Rebel soldiers commanded by local warlord, Laurent Nkunda, killed and ate a silverback Mountain Gorilla in the Southern Sector of Virunga National Park in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), conservationists said here on Wednesday.
In a statement issued in Nairobi, the conservationists said the highly-endangered mountain gorilla, the second to be killed by rebels this month, has sparked fears of mass slaughter.
"The animal's remains, including the head, feet, and skin, were found dumped in human excrement in a drop pit latrine. This follows the previous killing of a silverback on Jan. 5, 2007," said the Britain-based Africa Conservation Fund.
The group said the remains of the slaughtered gorilla were found on Tuesday by conservationists, sparking fears that more gorillas have been killed in this war-torn area.
Richard Leakey, the African Conservationist credited with putting an end to the slaughter of elephants in Kenya during the 1980s, has taken on the cause of Congo's Mountain Gorillas.
"The survival of these last remaining Mountain Gorillas should be one of humanity's greatest priorities. Their future lies with a small number of very brave rangers risking their lives with very little support from the outside world," Leakey said.
The slaughtered solitary silverback, called Karema, was one of a group of habituated animals, used to human presence having grown up in a group visited regularly by tourists before the DRC civil war.
There are two other groups in this area, called Mapua and Rugendo, which are now facing a real threat.
Local communities rely on the protection of the gorillas, of which there remain only 700 worldwide, to boost much needed tourism revenues, which were beginning to pick up after last year's successful election. Tourism is also a proven means of protecting this endangered species and its important forest habitat.
"In a population this small, every individual counts, and the loss of a trusting young silverback is tragic on many levels," said Ian Redmond, Chief Consultant for GRASP, the UN Great Apes Survival Project stated.
It is feared that these latest gorilla killings could be the beginning of a large-scale gorilla massacre.
It follows the frenzied slaughter of hundreds of hippos on the southwestern shore of Lake Edward in Virunga National Park in December by the Mai Mai militia, another armed faction in this turbulent region. In addition, in November Nkunda's rebels attacked and looted patrol posts in the south of the park, forcing rangers, unable to match the rebels' military power, to flee.