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Trafficking of Infant Gorillas Continues in DR Congo; Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Working on New Solutions

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.”

Located in eastern Congo, next to a vast nature reserve in the heart of Grauer’s gorilla territory, the GRACE center already houses 12 young Grauer’s gorillas who are also the victims of poaching and, like the new ones, would have seen their natal groups killed in the process. Over the period of many months, these rescued gorillas have been successfully integrated into a natural group and are being prepared for eventual return to the wild as a group, returning them to a natural life.

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.
About the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is dedicated to the conservation and protection of gorillas and their habitats in Africa. Founded by Dr. Dian Fossey as the Digit Fund and renamed after her death, the Fossey Fund operates the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda, and maintains a staff of scientists, trackers and anti-poaching patrols in Volcanoes National Park. The Fossey Fund also works to save endangered Grauer’s gorillas in DR Congo, and operates extensive education, health and other community outreach programs in Rwanda and Congo. For more information, visit gorillafund.org.
About GRACE: The Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center

GRACE is dedicated to the care, rehabilitation and reintroduction of rescued Grauer’s gorillas that are confiscated by authorities due to illegal animal trafficking. Through conservation education and community outreach, GRACE works with local communities to build a sustainable future for wildlife, forests and communities neighboring gorilla habitat.

GRACE was created at the urging of Congo’s wildlife authority – ICCN – on land donated by the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology, adjacent to the Tayna Nature Reserve in eastern Congo. The center was initiated by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, with funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; design and construction assistance from The Walt Disney Company’s Animal Programs; and technical expertise from Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA).

GRACE is a conservation project of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund's Gorilla Council, and overseen by GRACE Governing Council members including The Walt Disney Company, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Dallas Zoo, Denver Zoo and Houston Zoo. Future plans call for GRACE to become an independent nonprofit organization registered in the United States and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Media contacts: Erika Archibald, Ph.D., earchibald@gorillafund.org, 1- 678-612-9019; Elizabeth Wilson, ewilsonpr@yahoo.com, 1-404-276-5699