The director of Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga Park – Africa’s oldest national park – survived an attack by unidentified gunmen while driving through the country’s volatile eastern borderlands on Tuesday, a colleague said.
Emmanuel de Merode, one of Africa’s leading conservationists, was shot four times on the road linking the park’s headquarters in Rumangabo to Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
“He was attacked around 4:30 pm (1530 GMT) and was evacuated by the Congolese army,” the colleague said on condition he not be named. “We were informed when he reached Heal Africa hospital (in Goma).”
The bullets missed vital organs and his life is not in danger, doctors at the Goma hospital where he was admitted told a Reuters witness. A team was standing by ready to airlift him to the Kenyan capital Nairobi for further treatment.
De Merode, a Belgian prince, was appointed director of the Virunga National Park – home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla – in 2008 and lives at the park headquarters.
He chose to remain there during fighting between the Congolese army and M23 rebel forces that raged through the park for 20 months until November.
Virunga National Park was established in 1925 as Africa’s first national park and has been a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site since 1979.
The densely forested hinterlands around Goma are home to a number of rebel groups that compete for control of land and Congo’s vast natural resource wealth.
Park rangers are regularly killed in clashes with militias in the park.
The motive behind the attack on de Merode was not immediately clear.