An infant mountain gorilla was recently found dead in a snare in the Virunga Massif. This and a brutal elephant-poaching incident nearby illustrate some of AWF’s ongoing conservation challenges. Photo: Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project
Discovery of Mountain Gorilla, as well as a Poached Elephant in the Same Region, Highlights Ongoing Challenges in Ensuring Security for Wildlife
KIGALI, Rwanda, February 13, 2012 -- An anti-poaching patrol in the Virunga Massif made a gruesome discovery this past week: On Feb. 1, an infant mountain gorilla was found dead, caught in a poacher's snare.
Then, on Feb. 7, an elephant was found brutally killed on a main road of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This area is part of the African Wildlife Foundation's (AWF's) Virunga Heartland.
The male mountain gorilla, estimated to be approximately 3 years old, was determined to have been dead for a few days before it was found. A post-mortem exam conducted by the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and veterinarians with the Rwanda Development Board revealed that the mountain gorilla was dehydrated and its stomach empty, pointing to the likelihood that the gorilla struggled with the snare for several days before dying. The rope snare was set to trap a small antelope for wild meat.
The elephant, meanwhile, was deliberately killed for its tusks. It had been shot eight times and its head removed.
"Whether indirectly killing mountain gorillas with snares or viciously shooting and de-tusking elephants, wildlife poaching has reached new levels of boldness and rapacity," said Craig Sholley, conservation expert and vice president for philanthropy and marketing at AWF. "Effectively addressing these threats requires a combination of education and capacity-building--to minimize the need for people to enter the parks and poach any wildlife--and coordinated security on the ground. We have made tremendous strides in these areas but these tragic incidents clearly illustrate the work we still have to do."
Added Eugene Rutagarama, Virunga Heartland director for AWF and director of the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), a coalition of AWF, Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature, "It is a heartbreaking thing to see a mountain gorilla dead after struggling due to an act by a human being." There are only an estimated 780 mountain gorillas in the world, and the species is designated as critically endangered.
Habituated gorillas, accustomed to the regular presence of people for tourism or research, are monitored on a daily basis and given on-site veterinary treatment in the case of a life-threatening injury or illness. Unhabituated gorillas, on the other hand, do not receive these direct protection benefits, but are protected through law enforcement, like anti-poaching patrols within the parks, as well as incentivizing conservation in communities living around the park, two important efforts supported by IGCP.
The infant mountain gorilla found dead was from an unhabituated group of mountain gorillas, which comprise only 27 percent of the total population of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Massif, according to the last complete census conducted in 2010.
"This unfortunate incident does not imply that all mountain gorillas should be habituated so that they can be guarded on a daily basis," cautions Rutagarama. "This incident does, however, stimulate us to take immediate action to strengthen law enforcement in this area and to collectively strengthen our work to encourage people and communities in the Virunga landscape to reject and condemn poaching."
According to Volcanoes National Park, one poacher has been arrested and three more are being pursued in collaboration with Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In the last few months, an unusually high number of snares have been found in the area between Visoke and Sabyinyo volcanoes, an area shared by the two parks.
Elephant poaching has also been a grave problem in the region. According to some reports, this latest incident brings the number of elephants poached in the area to more than 500.
The Greater Virunga Landscape, which the Virunga Massif is part of, is a transboundary protected area incorporating the Mikeno Sector of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. As a transboundary protected area, species move between the three countries and collaboration among the three parks is crucial for the long-term survival of wildlife.
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For more than 50 years, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has worked as a leading conservation organization focused solely on the African continent. AWF's programs and conservation strategies are based on sound science and designed to protect both the wild lands and wildlife of Africa and ensure a more sustainable future for Africa's people. Since its inception, AWF has protected endangered species and land, promoted partnerships with the private sector for conservation tourism to benefit local African communities as a means to improve livelihoods, and trained hundreds of African nationals in conservation--all to ensure the survival of Africa's unparalleled wildlife heritage. AWF is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Kenya and registered as a 501(c)(3) in the United States. www.awf.org
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