By Russell McLendon
Wild baby gorillas may be increasingly at risk from poachers, say authorities at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where undercover rangers saved an infant from the black market just last week. It was the fourth rescue of a poached baby gorilla since April, the highest number in a single year on record.
"If four have been caught since April, the question is how many have been missed?" park spokeswoman LuAnne Cadd says in an email to MNN. "How many more are being captured and sold? Are we just getting better at catching them, or has the trafficking increased? We don't have answers for this, but four in seven months is far too many."
The latest rescue introduced the world to Shamavu, a year-old lowland gorilla whose family was likely killed so poachers could take him. Posing as buyers, the Virunga rangers drove eight hours in a hired vehicle to meet the poachers, who demanded $40,000 for Shamavu. Instead, they may get up to 10 years in prison.
That's little solace for Shamavu and his remaining wild relatives, though. According to a statement issued Tuesday by park warden Emmaneul de Merode, recent evidence suggests the gorilla trade is growing. "We are very concerned about a growing market for baby gorillas that is feeding a dangerous trafficking activity in rebel-controlled areas of eastern DRC," he says.
Two other baby lowland gorillas were rescued in April and June of this year, one of which later died. A young mountain gorilla was also confiscated in August, followed by Shamavu last week. Gorillas are in the top category of protected species in the DRC, Cadd says, and the punishment ranges from one to 10 years, depending whether any gorillas were killed. But while such killings are common, they're not easy to prove in court, explains the ranger who led last week's sting operation. More....