Endangered Species Handbook

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Vanishing Species

Human Tragedy and the Looting of Virunga's Treasures: Page 11

     Another important Gorilla habitat in southern Zaire was invaded by many of the 400,000 Rwandan refugees who fled to this area in 1994.  This magnificent protected area--Kahuzi‑Biega National Park--covers some 2,085 square miles (Jay 1994).  It is also a World Heritage Site.  The large mammals of this park were surveyed in 1994 by the Zairean Institute for the Conservation of Nature and the Wildlife Conservation Society (Jay 1994).  Preliminary data indicated that the rare Grauer's Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla graueri), a subspecies of the Lowland Gorilla, was found in fairly large numbers--at least 1,000 animals (Jay 1994).  Elephants were also numerous (Jay 1994), and the park has many rare birds (Collar et al. 1994).  One camp of 50,000 refugees blocked a narrow corridor of forest that served as a migration route for elephants and lone male Gorillas between major sections of the park (Jay 1994).  The Wildlife Conservation Society conducted a long-term study of the effects of hunting on wildlife in the park, supplemented by a 10-month United Nations probe, which released a report in April 2001 (Lauria 2001).  Gorilla numbers have plummeted here also, killed for food and trophies.  As ABC News filmed one of the few remaining Gorilla families in Kahuzi-Biega National Park during the summer of 2001, a male Silverback charged the camera crew.  Only a decade ago, Gorillas were tame and securely protected in this area.  The UN investigation determined that Rwandan forces and others have slaughtered all but two of 350 elephant families in the park for the illegal ivory trade (Lauria 2000).  This poaching was part of an organized network of corruption now looting parks and natural areas in the renamed Democratic Republic of the  Congo of diamonds, gold, timber and wildlife (Lauria 2001).

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