Monday, December 03, 2007

Cameroon Welcomes Home "Taiping Four" Gorillas

taiping fourCameroon has welcomed home four endangered western lowland gorillas known as the "Taiping Four", following an international campaign that won their return from Malaysia, where they were illegally smuggled five years ago.

The four, a male and three females, were flown to Douala airport late on Friday from South Africa, where they had been kept at the National Zoological Garden in Pretoria after the Malaysian government sent them back to Africa in 2004.

Malaysia' Taiping Zoo had acquired the apes after they were trapped as infants in Cameroon's forests in 2002 and illegally smuggled out of the central African country.

DNA tests established they came from Cameroon, whose government launched an intense diplomatic lobbying campaign for their return, backed by international conservation groups that seek to protect endangered primates.

"This is a victory for our diplomacy. This is proof of our commitment to the principle of the protection of our wildlife," Cameroon's Minister of Forestry and Wildlife, Elvis Ngolle Ngolle, told reporters at Douala airport as the gorillas were unloaded in big cages from the plane.

As he spoke, young men and women wearing T-shirts from a local environmental group performed traditional dances and chanted songs calling for wildlife to be preserved. They waved placards with the message "No to gorilla trafficking".

After their arrival, the gorillas were taken to the Limbe Wildlife Centre sanctuary. They will initially be freed into a quarantine facility before joining 11 other gorillas at the sanctuary in a special enclosure.

Pretoria's zoo sent two of its primate keepers with the apes to assist with their resettlement at the Limbe sanctuary.

Western lowland gorillas are grey brown, grow up to 6 feet (1.83 metres) tall and can weigh as much as 275 kg (606 lb). Their intelligence and physical structure make them one of man's closest relatives.

Man is their only predator, with hunters tracking them for bushmeat and timber companies destroying their natural habitat.

Cameroon is one of the few countries where they still exist in the wild, although numbers are fast dwindling.

"I am absolutely delighted that the gorillas are back in Cameroon ... This sends a message to poachers and traffickers that the world will not stand by and tolerate the illegal trade in wildlife. Our wildlife indeed should stay wild and stay in the jungle," Christina Pretorius of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said.

IFAW was one of several conservation groups that backed Cameroon in its campaign to recover the "Taiping Four".

Story here.

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