for National Geographic News
Warning: This story contains a graphic image that may be disturbing to some readers.
Armed rebels have begun slaughtering and eating protected mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), conservationists reported this week.
So far, the dismembered remains of two gorillas have been discovered, according to wildlife workers in the DRC.
And it's feared that more of the critically endangered animals may have been killed, said Emmanuel de Merode, director of WildlifeDirect, a conservation group based in Kenya and the DRC.
"The fact that two were killed suggests they were deliberately targeted," de Merode said. "I suspect there was an element of vandalism."
Only around 700 mountain gorillas remain worldwide. More than half live in the Virunga volcanic mountains region shared by the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda.
The two eaten gorillas were adult males known as silverbacks. They died in Virunga National Park, a nearly two-million-acre (790,000-hectare) protected area in the eastern DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo map).
Pair of Killings
The first silverback killed by rebels was reported dead on January 9, said senior park warden Paulin Ngobobo, who posts a blog on the WildlifeDirect Web site. (Related: "Exposing Atrocities, Blogs Give Wildlife Warriors Instant SOS" [December 5, 2006].)
"A local farmer was ordered to help the rebels collect the meat of the gorilla," Ngobobo said. "He told them that the meat was dangerous to eat and immediately informed us of the incident."
The other killing is thought to have occurred on January 11, but Virunga park wardens only this week found the gorilla's severed head, feet, skin, and other remains dumped in a pit latrine at a rebel camp.
"The stench was terrible, a mixture of rotting flesh and human excrement," reported conservationist Robert Muir of the Frankfurt Zoological Society in Germany, who accompanied the wardens.
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