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Poachers Kill Two Rare Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda

Poachers in Rwanda have killed two of the world's last remaining mountain gorillas and captured one of their babies. This is the first incident of its kind in 17 years.

Rwandan rangers found the bodies of the two female mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park. They had been shot dead.

A 13-month-old baby gorilla was clinging to its mother's body. The other 22-month-old infant is missing.

Ian Redmond of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International said the poachers are probably trying to sell the captured baby gorilla to unscrupulous dealers.

"Someone in the world offered a price for a baby mountain gorilla, and the prices commanded by baby mountain gorillas are very high. A Nigerian dealer was recently circulating a list around zoos offering four baby western lowland gorillas for $1.6 million dollars. And as Shirley McGreal of International Primate Protection League said, with a price like that on their head no mother gorilla is safe. If there is even a whiff of that kind of money then people will try and get it," Mr. Redmond said.

There are just 655 mountain gorillas left in the world, 300 of them in the Virunga National Park, which straddles Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr. Redmond said just one poaching incident like this seriously damages the mountain gorillas' chances of survival. "Clearly, a small population like this is very vulnerable. Here we are talking about three gorillas missing, and if this baby that is being monitored in the group does not survive, then that is four," he said. "So you are talking about one per cent of the population of these gorillas, so it is very significant. Every individual matters. Breeding females of an endangered species are extremely important."

Rwandan police have arrested two suspects although they believe the two men are part of a larger criminal ring.

There are no mountain gorillas in captivity, so it would be difficult to sell one to a zoo. It is also illegal to transport them over international borders.

Gorillas are Rwanda's biggest tourist attraction. Visitors pay $250 to spend an hour with the animals.