Twitter | @MunguikoShamavu

Anti-Poaching Ranger In Viral Gorilla Pic Pays Tribute To 13 Slain Colleagues

One of the world's great natural treasures, Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is in mourning after the loss of 13 park rangers in an ambush believed to have been perpetrated by a Rwandan rebel faction, the BBC reported.

While the park's status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a critically endangered gorilla population makes it a popular tourist draw, it's also no stranger to violence, but this most recent incident was the deadliest in some time.

The rangers at Virunga perform a host of dangerous duties, including preventing poaching and protecting guests.

According to The Guardian, the rangers were guarding a convoy of civilians when they came under fire from suspected rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda group, about 60 in number. The attack claimed the lives of 13 rangers and four civilians, with many others seriously injured.

"Virunga Park Rangers were not the target of the assault, but lost their lives responding to the attack in defence of the local population," the park said in a statement.

Armed incursions into the park are sadly not uncommon.

Twitter | @gorillacd

In 2018, 25-year-old ranger Rachel Masika Baraka was killed while trying to prevent the kidnapping of two British tourists and their driver. She was the eighth ranger killed that year, according to the BBC, and the park closed it gates to tourists for eight months.

In 2019, the park nabbed some much more positive headlines thanks to ranger Mathieu Shamavu, however.

Shamavu's selfie, taken with two of the park's gorillas and another of the rangers and shared on his Twitter account, charmed the world and became the subject of countless memes online.

Just shy of a year after his viral fame, Shamavu once again took to Twitter to pay tribute to his fallen colleagues.

Translated from French, his tweet, in which he's pictured alongside two of his colleagues and a pair of gorillas, reads:

"We are united, and we will always be strong even during the moment. We hope for tomorrow."

All the rangers have since been laid to rest in an emotional ceremony.

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The Rwandan rebel group, meanwhile, has denied any involvement in the ambush of the rangers and the civilian convoy.

Virunga National Park has been closed since March 23 to protect the gorillas from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

h/t: BBC, The Guardian