A baby mountain gorilla was saved from the hands of illegal smugglers on Sunday in Rwanda.
On Sunday night, a female baby mountain gorilla was found in an African jail, curled up on a bed alongside poachers who attempted to smuggle her from the Democratic Republic of Congo into Rwanda, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Rwandan authorities said the poachers had bought it for $15,000.
"When we walked into the jail, one of the poachers almost immediately sneezed right on the baby, who was asleep in a tight, tense ball on the bed," Jan Ramer of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project said in a press release.
It remains unclear how the little gorilla, estimated to be less than one year old, found herself in this stressful predicament. Her parents could have been killed in the process, along with other gorillas, but hopefully not. An investigation is underway.
The jailed accused smugglers -- a group of Rwandan and Congolese men -- may be part of a larger animal poaching network.
"The baby gorilla was found in the hands of three poachers, namely Jean Baptiste Mushebeje, Musabyimana Elia and Tuma Janvier, who are all being held in police custody in Gisenyi," the Rwanda Development Board said in a statement. Caroline Behringer, a WWF spokesperson, told me that "the young female is now in the care of vets in Rwanda. The rescue highlights the challenges that we're still facing with animals being illegally traded as pets or for their parts."
The gorilla, named "Ihirwe," which means "luck" in Kinyarwanda, is still not good for release.
"She will go through a 30 day quarantine period, and hopefully will return to DR Congo at Virunga National Park's Senkwekwe Center, where she can join orphan gorillas Maisha, Kaboko, Ndeze and Ndakasi," Ramer said. "We are cautiously optimistic for this little one -- she is tense, but accepting of people, and is eating. All good signs for her eventual recovery."
The International Gorilla Conservation Program (IGCP), a coalition of World Wildlife Fund, the African Wildlife Foundation, and Fauna & Flora International, have all been supporting the ongoing investigation on both sides of the border.
"The good news is that this infant was rescued before it was too late and is now in good hands," said IGCP director Eugène Rutagarama. "The bad news is that people believe there is a market for baby mountain gorillas and are willing to break laws and jeopardize the fate of a critically-endangered species at the chance for profit.
Rutagarama concluded, "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."