Black Market Grows for Baby Gorillas in Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Courtesy of Virunga National Park

Ranger Christian Shamavu from Virunga National Park rescued a poached baby Grauer's gorilla in an undercover operation. The baby will be named Shamavu after the ranger who rescued her.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has a baby gorilla problem. But theirs is the kind that has poachers capturing the animals out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Virunga National Park at a record rate.

As the black market for baby gorillas grows, authorities from the Congolese Wildlife Authority reported a fourth rescue of an infant this year, with the latest saved gorilla slated to sell for $40,000.

As, presumably, zoos in Russia and India clamor for their own gorillas and even wealthy keepers of exotic animals want to show off the prized animals, the underground market for the protected Congo animal has grown. Officials worry that with four infants already saved from poachers this year—the highest number ever rescued in a single year—that more may be slipping past them.

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The October rescue hinged on a tip and allowed Virunga rangers to set up a fake buy of the infant, which was tucked into a small backpack. Jan Ramer, a veterinarian with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, treated the small eastern lowland gorilla after the rescue, saying he was “extremely tense and stressed, holding his legs and arms tight up against his body, and turning his head away when he got too frightened.”

Officials say that due to the difficulty in getting a gorilla separated from its family, the mother and father are usually killed during the process.

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Rescued gorillas receive around-the-clock treatment at a nearby gorilla sanctuary and, as park officials say on their blog, the little gorillas are “too young and vulnerable to be left alone” and act similar to how a small child would, needing constant attention.

This baby gorilla problem had a happy ending. But it isn’t called a problem for nothing.

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Tim Newcomb is a contributor for TIME. Find him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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