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Rebels control gorilla national park but gorillas remain unharmed
05 September 2007

During the early morning of Monday 3 September rebels took control of the gorilla sector in the Virungas National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). The soldiers invaded two ranger patrol posts, looting them of their weapons, mobile phones and rations and forcing the rangers to evacuate the national park. Following these attacks, rangers at a third patrol post at Bukima were also evacuated, but the Gorilla Organization can report that rangers have now returned to the Bukima post and have confirmed the safety of all habituated gorilla groups in this area.

Tuver Wundi, the Gorilla Organization’s communication manager based in Goma reported from a meeting with the ICCN, the Congolese wildlife authority in charge of the Virungas National Park, “The monitoring team inform us that for the moment all habituated gorillas are doing well. 73 gorillas have been identified, including 13 silverbacks, 7 blackbacks, 17 adult females, 5 sub-adult males, 15 juveniles and 13 babies.”

Wundi continued, “Without ranger patrols at the Jomba and Bikenge patrol posts it is a worrying time for the gorillas but for the moment it remains quiet and we continue to be positive that the gorillas will be safe, we are monitoring the situation and doing all we can to ensure that peace returns to the gorilla sector”.

Nine Mountain gorillas have been killed in the park since the beginning of the year. Despite much speculation to the contrary, it is still unclear as to why the gorillas are being killed and to date no one is sure who is responsible.

Greg Cummings, executive director of the Gorilla Organization said, “The attacks on rangers and the loss of mountain gorillas this year are devastating and major set backs to gorilla conservation. Community support is vital if the gorillas and their habitat are to be protected in the long-term and if these e vents are to be prevented in the future we need to ensure that the local people are involved in gorilla conservation and understand just how valuable the gorillas are to the country”.

These views we endorsed by a recent fact-finding mission conducted by the United Nations in response to the massacre in July which saw six gorillas lose their lives. The mission observed the importance of including local communities in efforts to preserve the gorillas and ensuring they get their share from income generating activities linked to the presence of wildlife.

The conservation of Mountain gorillas brings great prospects to the local people living on the border of the Virunga National Park. Community conservation projects protect the gorilla habitat by providing local people with sustainable alternatives to the forests’ resources - alternatives that reduce poverty and improve the health and wellbeing of so many individuals living in the area. Now that peace has returned to the region tourism also has the chance to flourish and the area is set to benefit from the economic advantages that gorilla tourism brings. But these recent attacks threaten to prevent any of this from happening and send the region into economic and ecological despair.

The Gorilla Organization understands that if gorillas are to survive in the context of Africa's other significant challenges, conservation efforts needs to be owned and managed by local people. As such, the organisation's programme develops the capacity of local people living on the borders of the national parks, by supporting long-term poverty alleviation and environmental education projects. These not only bring vast benefits to local people, but also enable them to play and active role in gorilla conservation and become stakeholders in the gorillas' future.

-Ends-

For further information, interviews, photographs of footage contact:

Abi Girling, Communications Manager
The Gorilla Organization,110 Gloucester Avenue, London, NW1 8HX
Tel: 020 7916 4974
Mobile: 07801 971123
Email: abi@gorillas.org
www.gorillas.org

NOTES TO EDITORS

About the Gorilla Organization
The Gorilla Organization works internationally to save the world’s last remaining gorillas from extinction by supporting long-term economic development and conservation projects in the poor communities surrounding the gorilla habitat.

Formerly The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Europe, the Gorilla Organization was inspired by Dian Fossey herself to raise funds to protect the endangered Mountain gorillas. Today the organisation works to ensure the survival of lowland gorillas as well as mountain gorillas with projects including gorilla protection; agricultural development; the Durban Process (long-term solution to illegal mining); conservation and education; forest people and combating loss of habitat. In 2002 the Gorilla Organization won the BBC International Award for Outstanding Work in Conservation.
for further information or photographs contact:

David Hewitt, Communications Manager
The Gorilla Organization, 110 Gloucester Avenue, London, Nw1 8HX
Tel: 020 7916 4974
Mobile: 07801 971123
david@gorillas.org
www.gorillas.org