Congo Rebels Said to Kill, Eat Gorillas

The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 17, 2007; 7:42 PM

DAKAR, Senegal -- Rebels in eastern Congo have killed and eaten two silverback mountain gorillas, conservationists said Wednesday, warning they fear more of the endangered animals may have been slaughtered in the lawless region.

Only about 700 mountain gorillas remain in the world, 380 of them spread across a range of volcanic mountains straddling the borders of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda in Central Africa.

One dismembered gorilla corpse was found Tuesday in a pit latrine in Congo's Virunga National Park, a few hundred yards from a park patrol post that was abandoned because of rebel attacks, according to the London-based Africa Conservation Fund. Another was killed in the same area on Jan. 5, said the group, which based its report on conservationists in the field.

The group blamed rebels loyal to a local warlord, Laurent Nkunda, for the latest killing. Nkunda is a renegade soldier who commands thousands of fighters in the vast country's east who have in recent years assaulted cities and clashed sporadically with government forces.

Silverbacks are older adult males and usually group leaders, though some are loners.

Paulin Ngobobo, a senior park warden, wrote an Internet blog about finding the latest remains.

"We've learned a lot: the gorilla had in fact been eaten for meat. His name was Karema, another solitary silverback that had been born into a habituated group _ meaning that he had grown to trust humans enough to let them come to within touching distance," Ngobobo wrote.

"We learned that the remaining gorillas are extremely vulnerable _ the rebels are after the meat, and it's not difficult for them to find and kill the few gorillas that remain."

Ngobobo said the first gorilla reported killed had been shot by rebels and eaten.

"A local farmer was ordered to help the rebels collect the meat of the gorilla," Ngobobo said. "He told them that the meat was dangerous to eat, and immediately informed us."

Robert Muir of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, who accompanied Ngobobo, said: "We need to impress on Nkunda and his men that it is inexcusable to destroy national and world heritage of such critical importance. ... Now that we know that the slaughtered gorilla was eaten, the gorillas habituated for tourism are at extreme risk _ and we are worried that more have been killed already."

The last remaining hippo populations in Congo are in Virunga and are also on the verge of being wiped out. Conservationists have blamed rebels and militias for slaughtering them, and say more than 400 were killed last year, mostly for food. Only 900 hippos remain, a huge drop from the 22,000 reported there in 1998.

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