Killings raise new fears for mountain gorillas

Posted: 18 January 2007

Two solitary silverback gorillas have been killed by Congo rebelsallied to a local warlord in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) over the last ten days, raising fresh fears for their future.

According to WWF, this is the latest in a series of poaching incidents, which also include hippos and buffaloes over the last few weeks duringviolent clashes between the DRC army (FARDC) and rebels in the area. One of the gorillas is believed to have been eaten, sparking fears for the tiny population that has clung on tenaciously throughout years ofbloody conflict.

Just 700 mountain gorillas survive in the wild, more than 150 of them in the Virunga National Park.

"With so few left in the world, every individual counts," said Marc Languy, of WWF's Eastern Africa Regional Programme. "The two recently killed silverbacks are from groups habituated for tourism and are easy targets. Because one of them has likely been killed for its meat, there is reason to believe that other gorillas may be in danger too."

Tourist attraction

WWF says the Mikeno section of the park and its gorillas are facing a range of recent potentially catastrophic threats.

"We have worrying evidence that cattle ranching and charcoal burning have resumed in the sector. This poses a direct threat to the habitat ofthis endangered species," added Languy.

Mountain gorillas are the premier tourist attraction in the DRC and represent an important income for the local economy, estimated at US$3 million annually in periods of peace.

WWF is calling upon the DRC government, MONUC - the UN mission in DRC - and the troops loyal to local warlord Laurent Kunda to take measures to ensure the long-term protection and conservation of the mountain gorilla and its habitat, not only for the survival of one of the world's rarest mammals but also for the well-being of local people and the national economy.

Saving the gorillas

Work by conservation groups has seen the mountain gorilla population growing from 624 in 1989 to approximately 700 today. Half of these gorillas are found in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the rest are in the Virunga Mountains, in habitat shared by Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Northern Rwanda, and the southern sector of Virunga National Park in DRC.

Virunga National Park, created in 1925 as Africa's first protected area, extends over an area of 8,000km2. It is located in theeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, bordering Rwanda's Volcano National Park to the south and Uganda's Mgahinga National Park.It is characterized by largely unspoiled tropical montane forests that are extremely rich in biological diversity.

A World Heritage Site, the park has suffered from encroachment for farming and settlement, as well as by warring rebel factions. This is leading to uncontrolled exploitation of the natural resource resource base.

The goal of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme(IGCP)- a partnership of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International and WWF - is to ensure the conservation of mountain gorillas and their forest habitat in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC).

Source: WWF

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