An animal sanctuary in Cameroon, home to dozens of primates endangered by the illegal bushmeat trade, is preparing to welcome some famous guests: the "Taiping Four" gorillas smuggled to Malaysia four years ago.
DOUALA, Cameroon -- An animal sanctuary in Cameroon, home to dozens of primates endangered by the illegal bushmeat trade, is preparing to welcome some famous guests: the "Taiping Four" gorillas smuggled to Malaysia four years ago.
Felix Lankester, director of the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon's main port city of Douala, said the centre had gone to great lengths to be ready for the return of the western lowland gorillas, currently held in Pretoria Zoo in South Africa.
Taiping Zoo in Malaysia acquired the animals, smuggled out of the West African country via Nigeria, in 2002 but Cameroon has been lobbying for their return ever since.
"We have constructed a quarantine facility as an annex to our existing gorilla facility," Lankester told Reuters at the weekend, dismissing earlier suggestions by Pretoria zoo that his centre did not have the right facilities to host the gorillas.
"In 2005, the construction of a new 2,500 square metre gorilla enclosure was completed. They will live in this new enclosure with the 11 other gorillas that live here."
Cameroon's Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife said the gorillas were expected any time between November and February, ending a lengthy campaign for their return.
Their move to Malaysia sparked condemnation from Cameroon and some 67 environmental and animal welfare organisations.
Amid the outcry, Malaysia sent them back to their home continent but not their home country in 2004: they ended up in South Africa. Pretoria zoo officials questioned whether they came from Cameroon and DNA tests had to be carried out.
In September, after Cameroon threatened to seek damages, South Africa's National Zoo said it was sending them home.
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.
Due to an increase in illegal hunting, sanctuaries all over Africa are dealing with an influx of bushmeat orphans in need of lifelong care. This year alone Limbe has rescued four chimps.
Although the centre has no plans yet to release the animals into the wild, it is proposing to develop a protected field site where the monitored release of them will be possible.