In September, Senkwekwe quarantine facility at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo received two rescues in one week.
First to arrive was a 9-month-old infant that had been poached from Kahuzi-Biega National Park, south of Lake Kivu. The Gorilla Doctors (MGVP) escorted the baby to park headquarters where she was examined and quarantined and cared for at an enclosure adjacent to the orphan mountain gorilla center. The baby was given the name Isangi. The circumstances surrounding the poaching are not entirely clear. It appears the FDLR rebel group may have first poached the gorilla from Kahuzi-Biega National Park. Members of the Raiya Mutomboki rebel group say they took it from the FDLR and later gave it to the director of a Congolese environmental organization who brought it to Kahuzi-Biega headquarters.
Baraka arrived a week later, dehydrated, hungry and weak. It was the end of a 2-week trauma of captivity from her home in the forest to the city of Goma where she was rescued by Virunga and ICCN authorities. Virunga park’s Gorilla Sector warden had received a tip-off from local community members saying there might be a baby gorilla or chimp at a house in Goma. A sting operation went into effect. Posing as a buyer, a park contact went to the house to see what information he could gather. A man produced a small backpack with a baby gorilla inside that he was hoping to sell. His father-in-law, from a mining region west of the park, had captured the baby and brought it to Goma on a motorbike. The infant was then confiscated.
Baraka was found to be anemic from iron deficiency and was put on an iron daily supplement. She’s rapidly improved and started eating various food items that she was refusing before. She’s playing quite often, sometimes with Isangi, and trying to climb small trees in the yard. She’s jealous of Isangi, and won’t accept having Isangi held together with her by the same caretaker. During feeding she’s ready to bite and to vocalize to stop Isangi from coming close to her. She’s starting to show her personality.
Isangi’s health status is good. No health problem has been reported so far since in captivity. She is enjoying the good forest around her. She is very active and bright, although she gets quite aggressive if she feels hungry and starts to bite and push the caretaker in the direction of the food storage. She’s trying to dominate Baraka and can steal Baraka’s food right out of her hands. She loves to play, creating games and pushing the caretaker and Baraka to play with her.
The two gorillas are staying together to complete a 3-month quarantine with 24-hour care from 3 caretakers who are trained and experienced at taking care of orphan gorillas in both Congo and Rwanda. They will eventually be moved to the GRACE facility east of Butembo where orphaned gorillas are cared for.
Both gorillas are Grauer’s, also known as eastern lowland gorillas. They live exclusively in eastern Congo, and their numbers have seen an incredible drop since 1995, placing them on the endangered list.
The security at the park headquarters and surrounding area has been assessed as stable by the park’s security officers. Virunga is only one of two places in eastern Congo with a facility to house gorillas.
Although no one knows for sure, estimates say the population of Grauer’s gorillas have dropped from 17,000 to as few as 4000. Walikale, where the infants were captured, is an insecure region where numerous armed groups compete for control over mines.