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.
For now, the baby gorilla rescued last week is getting 24-hour care because he “is too young and vulnerable to be left alone,” Virunga National Park said in a blogpost.
“When poachers have been caught,” she added, “it is usually the supplier, or the middleman, but never the buyer.”
“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.”
“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.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.”
The black market for baby gorillas is growing, Democratic Republic of Congo officials said, after a fourth incident this year led to the arrest of alleged poachers trying to sell one infant for $40,000.
Surprise No. 2: The gorilla got out of the crate.
The sting eventually came down to the purchase point. Bernal needed a pilot and plane to fly back to Mexico and fake permits for the export of the gorilla.
“We kept telling him, ‘We’re police! We’re police!’ But even after the agent took the hood off, he couldn’t believe a gorilla wasn’t coming after him,” said Monty Halcomb, the USFW agent who posed as the plane’s pilot.
The suspect, a Mexican zoo chief, fell for the ruse. U.S. agents arrested him on charges of violating the U.S. Endangered Species Act. That was Surprise No. 1.
“We agreed to provide them with the animals with false permits,” Gelber said at the time. “It was very clear that it’s illegal to send these animals without proper documents and permits.”
Only it wasn’t a gorilla. It was a Fish and Wildlife employee in a gorilla suit purchased at a costume store.
It took both Halcomb and the gorilla, an agent whose name is being kept secret, to keep Bernal from jumping six feet down to the tarmac.
In 1993, American federal agents were tipped off by a Miami-area primate dealer that officials from a Mexican zoo were interested in purchasing a gorilla. Trafficking in endangered animals is against federal law and gorillas have been on the endangered species list since the list began. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, conducting the sting, showed the three Zoologico de Zacango officials around south Florida to see different primates.
According to the Chicago Tribune story on the incident, Bernal was a bit taken aback:
In 1993, Fish and Wildlife agents nabbed a criminal by using unconventional methods.