September 24, 2012

Concern Mounts for Grauer’s Gorillas in DRC Following the Rescue of Two Poached Infants

IsangiMusanze, Rwanda – Gorilla Doctors and the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) are increasingly concerned about the survival of Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) following the rescue of two poached infant gorillas in separate confiscations on September 13 and 20. Civil war and illegal resource extraction by armed militias in the areas where Grauer’s gorillas live have made it extremely difficult for Gorilla Doctors, ICCN, and other conservation groups to monitor and protect this endangered species.

“In order to obtain an infant gorilla to sell in the illegal pet trade, poachers typically kill the infant’s mother and any other gorilla trying to protect it,” says Dr. Mike Cranfield, Co-Director of Gorilla Doctors, a veterinary team dedicated to saving Grauer’s and mountain gorillas through life-saving health care. “The confiscation of two infant gorillas from different groups indicates that numerous wild Grauer’s gorillas may have been killed recently.”

In the last four years, 10 Grauer’s gorilla orphans have been confiscated from poachers, and authorities investigated numerous other reports of illegally-held gorillas. Closely related to the more famous mountain gorillas, Grauer’s gorillas, also called eastern lowland gorillas, are one of four gorilla subspecies, and can only be found in Eastern DRC in Kahuzi-Biega, Virunga, and Mikeo National Parks and isolated forest reserves. The population size of the species is unknown but most experts believe there may be fewer than 4,000 remaining.

Dr. Martin with IsangiThe infant confiscated on September 13 was brought to the Kahuzi-Biega National Park headquarters at Tshivanga, South Kivu Province, by the community conservation group Jeunesse Pour le Conservation de l’Environnement (JPE). The group claimed to have been given the baby by the Raiya Mutomboki, a rebel group active in the region. Gorilla Doctors veterinarians Dr. Dawn Zimmerman, Dr. Eddy Kambale, and Dr. Martin Kabuyaya, who were in park that day working to release two human-habituated Grauer’s gorillas of the Chimanuka tourist group from poachers’ snares, examined the approximately nine-month-old female infant and found her to be in relatively good condition. The ensnared gorillas were later released by the Gorilla Doctors, the first-ever successful interventions to treat ensnared Grauer’s gorillas. 

Gorilla Doctors coordinated with the Tayna Center for Conservation Biology and ICCN authorities to bring the poached infant to the Senkwekwe gorilla sanctuary at Virunga National Park headquarters in Rumangabo, North Kivu Province. Despite recent fighting between the M23 rebels and the Congo army around the park, the headquarters has remained a safe haven. The gorilla was named “Isangi,” after the village where the rebels handed her over to JPE.

On September 20, Virunga National Park Gorilla Sector Warden Innocent Mburanumwe and other ICCN and local officials successfully undertook the sting operation following a tip-off by local community members, and confiscated a four-month-old female Grauer’s gorilla orphan from men attempting to sell her in the city of Goma. Her captors claimed to have taken the baby from the Walikale area, an insecure region where numerous armed groups compete for control over mines. After the men were arrested and transferred to the court authorities in Goma, the infant was moved to the sanctuary in Virunga National Park where three trained carers provide her with 24 hour care.  Gorilla poaching is considered a serious crime in Congo and can lead to a lifetime prison sentence.

Dr.Eddy with Baraka and Isangi.“The baby gorilla was very dehydrated, weak, and hungry,” said Dr. Eddy Kambale. “We gave her a banana, oral rehydration solution, and subcutaneous fluid. With the help of Virunga National Park and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) we were able to quickly transport her to the Senkwekwe Center. The next morning she drank baby formula and appeared to be stable.”

Dr. Dawn with Isangi.The infant was named “Baraka,” meaning blessing in Swahili. Both Baraka and Isangi will remain at the Senkwekwe Center for now. Agencies and organizations involved in the conservation of Grauer’s gorillas in DRC including Gorilla Doctors, ICCN, DFGFI, TCCB, and the GRACE Center for Rescued Gorillas will meet soon to discuss the orphans’ futures.

“We all hope that by publicizing the stories of Grauer’s gorillas affected by poaching, the public will have a greater awareness of this little-known species and the threats against its survival,” says Dr. Kirsten Gilardi, Co-Director of Gorilla Doctors. “The Gorilla Doctors and our partners are dedicated to saving Grauer’s and mountain gorillas, which we do through generous support from people from around the world.”

Here is a video of Isangi’s confiscation and transfer to Virunga:

Editor’s Notes

Download hi-res images here:

Blog with detailed story about the infant Isangi:

Blog with detailed story about the infant Baraka:

About Gorilla Doctors

Founded in 1986 at the request of the late gorilla researcher Dian Fossey, the Gorilla Doctors’ veterinary team is dedicated to saving the lives of Central Africa’s endangered mountain and Grauer’s gorillas through health care. Powered by the nonprofit Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, Inc. and the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center, Gorilla Doctors treats wild human-habituated gorillas suffering from life-threatening injury and illness, aids in the rescue and treatment of orphaned gorillas, conducts gorilla disease research, and facilitates preventive health care for the people who work in the national parks and come into close contact with the gorillas.

About Virunga National Park

Virunga National Park, Africa’s oldest national park (established in 1925) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, is home to approximately 200 of the world’s mountain gorillas and a small population of Grauer’s gorillas. Formerly known as Albert National Park, Virunga lies in the Eastern DRC and covers 7,800 square kilometers. The park is managed by the Congolese Wildlife Authority, known in French as L’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN). Some 273 park rangers protect Virunga National Park in a region affected by a 12-year civil war and political instability. More than 130 rangers have been killed in the line of duty in last 15 years.

About Kahuzi-Biega National Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site located in South Kivu, DRC, Kahuzi-Biega National Park is one of last remaining strongholds of the Grauer’s gorilla and the only place where tourists can view them in the wild. A 2010 census found evidence of 181 gorillas in the 600-quare-kilomter highland sector park, up from 168 individuals in 2004. The population of the less secure 5,200-square-kilometer lowland sector of the park is unknown. Kahuzi-Biega is managed by the Congolese Wildlife Authority, known in French as L’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN).

For more information, please contact:

Molly Feltner, Gorilla Doctors Communications Officer: or +250 0783 885 168 (after Sept. 24 call +1 857 719 9258)

Dr. Mike Cranfield, Co-Director of Gorilla Doctors: or + 410-917-7666