Cooked remains of gorilla found in Rwanda

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Rwandan soldiers fanned out across Virunga National Park yesterday to protect endangered mountain gorillas after the remains of one male were found cooked and half eaten by Hutu militiamen, and a second one reportedly met a similar fate.

Rwandan soldiers fanned out across Virunga National Park yesterday to protect endangered mountain gorillas after the remains of one male were found cooked and half eaten by Hutu militiamen, and a second one reportedly met a similar fate.

The gorillas, from a subspecies of which there are only 355 in the wild, were believed to be Lone Silverback males who recently reached maturity and were forced out of the family groups mountain gorillas live in, researchers said.

Innocent Kagango, one of the militiamen who later deserted and surrendered to Rwandan government soldiers, said he was shocked by the killing. "It was 3pm on Friday ... I heard three shots in the forest before my colleagues came back with gorilla meat.

"I asked them, 'How could you dare to kill and eat those peaceful old men of the mountain?' They looked almost like human beings ... I thought these people can easily eat me, and that is when I began my plot to desert."

After they had infiltrated the park from neighbouring Congo to escape a Rwandan army crackdown on their bases, the Rwandan rebels shot, grilled, then ate the gorillas.

Mr Kagango and his 15 colleagues were either Hutu extremists or former government soldiers who fled to the Congo after carrying out the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that left more than 500,000 people dead. Tutsi-led rebels stopped the killing and took control of the government forcing the Hutu fighters into Congo, where the Rwandan army has pursued them since 1996.

Major Andre Habyarimana said the rebels "were surrounded by a tight military cordon thrown around the park by the army and were unable to sneak out and get food. In desperation, they decided to kill gorillas and eat them."

Although the killing and eating of monkeys, chimpanzees and lowland gorillas is common in the Congo and other parts of Central Africa, it is rare in Rwanda and Uganda.

Liz Williamson, who works at a gorilla research centre run by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, said: "It is a terrible loss. Because the population of gorillas is so tiny, any single individual is invaluable genetically."

As the June-September tourism season begins in this tiny central African nation, authorities are pulling out all the stops to assure visitors that it is safe to trek up the steep volcanic mountain slopes to the gorilla sanctuary. Soldiers accompany tourists up the mountains, while others line routes to gorilla feeding grounds.

Gorilla tourism is Rwanda's third highest hard-currency earner after tea and coffee exports. After a four-year civil war and the 1994 genocide, tourists are just beginning to return to the country. (AP)

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