An infant mountain gorilla found slain in Congo was buried Wednesday, the latest victim of violence that threatens a species whose numbers are critically low.
Park rangers in Congo found the dead infant after a raid on a suspected ring of gorilla traffickers in which authorities detained two people.
The dead female was found near east Congo's Virunga National Park, where Congolese rebels and army troops have clashed in recent months, the international conservation group WildlifeDirect said. It was not known how the infant died, though experts believe she had passed away a week earlier.
The detained men said the gorilla was taken from the park's Mikeno sector and traffickers were believed to be holding another gorilla alive.
"They were aiming to get $8,000 for the infant," WildlifeDirect said in a statement. "The rangers believe the infant could be one of the habituated gorillas of the park that have not been tracked in over three weeks due to conflict between the army and rebels in the area."
Hundreds of people, including rangers and their families, fled the park earlier this month after fighting broke out between Congolese warlord Laurent Nkunda and the army. Wildlife groups said huge swaths of the park, including several patrol posts, had been occupied by Nkunda's insurgents and looted.
Rangers have had difficulty returning and the park remains closed, though Nkunda's forces did allow a handful back to track and they accounted for 18 of the estimated 72 mountain gorillas in Congo that had been habituated to contact with tourists, WildlifeDirect said.
"We are trying to keep our spirits up, but we are very concerned for the welfare of our mountain gorillas," said Norbert Mushenzi, director of the southern sector of the park for the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature. "We need to be allowed to do our job and protect these animals."
Only about 700 mountain gorillas remain in the world, an estimated 380 of them in the Virunga range. About 100 of them are believed to live on the Congo side of the border, where 10 gorillas — including the infant — have been killed since January. The other 320 live in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
The species is classified as endangered by the World Conservation Union in its 2007 Red List.
The slain infant was buried Wednesday in a graveyard shared with the other 9 gorillas slain this year. She was given the name Mufabure, which means "killed without reason."
Virunga National Park is located in a lawless swath of eastern Congo that the country's government has struggled to bring under control for years. Established in 1925 as Africa's first national park, it was classified as a U.N. World Heritage Site in 1979.
Eastern Congo has been wracked by lawlessness and violence involving militias and rebels for more than a decade. Government forces, as well as U.N. peacekeepers, have failed to prevent sporadic outbreaks of violence since the end of the country's four-year war in 2002.
WildlifeDirect background on the plight of gorillas in Congo is online at www.wildlifedirect.org/blogAdmin/gorilla