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Gorilla War: Rescued Infants Highlight Plight
The rescue of two baby gorillas from poachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo has highlighted the threat they are under from ongoing violence in the region, wildlife officials have said.
The two apes were saved in the space of a week, but Emmanuel de Merode, the director of the Virunga National Park, said it was likely several other gorillas were killed in the abduction.
"Baby gorilla trafficking is terribly damaging for endangered gorilla populations because many members of the gorilla's family will probably have been killed to obtain the infant," he said.
The first baby gorilla, a nine-month-old female now named Isangi, was brought to wildlife authorities on September 13 by a community conservation group that said it had rescued the infant from a local militia group called Raiya Mutomboko, which means Angry People in Swahili.
The second was seized in a sting operation in the city of Goma on September 20 by rangers and local officials acting on a tip-off.
"Posing as a buyer, a park contact went to the house to see what information he could gather. A man produced a small backpack with a baby gorilla inside that he was hoping to sell," park officials said on their blog.
The four-month-old female has been named Baraka, which means Blessing in Swahili.
Baraka's captors claimed they had rescued the infant gorilla from the Walikale area where several armed groups compete for control of mines.
The two infants are now being cared for at the Senkwekwe sanctuary in the park, which is also home to three mountain gorilla orphans whose parents were killed in 2007.
They will spend three-months in quarantine together under the care of three wardens.
Vet Eddy Kambale said in a statement that Isangi was in good shape but Baraka was weak and dehydrated.
Fighting between rival militia groups in the region has made it impossible for the authorities to find out how many Grauer's gorillas, also known as eastern lowland gorillas, have been killed.
The species only exists in eastern DR Congo and experts estimate that fewer than 4,000 remain, down from about 17,000 in 1995.
Virunga has a small family of Grauer's gorillas but most of the apes live in Kahuzi Biega national park and forests, including the Walikale area.
Officials fear a recent decision to allow oil exploration in the Unesco World Heritage Site could put the apes at further risk but the country's hydrocarbons minister says it could bring much needed security.