The Tale of the Taiping Gorillas
A four year battle to return a group of illegally smuggled gorillas to their home country of Cameroon may now be ending. This group of gorillas, coined the ‘Taiping 4’, were snatched from the wild in 2002, most likely ripped from the arms of their dead mothers. Their destination: Taiping Zoo, Malaysia.
I first heard of this scandal back in 2002 while volunteering at Gorilla Haven in Georgia. At that time we were all in disbelief, something like this couldn’t possibly happen in an age where international laws set harsh punishments for such activities. Now in 2006, I am stunned that it has taken this long for these defenseless animals to receive any amount of respect.
Little did the smugglers know how much trouble they would soon be in after snatching the gorillas from the wild. The export of this endangered species goes against every national and international law protecting their survival. Upon hearing what had happened, conservation and welfare groups such as IFAW seized the opportunity to publicly reprimand the culprits.
Shockingly, these four gorillas were exported through South Africa to Malaysia using forged travel permits. However, once the Government of Malaysia caught wind of the upheaval, they immediately investigated the situation and sent the gorillas back to South Africa. In South Africa they were held at the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria.
Although this is one step to be applauded for, the Malaysian government still wasn’t completely sold on the idea that the gorillas were actually captured from the wild, and therefore retained practical “ownership” of them. In light of this, DNA tests were requested to determine the origin of the four baby gorillas.
After four years (!) and at about seven years old, the DNA tests now confirm that these four gorilla babies are of the species Gorilla gorilla gorilla (Western Lowland Gorilla).Western Lowland Gorillas are classified as endangered by the IUCN, the World Conservation Union. It is estimated that as few as 110,000 animals remain in the wild in Central Africa.
In light of this the Government of Cameroon began making formal requests to have the gorillas returned to their home country. Following the confirmation of their species by the DNA tests the Government of Malaysia withdrew their “ownership” and IFAW has now offered to cover all costs to move the gorillas back to Cameroon.
Once there, they will reside at the Limbe Wildlife Center: a world renowned center of excellence for rehabilitation. Without a doubt these gorillas will receive the best possible care following such a tragic start to life.