A baby gorilla stuffed into the bottom of a bag was rescued from smugglers after a three-month undercover investigation to bust a wildlife smuggling ring in the Democratic Republic of Congo, officials announced Tuesday.
The two-year-old female was suffering from overheating and dehydration after spending more than six hours inside the bag, the Congolese Wildlife Authority said in a statement.
Officials on Sunday arrested a suspected trafficker who was traveling with the eastern lowland gorilla via airplane from the interior of the country to the city of Goma.
The infant was found with a puncture wound on her right leg, and injuries on other parts of her body. "She remains weak, and is suffering from dehydration and malnutrition, but is responding to treatment" by staff at the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, the Congolese Wildlife Authority stated.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has some 1,100 rangers at national parks that provide protection for mountain gorillas, lowland gorillas, chimps, elephants and rhinos. But officials warned that the discovery of the baby gorilla is likely just the tip of a bigger problem.
"Our work has revealed a significant upsurge in the trafficking of baby gorillas in recent months, possibly as a result of the war last year," said Emmanuel de Merode, director of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. "Investigations have yet to reveal where these animals are being sent and who is buying them, but on the ground sources tell us that a baby gorilla can fetch up to $20,000."
"We must remember that for each trafficked baby gorilla, several gorillas have probably been killed in the wild," he added. "If we want to preserve our gorillas — and other wildlife — significant resources must be invested to put a stop to these trafficking rings."
The Democratic Republic of Congo recently saw a 12-year civil war and is still wracked by instability and fighting.
The DRC is home to two types of gorillas: mountain and lowland. The mountain gorilla is found in the Virunga volcanoes region. The lowland eastern gorilla is only found in the forests of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.