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Africa’s oldest national park hosting the endangered okapi and half the global population of mountain gorillas has reopened

Africa’s oldest national park hosting the endangered okapi and half the global population of mountain gorillas has reopened
  • The park, which is home to over half the global population of mountain gorillas, was closed after two Britons and their Congolese driver were kidnapped.
  • Virunga’s director Emmanuel Demerode said there is now enough time to be sure of improvement of security for visitors.
  • The endangered okapi, a zebra-like relative of the giraffe, that draws thousands of tourists every year inhabit the vast Virunga national park.

Virunga National Park located in the Democratic Republic of Congo has reopened after months of closure following a deadly ambush of a tourist group last year prompting security fears.

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The park, which is home to over half the global population of mountain gorillas, was closed after two Britons and their Congolese driver were kidnapped last May by gunmen in the east of the park. They were released three days later, but Rachel Masika Baraka aged 25, a ranger was shot and killed by gunmen in the park, joining a long list of rangers killed in their line of duty.

“We have taken enough time to be sure of improvement of security for visitors,” Virunga’s director Emmanuel Demerode told Reuters on Saturday.

The park reopened to tourists on Feb. 15, he said.

Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest national park and hosts the largest tropical rainforest reserve, covering 7,800 sq km (3,000 sq miles).

The endangered okapi, a zebra-like relative of the giraffe and national symbol of the Congo, also inhabit the vast Virunga national park and draws thousands of tourists every year who want a peek of the ‘forest giraffe’.

The park was established in 1925 by Belgium’s first king, Albert, and was first named Albert National Park, Parc National des Virunga (in French) before the named was changed to Virunga National Park.

Virunga National Park is perhaps the world’s last historical timepiece, offering humanity a rare chance to have a glance of the past and see just how the cradle of mankind used to be in her true unspoiled beauty, but conflicts fueled by park’s rich mineral wealth continue to limit its potential.

Between 1,500 and 2,000 armed militia belonging to numerous different rebel groups roam Virunga and its surrounding areas compared to just about 500 park rangers.

More than 175 rangers have been killed in the line of duty since 1925 effectively making Virunga National Park the world’s most dangerous park.

“We continue to work on putting the security of our personnel and our visitors at the core of our operations,” Demerode said.

Since tourism was relaunched in 2014 Virunga has received more than 17,000 visitors. Tourism contributes about $2 million towards Virunga’s annual budget of about $9 million.

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