New arrival for DR Congo gorillas
August 27, 2007, 8:11 pm
Filed under: Gorillas

By Mark Kinver

Conservationists in DR Congo are celebrating the birth of a baby mountain gorilla in a group of great apes in the Virunga National Park.

The new arrival was discovered on Tuesday by rangers during a routine check of the group, known to researchers as the Munyaga family.

Wildlife groups described the birth as “a key step toward the survival of this critically endangered species”.

Since January, nine gorillas in the region have been killed by gunmen.

The worst attack happened in late July, which resulted in four apes being shot dead inside the national park, located in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Conservationists described the killings as “executions” because the bodies were left at the scene, whereas poachers would have sold the carcasses as either food or trophies.

‘Significant birth’

Norbert Mushenzi, a local director for the Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), said the birth was very welcome news in what had been a grim period.

“Despite the slaughter of the gorillas in July that shocked the whole world, we can see that they are fighting to survive,” Mr Mushenzi said.

“ICCN is collaborating with all conservation NGOs to intensify the protection of the gorillas with additional guards and reinforced patrols.”

The rangers who made the discovery said the baby gorilla, a male, was born on Tuesday.

His mother, Balali, is the only female in the Munyaga family. The other members are made up of three silverbacks (dominant males) and a blackback.

“Every birth is important, but given the fact that we lost 1% of the world’s population in July alone this latest birth is even more significant,” said Robert Muir from the Frankfurt Zoological Society.

“We are doing everything we can to try and keep the gorillas safe and ensure there is not a repeat of last month’s slaughter.”

‘Crisis management’

The ICCN and conservation groups, including WildlifeDirect, Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), are funding a £50,000 ($100,000) three-month crisis management programme following the recent series of attacks.

The programme aims to increase the number of rangers patrolling the sector and the frequency of these patrols.

A census of the remaining mountain gorilla families is also being carried out.

Dr Richard Leakey, chairman of WildlifeDirect, said the news did not hide the fact that gorilla conservation in the region was still facing a crisis, possibly one of the worst for more than 35 years.

“We must not forget the Rangers who face constant threats from poachers and the illegal charcoal trade in Virunga to protect this endangered species for all of us.”

As well as the July killings, two silverback male gorillas were shot dead earlier this year, while a female was killed in May.

A census carried out in 2004 estimated that 380 mountain gorillas, more than half of the world’s population, lived in the national park and surrounding Virunga volcanoes region.