Congolese rebels accused of killing and eating at least two of the world's 700 remaining mountain gorillas in recent weeks have agreed to stop killing the rare primates, a conservation group said on Wednesday.
KINSHASA -- Congolese rebels accused of killing and eating at least two of the world's 700 remaining mountain gorillas in recent weeks have agreed to stop killing the rare primates, a conservation group said on Wednesday.
Wildlife Direct accuses rebel fighters loyal to renegade Congolese army General Laurent Nkunda of butchering two silverback gorillas -- adult males so called for their grey colouring -- within the last month.
But the London-based group said one of Nkunda's commanders known as Colonel Makenga had met senior Congolese national park warden Paulin Ngobobo, and agreed a truce on gorilla killings.
"This is a very positive result. We weren't expecting to succeed given the overwhelming odds against," Wildlife Direct's statement quoted Ngobobo as saying.
"However, this is just another small step. We must keep up international pressure, to ensure that this does not happen again next week, next month, or next year," he said.
The meeting was mediated by United Nations and Congolese army officials together with the Frankfurt Zoological Society, which has joined Wildlife Direct in an active media campaign to halt the killings.
Just 700 mountain gorillas survive, more than half of them in Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The east of the country bore the brunt of a 1998-2003 war and humanitarian disaster that has killed some 4 million people.
Virunga is Africa's oldest national park, a United Nations World Heritage Site and was a significant tourist attraction before the war. The park spans Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and is home to 380 mountain gorillas, with 320 more living in the nearby Bwindi National Park in Uganda.
Both the gorillas killed by Nkunda's men were used to humans because of tourist visits, Wildlife Direct has said.
The mountain gorilla population has clung on in Virunga despite years of violence which continues despite elections last year, and has even managed to increase by 14 percent since the war began.
But armed militia fighters and floods of firearms into the area has made controlling poaching a dangerous enterprise. Some 97 rangers have been killed since 1997 protecting Virunga from poachers, Wildlife Direct says.