Malaysia sends apes to S Africa ignoring Cameroon pleas

Associated Press

Kuala Lumpur, April 16:

Four young gorillas captured illegally and kept in a Malaysian zoo have been sent to South Africa, despite Cameroon’s insistence they were caught there and should be returned, a newspaper reported today. Cameroon says it has proof that poachers illegally captured the western lowland gorillas in the country’s southwest, transferring them to neighboring Nigeria and then northern Malaysia’s government-run Taiping Zoo about two years ago. After initially denying that the gorillas - one male and three females - were illegally obtained, Malaysian authorities last July ordered the zoo to send them back to Africa. But despite the demands from Cameroon’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Malaysian authorities told the zoo to send the gorillas to a South African zoo, saying it could best care for the apes.

A team of officials left with the gorillas for South Africa on Tuesday with orders to keep the trip a secret until after the animals were handed over to authorities in Pretoria, The Star newspaper reported today. Zoo officials contacted by AP wouldn’t confirm or deny the report, and refused to say whether the gorillas were still there. Officials at the Department of Wildlife and National Parks also refused to comment. The animals were sent to Pretoria under a cooperation programme between Malaysian and South African wildlife authorities, the newspaper said.

The gorillas were brought to Malaysia in January 2002. In April of that year, a U.S.-based animal protection group said the primates had been supplied against the rules of the UN’s Convention on Trade of Endangered Species, which Malaysia has signed. The International Primate Protection League said the gorillas were shipped to Malaysia by intermediaries using false documents claiming the animals were born in Nigeria’s Abuja Zoo. If the gorillas had been bred in captivity, their export may have been legal. But there is no known captive breeding programme for gorillas in Africa. Malaysian officials initially insisted the purchase of the gorillas was legal, but conceded in October 2002 that the trade papers may have been forged.