Thursday, July 26, 2007

4 Mountain Gorillas Shot Dead In Congo National Park

safari and ndezeFour rare mountain gorillas have been killed and an infant is likely to die after gunmen sneaked up on them and opened fire in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Safari was killed in the shooting, and her daughter Ndeze is thought unlikely to live

One of the gorillas slain on Sunday night was pregnant, and another was a female named Safari, who had received widespread international attention when she gave birth in February.

Her five-month-old, Ndeze, was still breast feeding and probably won't live.

"The baby was picked up by an elder brother, it's with the elder brother and will almost certainly die because of dehydration because the gorilla that rescued her can't feed her," Emmanuel de Merode, director of the Nairobi-based conservation group WildlifeDirect, said in a phone call from the park.

Mr de Merode said two others from the group of 12 gorillas were missing. The leader of the group, a silverback named Rugendo, was one of the dead.

The attacks will be devastating for the gorilla population in Virunga, estimated at 100 animals - of a world population of about 700.

At least three other gorillas have been killed in Virunga so far this year.

The 3,000-square mile park is home to several armed militia groups, and more than 100 rangers have been killed in recent years trying to protect the wildlife.

Mr de Merode said the four gorillas were probably killed by traders who cut down trees in Virunga to be sold as charcoal in Rwanda and the nearby city of Goma, which has 500,000 people.

Park rangers have campaigned hard to keep charcoal traders out.

"Virunga has been under enormous pressure from the exploitation of timber for the charcoal trade," said Mr de Merode.

"There's a very real possibility that this is an act of sabotage against the national park because it represents an opposition to the charcoal trade."

Story here.

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