Counting the Days Until the Taiping 4 Go Home!

T43 IFAW's Public Affairs Manager in South Africa Christina Pretorius just filed this report announcing a firm date for the return of the Taiping 4 gorillas.

Hard to believe but the Taiping 4 gorillas are finally going home.

Followers of the story of the four young Western Lowland gorillas will remember that IFAW’s plans to return the gorillas to their native home, Cameroon, were dashed at literally 36-hours notice in December 2006.

It turned out that a bureaucratic communications glitch meant that certain protocols hadn’t been followed and so, in order to avoid a diplomatic incident, the South African government called off the return.

The outcome however has meant that the three government’s involved – South Africa, Cameroon and Malaysia - have worked hard during 2007 to resolve their issues and get the move back on track.

One diplomat (who shall remain nameless) told me: “This has been a serious embarrassment – my government just wants to close the envelope on this. How quickly can the gorillas be sent back to Cameroon?”

So on Thursday 13th October my colleague Neil Greenwood and I traveled
from IFAW Southern Africa offices in Cape Town to Pretoria, some
1,600kms north, to hold a T4 logistics meeting ahead of the official
handing over ceremony the next day.

The handover ceremony took place in the viewing chamber facing onto the
gorillas indoor enclosure. It seemed the gorillas Izan, Abbey, Tinu and
Oyin were just as keen to join in the celebrations and the four of them
played riotously throughout almost derailing attention to the official
proceedings! They even got popcorn as a special treat.

Malaysia and Cameroon were represented by their High Commissioners and
the South African Government by its Deputy Minister of Science and
Technology. Peculiarly the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa
(NZG of SA) where the gorillas currently reside is classified as a
research facility, and falls under this department.

The event was made interesting because, typically, Governments and
NGO’s tend to butt heads more often than cooperate – and believe me
we’ve butted heads plenty since IFAW and other animal welfare groups
began asking for the gorillas to be returned as far back as 2004!
Now that’s behind us and we are cooperating well to draw a close to the
saga of the T4.
The gorillas are booked to return to Cameroon in the early hours of
30th November (a little after midnight) on a Kenya Airways flight.

Kenya Airways have gone so far as to schedule a special wide-bodied
plane to accommodate the very large and heavy steel cages that will
hold each gorilla for the duration of the journey.
Because nearly a year has passed since our last effort to return the
gorillas, we have had to start the repatriation process from scratch
and a task team has been formed to manage the logistics.
In the coming month veterinarians will be anaethetising the gorillas in
order to draw blood for tests necessary for the issuing of their health
certificates, and the human team accompanying them will be subjecting
themselves to another barrage of vaccinations – not a popular prospect
for those with a phobia for needles.

Referring back to the government official who asked how quickly the
gorillas could be sent back to Cameroon – well, the timing of the
return has always been key to the gorilla’s successful return to
Cameroon.
While we are just reaching the end of the southern hemisphere winter –
a cold, dry and dismal period for upcountry South Africa – Cameroon is
in mid-rainy season.

Moving the gorillas from bone dry conditions to rain lashed West Africa
would not be good for their welfare, and so the end of the rainy season
from October with the prospect of a good few months of sunny dry
weather in Cameroon will be the optimal time to carry out the move.
As time moves on we’ll provide regular updates on the progress of the
move, with the real cherry on the top being when we can report that the
gates on the quarantine facilities at the Limbe Wildlife Centre have
slammed shut – with the Taiping 4 safely behind them.
You can be sure that no-one at IFAW will be resting easy until that
happens!

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