Coltan is a valuable mineral used in the manufacture of mobile phones but is mined from the mountain gorilla's forest home.The mining of coltan destroys the natural habitat of the gorillas, and is one of the major threats these endangered animals face.
HSI is a partner in a three year $60,000 program with key organisations that have been working for many years in the Congo to protect the mountain gorilla.
The Government has deployed its Force Avancee, comprising 33 armed anti-poaching rangers that have been trained specifically to protect the gorillas and the park. We must ensure that these patrols are maintained and resourced. Your financial support will directly help these tough enforcement officers with logistics, training, field equipment, rations and other needs.
In October 2007, as a result of funding provided by Humane Society International (HSI), Fauna & Flora International (FFI) was able to provide emergency relief to displaced rangers and their families and support them until they were able to return to their posts. HSI funding was critical in providing support to park rangers at a critical time. Since then, the security situation has improved and the first survey of gorillas since the killings, conducted in January 2009, has shown that the number of habituated gorillas in the Mikeno sector surged from 72 at the time of the killings to 81 in the 18 months subsequent to that, with 9 babies born during that period.
On 22 July 2007 6 mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) were killed. Of the 12 member Rugendo gorilla family, 4 females and the patriarch, a 500 pound silverback names Senkwekwe, were shot in cold blood with automatic weapons, and one baby disappeared, presumed dead. A month earlier, a gorilla from another group was also found shot execution style. In less than two months, 7 gorillas were killed and left where they fell, with two orphaned babies left clinging to their dead mothers.
Thanks to the generous response of our supporters we were able to contribute to the protection of the remaining gorillas by providing wages and equipment for the rangers. The protection of the gorillas in Virunga National Park has been largely ensured by the determination of its 650 rangers, but with more than 110 losing their lives in the past decade, it is a dangerous profession and many of the rangers have fled.
In the sector of the park inhabited by the gorillas, in spite of a peace deal, the area remains in rebel control. They have been blocking access to the gorillas for the last 6 months and the remaining rangers are only those brave enough to stay and protect the gorillas. The rebels are apparently under strict control not to touch the gorillas and they claim no responsibility for the gorilla killings. Likewise, poachers were not responsible for the deaths as they always cut off the heads and hands for trophies and would have taken the babies for sale on the black market. It is believed the killings were over the lucrative trade in charcoal.
Charcoal is used by 98% of the locals for cooking fuel and heat source and it’s illegal trade is worth $30 million a year, not including the neighbouring market in Rwanda where charcoal production has been outlawed to protect the forests. The rangers have tried to end this trade yet are almost helpless to stop the well armed rebels.
In May 2006, the then warden for the southern section of Virunga National Park, Paulin Ngobobo, started an internal investigation into the charcoal production. It revealed that apart from the army, rebel and local village chiefs that park officials were also on the take, paid to look the other way while charcoal was produced within and smuggled out of the park. This included Ngobobo’s immediate boss, Hornore Mashagiro, at the time Chief Warden of the Virunga National Park.
During this time on June 8, the first gorilla was executed. He continued dismantling the charcoal netwoks and arrested 6 top rangers; however the arrests were overruled by Mashagiro and instead Ngobobo was arrested. Pressure resulted in an investigation by an independent attorney, yet on July 22nd six more gorillas were executed.
A week later Mashagiro was removed from office and Ngobobo was exonerated and transferred to Kinshasa for his own protection. In March this year charges were laid against Mashagiro alleing he ran an illegal charcoal network, intimidated Ngobobo and his rangers, and organised the gorilla murders.
The gorilla murders were purely in order to undermine Ngobobo’s standing in the community, enabling Mashagiro to remove him from the parks service, leaving him free to continue profiting from the illegal charcoal trade.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time a terrible animal tragedy in central Africa. Author Stephanie McCrummen began her article:
“They heard the gunshots at about 3pm, echoing across the green mountains of a vast park tangled up in vines, fallen trees and scarred by years of war.
Rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo knew immediately what it was, and in their frayed uniforms and rubber boots began hacking their way with machetes into the jungle-like forest. This time, it was Rubiga.
The rare mountain gorilla had been shot execution-style – once in the back of the head and a second time in the hand. When the rangers found her hulking, lifeless body, her two-month-old baby, barely alive, was still clinging to her chest.
‘Everyone just started crying,’ recalled Jean-Marie Serundori, who helped wrap the body in plastic sheeting and carry it down the steep mountain side on a wooden stretcher. ‘We love these gorillas.’”
This is a tragedy almost too great to comprehend, but, as reported by Newsweek, it became far worse:
“The rangers crowded around and caressed the gorilla’s singed fur. They shook their heads and clicked their tongues with disapproval. One grabbed her hand and held it for a long time, his head bowed in grief. This gorilla – whom the rangers knew as intimately as they do all those who live in their sector of the park – was named Mburanumwe.
Her killers had set her alight after executing her. Now her eyes were closed, as if in deep concentration. “My God,” one ranger said in disgust, “they even burned her.” Nearby the rangers found the bodies of two other adult females, all from the same 12-member family. Two infants had been orphaned. A male would be found dead the next day. The massacre, first discovered on July 23, could be the worst slaughter of mountain gorillas in the last quarter century.”
The gorillas were a part of a well loved family troop known to researchers as the Rugendo family, often visited by tourists from around the world. The dead male gorilla, Senkekwe, was the troop’s leader – an alpha silverback male – and his loss is a serious blow to the remaining family members. And no one knows why they had to die. One man has been already arrested over the deaths and another is being pursued by police.
Since the start of 2007, nine gorillas have been murdered in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, more killings than occurred during the height of the bloody civil conflict of the 1990’s. Virunga National Park, near the border with Rwanda, is thought to provide critical shelter for around 360 of the world’s surviving 700 mountain gorillas, with the other 340 found in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Uganda.
In the decade-long civil war, around 150 poorly paid and poorly supplied park rangers have also met their death defending the gorillas.