Wildlife park chief arrested over massacre of rare gorillas

A A A

It was a gorilla massacre that shocked the world. Among the victims: the majestic silverback Senkekwe, his body riddled with gunshot wounds after a brutal execution; a female named Mburanumwe, killed with her unborn baby inside; and another, Safari, burnt to a cinder.

The rangers of Congo's Virunga National Park who bore the corpses of the rare apes on stretchers to be buried were visibly shaken by the wretched crime. Now it seems that some of them may have orchestrated the slaughter.

Honore Mashagiro, director of the park at the time of last year's atrocities, was arrested yesterday at his home in the eastern town of Goma on suspicion of arranging the killing of the endangered gorillas. Another six foresters are expected to be questioned in the coming days about trapping and killing the apes on the director's orders.

"This is a major breakthrough," said Dipesh Pabari, a spokesman for conservation group Wildlife Direct. "The Congolese authorities are showing the world that they will no longer tolerate mismanagement."

The slopes of the extinct volcanoes in Virunga, where the borders of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda meet, are protected by Unesco and are home to more than half of the 700 mountain gorillas not in captivity.

It was clear from the moment the bulk of the gorilla corpses were discovered, amid the forested slopes last July, that this was no ordinary killing. Local poachers were not suspected because the carcasses, potentially valuable on the bushmeat market, had been left behind. And a hit job for the trophy trade was ruled out as the animals still had their heads and hands.

"The people that did this located the animals in one go and they knew how to approach them, which suggests an inside job," said Dan Bucknell, the Africa programme manager for the Gorilla Organization.

Another prominent environmentalist sighed on hearing news of Mr Mashagiro's arrest: "He always seemed like one of the good ones."

The fact that Mr Mashagiro is also being investigated for illegal charcoal burning offers an insight into the likely motive for the gorilla killings. Illegal charcoal traders have been cutting down trees in the gorillas' habitat to fuel an industry thought to be worth around $30m (£15m) a year. But last year the Congolese government stepped up its attempts to clamp down on the illicit trade, and conservationists believe that this ruffled some feathers.

Mr Pabari said: "He [Mashagiro] was in a position of great responsibility, and allegedly used his authority to promote the destruction of forest for charcoal to make money. This threatened the gorilla habitat, so that when the rangers tried to protect the forest, he allegedly orchestrated the gorilla massacres to discourage them."

Mr Mashagiro, a senior official in the Congolese Nature Conservation Institute, was removed as director of Virunga not long after the killings and put in charge of the gorilla population at Kahuzi-Biega National Park.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test