Three female mountain gorillas and a male silverback gorilla were found shot dead this week inside a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a conservation group said Thursday.
The bodies were discovered inside Virunga National Park but it was unclear who killed them and why, the International Gorilla Conservation Program said in a statement.
"Just over 700 mountain gorillas survive in the wild today, and none exist in captivity," the group said. "For such a small population, the unnecessary and indiscriminate killing of four mountain gorillas is a huge loss."
The four were members of a family group known as Rugendo, and the male served as a leader of that group, which the IGCP feared would now be compromised. "Before the killings the Rugendo group comprised 12 individuals," the IGCP said. "Six are confirmed as safe, but two gorillas, a female and an infant, are missing."
The killings follow three others this year.
Two silverback male gorillas were shot dead in the same area of the park. The skin of one of the dead gorillas was recovered from a latrine in a nearby camp of rebels fighting the government, the IGCP said.
In May, a female gorilla was shot dead in the same park. Her orphaned infant is now being hand reared by conservationists.
"Seven gorillas killed in 7 months is a horrifying statistic," said Kwame Koranteng of the Worldwide Fund for Nature, a member of the IGCP alliance.
Postmortem exams on the four gorillas were being carried out, the IGCP said, and the bodies will be buried inside the park.
The conservation group said the Congo government has pledged to bolster park rangers patrolling the area and that guard posts are being built to provide 24-hour surveillance of the park.
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