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June 30th, 2008
07:29 PM ET

Anderson’s View: Who murdered the mountain gorillas?

Anderson Cooper

When a family of five mountain gorillas was found slaughtered last July in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo, it made headlines. Pictures, taken by Brent Stirton, of the majestic animals being carried out of the forest by rangers and villagers were seen around the world.

The gorillas had been shot to death. It was clear it was not the work of poachers, but exactly why they were killed was unclear.

We had visited the mountain gorillas earlier that year when we broadcast for a week from Congo, but after we left, the fighting in the region intensified. Rebels took over the national park where the gorillas live, and they kicked the rangers who protect the gorillas out of the park.

I went back to Congo in December for 60 Minutes, but couldn’t get to see the gorillas. They were cut off, and the rangers hadn’t been able to visit them for some six months.

By then it was clear that the illegal production of charcoal in the national park the gorillas live in had something to do with their murder. To make charcoal, people cut down hardwood trees in the park. It is a multi-million dollar a year business, and its run by a charcoal mafia. What wasn’t clear was who was heading that mafia.

This month, National Geographic has a cover story about the murder of the mountain gorillas. Photographer Brent Stirton and writer Mark Jenkins went to Congo to find out who was behind the killings. What they discovered is a disturbing tale of murder and corruption.

The man who was in charge of the park, the chief warden, has now been arrested in connection with the killing of the gorillas. It’s alleged he is a major player in the illegal charcoal trade, and had the gorillas killed as a warning to other park rangers to halt their efforts to curtail charcoal production.

Brent and Mark took a lot of risks to tell this story, and tonight we will talk to them about what they found.

Program note: See Anderson’s Planet in Peril report tonight on AC360°


Filed under: Anderson Cooper • Planet in Peril
soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Michelle Fonthill Ont,Canada

    Dear Anderson
    I can't believe that someone would kill these beautiful animals .I know they are just animals but they have no rtght to take a life no one cares about anything any more it's not fair these gorillas are just in thieir own natural habitat what did they ever do to any one?

    Thank you for being such a caring reporter and working so hard to make sure everyone knows what's going on in the world!

    Michelle D .

    July 1, 2008 at 9:31 am |
  2. Becca

    this is terrible. it truly makes me want to cry. i love all animals and have a deep affinity for great apes, especially gorillas, bonobos, and chimps. this is a murder in cold blood and is as cruel and callous as any killing splashed in homeland headlines.

    people who can harm animals truly terrify and disgust me... the details of this story are shocking!

    July 1, 2008 at 6:06 am |
  3. winarni ,indonesia

    Unnecessary killing,and useless deforestation.Mr.Cooper please keep update this story and let the world know how bad the charcoal mafia is.

    July 1, 2008 at 3:04 am |
  4. Sabrina in Los Angeles

    So sad.

    Human aren't living in balance with nature, they are destroying it...and for what end? That stupid stuff called money. Not to better the world but to gain greenbacks and "lift" themselves while shoving others down.

    These poor animals are just living their lives and Humans mess it up for them.

    Sad.

    July 1, 2008 at 1:04 am |
  5. Rose

    Hi Anderson,

    Thanks for the reporting on these precious gorillas. Your stories are so important. You tell it like it is. Please keep telling people about these tragedies. What can one do to help?

    June 30, 2008 at 11:56 pm |
  6. Fred Childs

    The gorillas were murdered? I thought the definition of murder was the unlawful killing of a human being, is it not? I, too, as others, detest the slaughter, the killing, the massacre of these majestic animals, but I would refrain from calling it murder. Is what you're saying, then, that the senseless killing, slaughter, or massacre of any animal on this planet is to be called murder?

    June 30, 2008 at 11:49 pm |
  7. Chris

    Well Anderson, the answer is no one. It's impossible to murder an animal.

    This story is important enough to stand on it's own merit without journalistic sensationalism. These animals were illegally killed and it's an awful tragedy and hopefully the men responsible will meet justice, but the fact is there is no "murder" here.

    June 30, 2008 at 11:35 pm |
  8. CHERYL

    This is so sad....
    I see this as people walking into someones home and killing a family.
    I can't understand the evil in them to be able to look at this family
    and kill them.....
    I just wish that peace would become more popular than evil and killing of animals that never did anything to anyone else were left to thier lives.

    Anderson, keep up the good work that you do.....

    Cheryl....Indiana

    June 30, 2008 at 11:35 pm |
  9. Shevonna

    Hello Anderson!
    I'm so sad to hear about that family of gorillas. I don't understand how some people think money is more important than lives. Even though they are animals, they have just as every right to live just like the rest of us. Isn't it enough that they're destroying their homes? After trees are gone, what's next? They need to stop and look at their actions. I just hope it doesn't happen again.

    Thanks for reporting on this story. Much love to you and all of your hard work on reporting stories that matter!!!

    June 30, 2008 at 11:03 pm |
  10. Mitchell Douglasville, Ga.

    Anderson this was a good story! Great news reporting from lots of hard work and research.

    This bring me to another totally different point to report new 24-7 365 days per year pushes both CNN and FOX to a foul stench on some new items. This type story is far more new worthy than a General's statement resulting in getting opinions on Patriotism and the price of gas: What matters to you?

    Guy's it's about time to stop creating news, I also send this to FOX but they were to chicken to post.

    Where is the Indian when the station signed off are start doing your homework are air the above new report several times a day.

    June 30, 2008 at 10:41 pm |
  11. Jolene

    Anderson: How distressing this story is. It's hard to believe that people would disregard the life of these amazing animals for something as simple as charcoal. The terror they experienced that day was so unnecessary. I was also very touched by the honor and respect they were given for their burials.

    I give my utmost respect to the rangers who take protecting these animals to heart. Kudos out to the U.N. for making sure the rangers are protected also.

    Thanks for the update and looking forward to the interview.

    Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    June 30, 2008 at 10:15 pm |
  12. Eve, Long Island

    Whether its charcoal in the Congo, diamonds in Sierra Leone, or soybeans in the Amazon, consumers are, unfortunately, unaware of the death and destruction that coincides with the products we buy. Boycotts are a good start and they can be organized by governments as well as individuals.

    Anderson, I am glad that you are telling stories that need to be told…and Africa has untold amounts of sorrow, past and present.

    June 30, 2008 at 10:00 pm |
  13. jackie Chino Hills, CA

    and we thank them dearly =) this story needs to be told and hopefully it will be a nice length of a segment. hehe, bad english sorry.

    June 30, 2008 at 9:53 pm |
  14. Jo Ann, North Royalton, Ohio

    Anderson,

    The mountain gorillas have always had a place in my heart, so I was devastated when I heard about the senseless murders of the Rugendo Family in July of 2007 and the earlier murder of a female from the Kabirizi Family in June. I have been following this terrible story ever since.

    It is such a tragedy that these innocent creatures are being used as political pawns by these warring forces.

    It was very troubling to read Mark Jenkins’ extensive, but thorough article about the murders and the politics behind them. Brent Stirton’s photographs are breathtaking; I hope everyone takes the time to read it. There is also a video and photo gallery on the “National Geographic” website in conjunction with the cover story.

    I am very saddened that these poor creatures remain in such terrible danger because of the selfishness of humans. I hope that you will continue to monitor their plight.

    I am anxious to see tonight’s report.

    Jo Ann
    North Royalton, Ohio

    June 30, 2008 at 9:53 pm |
  15. Mary H. St. Louis, MO

    Wow, illegal charcoal trade. I have never heard of that. Why is it in so demand there, is this the only thing they have to produce? I'm guessing that maybe this is the only means to cook anything and therefore is in big demand. Ok, can't wait to see the story tonight to gain more insight.

    I enjoy the planet in peril segments. I'm glad someone is focusing on this. There are just so many domestic issues (economy, the war, housing mess, etc etc) that this helps to keep focus on even bigger more global issues that are out there.

    June 30, 2008 at 9:36 pm |
  16. Lori, Boston

    Hi Anderson,

    I'm so glad you're having this story on your show. This is so sad and disturbing. I loved the piece you did on the mountain gorillas when you were in the Congo. They are a fascinating and intelligent animal.

    June 30, 2008 at 9:33 pm |
  17. Paula, Colorado

    Anderson,
    Hi.
    I remember your earlier reports from Congo–the killing of the gorillas is very tragic. I'm glad progress has been made in finding who was responsible–and why it occurred–though the loss is irreversible.
    It's great to see your writing on this tonight–I look forward to your interview later.

    June 30, 2008 at 9:33 pm |
  18. Sharon from Indy

    Anderson:
    As more and more resources are depleted or discovered in developing nations, I believe the gems of nature will be in jeopardy. As said in your blog, this time it was charcoal. What's next? It will probably be the oil in Africa.

    Today's headlines speak of limited access to food in Africa, tomorrow's headlines will address clean drinking water; to many, aving the gorillas may seem foolish when children are dying and stomach's are empty.

    This does not justify the killing of God's creatures for an illegal fuel trade. It just signifies a huge split between a genuine African culture and desperation for survival beyond our Western understanding.

    Thank you for covering the gorillas in the Congo. The gorillas' eyes are haunting if not close to a human face. You have been able to send valuable humanitarian messages through your Planet in Peril documentaries.

    June 30, 2008 at 9:21 pm |
  19. Lorie Ann, Buellton, California

    Sometimes, there just aren't any words. This story is one of those times. It makes me wonder how some human beings can even face themselves in the mirror. Greed has swallowed them whole. How sad.

    Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif.

    June 30, 2008 at 9:19 pm |
  20. Annie Kate

    I was appalled last year when these gorillas were killed. When I found out who was behind it, it was worse – someone that had supervised the effort to acclimatize the gorillas to humans and teach them to accept us as a non-danger turned on them viciously all for money....it was like abusing the trust of a child.

    I'm looking forward to your interview Anderson.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    June 30, 2008 at 9:12 pm |
  21. Karen M, Ohio

    I'm looking forward to both your piece and the National Geographic piece.

    It's kind of hard to wrap your mind around the fact that anyone would want to kill any of these gorillas in cold blood until you think about how volitile the area is around them. Then when you find out that it's tied to monetary gain and someone who was supposed to be keeping them from harm makes it even more unfathomable.

    June 30, 2008 at 9:01 pm |
  22. Sandra Robertson

    Dear Anderson:

    Thank you for the coverage of these beautiful and intelligent creatures in which Dian Fossey lived and died for. I will be sure to stay up tonight and watch Brent and Mark's story of courage and compassion in a world of madness and greed.

    June 30, 2008 at 9:00 pm |
  23. Carrie, Iowa

    With all of the problems in the world today, people may not see this as a big deal. But, the gorillas are 'us', or at least our closest relative in the animal kingdom. I can't help but think that what happens to them will eventually happen to us. When they are gone...where will we be?

    June 30, 2008 at 8:32 pm |
  24. Minou, New York City

    Hi Anderson,
    I'm so glad you keep coming back to the gorillas! I had read about the murders of the gorillas last year in Newsweek.

    I'm blogging with rangers from the Virunga National Park in North Kivu.
    Anderson, you've interviewed some of them a while ago for 60 Minutes.
    Ranger Innocent just blogged about how some rangers found women carrying sacks with charcoal and how they confiscated the charcoal.
    The women ran back to their village and told the FDLR (Hutu militia from Rwanda), who then went after the rangers, captured 3 of them and after negotiations with Innocent, let them go.

    It's sad to see how this beautiful region has been turned into a place of misery.
    Thanks for raising awareness to the problems this particular region is faced with.

    June 30, 2008 at 8:30 pm |
  25. pati mc., camp hill, pa

    Hi Anderson.

    This situation with the mountain gorillas makes me ill. How someone can harm these incedible beings is beyond me. And all for the sake of charcoal? That so surpasses any reason whatsoever. Can't we just send these people some? Seriously? What is the deal? Money. It all comes down to that. Disturbing. Senseless. Unforgiveable.

    Brent and Mark are incredibly brave men. God Bless them for believing in the gorillas and wanting to bring this issue to the fore. It needs attention! Should these people are allowed to continue there will be no gorillas. That is not an option! We can learn so much from these gentle giants. That is what gets me. I know that they are not defenseless, but they are so trusting, which makes it easy for these horrid people to get close enough to do their evil deeds. So sad. Truly unfair.

    Once again, my heartfelt thanks to you Anderson, for covering this story. You are so fortunate to have seen these creatures. I hope I get to see them before they are gone. Wake up people! We need to pay attention to this situation and do something.

    Please keep on this Anderson. Let us know what we can do to help. I will purchase National Geo. I cannot wait to read the story and to hear your interview tonight.

    Be well.

    PS: I just met Dana Bash at the PA State Capital. Good to see some CNN folks here in my communtiy. Awesome!

    June 30, 2008 at 8:28 pm |
  26. Larry

    That nation should change its name as here is no 'democracy' being practised there.

    June 30, 2008 at 8:12 pm |
  27. Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX

    Hi Anderson,
    What a crying shame! It looks as if most people in the world think we were put here to destroy this planet and everything in it.
    The prognosis is not looking good.
    What makes people hate? Money? Greed? Desperation?
    As the world turns, the problems we create within spin out of control.
    When my children were growing up I always told them,"If you'll always be kind, you'll always be right."
    Sometimes, they remind me of that when they watch the news. :-(
    Thank you for caring Anderson. I can't wait to see the report!
    Peace out there~
    XXOO

    June 30, 2008 at 8:10 pm |
  28. Maritza

    Anderson ,

    I was wondering when you would report on this tragic story, I read it in National Geographic and was horrified when I read the details , these innocent animals couldn't probably sense who they could trust , one was shot in the back of the head, the image of the silverback being carried away by rangers was so graphic and terribly sad, five killed , all members of one family and how they love and protect especially the dominant silverback each other, corruption and allegations of a frame job at the expense of creatures too beautiful and intelligent for simple words, you've seen them up close in their enviorment , in their land , why has it taken so long to hear about this event , it's gotten world wide attention more recently , I really take the injustice of innocent animals that are already endangered to heart, I have a picture above my desk of you and a flirty young female gorilla on another trip you took several years ago, this story has a personal meaning for you I'm sure , I hope your report wil lead to some justice in any way.

    Maritza

    June 30, 2008 at 8:09 pm |
  29. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    This story about these killings and what is happening to the people is just horrible. Reading the article this morning, it seems the problems are so complex (finding alternative fuel sources, refugees, conservation, corruption, poverty, human nature run amok). If some of those main problems could somehow be tackled, then maybe...Today friends and I were talking about work in the Congo through our diocesan mission program and the needs of the people (there are so many). What else can you do if you say you really want to make a difference for these people in their lives? It's never enough I don't think for those who have so little in an area where life is not respected by government leaders but instead seen as a pawn in a macabre chess game that no one gets to win. I am grateful this reporter and photographer took the risks and told the story (and that you're covering it tonight). Maybe if enough do (like them and you) people will get mad enough to want to do something about it, too. And maybe these "leaders" will get the idea that what they do isn't acceptable to the world by anyone's standards.

    June 30, 2008 at 8:07 pm |
  30. Maria

    This story breaks my heart. I don't understand (nor do I ever want to understand) what makes these people think it is okay to destroy animals like this. It is disgusting and I hope those kind of people burn in hell.

    June 30, 2008 at 8:01 pm |
  31. Cindy

    Anderson,
    When I first heard of the killings of these gorillas it made me sick. Who could kill such a beautiful animal for nothing? I am so glad that the National Geographic guys went to the Congo to find out who killed them and why. It doesn't surprise me at all that it was someone that was so close to the gorillas trying to make money off of the charcoal. I'm just wondering why the government there couldn't figure out who killed them. Were they in on it too? It seems they had to be or at least some of them. Why else did it take two people from another country to figure it out? I hope the guy responsible rots in jail. And his arrest and conviction detours any others who think of doing the same.

    Cindy..Ga.

    June 30, 2008 at 7:56 pm |
  32. Rekha Raman

    Hi Anderson,

    I feel very sorry for the gorillas that were murdered in cold blood. I pray for the protection of the gorillas and their longevity, protection and survival.
    It was indeed very brave of the NG team to have investigated this incident and exposed the criminals. I wish them safety in their future explorations.
    I looking forward to the PIP2 preview and your interview.
    I hope you had a great weekend Anderson. We love you. (gorillas too)

    Rekha

    June 30, 2008 at 7:55 pm |
  33. Hannah Storm

    These gorilla are just so beautiful and it is just so sad to see and hear what is happening to them.

    I can not wait to see your piece and the National Geographic piece as well.

    June 30, 2008 at 7:50 pm |
  34. Lilibeth

    I was actually curious about what’s happened since you covered this story last year. And now you’re saying that the chief warden of the park may have something to do with this? Unbelievable…the people who are supposed to protect them are the ones harming them. I hope they’re brought to justice soon.

    I can’t wait to hear of more of this tonight. Please let us know too how we can help save the mountain gorillas.

    Lilibeth
    Edmonds, Washington

    June 30, 2008 at 7:48 pm |
  35. Ratna, New York, NY

    What can I tell yah Anderson, it breaks my heart. Would it be possible or rescuers to transfer some of the gorilla families in a natural habitat somewhere else in the world?

    June 30, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  36. Karen

    Hey Anderson,

    Reading the first sentence – antisocial personality disorder popped into my head – and then I thought what else had the people who had done that do – to human beings?

    I saw that 60 minutes.

    Oh – it's about money.

    June 30, 2008 at 7:45 pm |
  37. Megan Dresslar

    Hi Anderson,
    I 'm sorry about gorillia killed. It is so sad. I am so shock, I am really disappoint with other people to shot to death against Gorllia, I hope that Police and other will be caught, I love many Gorillias. that is my favorite animals! I can't wait your show Planet in Peril tonight, It will be so interesting progam tonight. That is my favorite documentary show!I will be there on live blog tonight! See you there tonight! xoxo
    Megan D.
    Shoreline, Wa

    June 30, 2008 at 7:40 pm |
  38. Tracey - Boston

    Brent and Mark took a lot of risks to tell this story.

    Yes they did. I'm very glad they were able to get this story and return alive. I saw the magazine cover the other day. I didn't get a chance to pick it up yet. I will be watching tonight and you will have my undivided attention

    June 30, 2008 at 7:38 pm |