Ape Heads, Body Parts Found. Five people arrested
20, 2011 11:58 AM
Authorities in Central Africa have arrested five people who were found
with the heads of 12 chimpanzees and an endangered gorilla in a seizure
that officials said Thursday was the largest of its kind in a decade.
WWF said the raid last
week in the coastal nation of Gabon also included 30 chimpanzee hands
and body parts belonging to leopards, elephants and a lion. If
convicted, though, the suspects only face up to six months in prison.
Officials said they did
not know what the body parts were intended for.
"Heads and hands, for
example, are sometimes used for ritual ceremonies," said Natalia Reiter,
communications manager for WWF International. "Some people believe it
would bring them luck and some just keep it as souvenirs. Hands are
believed to bring more power or are used as trophies."
believe the case spans far beyond Gabon's borders as lions are not
native to the country, so those animal parts originated elsewhere. The
suspects are also all from elsewhere in Africa – four Nigerians and a
woman from Benin.
"We don't know yet where
these were going to be sent to in this case," she said.
WWF African Great Ape
Manager David Greer said the haul was "highly disturbing." "To my
knowledge, there has not been a seizure of great ape body parts of this
magnitude in Central Africa over the last ten years," he said.
Bushmeat – the meat of
gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants and other endangered and exotic species
– is consumed and sold throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The practice is
fuelled by extreme poverty that forces people to poach for the meat.
However, the meat also
has a market in Europe, where it is consumed by African immigrants. One
study last year found that more than five tons of bushmeat slips through
the main airport in Paris alone each week.
Reiter said the five
suspects in Gabon are being held by authorities while an investigation
is conducted. They are expected to appear in court this week.
But she said the arrests are
only part of the fight against animal poaching and trafficking. "We
really need to target the dealers, as they are the ones who are selling
them everywhere in the world," she said. "Unfortunately there are a lot
of markets for leopard skins, ivory and other wildlife so it is an
Links to other Sites
Additional information on the bushmeat crisis is available on the internet at these links:
American Association of Zoos and Aquaria
Born Free Foundation
Bushmeat Crisis Task Force
European Association of Zoos and Aquaria
Forest Stewardship Council
Great Ape Project
Wildlife Conservation Society