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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Terrified face of the trafficked gorilla: Little Shamavu found cowering in poacher's bag after his family were killed

-Only 790 mountain gorillas remain on the planet
-'We are powerless to control the international trade in baby gorillas'

By Oliver Pickup

Scroll down to see a video of Shamavu's rescue

Lucky escape: The Congolese Wildlife Authorities rescued little Shamavu earlier this month - but how many other baby gorillas are sold on the black market?

With fearful eyes and defensive body language, baby gorilla Shamavu does not realise how close he came to being sold by poachers on the black market for £25,000.

The one-and-a-half-year-old animal was rescued by the Congolese Wildlife Authorities rangers earlier this month in the Democratic Republic of Congo's Virunga national park in the latest sting operation designed to halt an upsurge in trafficking.

The illegal trading, which is threatening the existence of the already endangered species, is being stamped out - this was the fourth such incident since April - but there are still many gorillas who are not as fortunate as Shamavu.

Never before have so many poachers been caught in one year - a figure which highlights the high risks they are willing to take in order to try and secure a pay bonanza.

According to the latest figures there are believed to be only 790 mountain gorillas left on the planet - and almost 500 of them are found in the Virunga volcanoes, a conservation area, which is spread across DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

The other 300 or so creatures can be found in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.

'We are very concerned about a growing market for baby gorillas that is feeding a dangerous trafficking activity in rebel controlled areas of eastern DRC,' director of Virunga national park, Emmanuel de Merode, told the Guardian.

'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.

'Four baby gorillas seized in less than a year is unusually high … [but] it's only the tip of the iceberg, as we only manage to catch a small proportion of the offenders because the wildlife service is under-resourced in Congo.'

Dr Jan Ramer, pictured, said of Shamavu: 'He appears to be quite healthy other than some parasites and dry skin.'

Saved: The one-and-a-half-year-old baby mountain gorilla is one of only 790 in the world

The CWA have begun to pose undercover in order to catch out poachers - and that is how Shamavu was rescued on October 6, in Kirumba, a town on the western border of the national park.

The rangers, led by Christian Shamavu - whose name was taken and used for the baby gorilla - dressed in normal clothes and successfully negotiated a price for the animal, which was hidden in a small backpack.

When the time was right, they arrested the trio of poachers for possession of a gorilla and Mr Shamavu told the Guardian: '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.

'The poachers will never admit to this, though.'

Earlier this year there were three more instances of poachers being caught red handed in DR Congo with baby eastern lowland gorillas, in April and June, and also August, when Rwandan police stopped poachers from smuggling a gorilla over the border.
The poachers mistreat the creatures, who become traumatised through the process.

'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,' Dr Jan Ramer, a vet with Mountain Gorilla Veterinarian Project (MGVP), partners with Virunga national park, was quoted as saying in the Guardian.

Dr Ramer added of Shamavu: 'He appears to be quite healthy other than some parasites and dry skin.'

But where is the demand for the endangered animals? Ian Redmond, chairman of the conservation group the Ape Alliance, believes 'the Middle East is a likely source of demand, wealthy animal collectors and a tradition of giving big gifts to curry favour … and maybe wealthy Russians, but there is little hard evidence.

'What we do know is that just the rumour that someone is looking to buy a baby ape can be enough for penniless hunters to think: "I could get one of those and sell it for $$$$!" And in eastern DRC, once one is captured it is likely to be smuggled eastwards through either Rwanda or Uganda, the traditional trade routes for all goods in that area.'

Emmanuel de Merode added: 'Surveillance is the key, at the borders, in the towns, along the roads. The local community are the best surveillance system, if they are on our side.

'A lot more could be done with respect to international trade, especially in the market countries where there is demand for baby gorillas. There, it's a question of enacting legislation and enforcing.

'As far as I know, very little has been done that's effective with respect to baby gorilla trafficking.'



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