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State of Emergency

The slaughter of four endangered mountain gorillas in war-ravaged Congo sparks conservationist action

smithsonian.com

Three female mountain gorillas and one adult silverback were fatally shot on the night of July 22 in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Last week, five-month-old Ndeze, the baby of one of the slain females, was found by park rangers alive but badly dehydrated and scared.

"It was clearly an incredible moment for everyone concerned," says Robert Muir, project director for the Goma-based Frankfurt Zoological Society's conservation program. "But also extremely sad to see her so traumatized."

Virunga National Park is home to roughly 150 of the world's remaining 700 mountain gorillas, which have a high risk of extinction due to habitat loss, poaching and war.

Ndeze was taken to Goma, where she will be monitored at the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, with hopes of returning her to the wild.

Park rangers believe that the people responsible for the killings are the same people linked to illegal charcoal production in the park.

"They are trying to intimidate wildlife authorities into removing the chief warden, Paulin Ngobobo," Muir says.

Ngobobo has tried to dismantle the illegal charcoal business for the past year and in June received an international award for his efforts, which rangers believe sparked the killings.

Rangers stationed at Virunga's Bukima camp first heard gun shots the night of Sunday, July 22, and entered the forest Monday morning to find three dead female gorillas: Safari, Neza and Mburanumwe.

The following day they found Senkwekwe, the male silverback. Two other gorillas have been missing since the night of the shootings.

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