Baby Gorilla Saved From Black Market Sale, Conservationists Fear Growing Demand (VIDEO)
The trafficking of baby gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is reportedly growing at an alarming rate.
The most recent incident last week, MSNBC reports, involved the arrest of three poachers allegedly trying to sell an infant Grauer gorilla for $40,000.
As part of an undercover operation, five rangers from DRC's Virunga National Park posed as buyers after receiving a tip that a baby gorilla was for sale.
The incident is the fourth baby gorilla to be saved this year, the highest rate on record, Virunga National Park said in a blog statement.
The park's spokeswoman LuAnne Cadd told MSNBC the culprits could be linked to zoos in India and Russia, along with independent private owners looking for pet baby gorillas.
Rangers and park officials fear there could be more they aren't saving.
"If four have been caught since April, the question is how many have been missed?" park spokeswoman LuAnne Cadd wrote to Mother Nature Network. "How many more are being captured and sold? Are we just getting better at catching them, or has the trafficking increased? We don't have answers for this, but four in seven months is far too many."
Jan Ramer, a veterinarian with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, who treated the baby Grauer gorilla, said the gorilla was healthy, but stressed after surviving in a small backpack for a month. The animal clutched Christian Shamavu, the park ranger who led the rescue.
The baby was curled into a tight ball in Christian’s arms and was looking fearfully at his new surroundings...Despite being visibly stressed, the infant appeared to be in good physical condition.
There are two subspecies of eastern gorillas that live in DRC and qualify as endangered species, the Grauer gorilla with a population estimate of 2,000-5,000 and the mountain gorilla at 786. Though little is known about the Grauer gorillas, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International believes they're declining at a much faster rate than mountain gorillas thanks to poaching, hunting and conflict.
WATCH a video from Virunga National Park moments after the baby gorilla was rescued:
View images of more threatened animals below:
Three cheetah cubs, born in November 2004, lean against their mother during a preview showing at the National Zoo in February 2005 in Washington D.C. Today there are just 12,400 cheetahs remaining in the wild, with the biggest population, totaling 2,500 living in Namibia.
Baby Black Rhino
A baby Black Rhinoceros stands in front of its mother in an enclosure at Tokyo's Ueno Zoo in June 2009. The Black Rhinoceros is a critically endangered species, according to the International Rhino Foundation there are less than 5,000 surviving in the world.
An orangutan infant at Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta, Indonesia, on February 15, 2007. Orangutans are threatened by deforestation and hunting. Click here for more orangutan photos.
A baby joey koala at Sydney's Wildlife World. Though koalas are Australia's most iconic and adored marsupials, they are under threat due to a shortage of suitable habitat from mass land clearance.
Gorilla Mother And Son
A 15-year-old female mountain gorilla holds her five month old son at the Kahuzi Biega Nature Park in Democratic Republic of Congo in May 2004. Only 700 mountain gorillas are left in the world, and over half live in central Africa.
A group of African penguins gather near a pond at a conservation site in Cape Town, South Africa. Birdlife International say the African penguin is edging closer to extinction.
Endangered Tiger Cubs
A Trio of 45 day-old Bengal white tiger cubs were born in December 2007 At the Buenos Aires Zoo. With only 240 white tigers living in the world, their birth gave a boost to the animals' endangered population.
South Korea's Black Bears
A pair of black bears sit at a zoo in Kwachon, South Korea in November 2001. Black bears have been on the endangered species list since 2007.
A newly born Madagascar Lemur, an endangered species, at Besancon Zoo in France. There are only 17 living in captivity worldwide.
Two-month-old twin Red Panda cubs make their debut at Taronga Zoo in March 2007 in Sydney, Australia. The cubs were born out of an international breeding program for endangered species.
China's panda is one of the world's most beloved but endangered animals. Lin Hui, a female Panda- on a ten-year loan from China - eats bamboo at Chiang Mai Zoo in Thailand in Sept 2005. Captive pandas are notoriously poor breeders.
South East Asian Monkey
The Sydney's Taronga Zoo is home for this bright orange male infant monkey. This South East Asian monkey is highly endangered.
A grey-bellied Night Monkey born in captivity climbs onto his mother's arms at the Santa Fe Zoo, in Medellin, Colombia. The Night Monkey is an endangered species.
A six-month-old male Sumatran tiger cub rests under his mother careful watch at the National Zoo in Washington in October 2004. Sumatran tigers are endangered; fewer than 500 are believed to exist in the wild and 210 animals live in zoos around the world.
A baby elephant is pictured at the Singapore Zoo on Friday, Dec. 10, 2010. Many elephants are threatened by habitat loss and listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.
A sow polar bear rests with her cubs on the pack ice in the Beaufort Sea in Alaska. In 2008, the U.S. government described polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Due to dangerous declines in ice habit, polar bears are at risk of becoming endangered.
Correction: This article previously stated the correct mountain gorilla population, but did not include the Grauer gorilla, the other eastern gorilla species that lives in DRC. This has now been updated and includes both figures, as the Grauer gorilla was the type of gorilla saved in this story.