IFAW to South African Government: Return gorillas to Cameroon

Thursday, April 14, 2005
Cape Town, South Africa
IFAW criticized the Government of South Africa today for failing to return 4 gorillas to West Africa as promised, and instead allowing preparations to continue for placing the gorillas on public display at the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria.
An IFAW team yesterday freely gained access to the still-under-construction gorilla enclosure at the Pretoria Zoo and was able to view and photograph the young animals.

“In our opinion the gorillas are in fact already on public display witnessed by the fact that we photographed foreign tourists taking pictures of the animals unsupervised in the indoor enclosure of the new facility,” said Christina Pretorius, IFAW Southern Africa Communications Manager.

IFAW said today marks the first anniversary of the gorilla’s arrival in South Africa on 14 April 2005.

The gorillas, which were smuggled out of West Africa in 2002, were brought to South Africa in clear contravention of the requirements of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

There is strong evidence to suggest that the gorillas originated from Cameroon and as a member of CITES, South Africa is required to uphold stipulations that illegally confiscated animals should be returned to their country of origin. But two separate requests by the Government of Cameroon for the return of the gorillas have been ignored by South Africa.

Instead, the gorillas have been housed at the Pretoria zoo since arriving in South Africa one year ago, and have been shown to zoo visitors on special tours while their enclosure – complete with in-house TV screens that allow the gorillas to be viewed indoors – was being completed. The National Zoological Gardens is a government-run institution.

“In December 2004 representatives of IFAW and the Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance (PASA) attended a meeting in Pretoria where the Deputy Minister of Environment Affairs (DEAT) Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi, gave an undertaking to convene a technical committee,” said IFAW Southern Africa Director, Jason Bell.

“IFAW and PASA were invited to be part of that committee and immediately accepted. Yet four months later, and despite numerous requests to DEAT by IFAW for information and for a date for a first meeting to be set, the committee has yet to meet. As a result, we believe the delays have allowed the Pretoria zoo to prepare the gorillas’ enclosure and make it that much more difficult for CITES’ requirements to be met.

“Given that Cameroon specifically asked South Africa for the return of the gorillas on two separate occasions, we feel the current situation shows a serious lack of respect for both CITES and the spirit of African cooperation.”

In 2002 the four Western Lowland gorillas were illegally exported out of Nigeria, via South Africa, to the Taiping Zoo in Malaysia. Following the discovery of the illegal shipment and the animal’s confiscation from the zoo, the Malaysian Government sent them back to South Africa.

The gorillas arrived back in South Africa on April 14 2004 and have remained off-view at the Pretoria Zoo’s quarantine facilities ever since.

Gorillas are listed as an endangered on CITES Appendix I, and are considered highly endangered.

“Both the Cameroon Government, where the animals were believed to have been originally caught, and Nigeria, from where they were exported, have requested the animals be returned,” Bell said. “In the spirit of good neighbourliness and Pan African cooperation, South Africa should honour this request. IFAW and its partner organisations are ready and prepared to assist in this process.”

IFAW is working with the International Primate Protection Protection League (IPPL) that first discovered the illegal export of the gorillas, PASA, the Last Great Ape Organisation (LAGA), the Limbe Wildlife Centre and the Born Free Foundation to work to provide for the return and the long-term care of the gorillas.

Limbe Wildlife Centre has been identified by the organisations as an appropriate centre of excellence to care for the animals in the long term. Run in conjunction with the Cameroon Government, Limbe has an impeccable record in the care and husbandry of gorillas and is currently caring for 12 gorillas.

Limbe has successfully established family groups of gorillas and the Taiping 4 will be integrated into the resident gorilla population once they have completed a quarantine period.

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