KINSHASA, Apr 19 – The Belgian director of a famed national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo who was shot this week by unknown attackers was evacuated to Nairobi on Friday, a local official said.
Emmanuel de Merode, head of the Virunga National Park in the DR Congo’s war-scarred North Kivu province, was shot in the abdomen and chest on Tuesday as he travelled alone by jeep from the regional capital Goma to a nearby conservation centre.
His condition was thought to be stable as he was flown out of Goma on Friday for the Kenyan capital.
“I believe he has been evacuated just to recuperate as his condition had stabilised in Goma,” the governor of North Kivu province, Julien Paluku, told AFP.
“He has also gone to reassure his wife, who lives in Nairobi.
“He really appreciated the care he received from Congolese doctors. He refused to be transferred after the attack, saying he had confidence in the Congolese doctors,” Paluku added
De Merode, 43, has been director of the park since 2008. He was attacked in a forest around 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of Goma.
The attack brought condemnation from across the country and abroad.
WWF head of conservation Lasse Gustavsson said de Merode was a “dedicated conservationist” who put his life on the line every day to protect the park and the people who depended on it for their livelihoods.
Created in 1925 during Belgian colonial rule, Virunga park is one of the oldest national parks in Africa, covering nearly 800,000 hectares along the frontier with Uganda and Rwanda.
It has gained worldwide renown for its endangered mountain gorillas and a small population of rare lowland gorillas.
The area has been targeted by oil exploration companies, and de Merode’s shooting came shortly after he had filed a report into the actions of small British oil firm, SOCO International, which has sought to prospect in the area.
The company condemned the “disturbing” attack and denied any involvement.
“Any suggestion linking SOCO to this crime is completely unfounded, defamatory and highly inappropriate,” it said Wednesday.
Virunga National Park was classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979. It was placed on the organisation’s “at risk” category in 1994, threatened by poaching, deforestation and numerous armed groups operating in the region.