"Spectacular" Gorilla Growth in Congo, Despite War

Stefan Lovgren in Bukima, Democratic Republic of the Congo
for National Geographic News
January 27, 2009

The extremely rare mountain gorillas of Virunga National Park seem to have prospered during a warlord's reign over the refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to new census results

The population—made famous by a series of murders in 2007—has grown by nearly 13 percent in the last 16 months, despite having no protection from civil war or poaching for 15 months, park rangers said Monday.

"That the mountain gorilla population has increased in this environment is quite spectacular," said Emmanuel de Merode, head of the 680-strong Virunga ranger force.

The new tally brings the Virunga mountain gorillas to an estimated 211—including 10 babies born during the rangers' absence.

With some 720 wild mountain gorillas worldwide, the species is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

When rebels took control of Virunga in August 2007, the rangers were banished. They returned in November 2008, after park warden de Merode had negotiated a deal directly with the militia.

Recent efforts to educate locals and visitors about the importance of safeguarding the animals contributed to the population growth during the unstable period, de Merode said.

"It's the Congolese who demand that the mountain gorillas be protected," de Merode said. "The gorillas belong to them. They don't want their gorillas destroyed."

Gorillas Under Guerrillas

Strangely enough, the man most responsible for the rangers' long absence, rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, may have also played a part in the conservation success.

Nkunda was arrested Thursday, but in an interview with National Geographic News last month, he had said his soldiers were committed to protecting the mountain gorillas: "I always tell my brothers that God provided Congo with the gorillas, and it's our duty to make sure we don't harm them."

Nkunda's National Congress for the People's Defense (CNDP) has been accused of committing numerous human rights abuses, including the raping and killing of civilians.

Continued on Next Page >>


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