Six eastern lowland gorillas have been repatriated from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by the Congolese Institute for the Conservation of Nature (ICCN). The gorillas – five females and one male – have been kept at the Kinigi cultural centre in Rwanda since January 2004, after being rescued from poachers by Rwandan authorities.
Passy Mubalama, Goma
There was joy and satisfaction on the faces of various partners who contributed to the success of this repatriation project.
“These gorillas were rescued from a fast-growing trafficking network in the DRC. The large primates were passing through Rwanda to other countries. Given that Rwanda was the exit route for this illicit trade, the authorities had to move swiftly to arrest the poachers and seize the animals”, confirms ICCN veterinarian, Dr Arthur Kalonji.
A long journey
Since 2004, Rwandan authorities have seized a total of 11 Congolese gorillas. Five of them were already repatriated last year. Only two of the gorillas are mountain gorillas, the rest came from the eastern lowlands. The primates travelled a long way, as they were repatriated by helicopter to the Kasugho sanctuary in Taina, around 250 km northwest of Goma, in eastern DRC’s Lubero territory.
The six lowland gorillas, also known as “Gorilla berengei graueri”, have spent the last seven years at the Kinigi cultural centre in Rwanda, after being rescued from Congolese poachers. For Juan Carlos Bonilla, from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, a non-governmental organisation and one of ICCN’s partners in the project, “these primates should, ideally, be reintroduced to their natural habitat, among other gorillas”. “They are currently kept in Kasugho, where they can start a new family”, Dr Kalonji adds.
The repatriation project was the product of cross border collaboration between the Congolese, Rwandan and Burundian governments for the protection of this species.
However, another situation has emerged which is even more alarming: the trafficking of baby gorillas.
About three months ago, the ICCN arrested members of a network of baby gorilla traffickers in the Maiko National Park in Lubutu, Maniema province.
“We don’t know how many baby gorillas have already been captured by this network”, explains Jacques Inyanya, resident veterinarian for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project in Goma. According to him, gorillas and chimpanzees are primates with a high level of social organisation.
The baby gorilla, as an offspring, enjoys special protection from the whole group. To get to the offspring, one has to at least neutralise its parents. “If these traffickers managed to take a baby gorilla, they must have certainly killed a few members of the group”, he adds.
For Dr Eddy Kambale Saluha, a veterinarian in Goma, “this trafficking has already grown into a large-scale operation”. “These gorillas are an endangered species and face extinction”, he concludes.