In Congo Conflict, Endangered Gorillas Are Pawns

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gorilla150.jpgThis is a truly heartbreaking story. The New York Times reports on yet another facet of the bloodshed in the Congo: Endangered mountain gorillas are among the rebels’ targets:

Congo’s gorillas happen to live in one of the most contested, blood-soaked pieces of turf in one of the most contested, blood-soaked corners of Africa. Their home, Virunga National Park, is high ground — with mist-shrouded mountains and pointy volcanoes — along the porous Congo-Rwanda border, where rebels are suspected of smuggling in weapons from Rwanda. Last year in Virunga, 10 gorillas were killed, some shot in the back of the head, execution style, park officials said.

According to this AP story, the rebels often eat the slaughtered gorillas. But it’s unlikely that the militias are killing them solely for their meat. The reason? Read on after the jump.

First, the park is full of wildlife—the Times story mentions that the rebels have also hunted hippopotamuses for their meat; after a recent machine gun rampage in a local watering hole, a park spokeswoman said, “The lake turned red.” What’s more, the gorillas are perfect pawns—since only 700 individuals remain in the Congo, they have political caché.

In recent months, the rebel attacks in the park have become so frequent that the 240 rangers who had been protecting the gorillas have been driven out of the area. The other night, a conservation biologist friend told me that a few park wardens have chosen to continue to do their job without pay. The Times didn’t report that, but the rangers’ dedication to the gorillas is obvious; as one told the Times, “They are like our cousins.”

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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