A wildlife ranger tasked with protecting critically endangered gorillas was killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo this month, showing the dangers environmental defenders face in unstable regions, the Wildlife Conservation Society said.
Munganga Nzonga Jacques, 26, was the second ranger to be killed in the Kahuzi Biega National Park in six months. The park, home to the largest population of eastern lowland gorillas, also known as Grauer’s gorillas, was believed to be one of the safest areas in the world for the animals, according to a press release from the conservation group.
“We are very concerned about these increased threats to the rangers and their families and to the protection of these animals,” Andrew Plumptre, the group’s senior conservation scientist for Africa, said in a statement.
Details of Jacques’ death, which the Wildlife Conservation Society called murder, weren’t available. Another ranger, Oscar Byamungu Mianziro, was shot to death by rebel groups in the park in March.
Grauer’s gorillas were uplisted to critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature last month after two decades of what the group called “devastating population decline.” More than 70 percent of the species has vanished in that time and there are now just 3,800 left in the wild.
The great apes have been victims of human conflict, including the Rwandan genocide and a civil war in the Congo. Despite conservation protections, the animals are highly prized as bushmeat.
Wildlife officials have raced to save the animals, but the profession comes with heavy risks. Last year was the deadliest on record for environmental defenders, according to the watchdog group Global Witness, which found at least 185 people were killed in conservation work.