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Congo Tries To Sell A Dozen Rare Wild Gorillas To Nightmare Zoo

There are only 200 left in the wild — and that was just the beginning of the plan.

Only 200 critically endangered mountain gorillas are left in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

But instead of protecting them in the wild, the country has been secretly planning to capture them, along with other endangered species, to ship them off to two Chinese zoos — one of which is notorious for poor living conditions and using its animals in circus-like performances.

A leaked letter between the Congo’s environment minister and a Chinese trade corporation shows the country had agreed to send at least 12 mountain gorillas, 16 bonobos, 16 chimpanzees, 20 okapi and eight African manatees to the zoos.

mountain gorilla congo
A mother mountain gorilla with her baby | Shutterstock

The Congo does not have a captive breeding program, so all of these animals would be plucked from the wild. The Taiyuan Zoo, in the northern province of Shanxi, and Anji Zhongnan Zoo, in eastern China, were the two facilities that reportedly requested the animals.

After the letter leaked earlier this week, the deal was reportedly called off. But unfortunately deals like this aren’t unheard of — Zimbabwe has stolen baby wild elephants from their families and sold them to Chinese zoos on multiple occasions — and it’s possible this deal will be revisited again later on.

okapi endangered congo
An okapi in the wild | Shutterstock

Dr. Mark Jones, associate director of Born Free Foundation UK, says the consequences for these animals could be deadly if the Congo’s plan were to move forward.

“Primates in particular are highly social,” Jones told The Dodo. “Capturing live great apes from the wild usually entails disrupting entire social groups and killing other family members, with devastating consequences for family groups. Given the precarious status of these species, the proposed transfers could have a very significant conservation impact.”

In a letter sent to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species earlier this week, Born Free and other advocacy groups pushed for the plan to be reconsidered, as the removal of endangered species from the wild is technically illegal under the Congo’s national law.

manatee congo african
An African manatee | Shutterstock

All of these species aside from okapi are at risk of extinction and were supposed to be protected under a Congolese law that bans the commercial trade of live animals. In addition to the extensive risks these animals already face, including poaching and habitat encroachment, taking them into captivity can ruin entire family groups and endanger individuals’ health.

“The very process of capture and transport can cause injury and significant stress to individuals which can result in significant mortality,” Jones said. “The suitability of destination facilities for wild-caught animals, and their ability to provide not just for the animals’ physical health, but also their complex social and psychological needs, is a real cause for concern.”

bonobo congo endangered
A family of bonobos in the Congo | Shutterstock

Taiyuan Zoo, one of the facilities that was supposed to receive the animals, has a chilling history of animal mistreatment and deaths.

In 2012, the zoo received a wild-caught elephant calf from Zimbabwe — and placed him on display in a barren concrete enclosure behind bars. Video footage of the feeble calf scraping his trunk against a door trying to escape went viral soon after.

In February, an emaciated lioness was spotted inside a barren cage with a bloody stump of a tail, having reportedly chewed it off after she fell asleep with the tip of her tail inside a watering hole that froze overnight.

“There are also concerns relating to the ‘training’ of animals for use in degrading and demeaning public ‘shows’, which have no educational or conservation value,” Jones added.

chimpanzees the congo
A family of chimpanzees in the Congo | Shutterstock

While the Congo has reportedly backtracked on the plan, it’s unclear whether the country has actually changed its mind or will try to sell off the animals more quietly at a later date. In the meantime, animal advocates around the globe are continuing to speak out against the move to show officials that these zoos are no place for the animals.

To show your support for the animals, you can sign and share this online petition.