Reports received today from African Wildlife Foundation's (AWF) field staff confirm the poaching of two endangered mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The juvenile male named Birori (meaning "Juggler" for his playful antics in front of tourists) and Gasigwa, a three year old baby female, were shot by poachers on September 3 in the Virunga National Park, Africa's oldest national park (created in 1925). The forest is home to one of two remaining populations of mountain gorillas in the world. These animals, numbering just over 600, are found only in Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
AWF President Michael Wright said today, "the deaths of these young mountain gorillas, Birori and Gasigwa, represent a devastating setback in our fight against extinction. It is only through the dedication of park guards that other gorillas are protected from a similar fate during this period of intense conflict." It appears that armed poachers hunting monkeys for food killed the mountain gorillas. When the poachers discovered they had actually shot gorillas they fled the scene. The bodies were discovered during a regular patrol of the Congolese ranger-base monitoring program, a project of AWF's International Gorilla Conservation Program*. The Congolese park authorities have been patrolling the Virunga National Park, located along the border with Rwanda and Uganda, despite the escalating civil war in the country which began in 1997. The park has also been severely effected by the war in Rwanda and its subsequent refugee crisis from 1994 to 1996. Due to the conflict, many guards have not received their salaries since January. Yet, they still patrol daily to protect these endangered animals and their habitats.
AWF continues to seek support for the Congolese park staff to be made available to the guards as quickly as conditions allow. This period of conflict has resulted in a halt in tourism, and therefore park staff urgently needs financial support from outside of Africa.
Photos of both mountain gorillas are available upon request.
*IGCP is a coalition of African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wide Fund for Nature.
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