Another Mountain Gorilla Killed African Wildlife Foundation (Washington, DC) PRESS RELEASE July 25, 2001 Posted to the web July 25, 2001 Washington, DC African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) has received word from International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP) Director Dr. Annette Lanjouw that another endangered mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) has lost its life, caught in the crossfire in the Virungas. During the past two months, there has been an increase in fighting between the military of the rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda with militia groups in eastern DRC. Much of the fighting is taking place in the forested Virunga volcanoes, home of the mountain gorillas. Only 350 gorillas can be found in the Virunga Volcanoes, and these endangered animals are coming under increased threat from the fighting. Rugendo, the dominant male silverback of one of the groups on the Congolese side of the border, was shot dead during clashes between the military and Interahamwe militia groups on July 15, 2001. The Interahamwe were the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where up to a million people were killed. According to Dr. Lanjouw, "The loss of Rugendo is another tragedy for conservation" for the efforts being made in Congo, Rwanda and Uganda to protect the gorillas from the consequences of the war, and to protect this endangered species for the future. Personally, the loss of Rugendo is a double tragedy as he was the first gorilla I ever saw in the wild, leading his own family as a young silverback. He had been habituated since 1986 and has, over the years, allowed hundreds of tourists to visit him and approach his family. He had learned to trust people and to accept their presence near his small family. Last week, he found himself too close to the fighting and I do not believe his death was intentional. But it is a sign of how difficult it is to keep the war, and the conflict, away from the forest and the gorillas." Rugendo's body was taken to Rumangabo, the park headquarters, for examination, and his remains will be buried there, with those of the other gorillas killed during the war. His son, Sekwekwe, who is also a silverback, has taken over leadership of the family. "Rugendo was shot about 40 meters from the park boundary. As he was killed in the evening, it wasn't until the next morning that his body was found and an identification could be made," said Mbake Sivha, IGCP Program Officer in Congo. "Although Sekwekwe has taken over leadership, the group is still very nervous and he will not allow the guards to come too close," she added. "It will take time before the family will allow the guards to monitor them as closely as they did in the past." The Virunga region is home for one of the two remaining populations of the endangered mountain gorillas; the other population resides in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Together, these groups represent a world population of mountain gorillas of just over 650 individuals. In the wake of this sad event, AWF extends condolences to all those in the region working under such difficult circumstances to ensure continued protection of the remaining mountain gorillas. Additional resources are required to support IGCP and partner protected area authority staff in their efforts during this period of continued conflict. AWF will continue to work with supporters to ensure this necessary support is found so that the daily field monitoring essential to protecting this fragile population can continue. IGCP, active in Rwanda since 1979 and throughout the Virunga region since 1991, is a joint initiative of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna and Flora International and the World Wildlife Fund. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Copyright © 2001 African Wildlife Foundation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).