Cameroon is launching a bid to negotiate the return of four endangered gorillas whose fate has infuriated wildlife protection groups since the animals were smuggled via Malaysia to a South African zoo.
YAOUNDE — Cameroon is launching a bid to negotiate the return of four endangered gorillas whose fate has infuriated wildlife protection groups since the animals were smuggled via Malaysia to a South African zoo.
A Cameroon government delegation was travelling from the Central African country to South Africa on Monday to try to win the release of the young Western Lowland gorillas, dubbed the "Taipeng Four" and smuggled out three years ago.
The gorillas were smuggled via Nigeria to Malaysia's Taipeng Zoo in July 2002, then shipped to South Africa's Pretoria National Zoological Gardens two years later.
Cameroon says the move violated the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
"As a member of CITES, South Africa is required to ensure that illegally confiscated animals are returned to their country of origin," Mary Fosi, senior adviser to Cameroon's Environment Ministry, told Reuters at the weekend.
"South Africa feels the Cameroon government has never really requested the repatriation of the gorillas officially," she said.
"This is why a delegation is travelling to South Africa to stress that these gorillas belong to Cameroon and they need to come back to their natural habitat."
The great grey-brown apes, which weigh up to 275 kg (600 lb), live deep within Central Africa's tropical rainforests.
The lowland gorilla's intelligence and physical structure is closer to man than any other primate except chimpanzees. Man is its only predator, with hunters tracking it for bushmeat and timber companies destroying its natural habitat.
South Africa had last month proposed keeping the "Taipeng Four" in exchange for wildlife conservation and research cooperation, Fosi said.
But Cameroon will insist the four apes return as part of government efforts to boost tourism. Its delegation includes diplomats and officials from three ministries and has the backing of several environmental organisations.
The primate is classified as endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). It is estimated that 100,000 remain in the wild in Central Africa.
Fosi expressed confidence South Africa would cooperate and denied Pretoria's claims that Cameroon lacked the required infrastructure to host the animals.
"We have the infrastructure at the Limbe Wildlife Centre which is very decent ... the capacity has been upgraded to receive the gorillas," she said.