June 11, 2007—A baby mountain gorilla has been left orphaned and fighting for its life after its mother was shot and killed in eastern Congo, African wildlife workers report.
Rangers discovered the two-month-old gorilla clinging to the breast of its slain mother last Friday in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Rebel militias in the area have been accused of slaughtering and eating the critically endangered apes.
The baby, named Ndakasi, is in critical condition, having spent some 18 hours alone after its mother was shot in the arm and then "execution style" in the back of the head, said WildlifeDirect, the African conservation nonprofit. The find comes as a grim counterpoint to the recent rare birth of a mountain gorilla in the park.
The orphaned newborn is now receiving emergency treatment from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.
Known as Rubiga, the dead female belonged to one of the largest remaining mountain gorilla groups, which has 34 members, WildlifeDirect said.
Paulin Ngobobo, head warden for the southern sector of Virunga National Park, voiced concerns for the rest of the gorilla family, which has yet to be located by rangers.
"We fear the group may have split, which makes them highly vulnerable," he said. Traces of blood found on the forest floor near Rubiga's body indicate other gorillas might have been shot, Ngobobo added.
The dismembered and partially eaten remains of two adult male gorillas were discovered in the park earlier this year when armed rebels invaded the area. A further four gorillas went missing following an incursion by fighters led by renegade Congolese general Laurent Nkunda.
Only around 700 mountain gorillas remain worldwide. More than half live in the Virunga volcanic region shared by the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda.
"If these repeated attacks on Congo's mountain gorillas continue, this population will become extinct very quickly," Emmanuel de Merode, director of WildlifeDirect, said in a statement.
More Photos in the News
Today's Top 15 Most Popular Stories
Free Email Newsletter: "Focus on Photography"