March 2, 2007—The rare birth of a baby mountain gorilla is
giving African wildlife workers a reason to celebrate.
Named Ndeze, the infant was born on February 17 in Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where rebel forces have recently been accused of slaughtering and eating the critically endangered great apes.
Ndeze brings his family group up to 12 members, said WildlifeDirect, the African conservation nonprofit that yesterday announced the new arrival. Another female in the group is expected to give birth in coming weeks.
Park rangers chose the name in honor of Rene Ndeze, a powerful local tribal chief who died two days before the newborn was discovered, even though the baby's sex isn't yet known.
The good news is tempered by memories of recent disaster, however. In January the dismembered remains of two adult male gorillas were discovered in the same area of Virunga National Park after armed rebels invaded. Rangers fear that four additional missing gorillas were also shot and eaten.
The rebels, led by renegade Congolese general Laurent Nkunda, later agreed to end the slaughter during talks with park rangers mediated by the United Nations and the DRC army.
Only around 700 mountain gorillas remain worldwide. More than half live in the Virunga volcanic region shared by the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda (see a map of the area).
Yet despite the threat from armed militias and poachers, conservation efforts in the region appear to be paying off, with estimated gorilla numbers up to around 380 today from 240 in the 1970s.
"The mountain gorillas have been under enormous pressure for many years, and a newborn is always a positive step toward protecting these animals," WildlifeDirect chairman Richard Leakey said in a statement. "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."
Paulin Ngobobo, senior warden in the southern sector of Virunga National Park, added: "The birth of Ndeze is a relief for us. It has been very difficult over recent months with the political instability and rebel attacks in this area, and the mountain gorillas have suffered. At last some hope on the horizon ..."
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