Senior Park Ranger Primary Suspect in Gorilla Killings of 2007March 21, 2008 By Rachel Weisshaar
A senior wildlife official with the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN) was arrested this week amid charges that he organized the executions of up to 10 endangered mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park last year. The official is also accused of cutting down protected trees to convert them into charcoal. WildlifeDirect, a wildlife conservation NGO that works in the park, suggested that Mashagiro had orchestrated the killings of the gorillas to distract rangers from the charcoal production, which was destroying the gorillas’ habitat, and to discourage the rangers from protecting the gorillas.
Last month, the New Security Beat reported on a new agreement between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, and Rwanda to protect the mountain gorillas’ rapidly diminishing habitat. The initiative was one of the few promising developments for the gorillas over the past several months.
In early March, rebels who had taken control of the park’s Gorilla Sector—home to half of the world’s approximately 720 gorillas—threatened to kill any park ranger who attempted to enter it. According to local officials, the rebels have set up a parallel gorilla administration in the sector, charging tourist groups to view the gorillas. The park rangers had hoped they would be permitted to enter the Gorilla Sector following a January 2008 peace agreement between the Congolese government and the rebel groups, but the rebels have continued to forbid them from returning to the area.