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Wed, June 1, 2005

Gorilla Killing Spree by Military Forces in Eastern Congo

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June 2005
Gorilla Killing Spree by Military Forces in Eastern Congo (DRC)

Community conservation efforts endangered

On June 7, 2005, military personnel of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) entered into a community forest area in the east of the country and slaughtered four endangered eastern lowland gorillas for their meat. Local citizens, assisted by DFGFI, are protecting this forest that is home to many endangered species, including eastern lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and forest elephants.
The tragedy alarms DFGFI staff because it could indicate the beginning of a disastrous trend. Not only are the military rampantly destroying local biodiversity, but they are also setting a dangerous example for DRC citizens. By hunting and introducing gorilla meat into markets, they could reverse important conservation advances already made in DRC.
Since the military arrived in the area, they have engaged in some bushmeat hunting along the periphery of these community forests, mostly of non-endangered species of monkeys. On this particular day, the military entered six kilometers deeper into these forests and came across a group of eastern lowland gorillas and opened fire, killing one male gorilla, two female gorillas, and one infant gorilla. One of the female gorillas was pregnant. The gorilla meat was offered for sale to residents from the local community, many of whom refused and reported the incident.
Recently, three other eastern lowland gorillas in the reserve area were murdered by armed groups that are now integrated into the unified DRC army. A live infant gorilla was reported to be captured and taken away, although DFGFI and reserve staff have not been able to locate its whereabouts.
The reserve was officially recognized by the DRC Ministry of Justice in 2004 and is a member of a federation of grass-roots projects creating community-managed nature reserves between the Maiko and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks. This initiative is supported by DFGFI through funding from Conservation International and USAID.
In DRC reserve areas, DFGFI holds information campaigns to educate the communities about the importance of protecting the forest and its biodiversity, and DFGFI funding permits the Congolese to do patrols, collect data on their gorillas and fauna, and conduct protection efforts (although they are unarmed). As a result, bushmeat hunting has declined.
Since April, the military presence related to the country-wide unification process has increased significantly. The new military presence is essential to the unification process and peace for this region, but DFGFI must take action to stop gorilla killings.
The eastern lowland gorilla is classified as an endangered species and only found in Eastern DRC, where DFGFI is supporting conservation through community-based projects and National Parks authorities. Conservationists in this region believe the total population has declined 71 percent as a result of two civil wars during the last decade.
DFGFI is approaching DRC military and civil authorities, as well as the United Nations peacekeeping force (MONUC) to stop these newly developing illegal activities. We need to immediately reinforce conservation education for officers and foot soldiers in the field, and secure agreements from the military that they will enforce conservation law from the top-down – including punitive legal sanctions. If we don't act rapidly, a handful of undisciplined soldiers could overturn all of our conservation successes.
Please consider making a contribution to support the expansion of our work in DRC that this emergency requires.

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