Jubilation as the Taiping 4 arrive home in Cameroon

Saturday, December 1, 2007
Limbe, Cameroon
The Taiping 4 gorillas bounded free into their new home in Limbe, Cameroon last night – drawing the final curtain on a wildlife thriller that has kept the world fascinated for nearly six years.
Earlier, Douala International Airport erupted with dancing gorilla impersonators, folk singers, and a cavalacade of government dignitaries including the Minister of Wildlife and Forestry and media who arrived to greet the returning primates as they were offloaded from their Kenya Airways flight nicknamed “Freedom” for the occasion.
 
“The gorillas are back, and Cameroon is celebrating. What a triumph for right and what a victory over the illegal wildlife trade,” said Christina Pretorius of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – www.ifaw.org).
 
“The joy that Cameroon is demonstrating sends a powerful message that no-one wants to see their precious endangered species decimated by criminals – and that we will all fight, harder and harder, to stop the illegal wildlife trade.”
 
The gorillas, which are approximately six years old, were released into the quarantine facility at Limbe Wildlife Centre in southwestern Cameroon where they will eventually join the sanctuary’s existing gorilla population and live out the rest of their natural lives. 
 
The return marks the end of the saga of the so-called Taiping Four gorillas which became ensnared in the politics of several nations, international law, and, along the way, have become a high profile example of the rampant illegal trade in endangered species.
 
The gorillas, a male and three females, first made international headlines in 2002 after being smuggled to Malaysia using forged documents. DNA tests later confirmed that the animals were captured from the wild in Cameroon prior to being exported to Malaysia. In 2004, after being confiscated by Malaysian authorities, they were sent for safekeeping to the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa in Pretoria where they remained until Friday evening.
 
“Today is a great day for Cameroon with the arrival of the gorillas and IFAW is privileged to be a part of this historic effort. This move will act as a precursor for better enforcement and protection of gorillas and wildlife in their native habitats. The Cameroon government has a great legacy in the form of the Limbe Wildlife Centre and we wish the Ministry of Forest will continue to support this legacy into the future," said Dr. Anand Ramanathan of IFAW.
 
Over the last five years IFAW has represented the ngo community including the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), the International Primate Protection League (IPPL), the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA) and the Pandrillus Foundation, all of whom have lobbied exhaustively to ensure that the various governments involved uphold the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
 
Dr Clifford Nxomani, the Excecutive Director of the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG of SA) which has cared for the gorillas since 2004, said that although the zoo would miss the gorillas, it was delighted to participate in mitigating to put a stop to illegal wildlife trade.
 
“The Taiping 4 gorillas have been a hugely popular draw card at the zoo for nearly four years, but more important is that we put a stop to trade that is decimating endangered species all over the world,” said Dr Nxomani.
 
Dr Nxomani traveled to Cameroon with the gorillas as part of homecoming entourage.
 
“Africa’s wildlife is disappearing from the earth right in front of our eyes,” said Christina Pretorius of IFAW. “The return of the Taiping Four sends a clear message that Africa’s wildlife is worth fighting for and that international law must be upheld.”
 
Kenya Airways sponsored the return of the gorillas.

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