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Wednesday, February 18, 1998 Published at 12:25 GMT

World: Africa

Guerrilla answers call of the wild
image: [ Half of the world's mountain gorillas live in the Congo region ]
Half of the world's mountain gorillas live in the Congo region

President Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo has promised to help protect the endangered wildlife in his country

The country, formerly known as Zaire, has one of the richest varieties of wildlife and plants in Africa. It is also home to animals under threat of extinction in the wild.

[ image: President Kabila says he wants endangered animals to thrive]
President Kabila says he wants endangered animals to thrive
The Worldwide Fund for Nature said President Kabila pledged to focus his efforts on the rare mountain gorilla and the northern white rhino.

The white rhinoceros is down to only 24 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 WWF's director general Claude Martin said the president is keen to ensure that these animals survive.

"(Kabila) committed himself personally to alleviating the structural and circumstantial problems that are ravaging the country's protected areas," he said.

The WWF, which sent a delegation to the capital, Kinshasa, has emphasised that if the animals are protected the region could attract many tourists. This would help boost the country's ailing economy.

The rebellion

The former guerilla leader seized power in the former Zaire last May after a seven month war in which he overthrew the previous leader, President Mobutu.

The crisis in the country's national parks worsened during the period of rebellion.

The threat to the wildlife now comes from not only from poachers, but also from civilians and soldiers who have moved into the parks to chop down trees and kill the animals for food.

Many thousands of people died during the war. The United Nations is currently investigating the claim that 200,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees were massacred by President Kabila's forces in revenge for the 1994 genocide in neighbouring Rwanda.

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