A lightning strike has killed four rare mountain gorillas in Uganda, with a pregnant female and an infant male among the fatalities. Two other adult females died in the freak event, which occurred in Mgahinga National Park on February 3.
The park is located in the Virunga massive mountain range that straddles Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and is one of only two places where mountain gorillas remain – the other being Bwindi-Sarambwe, which lies slightly to the north in Uganda.
"Based on the gross lesions from the post-mortem... the tentative cause of death for all four individuals is likely to be electrocution by lightning," the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration (GVTC) said in a statement.
The four victims were members of a 17-strong group known as the Hirwa family, which crossed into Uganda last August from the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. The surviving 13 members of the family have been located by the authorities and are said to be doing well.
A little over a decade ago there were only 600 mountain gorillas left in the wild, although intensive conservation efforts have seen numbers rebound to around 1,000. Combating poaching remains an important objective for those working to ensure the long-term survival of the species, which also faces the threat of diseases passed on by humans getting too close.
Conservationists have lamented the tragic and highly unlikely event, with GVTC Executive Secretary Andrew Seguya telling BBC News that “the potential of the three females for their contribution to the population was immense.”