Two orphaned baby gorillas rescued from smugglers in Congo were being cared for Tuesday by national park staff who feared wildlife smuggling might be on the rise.
"In the areas where rebel activity has escalated, poaching has also escalated," LuAnne Cadd, a spokeswoman for Virunga National Park, told NBC News.
And it's not just gorillas in danger. "Elephant poaching has increased in Virunga's central sector," Cadd added.
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The first infant, a 9-month-old female now named Isangi, was brought to wildlife authorities on September 13 by a conservation group that said it had rescued the baby gorilla from local militia group Raiya Mutomboko ("Angry People" in Swahili), according to Sky News. The second was rescued on September 20 during a sting operation in the city of Goma by rangers and local officials. Both gorillas are a species known as Grauer, or eastern lowland gorillas, and are closely related to mountain gorillas.
"Baby gorilla trafficking is terribly damaging for endangered gorilla populations because many members of the gorilla's family will probably have been killed to obtain the infant,” said Virunga National Park director Emmanuel de Merode, according to the Daily Reveille.
Fighting between rival militia groups has made it almost impossible for wildlife authorities to find out how many Grauer gorillas have been killed, the Daily Reveille also noted. Experts estimate there are fewer than 4000 remaining, down from about 17,000 in 1995.