Attacks Kill Five Breeding Females of Critically Endangered Species

Arlington, Virginia � An infant mountain gorilla carried by his brother from the slaughter of four group members has been rescued and is being cared for at a primate rehabilitation center in Democratic Republic of Congo.

The 5-month-old infant, named Ndeze, survived an attack by unknown assailants on the Rugendo gorilla group on July 22 in the Virunga National Park in eastern Congo. Killed were Senkwekwe , the dominant silverback of the group, and three adult females, while another adult female is missing and presumed dead. The loss of five of the group�s 12 members means it is likely to disintegrate as a social group.

Members of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Program (MGVP) and Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) found Ndeze being carried by his brother after the attack. They had to tranquilize the brother to rescue the infant, who otherwise was certain to die from lack of care in the diminished group.

Ndeze was taken to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International rehabilitation center in Goma, joining another infant orphaned six weeks earlier in an attack on a different group in the park that killed another adult female.

The recent killings reduced the estimated Virunga mountains population of 380 mountain gorillas by 1.6 percent, including five adult females now unavailable for future breeding success of the Critically Endangered species.

�This is the worst single incident in 30 years, in a region that is normally seen as the only success story for gorillas across the continent,� said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International (CI) and chairman of the Primate Specialist Group of the IUCN�s Species Survival Commission. �If we can�t stop these attacks, our closest living relatives will disappear from the planet.�

Mittermeier said that CI has agreed to provide Primate Action Fund money in collaboration with DFGFI for additional guards to protect the mountain gorillas.

The Congo government is conducting an investigation of the killings. It remains unclear who attacked the gorillas or why, but the fact that the attackers apparently left behind infants appears to rule out illegal trade in baby gorillas as a motive.

The ICCN and all international conservation NGOs in the region are meeting to develop an immediate response.

In total, 10 gorilla babies or juveniles are being cared for at two rescue centers managed by DFGFI, MGVP, and the wildlife authorities of Congo and Rwanda. They include four mountain gorilla babies and six infant or juvenile Grauer�s gorillas from eastern Congo. Additionally, 33 chimpanzees are in rehabilitation and rescue centers in the region after being recovered from illegal animal traffic trade.

Until the recent attacks, the conservation of mountain gorillas had been a rare success story for Africa�s Great Apes, which have been devastated elsewhere across the continent by Ebola virus, illegal wildlife trade and loss of habitat from deforestation.

In the latest census of Virunga mountain gorillas in 2003, the total population was estimated at 380, a 17 percent increase over the previous figure of 324 counted in 1989.

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