Bodies of Congo Gorillas May Have Been Sign

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Popi, a rare silverback mountain gorilla sits with an offspring on the dense, wet undergrowth/AP. i

Popi, a rare silverback mountain gorilla sits with an offspring on the dense, wet undergrowth. Rodrique Ngowi/AP Photos hide caption

itoggle caption Rodrique Ngowi/AP Photos
Popi, a rare silverback mountain gorilla sits with an offspring on the dense, wet undergrowth/AP.

Popi, a rare silverback mountain gorilla sits with an offspring on the dense, wet undergrowth.

Rodrique Ngowi/AP Photos

Conservationists are trying to solve the puzzle of what they call "gorilla executions." Four mountain gorillas were shot to death earlier this month in Congo's Virunga National Park.

Sometimes hunters kill gorillas and take their young. But that does not seem to be the case this time because a gorilla baby was found clinging to the body of one of the dead.

Experts do not believe that the gorillas were killed by poor, local hunters who were trying to earn a living. Apparently, the perpetrators were trying to make a political point.

Bill Weber, a Rwanda-based conservationist and co-author of the book In the Kingdom of Gorillas speaks with Alex Chadwick.

Mountain Gorillas Shot at National Park in Congo

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Nyarusizi, a one-handed rare mountain gorilla/AP. i

Nyarusizi, a one-handed rare mountain gorilla, sits on wet, rotting bamboo leaves in a bamboo forest. Rodrique Ngowi/AP Photos hide caption

itoggle caption Rodrique Ngowi/AP Photos
Nyarusizi, a one-handed rare mountain gorilla/AP.

Nyarusizi, a one-handed rare mountain gorilla, sits on wet, rotting bamboo leaves in a bamboo forest.

Rodrique Ngowi/AP Photos

Four rare mountain gorillas were shot and killed at Congo's Virunga National Park, bringing the number of gorillas killed in the park to seven in the last seven months.

The dead animals included an alpha-male silverback, which endangers the others in the 12-gorilla group because the alpha male leads the group to food and protects them from danger. Six other animals in the group are safe, but a female and an infant are missing, said a spokesperson for the International Gorilla Conservation Program.

"For such a small population, the unnecessary and indiscriminate killing of four mountain gorillas is a huge loss," the IGCP said in a statement.

"Seven gorillas killed in seven months is a horrifying statistic and a trend that cannot continue," World Wildlife Fund regional representative Dr. Kwame Koranteng said.

Only an estimated 700 mountain gorillas remain. None exist in captivity.

Officials with the International Gorilla Conservation Program said it was unclear who shot the three females and one male, or why they were killed.

Residents heard gunshots Sunday night and alerted park rangers, who discovered the dead gorillas the following morning.

The gorillas belonged to the Rugendo group living in an area popular with tourists, providing valuable financial support to locals.

Patrols were increased in that part of the park with support from the Congolese army. Guard posts were being built to provide 24-hour surveillance.

Earlier this year, two silverback males were shot to death in the same area of the park. They were believed to have been killed by supporters of dissident warlord Laurent Nkunda. The skin of one of the gorillas was found at a latrine in a nearby rebel camp.

In May, a female gorilla was shot dead in the park. Her orphan baby is being raised by the Institute for the Conservation of Nature in Goma.

The IGCP was formed in 1991. It is a partnership between the WWF, Fauna & Flora International, and the African Wildlife Foundation that conserves mountain gorillas and their forest habitat.

From the Associated Press reports

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