Last Sunday night on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper took us to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to cover the sad story of a family of highly endangered mountain gorillas that were executed in July in Virunga National Park. There was no sense in the killings: the gorillas weren't threatening anyone, they weren't killed for meat, and the babies were not kidnapped to be sold on the black market, as has happened before.
WildlifeDirect, one of the nongovernmental organizations monitoring the situation, suspects the gorillas were killed by people involved in the multi-million-dollar charcoal trade who are operating illegally in the national park. Since July, the situation has grown worse, as rebel militia groups have moved into the park and kicked out the park rangers who were tracking and protecting the gorillas there. For the past several months, all contact with the remaining gorilla families has been cut off (there are only about 700 of them in the wild, and half of these live in Virunga National Park). Before the July massacre, Virunga National Park operated a successful gorilla tourism program, where very small groups of travelers were permitted to view the gorillas in their natural habitat under strictly controlled conditions for a limited amount of time. Revenue from tourism helped pay the rangers' salaries and gave them a way to support their families, who lived with them in the park. The rangers got to know the gorillas personally, and were devastated by the murders.
Virunga National Park is a World Heritage Site, and UNESCO is monitoring the situation closely. In their news report, they stress that the killing of gorillas also has an impact on the local population:
The current fighting has also added to the human suffering of local communities around the World Heritage site and the humanitarian crisis is starting to take on catastrophic proportions. Already an estimated 425,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, including 70 park ranger staff. As a result of the conflict, a number of makeshift camps of displaced people has sprung up right next to the park, adding further pressure on its natural resources due to people desperately looking for food, firewood and building materials for temporary shelter.
National Geographic magazine scooped this story two weeks ago on their website, posting a video about the gorilla massacre and a page on How To Help, which lists the websites of non-profit organizations that are helping to equip and protect the rangers as well as the gorillas. Please visit their site to learn more about how you can help.