Poachers Caught Smuggling Infant Mountain Gorilla Across Rwanda-DRC Border

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Incident Underscores Need to Link Conservation Efforts with Concrete Measures that also Improve People's Livelihoods

KINIGI, Rwanda, August 9, 2011 -- Rwandan police on Sunday night arrested a group of poachers attempting to smuggle a live mountain gorilla infant into the country from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The gorilla, a female less than 1 year old, is currently being treated by a team of veterinarians and caretakers from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) at a facility in Kinigi, Rwanda, near Volcanoes National Park. The Rwandan and Congolese smugglers are in police custody. Authorities have begun an investigation into whether a larger network is involved in the incident.

The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP)--a coalition of African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature_--is working closely with MGVP and authorities in the cross-border investigation to determine how and why this young mountain gorilla ended up in the hands of poachers. At this time, the status of the mountain gorilla's family is unknown.

"An infant gorilla confiscated from poachers strongly insinuates adult gorillas have died--there is typically no other way to capture an infant gorilla," explained Craig Sholley, vice president of philanthropy and marketing for AWF. "We greatly hope that this is not the case, but whatever we learn about the circumstances surrounding this mountain gorilla infant, this event reinforces African Wildlife Foundation's focus on connecting people's livelihoods in a very concrete way to wildlife conservation efforts. Unless local communities also realize benefits from mountain gorilla conservation efforts, tragic incidents like this will continue."

Stated IGCP Director Eugene Rutagarama, "The good news is that this infant was rescued before it was too late and is now in good hands. The bad news is that people believe there is a market for baby mountain gorilla and are willing to break laws and jeopardize the fate of a critically endangered species at the chance for profit. We are supporting this investigation in the hopes that justice will be done and that poaching of this nature is no longer seen as potentially profitable."

The mountain gorilla infant reportedly was captured by the poachers near the Bukima area of DRC's Virunga National Park. Despite suffering from a bad cough and runny nose, the gorilla is reportedly recovering well from its ordeal. MGVP representatives report that she is eating and is accepting of people. After a 30-day quarantine period, the mountain gorilla will most likely be returned to Virunga National Park, where she will join other orphan gorillas at Virunga's Senkwekwe Center.

While a recent mountain gorilla census in AWF's Virunga Heartland found just over 780 mountain gorillas remaining in Africa--a substantial population increase from the early 2000s--this latest news underscores the species' still-precarious status. This gorilla smuggling incident also follows the news in June of a blackback mountain gorilla discovered killed in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

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About the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project

The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, is dedicated to saving mountain gorilla lives. With so few animals left in the world today, the organization believes it is critical to ensure the health and well being of every individual possible. The organization's international team of veterinarians, the Gorilla Doctors, is the only group providing wild mountain gorillas with direct, hands-on care. The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project partners with the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center to advance One Health strategies for mountain gorilla conservation.

About the International Gorilla Conservation Programme

The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP) is a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, Fauna & Flora International, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. The organization's mission is to ensure the conservation of mountain gorillas and their regional afromontane forest habitat in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

About African Wildlife Foundation

Founded in 1961, the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is the leading conservation organization focused solely on the African continent. AWF's programs and conservation strategies are based on sound science and designed to protect both the wild lands and wildlife of Africa and ensure a more sustainable future for Africa's people. Since its inception, AWF has protected endangered species and land, promoted partnerships with the private sector for conservation tourism to benefit local African communities as a means to improve livelihoods, and trained hundreds of African nationals in conservation--all to ensure the survival of Africa's unparalleled wildlife heritage. AWF is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Kenya and registered as a 501(c)(3) in the United States.