The Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura, is concerned over attacks perpetrated against the mountain gorillas of the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and has called on the national authorities to adopt urgent measures to brings the killings to an end.
Declared a threatened species by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the mountain gorilla is one of the Park's most important assets.
Situated in the north-east of the DRC, near the borders of Uganda and Rwanda, Virunga is known as the oldest African national park. Established in 1925, it was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1979, for its natural habitats that are important for the preservation in situ of biological diversity, particularly some habitats in which survive threatened species of outstanding universal value from the scientific point of view or for conservation.
The four gorillas, one "silverback gorilla" and three females, slaughtered in Bukima, probably on the night of 22 July, belonged to a group inhabiting an area regularly visited by tourists. The disappearance of these gorillas represents not only a tragedy for the preservation of the species, but also the loss of an important source of revenue for local communities. Two other members of the group, a female and her young, are reported to have gone missing.
Since the beginning of the year, seven gorillas have been shot and killed. This is more than the numbers lost during the conflict that wracked the Great Lakes region in the 1990s, leading the World Heritage Committee to inscribe the park of the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The rising number of gorillas slaughtered in the southern part of Virunga National Park requires urgent measures to be taken.
The first initiative will be the sending, at the request of the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature and within the framework of the "reinforced monitoring mechanism" adopted by World Heritage Committee during its 31st session (Christchurch, New Zealand, 23 June - 2 July 2007), of a joint UNESCO World Heritage Centre and IUCN mission.
The mission should take place in the middle of August. It will investigate the reasons for the targeting of mountain gorilla populations, and work with the appropriate Congolese authorities, the IUCN and its partners on action necessary to avoid an ecological and economic disaster for the populations living near the World Heritage site.
Another important initiative, concerning all the Word Heritage sites of the DRC inscribed both on the World Heritage List and on the List of World Heritage in Danger, will be to organize a meeting later this year, bringing together the DRC's authorities, representatives of the African Union, relevant sub-regional organizations and the Director General of the IUCN. Its main purpose will be to assess ways of efficiently dealing with the deteriorating state of conservation of world heritage properties in the DRC.