Four of the world's highly-endangered mountain gorillas have been killed in Virunga National Park, located on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire). The deaths leave fewer than 620 mountain gorillas living in the wild.
It appears that the gorillas were caught in a vicious crossfire between Congo government forces and former Rwandan soldiers. The four gorillas killed were from a habituated gorilla family that had lost its dominant silverback male to poachers in 1995. It was a devastating loss for a gorilla family accustomed to being studied by humans. A new silverback, Kabirizi, had taken over the responsibility of the family, but was among those killed.
Once the shooting began, the gorillas became extremely agitated and frightened. Kabirizi was a wild gorilla, not yet accustomed to people. When the soldiers appeared, he acted to protect his family, charging the soldiers. Kabirizi was cut down instantly along with three of his family members.
The African Wildlife Foundation is asking for financial support that will enable them to safeguard the mountain gorillas of Congo. Immediate action will support Virunga National Park guards, many of whom have risked their lives for the good of the gorillas. Annette Lanjouw, regional coordinator for the International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), has nothing but high praise for these overworked and underpaid guards. "They have worked in extremely dangerous conditions, usually with little or no pay, or equipment."
Earlier the park headquarters were ransacked. Offices, the tourism center and staff houses were completely destroyed. Vehicles, two-way radios, generators, uniforms, boots, tents, and camping gear were all stolen. And most tragically, several guards were killed.
Weeks ago, new representatives of Congo's government said they would be willing to restore confiscated weapons to guards as long as they wore uniforms to distinguish themselves from civilians. Recent donations have helped replenish some supplies and housing is being rebuilt. But the IGCP still desperately needs money to hire new guards, train and equip them.
A contribution of only $25 will buy five flashlights for park guards; $50 will buy a waterproof sleeping bag for a guard; $75 will buy two pair of steel-toed boots; $250 will buy a 4-person tent for guard patrols.
With fewer than 620 of these awesome creatures left on earth, we cannot afford even one more mountain gorilla death. Please send your contribution today to: African Wildlife Fund, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036. Check out their web site at http://www.awf.org
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