On July 22nd 2007, several members of the Rugendo gorilla family were callously shot dead. Rangers heard the gunfire and knew in their hearts something terrible had happened. The gorillas were not killed for meat as their bodies were left intact. Neither were they killed by accident. The Rugendo family had been a much visited group, used to the presence of humans, for a very long time. The executions were reported all over the world and were unanimously condemned.
It is believed that the deaths were directly related to the charcoal trade. This illegal trade is destroying Virungas forests and is very lucrative. The rangers had been locating and destroying charcoal kilns. The gorilla executions were thought to be a grim warning to the rangers.
Senkwekwe and his family were carried to Rumagabo for burial.
The case against those responsible is ongoing.
Senkwekwe, which is ‘a bird that sings in the morning’, was a very calm yet strong silverback.
He was no doubt shot trying to defend his family. Safarai, Neza and Mburanumwe were also killed. Safari, had a very young infant, Ndeze, who miraculously survived the attack. She is now at the Senkwekwe Centre, named after her father, for orphan mountain gorillas.
One of the other females was pregnant.
2007 was a bad year for the Virunga mountain gorillas.
In January, a solitary silverback, Karema, was killed. It is thought he was shot for meat, as his remains were found discarded.
Karema means ‘handicapped’ in Swahili, as he had a hand missing from being caught in a snare as a youngster. He was an exceptionally calm and trusting silverback and would not have been concerned at the approach of his killers.
Another solitary silverback went missing from the same area, at the same time. It is thought that he may have suffered the same fate. General Laurent Nkunda’s troops were occupying the forest at that time.
A month before the massacre, on June 8th 2007, the adult female Nsekuye was shot in the back of the head, leaving a tiny baby, Ndakasi, an orphan. Ndakasi is now at the Senkwekwe Centre with Ndeze.
Nsekuye with Ndakasi
Nsekuye was also carried by rangers back to Rumangabo for burial
Including the unborn baby from the July massacre, Virunga lost 10 mountain gorillas in 2007. May all those responsible be brought to justice and the lost gorillas of Virunga rest in peace.