Taiping Four Gorillas – Wet Weather Stops Play as Malaysia Delays Decision

Friday, 6 April, 2007
Cape Town, South Africa
A final opportunity to return the Taiping 4 gorillas to Cameroon before the rainy season sets in over West Africa, passed this week – and all due to the Malaysian Government dragging its feet in giving the final go-ahead for repatriation.
IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) today announced that the last opportunity to move the gorillas during optimal weather conditions – essential for the welfare of the animals – had passed. The next opportunity to move the gorillas will be from October 2007 when drier weather resumes in Cameroon.

This is the second time the move has had to be called off – in December 2006 the move was cancelled a scant 36-hours before departure, after Malaysia sought an assurance that it would not be billed for expenses incurred at the Pretoria Zoo in South Africa, where the gorillas have been held since 2004.

“Those assurances were given within days, and in writing, to Malaysia by the South African Government. All that was then required was for final approval by the Malaysian Cabinet,” said Christina Pretorius of IFAW which is financing the return of the gorillas.

“No-one is able to offer us a reasonable explanation as to why, five months later, this has yet to happen. Is this just another case of bureaucracy slowing the process, or should we be questioning the Malaysian Government’s commitment to honouring its stated intent that the gorillas should be sent to Cameroon?”

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 know as the “Taiping Four” were found to have been illegally exported 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 animals.

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 National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (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.

In July 2006 Malaysia informed the South African officials of the decision to transfer the gorillas back to Cameroon.

“The Malaysian Government’s tardiness in not addressing its responsibilities means the next possible opportunity to move the gorillas comes in October 2007, when Cameroon will move out of its wet weather season,” said Pretorius. “IFAW remains committed to funding the return of the gorillas – and trust Malaysia will give its final nod to the repatriation, so that we do eventually see the Taiping Four safely back in Cameroon.”

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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