Gorillas snatched by poachers returned to wild
Published: December 3, 2007 | 6859th good news item since 2003
A five-year international row over the fate of a group of gorillas snatched from the wild by poachers has finally ended.
The four Western Lowland gorillas – a male and three females – were flown in separate wooden crates from Johannesburg to their native Cameroon.
It was the final chapter of a long-running battle by wildlife campaigners to prevent the gorillas spending the rest of their lives in a zoo.
The saga began in 2002 when they arrived at the Taiping Zoo, 150 miles north of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, having allegedly come from a captive breeding programme in Nigeria.
But it was quickly established that gorillas, then juveniles aged between 14 and 33 months, had been born in the wild, probably in Cameroon, and were almost certainly orphaned and smuggled to Nigeria after their families were slaughtered by bushmeat traders.
A campaign was launched to have the primates, who became known as the Taiping Four, returned to their homeland.
In 2004, they were seized by embarrassed Malaysian authorities and sent to the South African National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria on the basis that they had arrived in the country on a South African Airways flight.
It has taken until now to arrange for the gorillas, now aged between six and seven and each weighing more than 100 kilos, to be sent back to Cameroon.
They arrived safely and were then taken by truck on the three hour journey to the Limbe Wildlife Sanctuary in south-west of the country.
They will join 11 other gorillas already at the sanctuary where they are likely to spend the rest of their lives.
Christina Pretorious of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) which helped organise the campaign, said:
“Africa’s wildlife is disappearing from the earth right in front of our eyes. The return of the Taiping Four sends a clear message that Africa wildlife is worth fighting for and that international law must be upheld.”
There are believed to be fewer than 100,000 Western Lowland gorillas left in the wild. Their status was recently upgraded to critically endangered.
Gorillas numbers having plummeted throughout their range in the past decade by up to 80 per cent, largely as a result of human conflict and bushmeat hunting.
Meanwhile the Aspinall Foundation, the wildlife conservation charity, has announced the first ever birth from a reintroduced western gorilla in the Central African Republic of Gabon.
The parents of the baby, born in October, were wild born orphans Lekedi, 10, and Marco, 12.
Marco’s group consists of 14 individuals aged between eight and 12 and have been reintroduced since 2002. Mother and infant are both doing well.
Projects have been established in the Lefini Reserve of Congo-Brazzaville and in the Bateke Plateau National Park (BPNP) in Gabon to help the survival of endangered species including the great apes.
Damian Aspinall, Trustee of The Aspinall Foundation said: “We are very proud and excited at this news.
“In 2003 we introduced a younger group of seven gorillas, six of whom were captive born at Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent in 2003 and have high expectation that this group will soon have offspring of its own.”