Hundreds of rebel soldiers have entered the Virunga National Park in DR Congo, prompting fears that the critically-endangered mountain gorillas living there could be in grave danger.
According to reports from within the park, a rebel army of around 1,500 men entered into the protected conservation area from the west. While the critically-endangered mountain gorillas (right) living here are not believed to be in any immediate danger, this latest incursion has caused widespread panic in the communities living along the edges of the park, with more than 20,000 people fleeing towards the city of Goma. Additionally, the rebel presence in the forests has placed the rangers working to protect gorillas and other wildlife at even greater risk than usual.
Speaking from Goma, the Gorilla Organization's programme manager Henry Cirhuza explains that, as a result of this fresh influx of internally displaced people (IDPs), prices in the local markets have been soaring, while people are being forced to seek shelter in churches and schools, disrupting many children's education.
Furthermore, he warns that fighting between the rebels and the army could erupt along the Rwandan frontier of the Virunga National Park, the area where the mountain gorillas live. "The rebels won't kill gorillas for meat, but they kill them as an act of revenge against the government or to send a message to their pursuers."
Figures compiled by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) show that around 300,000 people have been forced to move as a result of conflict in the few months of 2012 alone.
Follow the latest news from the Gorilla Organization's resource centres on the Gorilla Field Staff blog.