5 July 2017

Cameroon: Chimp trafficking network busted in Douala

Photo: Matthias Mugisha /Daily Monitor
A chimpanzee rests on a log.

A chimpanzee trafficking network has been busted in Douala following the arrest of two people with two adult chimpanzees. The chimps were about to be illegally exported through the Douala international airport. The suspects aged 56 and 37 were arrested shortly after they arrived at the entrance to the cargo terminal of the airport with the animals loaded behind a pickup truck.

The arrest that took place at about 6 pm on June 30 was carried out by wildlife officials working in collaboration with the judicial police. They were technically assisted by The Last Great Ape Organisation (LAGA). The chimps were locked inside cages which apparently were too small for their sizes - an expert later estimated the chimps were over 15 years old. They were then loaded into a truck that was driven to the entrance of the terminal. One of the traffickers followed closely on a bike while the other drove the truck carrying the chimps.

Preliminary investigations show they were to conduct an illegal transaction at the appointment site shortly before the chimps were to be taken into the freight terminal. Speaking to the press shortly after the arrest, the Littoral Regional Delegate of Forestry and Wildlife, Djogo Toumouksala said "we arrested two traffickers at the Douala airport. These chimpanzees which are female were to be exported."

According to one of the arresting team members who requested for anonymity , the chimps had been staying with 56-year old suspect since 1990. They were bought and kept for business. The man is said to have sold several wildlife species in the past and had been keeping these waiting for an opportunity to sell. He had equally been looking for other mature male chimps to mate with the females for more chimps.

As they alighted at the airport terminal, they were rounded up by wildlife officials and policemen who diligently proceeded to identifying the contents found in the cages behind the vehicle. They were then asked to get back into the car and driven to the regional delegation where a crowd would soon gather to get a glimpse of the agitating and noise making apes inside their uncomfortable cages. They had been drenched by the rains.

The process to establish a case file against them is on and Toumouksala said "according to the law anyone, found at any time and place with a protected wildlife species, in this case a chimpanzee, is considered to have killed or captured the animal". They two are expected to be presented to the state prosecutor on Monday July 3, 2017. Chimpanzees are listed in class A which gives total protection for species severely threatened with extinction in the country.

A team led by Dr. John Kiyang of the Limbe Wildlife Centre arrived the delegation later after the rescue operation to take the chimps back to Limbe. The animals had been severely soaked and looked vulnerable with the heavy downpour that occurred during their trip to the airport terminal. They are presently receiving care and comfort from the experienced caregivers at the centre that has decades of experience in handling apes.

The illegal trade in chimpanzee is a big business fetching huge profits for those who drive the trade and run networks. Although clearly illegal, chimp export remains a problem and the logistics involved in it is pretty complicated.

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