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Last Updated: Saturday, 1 September 2007, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Diary: Protecting mountain gorillas
Rangers standing next to the four dead gorillas (Image: Altor IGCP Goma)

On 22 July, armed men entered the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga National Park and killed five critically endangered mountain gorillas at point-blank range, leaving the bodies where they fell.

It brought this year's gorilla death toll to nine, and three of the great apes are still missing.

Rangers Diddy and Innocent monitor and protect the remaining gorillas in the war-torn region. In this weekly diary, they describe life on conservation's frontline.

FRIDAY 31 AUGUST - TENSE TIMES

Silverback gorilla named Lilengo (Image: WildlifeDirect)
Lulengo made a welcome return after being missing since January
An increase in fighting between the military and rebels in the south of Virunga National Park has made our work more difficult this week.

The situation remains tense, but daily life still has to continue.

We have now finished monitoring all of the habituated mountain gorillas, and were very pleased on Tuesday when we found a silverback named Lulengo.

He had gone missing in January with another female, shortly after rebels killed two silverbacks.

A ranger destroys a pile of charcoal (Image: WildlifeDirect)
The national park is a rich source of wood for charcoal traders

But fortunately he reappeared last week after an interaction (in other words, a fight) between himself and another silverback, called Pili-Pili.

Pili-Pili bore the worst of the wounds because following the interaction his family was charmed over to join Lulengo, leaving him to become a lone silverback once more.

The gorilla families in this part of the sector are highly unstable due to the number of lone silverbacks in the area.

As a result, female family members are often changing allegiances from one silverback to another.

Inside the park, rangers have also been cracking down on the destructive charcoal trade.

Many people are unhappy with the crackdown, and we have been receiving many threats from the military who live in the park and have financially benefited from the trade.

Ranger with head wounds (Image: WildlifeDirect)
Rangers have been attacked by those involved in the charcoal trade

Recently, one of our rangers, Kimanuka, was attacked while travelling from our main station at Rumangabo to his patrol post at Kibati.

There were soldiers alongside Kimunaka in the truck in which he was travelling and they attacked him with their bayonets, leaving him with head wounds.

On a more positive note, we have just found out that via our blog, we have received enough donations to build toilets and improve the water system at the Bukima Patrol Post within the gorilla sector.

Map showing location of Virunga National Park (Source: WildlifeDirect)

This will improve the sanitary conditions of the guards living there and it will also mean that they will have a steady and cleaner supply of water.

We often face setbacks in our work and have felt isolated for so many years, but with the support that we are receiving from the outside world, we feel confident that things will change.

The wars here in Congo destroyed the country and its parks, but we must try to rebuild and protect the wildlife of Virunga National Park.

UPDATE:

Last night, a patrol post in Virunga National Park was attacked by rebels. One park ranger was killed and another was seriously wounded with a gunshot in the neck.

Over these last few days, tensions have increased in this area and there are worries that the situation could deteriorate further.

William Deed, WildlifeDirect, DR Congo

FRIDAY 24 AUGUST - THE CIRCLE OF LIFE

It has been a very long week that began with the arrival of a UN team, who were here to investigate the July killings.

Ranger hold the remains of female gorilla (Image: WildlfeDirect)
Innocent holding the remains of the female gorilla Macibiri
On the evening of their arrival, one of the rangers came back from patrol with the remains of one of the missing adult females, Macibiri, from the Rugendo Family.

It confirmed our worst fears and brought the family's death toll to five.

Her missing infant, Ntaribi, is too young to look after itself and we are now sure she is dead, too.

The next morning we trekked in silence to where the killings had taken place.

Three-and-a-half weeks had passed since the attacks, but still the vegetation was flattened and torn from where the bodies had struggled in those last few minutes.

Our job this week has been to identify and monitor the status of all habituated gorilla families within the Gorilla Sector.

Rangers filming (Image: WildlifeDirect)
By filming Mutazimiza, the rangers can show the footage to vets
We spent from Saturday until Monday with the Kabirizi Family, and were concerned about the group's only infant, Mutazimiza.

Her mother went missing after an attack on 8 June, and we have noticed that the skin on the palms of her hands and feet is sore and she is having problems eating and moving around.

Dr Jacques from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) is now assessing her health.

A new arrival

Tuesday brought better news and lifted the hearts of all those who work here.

Baby mountain gorilla. Image: Wildlife Direct
The birth has been described as significant for the species
The female from the Munyaga Family, Bilali, had given birth to a boy.

After everything that has happened, this is an incredibly important event for us, and we were pleased to see that international newspapers had picked up the story.

We're new to blogging on WildlifeDirect, and are encouraged by the comments and financial support we receive from those concerned with helping the remaining gorilla families.

We are now also aware of the wider implications that our blog posts may have.

Map (Image: BBC)

Just a few hours after posting on the remains of the missing gorilla, the BBC reported the story, which then made its way around the world.

Eastern Congo is still a volatile area and we have to be careful about what we say on our blog.

Rebels and poachers already make our work very dangerous, and so we need to be sensitive towards the political situation as it could put the lives of those who work here in even greater danger.


Profile of the rangers:

Innocent
Innocent Mburanumwe (Image: WildlifeDirect)

Head of gorilla monitoring in the Mikeno sector. He has worked in Virunga National Park for nine years. His father was a patrol post chief and his brother was also a high-level ranger, but was killed in the line of service in November 1996.

Diddy
Diddy Mwanaki (Image: WildlifeDirect)

Head of tourism in the southern sector of Virunga National Park. He has been a ranger for 16 years and started working with the gorillas in the Mikeno sector in 1991. He was forced to flee from his work from 1997-2001 during the nation's civil war.




SEE ALSO
New arrival for DR Congo gorillas
22 Aug 07 |  Science/Nature
Missing DR Congo gorillas 'dead'
17 Aug 07 |  Science/Nature
Concern over gorilla 'executions'
26 Jul 07 |  Science/Nature
Apes 'extinct in a generation'
01 Sep 05 |  Science/Nature

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