An armed rebellion in the rain forest where "Gorillas in the Mist" was filmed has led to the disappearance of some of the endangered gorillas and increased poaching, conservationists say.
The gunfire irritates the gorillas, and the economic upheaval caused by the rebellion has resulted in more poaching, said Dianne Hitchingham, managing director of the Digit Fund in Englewood, Colo.Poachers seeking food are setting traps in the forest for deerlike animals, but gorillas are getting caught, Hitchingham said.
Three gorillas have become ensnared in traps, an infant gorilla was found dead, and one group of seven gorillas has been missing since January, she said.
Researchers do not know whether the infant gorilla died of war-related causes or natural causes, Hitchingham said. The seven missing gorillas probably escaped to Zaire, but efforts to track them have failed so far, she said.
"For comparison, during all of 1990, we did not have a single gorilla caught in a snare in Rwanda," Hitchingham said recently.
Some 310 mountain gorillas remain in the world.
The danger of gorillas being caught in the rebellion's crossfire is small, but the nightmarish sounds of warfare alone could threaten their survival, she said.
"Loud noises in a zoo setting will cause gorillas to lower their immune systems, their ability to fight diseases," she said. "It will affect their long-term ability to reproduce."
The Digit Fund supports the Karisoke Research Center, established in Rwanda in 1967 by Dian Fossey.
Fossey was murdered at the center on Dec. 26, 1985. Her story was told in the 1988 film "Gorillas in the Mist" starring Sigourney Weaver. It was filmed partly in Rwanda.
The fighting has led to the virtual disappearance of tourism in the east-central African nation, said Amy Vedder of Wildlife Conservation International in New York, an ecologist who spent five years in Rwanda.
Tourists visiting the gorillas have been a major source of foreign currency for Rwanda. The loss of that money in tandem with the war's costs could cripple conservation efforts there, Vedder said.
The uprising in Rwanda began last October when reb-els of the Rwandese Patriotic Front crossed the border from Uganda. The fighting spread in January to Volcanoes National Park, where the gorillas live.