Crackdown on Ape Trafficking Intensified in Cameroon

14 November 2014 General News

Standard Tribune | 4th November 2014

A baby chimp looked at the remains of its slaughtered family – seven chimp heads and 30 legs and hands as the two traffickers specialized in this illegal trade were handcuffed and interrogated for their cross-border activities with Nigeria.

The two were arrested in a sting of operation following an undercover investigation by wildlife and police officials working in collaboration with LAGA – a wildlife law enforcement NGO.

Twenty-four hours later, they appeared in front of a state prosecutor, who remanded them in custody while awaiting the date of their first appearance in court to be fixed.

The ape traffickers face a maximum of three years imprisonment under Cameroon’s 1994 Wildlife Law.

“We received information from our partners LAGA about an illegal transaction and we immediately set up a team to get these guys,” said Mekam Anatole the local wildlife chief. “Chimpanzees are totally protected by our laws”.

The great apes are threatened with extinction.

According to UNEP, illegal trade that sees almost 3,000 live great apes lost from the forests of Africa and Southeast Asia each year is increasingly impacting wild populations as links to organized crime grow stronger.

This case is just one of many, in a series of arrest operations focused on the illegal trade in great apes exposing the magnitude and sophistication that remained, till recently, unknown.

Under the framework of a wildlife law enforcement programme that is run by Cameroon’s ministry of Forestry and Wildlife in collaboration with the wildlife law enforcement organization – LAGA, 22 ape traffickers have been arrested, over 34 chimp skulls and fresh heads; 34 fresh limbs; 24 gorilla skulls and fresh heads and 16 fresh limbs have been seized from the traffickers within the past four months.

This is the very first time such huge consignment of these ape parts is being seized anywhere in the world.

Within the last ten years that the programme has been functioning, at least one trafficker is arrested in the country every week demonstrating the need to stop the illegal trade in ape if we are not willing to see its extinction, said a LAGA official.

On May 8, an operation carried out in the east of the country saw the arrest of two people trying to sell 10 gorilla skulls and two jawbones. A court found them guilty on October 8, 2014. They were given a one-year imprisonment sentence.

Many other operations leading to the seizure of gorilla and chimpanzee skulls, fresh heads and limbs followed swiftly within the period.

On September 8, 2014 a significant operation took place in Nanga Eboko a town some 169 km from Yaounde where a man was arrested over the trafficking of four fresh gorilla heads and 16 fresh limbs. He had been doing this business for a long time. An 800-litre capacity fridge was found in his home. He used this to preserve the parts for his clients who would come from Yaounde and Douala, the two major cities in the country.

The operation confirmed fears that the illicit trade in ape heads and limbs was organized and specialized. Twenty-two ape traffickers have been arrested within this four-month period under the framework of the wildlife law enforcement programme, all of them are behind bars.

The two arrested traffickers had been regularly supplying dozens of chimpanzee heads, which are transported to Nigeria. All they need is for the client to place orders early enough for the poaching to provide the necessary quantities.

The traffickers were found with a large quantity of giant pangolin scales, a demand for which exists exclusively in China, indicating the international dimension of their illegal activity.

As for the 6-month old baby chimpanzee that was seized though, she has been very lucky and received immediate medical attention from experienced veterinarians when she arrived Yaounde but the stress still continues as she cries loud when approached by humans.

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