Zoo Document Admits Taiping 4 Gorillas from Cameroon

Wednesday, 13 July, 2005
Cape Town, South Africa
A major obstacle to the return of the Taiping 4 gorillas from South Africa’s Pretoria Zoo to their home range was cleared this week with the release of the international zoo community’s latest studbook which lists the apes were wild-caught from the Cameroon.
IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) and African sanctuaries caring for orphaned great apes welcomed the 2005 edition of the International Gorilla Studbook, which is compiled through information submitted by the zoos and breeding centres that care for the animals. South Africa had previously questioned whether the gorillas originated in Nigeria or Cameroon, but the studbook lists Cameroon as the country of origin.

“This marks the first time the gorillas’ heritage has been beyond dispute,” said IFAW Southern Africa Director, Jason Bell-Leask.

“Until now the South African government and Pretoria Zoo have persistently identified the need for DNA testing to prove the origins of the gorillas as their rationale for delaying their responsibilities to CITES requirements.

“The release of the 2005 International Gorilla Studbook, clearly identifies the four infant gorillas being held at the Pretoria Zoo as originating from Cameroon, thereby removing a major obstacle to the return of the gorillas to their home range. The need for DNA testing can no longer be used as an excuse to delay sending the apes to the Cameroon,” said Bell-Leask.

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 in April 2004 and are now on display at the Pretoria Zoo. Gorillas are listed as an endangered species on the Appendix I list of the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

IFAW and PASA believe that, as a member of CITES, South Africa is acting in bad faith by failing to uphold the body’s guidelines that illegally confiscated animals should be returned to their country of origin.

“The Government of Cameroon has made at least three requests – one as recently as last month – that its gorillas be returned. The continued delay by South Africa in returning the gorillas is a diplomatic gaffe in the context of African co-operation, not to mention a shameful disregard for the CITES regulations they profess to uphold.

“In December of 2004 the South African government also undertook to convene a technical committee to arrange for the return of the gorillas – that committee has yet to meet and the Department of Environment and Tourism (DEAT) has consistently come up with excuses to avoid a meeting.

“IFAW and the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) believe the government has expired its mandate in this regard and it is now time to honour its responsibilities, and convene the committee,” Bell-Leask concluded.

“PASA believes that sending the gorillas back to Cameroon will send a powerful message that the illegal hunting, trapping and trade in endangered species will not be allowed to continue,” said Doug Cress, secretariat of PASA. “The gorillas at the Pretoria Zoo are an important part of Cameroon’s natural heritage and the government has every right to ask for their return.”

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

Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon 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.

Following the broadcast of a recent Carte Blanche television programme on the gorillas, 65 per cent of voters in an online poll believed the Taiping 4 gorillas should be sent to Limbe.

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

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