Unraveling the Murder Mystery of the Virunga Gorillas

Mountain Gorillas are one of three subspecies of the Eastern Gorillas. Currently there are 700 individuals which are broken into two groups. One of those groups are the Virunga Gorillas. These gorillas are found in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa within four national parks. Those parks are Mgahinga, in south-west Uganda; Volcanoes, in north-west Rwanda, and Virunga and Kahuzi-Biéga, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The plight of the Virunga Gorillas began last July when photographer Brent Stirton took a photograph of a dead 500-pound male gorilla named Senkwekwe who was murdered execution style. Senkwekwe was strapped on his back to a litter made out of saplings. That photograph was published in Newsweek for the entire world to see.

Who would do such a thing? The answer to that question is a complicated one. Stirton and writer Mark Jenkins were fortunate enough to be allowed into the part of Virunga where the mountain gorillas live. The area is now controlled by a militia. Brutal militias, corruption, and an environmental terror are part of the answer. Combine these with the war in the Congo and the repercussions of the Rwanda genocide and a horrific scene unfolds.

Stirton’s theory about the Virunga Gorilla murders is this: “It is part of an ongoing struggle over illegal charcoal production in the park’s ancient hardwood forests – a struggle that involves corrupt Congolese army factions and more than one Hutu militia.”

Visit National Geographic to watch a video on the Virunga gorillas and to read the article by Mark Jenkins with photograph by Brent Stirton. For further reading about the Virunga Gorillas, visit NPR and read the article “Chronicling the Virunga Gorillas.”

To protect these beautiful creatures, visit African Wildlife Foundation and make a donation today. To support the local artists and mountain gorillas of Virunga, visit Virunga Artistians.