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°
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