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Last Updated: Friday, 9 November 2007, 17:58 GMT
Diary: Protecting mountain gorillas
Rangers standing next to the four dead gorillas (Image: Altor IGCP Goma)

Earlier this year, 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.

To date, 10 gorillas have been killed by gunmen or poachers, and two 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 16 NOVEMBER - GOOD NEWS AT LAST

Humba, a silverback (Image: WildlifeDirect)
Silverback Humba and his family are reported to be alive and well

Good news! This week a ranger made it into the Gorilla Sector and saw the Humba and Kabirizi families.

These groups represent just over half of our 72 habituated mountain gorillas.

Patrice Tuyisenge - usually based at the patrol post of Jomba near the Rwandan and Ugandan borders - was granted access to the sector by rebels for just one day.

Patrice does not know how to identify each mountain gorilla by the nose-print like us, but we are confident, from what he described to us, that the two families are doing well.

Juvenile Kitagenda (Image: WildlifeDirect)
The future survival of the gorillas lies with juveniles, like Kitagenda

The Humba group has nine individuals, while the Kabirizi family - the largest group in our country - has 31 members.

Patrice was not able to tell us exactly the number of gorillas he saw in each group in the short time he had, but the number sounded about right.

Humba, which means "placid", is a very calm family. As we have said before, gorilla families are named after the dominant male, the silverback.

Kabirizi is led by a feisty male with a propensity to charge and was named after a ranger who died in the 1990s.

He was a non-habituated solitary when he took over the habituated family in 1998 after his predecessor, Ndungutse, was killed in 1997 in cross-fire between the Congolese army and Rwandan rebels.

Silverback Kabirizi (Image:WildlifeDirect)
Kabirizi is another silverback who has managed to protect his family

We have no idea if Patrice or any other rangers will be allowed in again by the rebels. There is just no way to tell.

We must not forget that it is the conflict between these rebels and the army that has largely prevented us from protecting our gorillas since 3 September.

It is also imperative we get back in to the sector to carry out a proper identification of all mountain gorillas.

But at least after so many weeks of frustration we can feel comfort in our hearts that some of the gorillas are safe, for now.

FRIDAY 9 NOVEMBER - SEEKING JUSTICE

The fighting continues in our Gorilla Sector, but we are still trying to bring to justice those responsible for the July massacre of the Rugendo family.

Senkwekwe, a silverback mountain gorilla (Image: WildlifeDirect)
Senkwekwe, head of the Rugend family, was killed in July

Two suspects have been detained since August and are being held in Goma.

The case is being heard by the Tribunal des Grandes Instances - the highest court in the province.

The first hearing was scheduled for early October, but this was postponed until mid-November to allow for further enquiries.

This investigation, as you can well imagine, is being hampered by the current security situation.

Innocent monitoring Senkwekwe (Image: WildlifeDirect)
Innocent monitoring Senkwekwe, just weeks before the massacre

With armed militias and government forces engaged in conflict, it is not conducive to an investigation of this magnitude.

The area where the killings took place is inaccessible as a result of the rebel and military presence. People are also scattered as they fled from the fighting.

The law under which these suspects will be tried is Number 69-041 of August 1969, entitled Nature Conservation.

In Article Eight, it states that those found guilty of killing mountain gorillas - a highly protected species according to the law - can be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

Ndakasi, named after a former ranger (Image: WildlifeDirect)
Rangers hope Ndakasi, born in April, is safe and well

So we, the Congolese Wildlife Authority, want to carry out more investigations.

There are also two suspects awaiting trial who were caught with the dead infant mountain gorilla that was allegedly going to be trafficked in September.

This investigation is also ongoing, and progress is being made but we cannot report on anything otherwise it may affect the outcome.

DR Congo's judicial system is under-resourced so things simply do not move as quickly as they would in the UK or the US. And, of course, there is the current conflict.

But proceedings are underway, investigations will continue, and we hope to see an outcome soon for the mountain gorillas.

FRIDAY 2 NOVEMBER - ANOTHER LIFE LOST

Map showing location of Virunga National Park (Source: WildlifeDirect)
This week we lost another ranger. He was shot and killed while out on an anti-poaching patrol north of the park station at Rumangabo.

The Mai Mai rebels, a Congolese group that seeks the destruction of the park and earns income from the bushmeat trade, ambushed the rangers.

Another ranger was also injured during this unprovoked attack. He is now recovering in hospital.

This is a sign of the times. Everyone is on edge.

Bukima, a solitary gorilla (Image: WildlifeDirect)
Without patrols, the rangers cannot monitor the gorillas
Fighting continues between the government and the rebels of dissident General Laurent Nkunda.

We have lost track of how many times we think there will be a solution, but there is one thing we are certain about - our mountain gorillas remain unprotected.

This week, US news programme CBS 60 Minutes was in Goma and we did a long interview with presenter Anderson Cooper.

We hope that this, in conjunction with this diary, will help spread the word.

Gorilla rangers (Image: WildlifeDirect)
The rangers are being targeted by rebel gunmen
We need peace, we need to protect the gorillas, and we need to fight the cutting down of trees to make charcoal. This is destroying Virunga National Park.

Our park, which covers some 8,000 sq km (3,100 sq miles), is Africa's oldest national park. It was founded in 1925 and declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1994.

There are swamps and lowland forests here, and also snowy mountains. Many birds from Siberia come here to spend the winter.

Elephants (Image: WildlifeDirect)
Virunga National Park's wildlife is of global importance
It is also home to several flagship species, including gorillas, chimps, elephants, buffaloes and hippos. We need to protect it.

When the fighting has stopped we must find an alternative source of fuel for domestic consumption - no more charcoal from our park.

We need to help families with subsidies for cooking gas; at least this is one of the immediate solutions.

Only this way will we stop the looting of our forests and secure the future for our children.


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 is a patrol post chief. 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
Gorilla diary: August - October 2007
05 Nov 07 |  Science/Nature
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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