Baby Gorilla saved from being Sold for $40,000
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by in Featured, poachers, Wildlife


Gorillas are no longer safe in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Last Tuesday the Congolese Wildlife Authority, authorities arrested alleged poachers who were trying to sell a baby gorilla for $40,000. This is the fourth incident reported this year giving a glimpse of the rapidly growing black market for gorillas.

LuAnne Cadd / Congolese Wildlife Authority

“We are very concerned about a growing market for baby gorillas that is feeding a dangerous trafficking activity in rebel controlled areas,” said Emmanuel de Merode, warden of Congo’s Virunga National Park. “We are powerless to control the international trade in baby gorillas, but our rangers are doing everything they can to stamp it out on the ground.”

The park is the oldest in Africa and home to mountain gorillas and lowland gorillas apart from other animals. While since 2003 only one or two cases of gorilla abduction by poachers was reported the incidents have already risen to four this year.

LuAnne Cadd, a park spokeswoman seems concerned.

She says, “If four have been caught since April, the question is how many have been missed? How many more are being captured and sold?”

For the lucky eastern lowland gorilla though rescue came in the form of rangers who posed as potential buyers when they got a tip of the activity in progress. The three suspects who were arrested demanded $40,000 for the baby.

Ranger Christian Shamavu, who headed the undercover operation, said that “it’s very likely that the mother and other gorillas were killed because it’s very difficult to take a baby gorilla from its family.”

“Like all the infant gorillas we see immediately after confiscation, he was extremely tense and stressed, holding his legs and arms tight up against his body, and turning his head away when he got too frightened,” said Jan Ramer, a veterinarian with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinarian Project (MGVP) who treated the gorilla afterwards.

The selling price for gorillas can be anything between $15,000 and $40,000.

Says Cadd, “No one knows for certain who the buyers are. The suspicion is possibly for zoos in places like Russia, India; or wealthy people who have personal zoos of exotic animals. When poachers have been caught,it is usually the supplier, or the middleman, but never the buyer.”

She also adds that Congo has strict laws against killing or taking a gorilla.

“The rescues are usually the result of tips,” Cadd says. “Gorillas are in the top category of protected species here in Congo and so it is illegal to kill or take one. The punishment is 1-10 years depending on whether it’s a killing, which would result in the highest sentence, or if it’s a first, second, etc., offense on taking a gorilla.”

She also noted that poachers usually do not admit to killing the siblings or the mother gorilla as the punishments are much greater. The rescued gorilla will be quarantined for 30 days while MGVP veterinarians run health checks. As it is an eastern lowland gorilla, also known as Grauer’s gorillas, it will be then sent to an orphan gorilla sanctuary near the town of Butembo.

The rescued gorilla is too scared and vulnerable right now to be left alone and therefore is getting 24 hours care. Two caretakers will even sleep with the gorilla at night.

“If you can imagine a human one-and-a-half year old, this baby is in a similar stage of life, and he needs some consistency in care in order to bond and feel safe,” said the park statement.

“Many of these infants are injured from ropes around their hands/feet or waist, and some are quite ill, which is not surprising, as they are generally in close contact with their human captors, extremely stressed, and with very poor nutrition,” said Ramer.

Orphaned gorillas find it difficult to go back to the wild and this infant will most probably spend its life in a protected area.

“It’s a heated topic among vets and conservationists,” Cadd said. “Some think they should be put back and let nature take its course. Others say never when all experience shows that the babies just die. Others think that if you can create a family from the orphans with various ages, then releasing them together will work. And others worry about them carrying human diseases that they have built up immunities to back to the wild population of gorillas and creating a disaster of plague proportions.”

Rather than being tortured in the hands of poachers, at least the gorilla has a safe future.

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About the Author

Atula is a writer, traveler and a nature-lover. She is also mom to a boy who seems to have inherited all her creative genes. When Atula is not busy making up stories with her son, she writes for numerous magazines, websites and blogs. She is also working on her site on endangered species called indiasendangered.com.

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