AR-News: Gorillas for South Africa
smcgreal at ippl.org
Tue Jul 29 22:38:52 EDT 2003
Source: Mail & Guardian Online Johannesburg, Tuesday, July 29, 2003
GORILLAS IN OUR MIDST
28 July 2003 16:09
Four highly endangered baby gorillas that were illegally smuggled through
South Africa en route from Nigeria to Malaysia are due to be returned to
the Pretoria zoo to live out the rest of their lives.
The move has sparked an international furore about whether it would be more
appropriate for the gorillas, known as the Taiping Four, to go to a zoo or
a sanctuary in their home range.
The Mail & Guardian reported in June last year that the four were smuggled
via Johannesburg airport without any questions being raised by local
authorities, despite the permits being forged and the mysterious
disappearance of a fifth gorilla that was supposed to be part of the group.
The four are western lowland gorillas, a species that is particularly
endangered there are about 200 to 250 left in the world. They were snatched
from their families, who were probably killed in the process, and smuggled
from the bush in Central Africa to a zoo in Nigeria.
The Nigerian zoo then sold the gorillas to the Taiping zoo in Malaysia, on
the pretext that they came from a captive-breeding facility in Nigeria.
Alerted to the scam by international primatologists and the ensuing media
reports, Malaysian authorities confiscated the four from Taiping zoo.
Malaysian Environment Minister Law Hieng Ding said he had been tricked into
signing an import permit for the primates.
The Nigerian government recently set up a panel of inquiry to investigate
the deal and expressed concern about the bad image of the country created
by illicit trade in endangered species.
Willie Labuschagne, director of the National Zoological Gardens in
Pretoria, says he is not sure when the gorillas will arrive, though he has
staff on standby and the gorilla enclosure is ready.
He denies signing a bilateral technical cooperation programme with Malaysia,
according to which future offspring of the Taiping Four would be sent back
Renowned primatologist Jane Goodall has added her voice to calls for the
gorillas to be sent to a gorilla sanctuary in Central Africa, where they
will have a chance to mingle with other gorillas and live in semi-wild
conditions. The Taiping Four are estimated to be between two and five years
old; gorillas can live to 30 or 40.
The critics say allowing South Africa and Malaysia to keep the gorillas,
which have a huge commercial value, after the countries flouted the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) would set
an undesirable precedent.
Gorillas are fully protected under Cites. That four young gorillas
certainly brought into captivity by the slaughter of their mothers could be
shipped internationally in 2002, nearly three decades after Cites came into
effect, is a tragedy,says Shirley McGreal, chairperson of the United
States-based International Primate Protection League.
It is very important that any solution for these four individual animals be
engineered not only to protect the well-being of these animals, but to
attempt to prevent recurrence of similar incidents.
She says the Pretoria zoo does not have a good record of fostering gorillas,
three of the four gorillas it acquired in the 1970s were dead by the end of
the 1990s and no gorilla births have yet been recorded [I did not know
about the babies when the story was being written].
Dave Morgan, head of the African Association of Zoos and Aquaria, says the
Pretoria zoo was chosen as the end destination by Cites headquarters in
Switzerland because of its sound financial standing.
Gorillas are very expensive to keep and the Taiping Four will need lifelong
care. The Pretoria zoo has the budget, including subsidies from the
government, Morgan says.
Dr. Shirley McGreal, Chairwoman
International Primate Protection League
PO Box 766
Summerville, SC 29484, USA
Phone - 843-871-2280, Fax- 843-871-7988
E-mail - smcgreal at ippl.org, Web: www.ippl.org
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