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Rebels agree to stop gorilla killings
January 29, 2007, 10:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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Rangers who fled their patrol posts in the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, when they became the target of rebel forces, will start returning to their posts.

For conservationists this is a considerable triumph, as the rangers will be able to resume what they were originally employed to do – look after the welfare of the endangered mountain gorillas in the park.

International outrage over the recent killing of two silverback gorillas in the park by the rebels played a major part in ensuring the return of the park’s rangers, and hopefully the future safety of the gorillas.

Robert Muir of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, who is based in the Congo, said an agreement had finally been reached with Laurent Nkunda’s rebels to allow the rangers safe passage back to the park.

In the ongoing war between rangers and rebel forces in the park, 97 rangers have been killed in the past 10 years. As a result 15 of them fled to Uganda in December. Later they returned home to live like refugees in Rumangabo, a village in their own country.

Now a UN peacekeeping force (Monuc) is due to escort them back to their posts on Tuesday.

Over the past week, there have been several attempts to negotiate with the rebel high command.

It began when villagers were advised of the killing of the two silverbacks.

Shortly after that Muir, the chief warden for the southern sector of the park, Paulin Ngobobo, six wardens and Monuc entered rebel terrain within the park to try to persuade the rebels to stop the killings and to bring back irrefutable proof of the slaughter.

They managed to bring out the head of one of the gorillas, along with some gruesome remains found floating in a cesspit, but were unable to make contact with the rebels, who made threatening overtures on finding them in their area.

The small party retreated, taking their gory proof with them, and released pictures worldwide. Amid the ensuing furore, Nkunda put out a press statement denying that his men had killed the animals.

Conservationists Muir and Ian Redmond, chief consultant for the UN Great Apes Survival Project, who for years worked with the world-renowned primatologist Dian Fossey, did not let it rest there. They continued to attempt to make contact with the rebels.

On Tuesday a meeting took place between officials from the Virunga Park and the rebels, with Monuc and the Congolese army acting as mediators and after three hours of talks, fighters loyal to Nkunda pledged to stop the killings. The wardens were allowed to return to the park in the area where the gorillas were originally killed.

“We weren’t expecting to succeed given the overwhelming odds against it,” said Ngobobo. “However, this is just another small step. We must keep up international pressure to ensure this doesn’t happen again next week, next month or next year.”

Famed Kenyan conservationist, Richard Leakey, said the rebel pledge had been a direct result of publicity generated about the killings through the Internet.

“This result could never have been achieved before and signals a whole new way for African rangers to help critically endangered species,” said Leakey. – Additional reporting by Sapa.

Myrtle Ryan



We must act now to save orangutan
January 24, 2007, 9:18 am
Filed under: Orangutan stories

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Erik Meijaard , Jakarta

They are “the people of the forest” and the face of Indonesian conservation. The orangutans of Borneo and Sumatra are uniquely beautiful, undeniably compelling, and incredibly endangered.

These precious creatures should be well protected as a cultural icon and as an endangered species. But not nearly enough is being done to save our orangutans. The time to act is now, or this precious animal will be lost forever.

Protective measures are long overdue. Orangutan conservation was only seriously undertaken in the 1970s, with the focus simply on habitats in Sumatra’s and Kalimantan’s national parks. It soon became clear that wasn’t enough.

Orangutans started to show up in captivity. They were subsequently confiscated, and because there were no proper facilities to house them in, the first rehabilitation centers were established to remove orangutans from illegal captivity and trade. Intended as a temporary solution, it was expected that after a few years, there would be no need for the centers. But reality proved otherwise. In the last 25 years, the few hundred orangutans in captivity are now numbering in the thousands, driven to these centers as the world in which they lived began rapidly disappearing.

As the forests of Indonesia have vanished, so have their precious residents. The Indonesian media estimated that one thousand orangutans were killed last year because of fires and habitat loss. A more long-term look is even more disturbing: In the last 35 years, orangutan habitat in East Kalimantan alone has shrunk to 800,000 hectares from six million hectares and as many as fifty thousand orangutans are estimated to have been lost in that province alone. These numbers show that orangutan conservation has largely failed in Indonesia, and the orangutan is now one of the most threatened species.

What is the reason for such failure? Poor forest management and land use allocation, for starters, in addition to a lack of law enforcement, corrupt practices, and incompetent governance. This has happened both inside and outside the national parks and other protected areas. Clearly, the strategies that have been developed for orangutan conservation have not worked.

It is difficult to believe this could happen to a species that is strictly protected by Indonesian law. Part of the problem is that those laws are not applied consistently. And even though killing orangutans and other protected species is clearly prohibited by laws such as Law No. 5/1990, it appears that more protection is needed.

After checking many forestry laws, and talking to government officials, I have come to the conclusion that there is no law that clearly prohibits the destruction of orangutan habitat. That’s why agro-business can be established in orangutan habitats; as long as the company does not directly kill or harm the orangutan in the process, the clear cutting of those habitats appears legal.

So the question remains: How can we save the orangutan?

Two threats need to be eliminated: The destruction of orangutan habitat — the forests — and the killing of orangutans themselves.

We will need a cooperative effort. Gunung Leuser and Tanjung Puting are proof that not all national parks must lose their tall forests. Those with significant support from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) fare better than those without.

The successes in orangutan conservation also appear to be linked to effective partnerships between local stakeholders with real commitment to forest conservation were built. It doesn’t really seem to matter whether these stakeholders are from the local government, local communities, or the private sector. What matters is whether they care about conservation. And often, a focus on the forest and its economic and ecological value, rather than on orangutans, appears to be a key to success.

The solution to preventing the extinction of orangutans lies in combining all these approaches, with the focus on two important areas:

Firstly, we need new legislation that prohibits the destruction of the habitat of protected species. The use of such forests might be allowed, but the user has the responsibility to ensure that populations do not decline.

Secondly, forests need to be managed so that threats can be abated. Such effective forest management requires real commitment, an investment from a range of stakeholders, and effective control, either by government or an independent organization,

We need to increase collaboration to become a more effective force that ensures these changes will happen. The orangutan conservation community of today is fragmented with inter-personal and inter-organizational competition preventing it from becoming a strong force. If we can unite as a community, we will represent an enormous national and international force and millions of dollars of funding for orangutan conservation. We must put aside our differences and recognize how we can effectively work together.

If we speak with one strong, clear voice, we will influence government and enact sound policy, giving Indonesia’s orangutans a chance to survive. But if we don’t, our “people of the forest” will be forever silenced.

The writer works as senior forest ecologist at The Nature Conservancy. He can be contacted at emeijaard@tnc.org . The views expressed here are his own.



Congo rebels kill rare ape, raising survival fears
January 11, 2007, 2:42 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

KINSHASA, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Congolese rebels have shot and butchered a rare mountain gorilla, raising fears for a tiny population that has clung on through years of warfare in central Africa, conservationists said on Wednesday. Just 700 mountain gorillas survive, more than half of them in Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The east of the country bore the brunt of a 1998-2003 war and humanitarian disaster that has killed some 4 million people. “In a population this small, every individual counts — and the loss of a trusting young silverback is tragic on many levels,” Ian Redmond, chief consultant for the United Nations Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP), said in a statement. Adult male gorillas are known as silverbacks because of their grey colouring. The statement was issued by Nairobi-based conservation group Wildlife Direct which supports gorilla protection efforts in Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park and a United Nations World Heritage Site. Wildlife Direct accused fighters loyal to renegade Congolese general Laurent Nkunda of shooting the silverback last week, and said they ordered a local farmer to help butcher it. Primates and other mammals are prized in parts of Africa as “bush meat”. “The future survival of this species is now under threat, and I fear that this recent attack on the gorillas could signal a wave of such killings if immediate action is not taken to remove Nkunda’s and his troops from their habitat,” Robert Muir, of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, said in the statement. Wildlife Direct said the gorilla had been one of a group which were used to humans because of regular trips by tourists before the war broke out. Congo held landmark elections last year, but militia violence continues in eastern areas. Conservation efforts have helped the mountain gorilla population grow by 14 percent since the war began. Wildlife Direct said the gorilla was killed just 600 metres (yards) from one of several patrol posts which rangers abandoned in November due to attacks and looting by Nkunda’s fighters. Some 97 rangers have been killed since 1997 protecting Virunga from poachers, it said. The park spans Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and is home to 380 mountain gorillas. The other population, of 320, is in the nearby Bwindi National Park in Uganda.



Rwanda: ‘Gorillas Safe From Ebola’
January 7, 2007, 11:08 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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Mountain gorillas in Virunga Park do not face a threat from Ebola, a senior official with Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN), has said.Fidel Ruzigandekwe, the Executive Director of Rwanda Wildlife Authority, a department under ORTPN, said on Monday that the primates are not endangered as those in the Congo basin region.
He was reacting to a recent report published in a US science journal, which said that over 5,000 lowland gorillas in Central Africa had died from Ebola over the past five years.

“The disease was reported in lowland gorillas in the Congo basin but the gorillas in the region are not under threat,” Ruzigandekwe told The New Times on Monday. The mountain gorillas are shared between Rwanda, Uganda and the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The Congo basin which covers DRC, Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic is located about 2000 kilometres from the Virunga Mist, home to hundreds of the Mountain gorillas.

Ruzigandekwe said there are both regional and international efforts to prevent the deadly disease from spreading to the apes.
He said that one of the existing efforts was that of the Mountain Gorilla Health Contingence Plan (MGHCP), which is shared by the three countries, which checks for possible disease outbreaks in the Virunga Mist.
“We (ORTPN) have alerted our DRC and Uganda counterparts about Ebola in the Congo basin, and we are watching the situation closely together,” said Ruzigandekwe.
According to science journal published last week, two scientists Dr. Peter D. Walsh and Dr. Stuart Nichol said that from October 2002 to January 2003, about 130 out of the 143 gorillas they ‘studied simply disappeared.’

Also, they said that 91 of 95 gorillas reportedly died from October 2003 to January 2004 and estimated that by 2005 Ebola had killed over 3,500 gorillas in the region since it was first recorded in 1976.
‘A lot of animals are dying’, said Dr. Walsh, an ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Primatology in Germany, one of authors of the report. ‘All the major parks in the DRC have serious hunting and poaching problems.’

It’s a slippery slope. Ebola is pushing the gorillas onto it, and other factors are pushing them down it,’ the report quotes him as saying.

The New Times (Kigali)



Ebola virus decimates world’s gorillas
January 7, 2007, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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LOSSI SANCTUARY, Congo, Dec. 11 (UPI) — Newly published data links the deaths of more than 5,000 gorillas and chimpanzees in Africa to outbreaks of the deadly Ebola virus.

The research led by Magdalena Bermejo of the University of Barcelona was conducted in a closely monitored Congo gorilla population where genetic tests confirmed Ebola as the cause of death.

Bermejo and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Sweden’s Uppsala University, first showed 93 percent of individually known gorillas at the Lossi Sanctuary in northwest Congo near the Gabon border were killed by Ebola in 2002 and 2003 outbreaks. They then used transect surveys to show 95 percent gorilla mortality rates extended over a much larger area of several thousand square miles.

Chimpanzees were also affected, with a mortality rate of 77 percent.

Lossi was only one of several large gorilla and chimpanzee die-offs caused by Ebola during the last 12 years, and scientists said accurate figures on exactly how many apes have died are not yet available, but might affect as much as 25 percent of the Earth’s gorilla population.

The study appears in the Dec. 8 issue of the journal Science.




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