Who is killing the Virunga gorillas?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2007:
GOMA, DRC–Seeking the killers of endangered mountain
gorillas in Virunga National Park, near the eastern border of the
Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNESCO and the World Conservation
Union on August 14, 2007 sent out a posse.
“The killings are inexplicable,” said a United Nations press
release. “They do not correspond to traditional poaching,” and
“have taken place despite increased guard patrols and the presence of
“Seven mountain gorillas have been shot and killed this year,
four of them last month, more than during the conflict that wracked
Africa’s Great Lakes region in the late 1990s,” the release
continued. “Some 700 gorillas are estimated to still survive in the
area, about 370 of them in Virunga.”
The first two gorillas killed in 2007 were the silverback
males of the Rugenda family. The next five victims were adult
“The family is one of several groups of gorillas that live on
the Congo side of the sprawling Virunga National Park, and are
visited from the Bukima camp,” reported Stefan Lovgre for National
The killings did not surprise Paul Lughembe, coordinator of
the DRC grassroots organization Safe Environment & Enhanced For All,
which operates from a Rwandan post office box due to fighting in the
Lughembe on May 28 and June 20, 2007 distributed electronic
updates about imminent threats to gorillas and other animals in the
Virunga region, seeking help that never came to prevent just the
sort of massacres that occurred. ANIMAL PEOPLE promised Lughembe
coverage of his findings, but did not get to press between receipt
of his reports and the killing of four gorillas on July 22.
“The deployment of three brigades [of the newly reconstituted
DRC army] is a source of annoyance to the local population in
Rutshuru, Masisi and Lubero,” Lughembe warned in his first report.
“Locals have created their own defence groups to resist the soldiers
of the three brigades, who seem to be loyal to the renegade General
Laurent Nkunda. So the situation is confused on ground and the war
“Gorillas have been taken hostage by men of war,” Lughembe
explained, who “gave an ultimatum of killing all 20 gorillas living
in the reserve” near their encampment.
Lughembe’s second report described his June 16 effort to
rescue a baby gorilla, after notifying representatives of the Uganda
Department of Environmental Conservation and the World Conservation
Union. The gorilla was said to be held at Rumangabo.
Posing as “messengers of a business man who sent us from Goma
to buy a gorilla,” the team obtained a Rwandan military driver, who
“helped as interpreter,” Lughembe said. “The guide drove us to Camp
Vodo,” on the outskirts of the Rumangabo military base. There the
team found not one but two baby gorillas, one two months old and the
other four months old.
“The possessor of the first baby gorilla was selling her for
$3,000 U.S., and the second was selling his for $5,000 U.S,”
Lughembe said. He was not allowed to photograph the gorillas. A
sale was not completed because Lughembe did not have the money and
the sellers did not accept his invitation to bring the gorillas to
Goma to be paid.
“The guide then drove us to a third possessor,” Lughembe
recounted. “Her baby gorilla endured an atrocious wound to the right
thigh. This woman collaborated with soldiers who provide her with
gorillas, she said. She told us that they always kill the mother
first, before they can take babies. She told us that she had an
older gorilla eight kilometres from there. We told her that we would
only buy it if we could see it. Imploring that it was too far to go
there, but to reassure us, she brought us a packet of hairs and the
excrement of this adult gorilla.
“We asked her where they find these gorillas,” Lughembe
continued. “She confided that they are taken from the Bukima forest,
six kilometers from there, probably in collaboration with some armed
soldiers. The woman confided that she collaborates with an Ugandan
business man who often comes to Kiwanja from Uganda,” and named
several of their associates.
Despite the many roadblocks and checkpoints in the region,
Lughembe established that the gorilla sellers–whose main business
appeared to be bushmeat–appear to move easily, “through corruption
or influence,” and interviewed a man who claimed to be one of their