Illegally-captured and detained female gorilla (Lastourville)
Last August 23, we were called by an anonymous informer regarding a young female gorilla who had been captured after her mother had been killed in a village nearby Lastourville (Gabon). The informer enquired as to whether we wanted to purchase this gorilla. (This is where it can get complicated since it is crucial NOT to encourage the illegal pet trade by purchasing orphaned animals. The purchase of an animal can lead the hunter or “merchant” to believe that there is a demand for them). We therefore declined to purchase her, but rather offered to provide assistance with finding a solution for her placement.
Within 24 hours, the wildlife authorities were informed of this gorilla. All gorillas are integrally protected by law which means that hunting, transporting, detaining, selling, purchasing or consuming one is illegal. So, in essence, once wildlife authorities are alerted, they initiate an investigation with the goal of confiscating the illegally-detained animal. It can be complicated for wildlife authorities to confiscate an animal since the “owners” of the illegally-detained animals can be brutal (and even armed), but also because wildlife authorities aren’t trained on the application of basic biosecurity measures or on the care of the animals once they are confiscated.
On September 5, we left the site and traveled by road to Lastourville (about 30 hours through dirt roads). Our goal was to provide immediate assistance with the care of the gorilla if she were to be confiscated. However, we were aware that she may have already passed away by the time we arrived. Young gorillas are extremely vulnerable and are dependent on their mothers for food, safety and affection. Once they are taken away from their mothers, they become stressed and are usually ignored by their human “owners” (usually the hunters or their family members) so are cold, dehydrated and malnourished.
When we arrived in Lastourville on September 7, the wildlife authorities paired up with the local police officers to organise the confiscation. A Gabonese representative was sent to the village in order to gather more information on the gorilla. Upon his return, he informed us that the gorilla had passed away four days prior when she had been placed in a metal drum used to contain her. Much to our disappointment, the authorities did not follow-up on the investigation regardless of the fact that she died so that no one was held accountable for her mother’s death, her capture, her detention or her death. As a result, we have written up a mission report and intend to follow-up at a higher level with the wildlife authorities. The road ahead is a long one. But we continue to hope that - with continuous education campaigns, improvement of law enforcement, the development of alternative employment through agriculture and ecotourism, among others – our efforts, here at the FVGP, are not in vain.