- The execution of four mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has raised fears among conservationists about the safety of wild animals, describing the act as “senseless and tragic.“
The bodies of the four females and a male critically endangered mountain gorillas were discovered by rangers in the Virunga National Park Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN), the DRC’s wildlife and protected areas authority.
All four mountain gorillas were shot, but it is unclear who killed them and why. But the fact that their bodies have not been carried away gives conservationists the impression that the executions were not the work of poachers who might have sold the bodies.
Over 700 mountain gorillas survive in the wild today, and none exist in captivity. Wildlife authorities expect this number to grow rather than being reduced, describing the indiscriminate killing of the four gorillas as a “huge loss.“
More than half of the world’s gorilla population is believed to be living in the Virunga region.
Since January, seven large apes have been shot dead in the region.
"This is a senseless and tragic loss of some of the world's most endangered and beloved animals," Deo Kujirakwinja of the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) Congo programme, said, calling for immediate security in the area before “we stand to lose an entire population of these animals.”
The executed animals belong to a group of 12 gorillas called the Rugenda family, which often attract tourists thus providing valuable economic benefits for local communities. Six of the gorillas of this family are confirmed to be safe, but a female and an infant are missing.
Wildlife experts are said to be conducting autopsy on the gorillas before their remains are buried within an outpost within the park.
The protected part of the park has been under increasing pressure from outside exploitation.
But the Chief Executive of Fauna and Flora International, Mark Rose, argued, "whatever the motive underlying this tragedy, the gorillas are helpless pawns in a feud between individuals.
"We are deeply concerned about this incident, which follows more than 20 years of successful collaboration for mountain gorilla conservation."
Managing Director of the World Wildlife Fund, Richard Carroll, also expressed deep sadness over what he called “these shocking deaths.”
He said they are collaborating with ICCN, the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) and the US State Department to develop a quick and appropriate response of WWF's Congo Basin Program.
"Strict measures will be taken to ensure the safety of the other gorillas in the area. WWF will continue to work with partners to strengthen protection measures and seek permanent solutions to ensure the safety of these rare animals," he said.
ICCN patrols have been increased within the southern sector of the park with support from the DRC army. Guard posts are being constructed to provide 24-hour surveillance of the park.
"Just two months ago, we celebrated the increase of the gorilla population in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda," said Dr. Kwame Koranteng, Regional Representative of WWF's Eastern Africa Regional Program Office.
"Seven gorillas killed in seven months is a horrifying statistic and a trend that cannot continue."
Supporters of the Ugandan rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda, had shot dead two male gorillas in the same area of the park. The skin of one of the dead gorillas was later recovered from a latrine in a nearby rebel camp. Also, a female gorilla was shot dead in the same park in May. Her infant is now being hand reared by the ICCN in Goma.
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