Six Gorillas Orphaned by Poachers Get Airlifted Home

young mountain gorilla photo
Photo: heatherlyone / cc

In their few short years of life, six young mountain gorillas from the Congo have experienced humanity at both its worst and at its best. When these threatened animals were just infants, poachers killed their parents and smuggled them across the border into Rwanda, likely to be sold as pets on the illegal wildlife market, or killed for the bushmeat trade. But thanks to a collaborative effort between the two nations and conservation organizations, the endangered gorillas were rescued from the grip of traffickers -- and now they're readying for a return to their native forests. The six gorillas, between the ages of five and eight years old, are believed to have been smuggled from a wildlife preserve in the Congo into the Rwanda by poachers, who likely killed the animal's parents. Wildlife traffickers probably planned to sell the animals as exotic pets or for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in some regions of Africa. Fortunately, however, authorities were able to seize the endangered gorillas from different parts of Rwanda before they met such grim fates.

The rescue is being hailed as step in the right direction for both Congolese and Rwandan wildlife protection agencies, who have been working in partnership to reduce poaching in wilderness preserves along their shared border.

After a brief stay at a facility in Rwanda, the gorillas were handed back to authorities in the Congo -- with some special help from two gorilla conservation groups. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), with sponsorship from the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, assisted in putting the animals on the fast road to recovery -- funding an airlift to return the gorillas to their native home.

"IFAW was happy to help with the move and provide a helicopter to transfer the six orphan gorillas back to their country of origin," said IFAW's ER Program Director Dr. Ian Robinson in a statement. "Without a helicopter, these endangered gorillas would have travelled on treacherous roads for more than a day through conflict ridden territories."

The six gorillas are now being treated at a wildlife rescue center, to be re-socialized along with other rescued gorillas in preparation for their eventual release back into the wild from which they were stolen.

Mountain gorillas are classified by the WWF as a critically endangered species, with only around 680 still living in the wild. Poaching remains one of the most dire threats gorillas face, due to their value on the black market. But as this environmental evil persists, a growing, and more organized sense of protection stands to counter it. And in this ongoing conflict between forces of preservation and destruction, the lives of far more than a six young gorillas is on the line.

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