Scientists were just recently celebrating the discovery of six new species in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, now conservationists are mourning the loss of yet another mountain gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei), shot dead and left to rot in the jungle. The remains of the female’s four month old baby are yet to be discovered. This particular gorilla family is now left with only males and no means to reproduce. This is an increasing occurrence where the killing of females and babies breaks down the species reproductive capacity and regular social orders.
The killing of the rare mountain gorilla means the death toll rises to five, after four others were found killed just weeks beforehand. Left inside The Virunga National Park, the bodies were neither eaten or sold as bushmeat. Though most mountain gorillas killed are for rebel meals, (many militia left over from the 1998-2003 Congo war still reside within the forests), this recent spate of killings is said to be politically based. Conservationists believe the killings stem from the disagreement between local government officials and the illicit charcoal traders that use the tree charcoal for illegal dealings. The government officials wish to save Virunga and protect the dwindling species inside that are ravaged through local hunting and trade by enforcing stricter laws and helping locals realize a lucrative career by guiding tourists to view the ancient endangered species.
Nine gorillas have been killed so far this year in the North Kiva area, with one female found shot in the back of the head, execution style. Two silverbacks were reportedly killed for their meat by the rebels, yet all killings, no matter what the reason are strictly against the law. More than one fifth of the world’s mountain gorilla population reside in the Virunga Park, an area that was previously ravaged by war. The park, once a major tourist attraction now only receives a small amount of international tourists a year since the Congo war and is unlikely to be receiving a great amount in the near future. This is due to more fighting erupting in the East between the Congolese army and the Rwandan Hutu rebels. Although the oldest National Park in Africa and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, authorities are unable to stem bushmeat or political based killings due to lack of decent funding and appropriate surveillance systems. In an attempt to cease needless slaughter the Congolese wildlife authorities are building guard posts to monitor and patrol the park as well as oversee its security. Whether the advent of more patrols will cease trapping and merciless slaughter is yet to be proven.
In Central and West Africa an estimated 3-5 million tons of bushmeat is killed each year. That is more than four million cows. Endangered species bring in more money on the black market however the dwindling quantities available mean that smaller, more readily obtainable species are over hunted as well. If the illegal killing does not cease then bonobos, mountain gorillas and chimpanzees may become totally extinct in the wild within the next two decades. If the authorities wish to save the beautiful mountain gorilla, they must not be afraid to punish severely those that defy the law and kill an endangered species, especially if those killed are slaughtered to serve the extortion purpose of charcoal traders. Committing to this view however is difficult, taking into account the militia still living within the Congo, the new fighting in the East region and the charcoal traders. With so many enemies to fight and less natural habitat safely available, the protection of Jane Goodall’s favourite animals should become a major priority for the Congolese people.