A young mountain gorilla (pictured) is in safe hands after being rescued from poachers in Rwanda early this month, according to Virunga National Park officials.
Poachers had tried to smuggle the eight-month-old female—likely taken from the Bukima area of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) park—into Rwanda before being caught by Rwandan police.
The infant—which rescuers named Ihirwe, or Luck, in the Rwandan language Kinyarwanda—was likely captured for the international pet trade. How the animal was poached, and whether her family members were killed in the process, is still unknown, according to park officials.
The Congolese and Rwandan poachers had kept the ape for about six days, feeding her bananas and sugarcane, until Rwandan police in the town of Gisenyi jailed the smugglers for illegal possession of a gorilla.
Police contacted the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, and vets set off for the prison.
"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," gorilla veterinarian Jan Ramer said in a statement, adding that the gorilla will be quarantined for 30 days.
Despite the apparently happy ending, the event could be a "really ominous sign" of yet another threat to the species, noted Matthew Lewis, senior program officer for African species conservation at WWF. The nonprofit is part of the International Gorilla Conservation Program.
Mountain gorillas are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with only 786 individuals remaining in the mountains of the DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda, according to WWF.
Even so, due to intense antipoaching patrols and habitat protection, the apes have been steadily bouncing back.
"Now is not the time to be complacent and say we've had great success. … We have to remain vigilant and keep on top of it," Lewis said.
(Read about another baby gorilla rescued in the Congo in 2010.)