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The Illegal Trafficking of Gorillas Continues in Congo

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is currently working in a coordinated effort with the Congolese nature conservation authorities (ICCN) to rescue three orphaned infant gorillas in the Walikale territory of the Democratic Republic of Congo. These confiscations would bring the total toll up to seven rescued orphaned infants within the last 11 months in this region of eastern Africa.

Rescue attempts in an unstable region

The first young gorilla was allegedly held captive in a Congolese man’s home for 12 weeks, while he searched for an interested buyer. During his search, the suspect contacted a Congolese government police inspector who informed the man of the consequences of perpetuating the illegal trade of endangered animals. The suspected trafficker agreed to surrender the infant to a gorilla conservation organization.

A team was assembled, supported by the Fossey Fund and consisting of of ICCN rangers to orchestrate the confiscation — a risky endeavor due to the instability of the region. The first confiscation attempt in February was unsuccessful because of local fighting among rebel groups. The team then traveled to Luvungi, one of the Mpofi villages in the Wanyanga sector (around 65 kilometers from Walikale) to attempt the rescue mission. Unfortunately, the village was pillaged by rebels and the infant gorilla was taken to another village when his captor fled.

The mission did yield some positive results however. An infant chimpanzee was rescued, and is now in the care of ICCN staff in Goma. The ICCN agent also documented bushmeat being sold in the Mpofi market. “This clearly shows the urgency of the anti-poaching investment we have been advocating” says Fossey Fund Vice President of Africa Programs Juan Carlos Bonilla. Additionally, the report included a recommendation for a “conservation radio” in the Walikale area, to improve communications and help strengthen conservation efforts.

One week after the infant was reported in Mpofi, the Fossey Fund was notified that a second and third orphaned infant were being held captive in Masisi, some 150 kilometers from the Mpofi area. Confiscation attempts of all three infants have so far been unsuccessful because of civil unrest in the region. The Fossey Fund will continue its efforts to rescue these gorillas and to address the problems of great ape poaching and trafficking.

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International works in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect, monitor and study endangered gorillas. The Fossey Fund operates the historic Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda, founded by Dian Fossey, with daily mountain gorilla protection and monitoring. The Fund also works with community reserves in DR Congo and operates direct protection programs for Grauer’s gorillas in that region. In addition, the Fossey Fund founded the GRACE gorilla rescue and rehabilitation center in Congo, where young gorillas confiscated from poachers are being prepared for eventual return to the wild. The Fund also operates health and education programs in local communities in the region near gorilla habitat.