A baby gorilla costs $40,000 on the black market in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Yet, the business is growing, with poachers snatching little gorillas from Virunga National Park at record rates.
Recently, the Congolese Wildlife Authority completed its fourth gorilla rescue, that's more than for any other year to date. Virunga park rangers, operating on a tip about a trafficking ring, set up a fake buy of the infant. The little gorilla was discovered tucked into a small backpack.
"We are very concerned about a growing market for baby gorillas that is feeding a dangerous trafficking activity in rebel controlled areas," Emmanuel de Merode, warden of Congo's Virunga National Park, said in a statement. "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."
Less than 900 mountain gorillas remain on the planet, so each rescue is very important.
The saved baby gorilla 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," said Jan Ramer, a veterinarian with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project who treated the animal.
Too young and vulnerable to be left alone—and often orphaned by the violent poachers who took them—rescued gorillas require around-the-clock treatment at gorilla sanctuaries. "If you can imagine a human one-and-a-half year old, this baby is in a similar stage of life and he needs some consistency in care in order to bond and feel safe," a park statement said.
The rescued gorilla has been named Shamavu—after ranger Christian Shamavu, the man who rescued it. It is currently in the care of two dedicated caregivers. Shamavu's poachers have been arrested.
Park spokeswoman told msnbc.com that no one knows who is interested in baby gorillas on the black market. Wealthy families running personal exotic zoos and zoos in countries such as Russia or India could be among the buyers, she said.