South African Government Delays the Return of Taiping 4 Gorillas

Monday, 11 December, 2006
Cape Town, South Africa
The Taiping 4 gorillas will not return to Cameroon this week as planned, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - has announced.
The return was stopped by the Department of Science and Technology 36 hours before the gorillas were due to return to Cameroon early Wednesday morning 13th of December.
"We understand that in terms of CITES, South Africa, as the recipient state of the four gorillas that were confiscated in Malaysia, does not have the authority to re-export the animals, as the question of the placement of the animals rests with the Management Authority of the state of confiscation" said Christina Pretorius.
IFAW has been working with the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG of SA) for the past two months in preparing to send the gorillas to Cameroon.
"This eleventh hour decision to delay the return of the gorillas was entirely unexpected. We were fully on track for the gorilla's departure on a scheduled Kenya Airways flight early Wednesday morning and this is a bitter disappointment to all of us who have worked so hard to facilitate this move," said Pretorius.
"We trust the delay will be a short one and urge the relevant Government involved to move swiftly to resolve all legal and other requirements with regards to the gorillas, so we can get the move back on track."
The gorillas were to be taken to the Limbe Wildlife Centre sanctuary in Cameroon. The return would have ended a four year saga that began when the four gorillas, popularly known as the "Taiping Four" were found to be have been illegally imported from Nigeria to Malaysia. On their arrival in Malaysia it was found that their import documents were falsified and consequently the management authority of CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) in Malaysia confiscated the four animals. The gorillas have attracted international headlines ever since.
In compliance with the CITES code of conduct regarding confiscated animals, the relevant government has to source suitable accommodation for the animals in question. In response to this, the NZG of SA offered to house the "Taiping Four" on a permanent basis. The Malaysian authorities were satisfied with the conditions set out in the application of the NZG of SA and the four infants arrived in the country on 14 April 2004.
This year independent DNA sampling commissioned by the NZG of SA confirmed that the Cameroon was the most likely place of origin of these gorillas. The government of the Cameroon began a series of formal requests for the gorillas' return in 2002 and Malaysia informed the South African officials of the decision to transfer the gorillas in July 2006.
The NZG of SA and IFAW have developed a close cooperation in the last few weeks to ensure the smooth transition of the animals to their new home. Keepers from Limbe have worked alongside their NZG of SA colleagues for the last three weeks, and staff from the Pretoria Zoo were to travel with the gorillas to Cameroon to ensure them safely settled.
IFAW earlier agreed to fund the return of the four Western lowland gorillas. The organisation is one of a number of groups including the Born Free Foundation, the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), the International Primates Protection League (IPPL), and the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA) that have lobbied consistently to have the gorillas returned to the Cameroon.

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Christina Pretorius (IFAW, Southern Africa)
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