Friday, September 07, 2007

DR Congo Rangers Search For Mountain Gorillas After Ceasefire

gorillaPark rangers on Friday searched for endangered mountain gorillas in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo after army and renegade troops agreed to halt hostilities, an official said.

Wildlife Direct spokeswoman Samantha Newport said the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) rangers were combing the Virunga National Park in search of 50 gorillas in four family groups.

Forces loyal to cashiered general Laurent Nkunda, a powerful local leader, on Monday attacked and stole equipment from Jomba and Bikenge patrol posts in Virunga National Park, forcing rangers to flee and exposing the gorillas to new dangers.

"Rangers near Bukima (another patrol post) are currently searching for the four mountain gorilla families," Newport told AFP.

She explained that they were particulary concerned for one family called Rugendo, because some were killed in July, slashing its number to five members.

"The fighting has added more pressure on this family that has already suffered a lot," Newport said.

Rangers are yet to return to Jomba and Bikenge patrol posts even though the rebels are reported to have moved eastwards towards Rwanda, the spokeswoman explained.

Nine mountain gorillas have been killed and two were still missing in Virunga national park since January. The deaths, some blamed on Nkunda's men, have outraged conservationists.

After two were slaughtered and eaten in January, the renegade troops pledged to halt the killings in a meeting with Virunga park officials mediated by the United Nations and Congolese army.

The mountain gorillas are a major tourist attraction in the Virunga park, but poaching remains endemic.

Only about 700 critically endangered mountain gorillas remain in the wild, all of them living in the mountains of Rwanda, Uganda and the eastern DRC.

Nkunda's rebels and other armed groups are accused of poaching there and encroaching on their habitats.

The UN mission in DR Congo on Thursday negotiated a ceasefire between the DRC army and renegade troops, according to the United Nations.

Story here.

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