May, two conservation workers, including a French national, were kidnapped by armed bandits in the Itombwe reserve. Abductions for ransom are common in DRC, but it is believed that the US journalist hid in the forest after the attack on Friday, and was not kidnapped by the group. Another Congolese ranger died at the hands of Mai Mai militia in a separate incident on 16 July in Virunga National Park. Dudunyabo Machongani Célestin, aged 30, leaves behind his wife and two young children, aged four and one. Célestin and fellow rangers were ambushed in the Mount Tshiaberimu area of Virunga, where the park’s only population of eastern lowland gorillas live. Virunga National Park said in a statement that Célestin, who joined the ranger force in 2011, was captured during the ambush and later killed by the militia group. Sean Willmore, founder of the Thin Green Line Foundation and president of the International Ranger Federation said: “Sadly incidents like this no longer surprise or shock me. I feel for the families and colleagues, I feel for them deeply. But I am not shocked as it happens in absolute regularity to rangers around the world. “Just as we are leading up to World Ranger Day, to honour those who have fallen in the past 12 months, the total number of rangers killed in the line of duty in the last year now stands at 108. We now have the task of supporting these five families left behind.”
News Article | August 16, 2017
Three rangers have been killed and another is missing after an attack by violent militia in Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, bringing the number of fatalities in the park this year to eight. The park rangers, Charles Paluku Syaira, Jonas Paluku Malyani and Pacifique Musubao Fikirini were murdered on the morning of Monday 14 August during a routine patrol around the park, which is home to critically endangered mountain gorilla. Park authorities said the attack was carried out by Mai Mai rebels, the notoriously violent militia that have been operating throughout DRC since the 1996 war. The militias are formed by local leaders, and are renowned recruiters of child soldiers. Mai Mai rebels are accused of being behind multiple deadly attacks against park rangers across the country. In December 2016, 26-year-old Patrick Muhayirwa, a ranger at Virunga park, was shot, and on 16 July this year, Dudunyabo Machongani Célestin, 30, was killed. Of the most recent attack, Virunga national park said in a statement: “Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with the families and widows of the rangers. “Ranger Charles leaves behind his wife and eight children; ranger Jonas leaves behind his wife and five children, and ranger Pacifique leaves behind a wife and four children.” They added that tourism activities in Virunga “remain unaffected”. The incident brings the total number of rangers killed in the field in 2017 to eight, according to Virunga park authorities. More than 160 rangers have died protecting the park in the last 20 years. “The political and security crisis DRC is experiencing has hit park rangers particularly hard as they are protecting an area that armed groups are using to regroup, hide and resupply,” said Melanie Gouby, a journalist whose investigation into a British oil company’s illegal activities in Virunga national park was part of the Oscar-nominated documentary Virunga. “Their work is more dangerous than ever.” Virunga national park is a Unesco world heritage site, the most biologically diverse protected area in Africa. It is home to three species of great apes, and other endangered species including okapi and elephants – though there are now fewer than 400 elephants in the park. Park rangers work to protect these animals from poachers, and the latest deaths continue a tragic pattern of brutal ambushes against rangers. Gouby added: “If the crisis deepens, the wildlife the rangers are protecting is at risk of being further depleted as people turn to poaching for meat and for trafficking, and the rangers who are on the frontline of that fight will also be increasingly at risk. “It is important they receive the support they need to be able to keep protecting Virunga in the face of growing pressure,” she said. To support rangers and their families, donations can be made to Virunga national park’s fallen rangers fund, or visit the Thin Green Line Foundation website.