"Taiping Four" gorillas to be returned to Cameroon in November

Friday, September 14, 2007
Pretoria, South Africa
The four Western Lowland Gorillas, affectionately known as the Taiping Four, will be returned to Cameroon during the week of 28 November to 03 December 2007. The official announcement regarding the plans and timing towards the relocation of the animals was made by South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, at a celebratory function held that Pretoria’s zoo earlier today.
This effectively ends the five-year saga surrounding the four animals when they made international headlines in Malaysia in 2002. At that time, the four young gorillas (one male and three females), were illegally smuggled to the Taiping Zoo in Malaysia using forged documents.
 
The Malaysian government, through its CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Management Authority, subsequently confiscated and transferred the animals to the Pretoria Zoo, where they have been housed for safekeeping since 2004. 
 
The celebratory function, officiated by Deputy Minister Hanekom earlier today was attended by the governments of Malaysia, Cameroon and IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) which is funding the return of the gorillas.
 
IFAW is one of a number of organisations including the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), the Last Great Ape Organisation (LAGA), the International Primate Protection League (IPPL) and Born Free that have lobbied consistently to have the gorillas returned to Cameroon.
 
Deputy Minister Hanekom thanked the governments of Malaysia and Cameroon for acting in the best interests of the gorillas by agreeing to send them to Cameroon, and acknowledged the efforts of the NGO community in encouraging this decision.
 
Although the exact circumstances of how the gorillas were originally captured as infants are not certain, they were more than likely victims of the bush meat trade. Typically adult gorillas are killed for meat and their young taken for sale with at least four out of five infants dying before they reach adequate care.
 
“We would like to send a strong message to all would-be smugglers and poachers that the illegal smuggling of animals will not be tolerated by the international community,” said Deputy Minister Hanekom.
 
The gorillas will return to their native country, Cameroon, following an official request by the Government of Cameroon, supported by the IFAW.
 
“IFAW and other NGO groups have campaigned long and hard to encourage the various governments involved to uphold the regulations of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and to have the gorillas sent back to Cameroon,” said Christina Pretorius of IFAW.
 
“We’re delighted that a final decision has been reached and we will be working closely with the NZG of SA to ensure the safe return of the Taiping 4 to Cameroon later this year.”
 
The gorillas will be relocated to the Limbe Wildlife Centre sanctuary in Cameroon during November 2007, the start of the dry season in Cameroon and which will provide the gorillas the best opportunity to adapt to their new home.
 
Limbe’s head gorilla keeper will spend time with the gorillas at the National Zoological Gardens (NZG) in Pretoria, South Africa, ahead of their departure, and a primate keeper from the NZG of SA will travel to Cameroon with the gorillas to assist in easing them into their new environment.
 
Limbe’s readiness to receive the gorillas was confirmed by Dr Clifford Nxomani, the Executive Director of the NZG who headed a South African delegation that visited the sanctuary in August with the respective agencies.
 
“The National Zoo has housed the Taiping Four to the best of its ability and will work closely with the parties involved to ensure the safe translocation of the four young gorillas” said Dr Nxomani.
 
The Limbe Wildlife Centre has been identified by the Government of Cameroon, IFAW and other NGO’s as a suitable centre of excellence to provide long-term care for the gorillas.
 
Limbe is a member of the Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance (PASA).
 
All interested parties are invited to visit the Taiping Four at the Pretoria Zoo by the beginning of November 2007, before the animals are quarantined and prepared for their journey.  

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