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Society | Environment - Nature

Gabon officials seize chimpanzee body parts

Chimpanzees in Gabon

© Michel Gunther/WWF/afrol News
afrol News, 19 January
- Wildlife officers in Gabon have arrested five men accused of possessing illegal animal products, including those of endangered species. As there are traditions of bushmeat consumption in Gabon, the arrests signal a stricter law enforcement.

The raids, conducted by the country's Water and Forest and Defence Ministries with the assistance of the local environmentalist group Support for the Application of the Wildlife Act (AALF), yielded what the activists called "an alarming number of ape, leopard and elephant parts."

Among the items confiscated were the head and hands of an endangered gorilla, along with 12 chimpanzee heads and 30 chimpanzee hands. The skins of 12 leopards, a portion of lion skin, snake skins and five elephant tails were also discovered.

In Gabon, bushmeat from for example apes is a traditional food source, key to many local dishes. But the confiscated items seemed to have another destiny, probably being prepared for export.

Gabon has been a celebrated African leader in nature and wildlife conservation issues, setting aside large tracts of the country for national parks and investing in a strict management of these parks. Environmentalist groups such as WWF have often hailed these Gabonese achievements, as they did today after the arrest of the wildlife traders.

"WWF commends the Water and Forest Ministry and AALF for this important arrest," WWF's David Greer said in a statement today. "However, the massive collection of protected species confiscated in this operation is highly disturbing. To my knowledge, there has not been a seizure of great ape body parts of this magnitude in Centr

At the Makokou bushmeat market in Gabon, traders offer fresh bush pig, antelope and monkey meat

© CGIAR/afrol News
al Africa in the last 10 years," Mr Greer added.

The local group AALF is a joint programme of Gabon's Water and Forest Ministry, Conservation Justice and Brainforest. AALF assists local authorities with wildlife crime investigations and supports rigorous prosecutions. It follows a model established by the Last Great Ape Organisation in Cameroon, which has been replicated with success in neighbouring countries.

"The problem of illegal wildlife poaching and trade is not specific to Gabon; such specialized dealers exist throughout Western and Central Africa. But these arrests demonstrate that stopping them is possible with effective law enforcement," said Luc Mathot, founder of Conservation Justice.

The suspects are being held in custody while an investigation is conducted. They are expected to appear in court for legal proceedings this week.

"Recent ivory poaching prosecutions prove that the judicial authorities in Gabon now regard wildlife cases with high importance. We hope they will do the same for ape and big cat cases such as this one," Mr Mathot said.

"This monumental arrest is only the first step toward catalysing positive change in upholding wildlife law in Gabon. In order to establish a long-term deterrent to committing wildlife crime, appropriate consequences must be applied in this and all cases of illegal poaching and trade," concluded Mr Greer.

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