Trafficking of Infant Gorillas Continues in DR Congo; Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Working on New Solutions
Two infant Grauer’s gorillas confiscated from poachers.
The recent rescue of two more infant Grauer’s gorillas by Congolese wildlife authorities (ICCN) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shows that illegal gorilla trafficking is still a critical threat to this highly endangered species. Congolese law enforcement officials, working with a partner Congolese organization and local citizens, were able to locate and confiscate these gorillas. At this point, the rescue operation required transportation, caregiver personnel, lodging, food for the gorillas and other basic needs, which Congolese officials cannot fund.
These two gorillas are now in the temporary care of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in a first-stop location run by ICCN, and if all goes well with their initial quarantine, and health checks (conducted by the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project) they will eventually be transferred to a facility initiated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in North Kivu, Congo – the GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education) center.
“We are committed to saving gorillas in Congo in every way, primarily by supporting law enforcement in combating poaching, by implementing on-the-ground protection and monitoring of gorilla groups the way we have done for 45 years with mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and finally by providing care and hope for the future of these young gorilla victims,” says Clare Richardson, president and CEO of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
A new challenge grant to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund from an anonymous U.S. donor is designed to stem the tide of this illegal traffic by assisting ICCN in its law enforcement efforts and by educating local populations about the consequences and futility of such trafficking. “These gorillas likely come from the Walikale territory, an extensive densely forested area that holds a large population of Grauer’s gorillas outside the protection of national parks and which is the focus of our new Congo program,” says Fossey Fund Grauer’s gorilla program manager Urbain Ngobobo-as Ibungu. “Our recently installed monitoring camps in this area are a direct response to the threats to gorillas. And our teams are on the ground in the forest currently despite the general insecurity in the region.”
“Unlike mountain gorillas, which have been studied in Rwanda at the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s Karisoke Research Center for more than 45 years, there are fewer habituated Grauer’s groups that researchers can observe in the vast forests of eastern DRC. As a result, much less is known about this subspecies,” says Tara Stoinski, Ph.D., Fossey Fund vice president and chief scientist.
The Fossey Fund’s new Grauer’s Gorilla Research and Conservation Program in DRC will allow for assessing the numbers and stability of the current population in the region, and to study and protect them, including the hiring of local people as trackers and data collectors, other field staff and for research station construction. This program is funded through the generosity of the Turner Foundation, the Daniel K. Thorne Foundation and other donors and members of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
“We have been caring for confiscated gorillas in temporary facilities since 2003, and the continuing problem of gorilla trafficking in this region requires us to focus both on prevention and on making plans for their future, since every individual counts in saving an endangered species,” says Clare Richardson. “That is why we began planning for GRACE in 2008, with the hope that we could prepare these young victims for a return to a natural life in the wild.”
Grauer’s gorillas are a type of eastern gorilla (formerly called eastern lowland) that are found only in eastern Congo, where their numbers have declined dramatically in recent years. Due to years of civil unrest there is no current census but estimates suggest as few as 4,000.
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