Endangered Gorillas "Held Hostage" by Rebels in Africa Park

Nick Wadhams in Nairobi, Kenya
for National Geographic News
May 23, 2007

African rebels killed a wildlife officer and wounded three people on Sunday in attacks on three ranger posts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Virunga National Park.

Now the Mai Mai rebels say they will kill mountain gorillas in the park if rangers try to retaliate, according to the conservation group Wildlife Direct, based in Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

"The Mai Mai are doing everything to sabotage the good intentions of well-intentioned conservationists," Virunga National Park Director Norbert Mushenzi said in a statement.

"This was an unprovoked attack on our rangers and other wildlife officers who protect Virunga's wildlife. And the Mai Mai said that if we retaliate, they will kill all the gorillas in this area."

The World Conservation Union lists mountain gorillas as critically endangered, meaning they face a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.

Mai Mai Threat

Despite the Mai Mai warning, the DRC government has deployed two of its elite ranger units to chase the militia.

The Mai Mai movement first began as a peasant uprising in the 1960s.

It would not be the first time that the Mai Mai have hunted down park animals.

They slaughtered hundreds of hippopotamuses last year to bring international attention to their movement.

The Mai Mai are also suspected of killing and eating at least two mountain gorillas in January. Later that month they agreed to stop targeting the gorillas, but the hippo killings continue, scientists say.

According to the online conservation project WildlifeDirect, 200 Mai Mai rebels commanded by a man known as Jackson attacked the three posts in the Mount Tshiaberimu gorilla sector in the early hours of May 20.

Continued on Next Page >>




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