Rebels Pose Threat to Gorillas in Congo

Rebels Pose Threat to Gorillas in Congo

Early last week rebels entered Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, killing one wildlife officer and wounding up to four other individuals. Now, the rebels threaten a population of rare gorillas which live in the park.

The militia group, said to be part of the Mai Mai rebel movement, has threatened to kill the gorillas if there were any reprisal attacks by the park rangers or the government. The attackers are alleged to be involved in the slaughter of thousands of hippos for illegal bushmeat, says several conservation groups.

Sources with the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) have confirmed reports that rebels attacked the Burusi Post in Virunga National Park early on May 21, killing one person, and wounding two park rangers and a student intern. Additional reports count another person wounded and one kidnapping victim.

The Burusi Post is located near Mount Tshiaberimu, in the northern region of the park. The park rangers here protect a small population of 21 gorillas, which are a unique and rare sub-species (Gorilla beringei graueri). Some media accounts are mistakenly identifying these gorillas as mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), a different sub-species which also occupies Virunga National Park, but further south in the Mikeno sector.

"This does not mean that the mountain gorilla habitat is out of militia threat," says Eugene Rutagarama, IGCP's Director. Early this year, insurgent forces invaded the south sector of Virunga National Park and killed two lone silverback mountain gorilla and destroyed park infrastructure. "The situation in the area remains extremely tense and unstable, and IGCP is working tirelessly to ensure the fragile mountain gorilla population remains safe. We offer our sincere condolences to the rangers involved in last week's conflict."

The International Gorilla Conservation Program is a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna and Flora International and World Wide Fund for Nature.

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