The Duke of Cambridge has condemned the “horrendous” attack that killed at least six park rangers in Africa’s oldest national park.
The rangers were killed as they guarded endangered species from an armed militia at Virunga National Park, a two million-acre reserve in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Duke, who as president of United for Wildlife has worked with park director Emmanuel de Merode, has warned about dangers to rangers from poachers.
He said on Monday night: “The horrendous attack on staff at the Virunga National Park is abhorrent and I condemn the actions of those responsible in the strongest terms.
“Rangers who work tirelessly to protect both the national park and the neighbouring communities should be honoured not attacked. They should never find themselves in a position where their lives are on the line.”
Dr Merode, who was shot and wounded in a road ambush in 2014, gave a powerful speech about his experience trying to defend gorillas and other wildlife from poaching at the United for Wildlife launch that year.
In 2015, he was honoured at the Duke’s Tusk Awards, where he was presented with the Tusk Award for Conservation in Africa, in recognition of his work at Virunga, which covers an area three times the size of Luxembourg.
The morning raid on Sunday, which included a lengthy fire fight and the killing of at least two rebels, brought the number of rangers killed over the past year to at least 18.
It came just days after the unexpected arrival of 580 elephants to the park from neighbouring Uganda, which was welcomed by Virunga officials as a "beacon of hope".
At least 200 rangers have been killed in the past decade.
Scores of rebel groups fight over the region of the park as they seek control of its mineral riches.