Congo Rebels Agree to End Gorilla Slaughter

James Owen
for National Geographic News
January 25, 2007
(Warning: This article contains a graphic photograph that may be
disturbing to some readers.

Rebel troops blamed for the recent slaughter of critically endangered mountain gorillas in Central Africa have agreed to end the killing, conservation workers have announced.

Earlier this month the dismembered remains of two mountain gorillas eaten within ten days of each other were discovered in the Virunga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), raising fears of further deaths (see Democratic Republic of Congo map).

(Read "Mountain Gorillas Eaten by Congolese Rebels" [January 19, 2007].)

Now the rebels held responsible have vowed to stop further ape killings. The rebels made the pledge during talks with wildlife rangers mediated by the United Nations and the Congolese army, according to the conservation group WildlifeDirect, based in Kenya and the DRC.

The meeting took place near a rebel camp at Bikenge, where the remains of the second gorilla killed were found floating in a pit latrine last week in Virunga National Park.

Against the Odds

The agreement was made between senior Virunga park warden Paulin Ngobobo and rebel force leader Colonel Makenga, WildlifeDirect says.

"We weren't expecting to succeed given the overwhelming odds against [it]," Ngobobo said in a statement.

"However, this is just another small step," he added. "We must keep up international pressure to ensure that this does not happen again next week, next month, or next year."

Only around 700 mountain gorillas remain worldwide. More than half live in the Virunga volcanic mountains region shared by DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda (see Africa map).

The two eaten gorillas were adult males known as silverbacks. News of their deaths provoked international outrage.

The rebel faction is led by Laurent Nkunda, a renegade Congolese general who has been charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Congolese government.

The DRC recently completed its first democratic elections in more than 40 years, raising hopes of lasting peace in a country ravaged by civil war since 1996. Around a hundred Virunga park wardens have been killed in that time.

Last year, another Congo rebel militia, the Mai Mai, was responsible for butchering hundreds of hippos in Virunga National Park.

(Read "Hippos Butchered by the Hundreds in Congo Wildlife Park" [October 24, 2006].)

Park Rangers Captured

Park rangers were captured but apparently not injured during the latest rebel incursion, senior warden Ngobobo said.

"When the rebels moved in to occupy the gorilla sector they chased everyone away," he said. "However, they captured the chief ranger responsible for Bikenge patrol post, along with another ranger. They were interrogated for 24 hours and then released.

"None of the rangers have been hurt, but all food, equipment, and personal items have been looted from the ranger's patrol posts," he added.

Ian Redmond, chief consultant for the United Nations-led Great Apes Survival Project, said last week there are now good prospects of a peace deal between Nkunda's faction and the government.

This month a plan began to integrate Nkunda's men into the DRC army, a process that's expected to be completed in coming weeks, WildlifeDirect says.

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