Conservationists were shocked to find four gorillas found shot dead this week at a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, marking seven gorilla murders so far this year. The bodies were found in Virunga National Park with no suspects or motives for killing the animals. This is especially alarming since the number of mountain gorillas has dwindled to 700 that are known to exist today.

Earlier in the year, two male gorillas were found shot to death in the same area of the park. The skin from one of them was found in a nearby camp of rebels who are fighting the government. Then in May, a female gorilla was shot dead in the park as well. She left behind an infant who is being looked after by conservationists. These deaths are frustrating for conservationists who have spent 20 years trying to preserve the mountain gorilla population.

Gorillas, the largest of the apes species, are divided into three subspecies: western lowland gorillas, eastern lowland gorillas, and mountain gorillas. They differ in size, build, and coloring and live in Central Africa. All three subspecies are listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Convention on International Trade for Endangered Species. The most populated of these are western lowland gorillas. There are about 50,000 of this species and are often the ones found in zoos. Newborn gorillas weigh about five pounds and are covered in black hair. They develop twice as fast on human babies. At the age of three, they are considered juveniles. Between the ages of three and six, they grow to weigh about 250 to 300 pounds. At six, the females reach full maturity, but the males continue to grow until the age of ten. By then, the males develop silver patches of hair on their backs. They are between five and six feet tall and weigh between 450-500 pounds.

The lifespan of these animals are not known, but it is assumed they live for about 25 to 30 years. However, almost half of all young gorillas die before they reach adulthood. Postmortem exams on the gorillas killed his week are being carried out. The conservation group has been assured by the Congo government that more park rangers will be patrolling the area and guard posts are being built to capture 24-hour surveillance of the park.

For related articles visit http://www.cotf.edu/ete/modules/mgorilla/mgbiology.html and http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/19974474/.

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