… and find dead gorilla
The following press release was sent out yesterday from WildlifeDirect:
Rangers in DR Congo discovered a dead female infant Mountain Gorilla on Tuesday during a sting operation against a suspected ring of gorilla traffickers near Virunga National Park in the east of the country. Two suspects have been detained by the authorities. It is thought that another gorilla is being held by the same group.
The suspects said the gorilla was taken from DR Congo’s Gorilla Sector, also known as the Mikeno Sector, and they were aiming to get $8,000 for the infant. The cause of death is unknown and the infant died about 1 week ago. The Rangers believe the infant could be one of the habituated gorillas of the park, that have not been tracked in over 3 weeks due to conflict between the army and rebels in the area.
Norbert Mushenzi, Director of the Southern Sector of Virunga National Park for the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) said, “We are trying to keep our spirits up, but we are very concerned for the welfare of our Mountain Gorillas. We need to be allowed to do our job and protect these animals.”
The Mountain Gorillas of DR Congo remain under severe threat. While fighting has calmed in recent days, the situation between the DR Congo army and rebels loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda has reached a stalemate. Rangers have been unable to patrol the sector and track the Mountain Gorillas in over 3 weeks due threats posed by the armed groups.
Dr Emmanuel de Merode, Director of WildlifeDirect said “The upsurge of armed conflict in Eastern DR Congo is very intense around the Gorilla Sector of Virunga National Park. The threats to the Mountain Gorillas have never been greater, including the destruction of their habitat and armed conflict that occurs in their area. Gorilla trafficking further threatens this badly battered population.”
In a bizarre twist, forces loyal to Nkunda did allow a handful of Rangers to enter the park and track 2 gorilla families and a solitary Silverback. This accounts for 18 of DR Congo’s 72 habituated Mountain Gorillas. A complete census of habituated Mountain Gorillas is available on www.wildlifedirect.org/gorillaprotection
The Mountain Gorilla sector, also known as the Mikeno Sector, was attacked in January 2007, when two Silverbacks were also killed. Another gorilla was executed in June and in July 5 were massacred causing an international outcry. Rangers have been struggling to protect the Mountain Gorillas amid the threat of poachers and armed militia groups.
ICCN and conservation NGOs including WildlifeDirect, Frankfurt Zoological Society, ZSL, DFGF(I) and IGCP are currently funding a $100,000 3-month crisis management program. The program aims to increase the number of rangers patrolling the sector and the frequency of these patrols, but it is currently on hold since rebels took over the sector over 3 weeks ago. WWF has also pledged $20,000 to this program.
“ICCN need support to get into the Mikeno Sector and evaluate the status of this critically endangered species. Rangers are seen as a target by all armed groups, so it is too risky for them to do it alone. We hope this will soon be on the agenda of the United Nations peace-keeping mission here in DR Congo,” said Robert Muir of the Frankfurt Zoological Society.
Some 1,100 Wildlife Rangers protect the National Parks of Eastern Congo, a region affected by a 10-year civil war. These parks are home to mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, forest elephants and rhinos. The Rangers have remained active in protecting these parks, four of which have been classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Wildlifedirect.org was set up to support conservationists in Africa working on the ground in isolated and often dangerous conditions, notably the Rangers of DR Congo. The website hosts a number of blogs, allowing for direct support of and participation in conservation programs. WildlifeDirect is funded by the European Union and private donors; 100% of donations go to the cause that is supported by the donors.
Mountain Gorillas are critically endangered, with only 700 remaining in the world, about 380 in the Virunga Volcanoes Conservation Area (shared by DRC, Rwanda and Uganda) and 320 in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda. Despite the conflict in the region, their decline had been reversed up until January 2007 thanks to international support and courageous conservationists coupled with the popularity of gorilla-watching tourism.
2007 Mountain Gorilla Killings in Virunga National Park, DRC
January – 2 Silverbacks killed
January – 1 adult female missing since this time
June – Kabirizi Family attack: 1 female killed, 1 female missing since this time. 1 orphan in Goma of deceased female
July – Rugendo Family: Silverback killed, 4 females killed (including an adult female whose remains were found weeks after), 1 orphan in Goma (Ndeze), 1 infant still missing/presumed dead. Total toll of attack on Rugendo family: 6 dead (including infant presumed dead), 1 orphan in care. Family down from 12 members to 5, with only one female now in the group that is not of a reproductive age.
August – Silverback Lulengo missing since January found.
September – female infant found dead by suspected gorilla traffickers.
Total killed to date in 2007: 10
Total missing to date in 2007: 2
- Congo Rangers work throughout the country to protect the National Parks of Congo and their wildlife from poachers, rebel groups, illegal miners and land invasions. Over 150 Rangers have been killed in the last 10 years protecting the 5 parks of eastern DRC, and Rangers worked throughout the civil war without receiving a salary. Rangers continue to struggle to fund patrols and many are directly supported by donations received through Wildlifedirect.org
- Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park (established in 1925) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, is home to half the world’s mountain gorillas. Formerly known as Albert National Park, Virunga lies in eastern DR Congo and covers 7,800 square kilometers. The park is managed by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN).
For additional information please visit www.wildlifedirect.org/gorillaprotection. To donate to ZSL’s gorilla conservation project, which is funding extra patrols in the park please visit Https://www.zsl.org/field-conservation/