Poachers kill gorillas, steal infant in Rwanda

Rwandan police have arrested two people in connection with the killing of two endangered mountain gorillas and the disappearance of an infant in the first incident of poaching in 17 years, officials said on Monday.

The two adult gorillas, from a subspecies of which there are only 670 in the wild, were nursing their young at the Virunga National Park when poachers attacked them on Thursday evening, said Francois Bizimungu, senior conservation officer at the park.

The two suspects in police custody have admitted that they were seeking to grab infant gorillas to sell in a market that is yet to be disclosed, said policeman Chief Inspector Tony Kuramba.

“This cannot be an operation mounted by a couple of guys. We

suspect there is a big ring behind the two men in custody,” said Solange Katarebe, director of the Rwandan national parks and tourism office.

“The poachers shot the two adult females probably when they were isolated from the rest of the family group. It occurred in the evening, when park rangers had left the forest,” Bizimungu said by telephone from Ruhengeri, the base of the Virunga Mountains, some 70 kilometres northeast of the capital, Kigali.

The park rangers track and protect the gorillas.

“The killings was discovered by rangers the next day when routine checks revealed the body of the first gorilla with bullet wounds, minus her two-year-old infant,” Bizimungu said.

“A search of the area revealed the body of the second gorilla the following day, with the infant beside her. For two days the 12-month-old infant must have been at the side of her dead mother without any food,” Bizimungu said.

The second infant was not grabbed by poachers probably because the dominant male in the Susa family of 39 gorillas - the largest mountain gorilla family group in Rwanda - moved to help his stricken mate, Bizimugu said.

Some 350 of the mountain gorillas remaining in the wild are found in the Virunga Mountains straddling both Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. The remaining 320 of the subspecies live in a separate national park in Congo.

“Because the population is so fragile and the two parks are not connected, the loss of every individual gorilla is significant in terms of genetic viability and long-term survival of the mountain gorilla,” said Katie Fawcett, director of a gorilla research centre run by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

Gorilla tourism is Rwanda’s third highest hard currency earner after tea and coffee exports.

After a four-year civil war and the 1994 genocide, tourists are just beginning to return to Rwanda. - Sapa-AP

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