Black Market For Baby Gorillas Is Growing - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Black Market For Baby Gorillas Is Growing

Photo courtesy MSNBC Photo courtesy MSNBC

MSNBC.COM - The black market for baby gorillas is growing, officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo said Tuesday, after a fourth incident this year led to the arrest of alleged poachers trying to sell one infant for $40,000.

This year marks "the highest number of baby gorillas confiscated from poachers in a single year on record," the Congolese Wildlife Authority said in a statement.

"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, Africa's oldest, is home to mountain gorillas, lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants and buffalo. The park has also seen fighting inside its borders and nearby during an ongoing 12-year civil war.

The four rescues so far this year, which happened between April and last Thursday, follow the one to two a year saved since 2003, when accurate records were first kept, park spokeswoman LuAnn Cadd told msnbc.com.

"If four have been caught since April, the question is how many have been missed?" she asked. "How many more are being captured and sold?"

De Merode said the selling price for infant gorillas can run from about $15,000 to $40,000.

"No one knows for certain who the buyers are," Cadd said. "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," she added, "it is usually the supplier, or the middleman, but never the buyer."

The latest rescue came when Virunga rangers, acting on a tip, posed as potential buyers of the infant, an eastern lowland gorilla that was hidden inside a small backpack. The three suspects, who wanted $40,000, were arrested once the undercover rangers had possession of the gorilla.

"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.

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."

"The rescues are usually the result of tips," Cadd noted. "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."

Poachers never admit to killing other gorillas to get to infants, Cadd said, "because the punishment for this is so much greater."

Rescued baby gorillas are quarantined for 30 days while MGVP veterinarians run health checks. Eastern lowland gorillas, also known as Grauer's gorillas, usually are then sent to an orphan gorilla sanctuary near the town of Butembo. Click here to read more

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