Irish citizen killed in Burkina Faso was in ‘awe’ of wildlife and natural world

Simon Coveney condemns ‘in the strongest possible terms’ actions of those responsible for the ambush

Rory Young, co-founder and president of anti-poaching organisation Chengeta. Photograph: Chengeta Wildlife

Rory Young, co-founder and president of anti-poaching organisation Chengeta. Photograph: Chengeta Wildlife


The Zambian-born Irish citizen who was killed by terrorists in Burkina Faso dedicated his life to wildlife protection in areas of conflict.

Conservationist Rory Young was co-founder and president of anti-poaching organisation Chengeta Wildlife. He was raised in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. When not working in conflict areas in Africa to prevent wildlife poaching, he lived with his Dutch wife and children in The Netherlands.

Mr Young’s Irish roots appear to be from grandparents on both his father and mother’s sides. In a blog post from 2017, he wrote that his parents were Rhodesisan (Zimbabwean), but his mother’s maternal family had been “loyalist Irish Catholics” and his father’s paternal family had been “rebel Irish Protestants”.

A statement from Chengeta Wildlife confirmed with “deepest sorrow and regret” the death of Mr Young. Mr Young was in a group attacked by terrorists while leading a wildlife protection patrol in Arly National Park, Burkina Faso, on Monday. He was killed along with two Spanish journalists who had been capturing his efforts to protect wildlife. No group has claimed responsibility yet.

The journalists were named as David Beriain (44) and Roberto Fraile (47). The Burkina Faso government said the bodies of the deceased have not yet been recovered.

In a statement issued on Wednesday morning, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, expressed his “sincere condolences to Rory Young’s family, and to the families of the two Spanish nationals who also lost their lives in this tragic incident.” He said the Department is in contact with the family of Mr Young.

Mr Coveney condemned “in the strongest possible terms” the actions of the people responsible for the ambush. He said his Department will continue to liaise with the authorities and partners on the ground.

The Burkina Faso Government on Tuesday said the group of foreigners were 15 kilometres from their base at the eastern town of Natiaboni when they were attacked. Yendifimba Jean-Claude Louari, the mayor of Fada N’gourma, said that a large operation was under way to locate them. It is understood that security and government officials said that two military lorries and 12 motorcycles and guns were also stolen during the attack on Monday.

Burkina Faso is facing a worsening security crisis as groups with links to al-Qaeda and Islamic State carry out attacks on the army and civilians, depsite help from the French and United Nations forces.

In an interview with This Wild Life Conservation Podcast, released last week, Mr Young spoke of conducting anti-poaching operations in conflict areas, such as Burkina Faso, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon.

In areas where there is no rule of law, poaching is often part of a trafficking eco-cycle that encompasses drugs, ivory, weapons, explosions, and women, he said.

“That mix of poverty, desperation, war, displacement, as well as greed, all mixed up creates an extremely challenging environment to work in and an extremely challenging problem to solve,” he said.

Wildlife was a “constant and a passion” for Mr Young growing up in areas of Africa that were rocked by disruption and conflict, he said in a video interview with the Wild Heart Wildlife Foundation. Mr Young said he wanted to spend his life observing wildlife and enjoying his passion, but “I found the world I was in awe of was being destroyed”.

In 2012 he was struck by lightning: “It sounds like something out of a bad movie, but I really was,” he said. Returning to “the bush” after a period of illness he was “horrified” to see conservation rangers were poorly-led with an absence of skills. He started bringing together experts from different fields, from people in analytics, investigations, and socio-cultural engagement to train local rangers. He founded Chengeta Wildlife in 2014, according to the organisation’s LinkedIn profile.

In Spain, colleagues have paid tribute to the two journalists, with Spanish foreign correspondent Alberto Rojas describing them as “the elite of this profession.” Reporters Without Borders said on Tuesday: “David Beriain and Robert Fraile have been murdered while working on one of their great reports on nature protection. Despite our sadness, we are proud of their commitment to the most difficult and forgotten realities.” –Additional reporting Guardian Service

Movistar, the production company the Spanish men worked for, said: “It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of David Beriain. “The Movistar + family, of which he was a part, sends all their affection to the loved ones and families of David, Roberto Fraile and Rory Young, who have lost their lives in Pama (Burkina Faso). Goodbye, companions.” –Additional reporting PA/Guardian Service