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Friday, October 30, 1998 Published at 10:25 GMT

World: Africa

Caught in the crossfire

The mountain gorillas live in an area of fierce fighting

The World Wide Fund for Nature has warned that fighting in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo could have disastrous consequences for wildlife including the already endangered mountain gorillas and northern white rhinos.

[ image: There are only 23 northern white rhinoceros left in Congo]
There are only 23 northern white rhinoceros left in Congo
In February 1998, President Laurent Kabila promised to help the endangered wildlife in his country, but the conflict has intensified since then.

The northern white rhinoceros is down to only 23 in number, while fewer than 600 mountain gorillas are left in the world.

Half of these live in the rugged volcanoes of Virunga Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the region where fighting by rebels trying to oust President Laurent Kabila's government is concentrated.

[ image: Laurent Kabila: promised to help the wildlife]
Laurent Kabila: promised to help the wildlife
Virunga is Africa's oldest national park and has a unique tropical mountain forest.

But the animals there could easily fall prey to profiteering amid the chaos of conflict.

Deborah Snelson, World Wildlife Fund representative in Nairobi, said: "Two mountain gorillas were killed last month and it could happen again any time, given the scale of the conflict."

[ image: Two mountain gorillas were killed last month]
Two mountain gorillas were killed last month
The northern white rhinoceros is a rare subspecies of white rhino, of which there are about 7,600 in the world, nearly all of them in southern Africa.

Garamba, in northeastern Congo, has the last wild population of northern white rhinos, but all contact with managers and keepers of the wildlife park in the region has been lost.

"There is no telling what has happened ... to the rhinos," said Deborah Snelson.

The Fund said the increased presence of dangerous firearms and the disruption of conservation activities were a dangerous combination.

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