- Nigeria yesterday repatriated two gorillas recovered from animal smugglers to neighbouring Cameroon, where they are to be returned to their natural habitat in the Limbe Wild Life Park. The gorillas belong to one of Africa's most threatened species.
It all began when they were snatched as infants from their home in southern Cameroon, their mothers possibly killed, and smuggled across the border to be put up for sale in the northern Nigerian city of Kano hundreds of miles from where they were born.
Yesterday, in a repatriation co-funded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the gorillas named Brighter and Twiggy were jetting back home, a pair of Western lowland gorillas, among the rarest and most endangered species on earth, saved by the vigilance of wildlife campaigners and the Nigerian State Minister for the Environment.
- Great apes across Africa and South-East Asia are in peril, Robert Hepworth, Deputy Director in UNEP's Division of Environmental Conventions, said: "The massive and unrelenting destruction of their habitats, the slaughtering of apes for meat and the pet trade are just some of the factors behind their demise. Indeed it is quite likely that Brighter and Twiggy fell into the hands of smugglers after their mothers were killed for bushmeat."
Calling this story of two of humankind's closet living relatives "not just one of tragedy, but of hope," he added: "It sends a loud and clear signal to poachers and smugglers that their illegal and destructive activities will no longer be tolerated there and that there is no longer a profit to be had from these wildlife crimes."
The two gorillas will now take up residence in the world famous Limbe Wildlife Centre at the slopes of Mount Cameroon. The story of how they came to be bought in the Sabon Gari animal market in Kano by a businessman is shrouded in mystery. It is believed they were born in south or east Cameroon and captured by poachers when they were two years old.
Once alerted by wildlife campaigners, Nigerian Environment Minister Imeh Okopido took action to save the "Kano Two" as they have become to be known, intervening last December to confiscate them from the businessman without compensation.
Their arrival at Limbe park will bring the total of gorillas there to 10. If they stay healthy they should live to be over 40, wildlife experts said. Twiggy has nerve damage to an arm, which just hangs down, but otherwise they both appeared in good physical and mental shape, UNEP reports.
To fly them home required special permits under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a UNEP-linked treaty.
Under its Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP), UNEP is co-funding the repatriation with support from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. UNEP is working to develop great ape conservation strategies in all of the 23 States in Africa and South-East Asia that have ape populations.
Only 30,000 of the lowland gorillas are estimated to remain in Africa. In Nigeria, a specie known as the Cross River gorilla is thought to number under 200. In Cameroon, their habitat is shrinking year by year due to uncontrolled deforestation, also in the country's many and extensive parks and reserves.
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