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.


Baby gorilla found alive after mass “execution” in Congo
July 27, 2007, 4:55 pm
Filed under: Gorillas

27.07.2007 / 13:05
NEW YORK. July 27. KAZINFORM. Three female mountain gorillas and a male silverback were found shot dead this week in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park.

But park rangers received some good news yesterday when the five-month-old baby of one of the dead females was found alive.

The baby gorilla, named Ndeze, was badly dehydrated but otherwise fine, the rangers reported.

She was taken to the nearby city of Goma, where the young ape will be looked after at the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.

Ndeze received widespread international attention in February when its mother, called Safari, gave birth—a rare occurrence among the troubled mountain gorillas.

Safari was among the three females found dead, but the baby’s older brother rescued her from the mother’s body after the attack, rangers say.

The siblings had been seen fleetingly in the dense forest, but rangers had expected that the baby would die from dehydration because the brother could not feed her.

When they found the pair, rangers say, Ndeze’s brother was reportedly calm as they took her away.

Paulin Ngobobo, the head ranger of the southern sector of Virunga National Park, called the baby’s rescue “an amazing piece of news.”

“We had given up hope on Ndeze,” he said.

Silverback Shot

The four adult gorillas were shot to death by unknown assailants on Sunday night.

The slaughter deeply shocked the rangers and conservationists who work to protect the endangered gorillas in a park that has been ravaged by civil strife for years.

“This is a disaster,” said Emmanuel de Merode, director of WildlifeDirect, a conservation group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya that supports the rangers working in Virunga.

Park staff and WildlifeDirect officials stationed in Virunga’s Bukima camp said they heard gunshots coming from inside the dense forest around 8 p.m. on Sunday.

When the rangers ventured into the forest on Monday morning, they found the three female gorillas.

“The gorillas were all quite close together. They had all been shot,” de Merode said.

In addition to Safari, another dead female was the mother of a two-year-old. The third gorilla killed was pregnant.

It was not until the following day that rangers found the silverback Senkekwe, the leader of the so-called Rugendo family of 12 individuals.

Another two gorillas from the family are reportedly missing, their fate unknown.

Rebel Militias

The Rugendo family is one of several groups of gorillas that live on the Congo side of the sprawling Virunga National Park, which straddles the border of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, and are visited from the Bukima camp, Kazinform quotes National Geographic News.

More than half of the gorillas’ population, estimated at about 700, is found in Virunga. The rest live in forests in Rwanda and Uganda.

The park lies in the heart of one of the most troubled regions of Africa.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is struggling to emerge from a civil war that has left an estimated four million people dead and dates back to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Today the area is home to a vast array of rebel militias, government soldiers, foreign troops, and villagers who are unsympathetic to the rangers protecting the park. Poaching remains a major problem.

Early this year two silverback gorillas were killed within the span of two days in the same area as where the latest killings occurred. The incident sparked an international outcry of support for the embattled gorillas.

Those apes appeared to have been butchered for their meat. One of them had had his dismembered body dumped in a latrine.

Act of Sabotage

Last month a female gorilla from the Kabirizi family was found shot to death in the park.

Another female from that family has been missing ever since and is presumed to have been killed too.

Sunday’s “execution-style” killing of the gorillas was identical to the killing last month, de Merode said.

He believes the slaughter was meant to send a chilling message to the rangers to get out of the park.

“We don’t think it was the villagers who did it,” he said. “This was deliberate … an act of sabotage.”

De Merode said there is evidence from the site of the killings linking the incident to the area’s lucrative charcoal trade.

Apparently the killers had tried to burn one of the bodies.

Virtually all the charcoal supplied to nearby Goma—worth an estimated U.S. $30 million a year—is made from wood harvested illegally inside Virunga National Park, he said.

“Last year Rwanda put a ban on any charcoal production within Rwanda,” de Merode said.

“This means that whole country’s charcoal is largely supplied from Congo,” he added. “This has put a lot of pressure on the park.”

Rare gorilla orphaned when mother shot dead
June 11, 2007, 8:03 pm
Filed under: Gorillas

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo – National Park rangers here are battling to save a 2-month-old gorilla found clinging to its dead mother, who was shot dead through the back of the head.

“She’s more or less OK. It is certainly a worrying situation, but not hopeless,” Paulin Ngobobo, senior warden in eastern Congo’s Virunga National Park, said from the city of Goma, where he is looking after the female infant.

He said the young mountain gorilla, born on April 15 and named Ndakasi by conservationists, had accepted baby formula from a feeding bottle. Mountain gorillas usually suckle for up to three years in the wild.

Only 700 mountain gorillas survive in the wild, more than half of them in Virunga.

At least two have been killed and eaten already this year by rebels living off the land as militia fighting drags on despite the official end of Congo’s five-year war in 2003, in which violence, hunger and disease killed around 4 million people.

It was unclear who had killed the adult female or why. She had been killed “execution-style” in the back of the head and left at the scene rather than taken away to be eaten, said Emmanuel de Merode of conservation group Wildlife Direct.

“It looks like she was lured with bananas because we found bananas at the site,” de Merode said from Goma.

“She was shot at very close range … a second gorilla was probably shot because there was a trail of blood nearby and three gunshots were heard. The other was probably wounded and got away,” he said.

“There are militia groups there. This particular incident was in the Mikeno sector, which is on the border of Rwanda. There was a lot of fighting in that area in January and those problems have not entirely been solved,” he said.

Last month Mai Mai rebels attacked patrol posts in Virunga park, killing one wildlife officer and critically injuring three others, and threatened to slaughter gorillas if park rangers retaliated, Wildlife Direct said at the time.

More than 150 rangers have been killed in the last decade while protecting Congo’s parks from poachers, rebel groups, illegal miners and land invasions, working through the war without pay, Wildlife Direct said.

Rare gorilla birth recorded in Congo
March 3, 2007, 12:54 pm
Filed under: Gorillas


By TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Writer Thu Mar 1, 7:35 PM ET

DAKAR, Senegal – Conservationists on Thursday announced the birth of a rare mountain gorilla in eastern Congo, where rebels have been accused of killing and eating the endangered animals.

The tiny gorilla, named Ndeze, was born Feb. 17 in Congo’s Virunga National Park, home to some of the world’s last 700 mountain gorillas, said Samantha Newport of the conservation support group WildlifeDirect

“It’s incredibly positive. These gorillas have managed to survive a 10-year civil war,” Newport told The Associated Press by telephone from the park. It is “an absolute miracle and testament to the work of the rangers, who worked throughout the war without receiving a salary, and to conservationists from all over the world.”

Last month, the London-based Africa Conservation Fund and local park officials accused rebels loyal to renegade army commander-turned-warlord Laurent Nkunda of slaughtering two of the animals for food. Nkunda commands thousands of fighters in the vast country’s lawless east who have clashed sporadically with government troops.

Local park ranger Paulin Ngobobo met with rebel officials in late January and brokered a verbal agreement to stop the killings, Newport said.

Ndeze is the 12th member of a gorilla family living in a sector of the park called Mikeno that is home to about 80 gorillas, though a precise census has been impossible to carry out because of ongoing insecurity.

It was not known whether Ndeze was male or female, as it would be difficult to visually determine the baby’s sex for several months, Newport said.

About 380 mountain gorillas live in Virunga Volcanoes Conservation Area, which is shared by Congo and neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. The other 320 of the gorillas live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Despite the constant threat of poaching and war, the population in Mikeno is estimated to have risen by about 14 percent, Newport said.

Richard Leakey, a conservationist credited with helping end the slaughter of elephants in Kenya during the 1980s who now chairs WildlifeDirect, also praise the birth.

“The Mountain Gorillas have been under enormous pressure for many years, and a newborn is always a positive step toward protecting these animals,” Leakey said. “We should not forget that this is the product of enormous effort and sacrifice on the part of African rangers, many of whom have paid the price of this success with their lives.”

Some 97 rangers working in Virunga park alone have been killed over the last decade by armed groups and poachers.

Virunga Park was established in 1925 as Africa’s first national park and was classified as a U.N. World Heritage Site in 1979. The 1994 Rwandan genocide saw millions of refugees spill across the border into Congo, marking the beginning of an era of unrest, lawlessness and clashes between militias and myriad rebel groups. Since then, the park has been ravaged by poachers and deforestation.

The last remaining hippo populations in Congo are in Virunga and are also on the verge of being wiped out. Conservationists have blamed rebels and militias for slaughtering them, and say more than 400 were killed last year, mostly for food. Only 900 hippos are left, a huge drop from the 22,000 reported there in 1998.

Mineral-rich Congo, which held its first democratic elections in more than four decades last year, is struggling to recover from a broader 1998-2002 war that drew in the armies of more than half a dozen African nations.