of the media only;
not an official document.
calls for prosecutions of those involved
in the illegal trade of gorillas
In response to many messages of concern that the Secretariat
has received, the Secretary-General of CITES, Willem Wijnstekers,
issued the following statement today.
“I firmly believe that the fact that a determined and
criminal attempt to supply animals illegally taken from the wild
was foiled sends a very clear message to those who may wish to
trade illicitly in wildlife that CITES is determined that they
will not succeed. I trust that prosecutions will take place in
Malaysia and Nigeria to reinforce this message. I hope, regardless
of their final destination, that the gorillas will enjoy stable,
healthy and long lives and that they can act as ambassadors for
their species to help graphically illustrate the risks posed to
endangered species by illegal trade in wildlife and to encourage
governments, relevant organizations and the public to support
the conservation of wildlife. Although it is extremely regrettable
that this incident ever occurred, I believe that it has provided
valuable lessons from which everyone involved in CITES must learn.”
Background: Illegally traded gorillas
– the ‘Taiping Four’
In early 2002, the CITES Secretariat was alerted to an incident
involving four juvenile gorillas that had been transported from
Nigeria to Malaysia, via South Africa. Although the export from
Nigeria and import to Malaysia was authorized by the CITES Management
Authorities of both countries and genuine permits required by
the Convention accompanied the shipment, there appeared to be
reasonable grounds to suspect that the movement was not in conformity
with the provisions of CITES.
The authorizing documents recorded the animals as having been
bred in captivity in a zoo in Nigeria. It was said that the animals
were part of an exchange programme between the University of Ibadan
Zoological Gardens in Nigeria and Taiping Zoo in Malaysia. Information
received by the Secretariat from a non-governmental organization
(the International Primate Protection League) indicated that the
declaration of the gorillas as having been captive-bred might
be false. The Secretariat then asked the CITES Management Authorities
of Malaysia and Nigeria to investigate this information and advise
it of the result of those investigations. South Africa was asked
to comment on the circumstances relating to the transit of the
gorillas through that country. The Secretariat also independently
reviewed information it collected about the matter.
It became clear at an early stage that the animals in question
could not have been bred in the University of Ibadan, Nigeria,
since that facility has no gorillas capable of producing offspring.
The role of an intermediary company, based in Malaysia but seemingly
with connections to Nigeria, which apparently facilitated the
acquisition of the animals and their movement, was highly suspicious;
involving fraudulent actions and payments of money that would
not normally be expected in a genuine exchange of specimens between
The Secretariat encouraged the authorities in Malaysia to seize
the animals and this was done.
The Secretariat has devoted considerable time and resources to
the review of this incident. It has supplied its own technical
expertise and advice to the authorities in Malaysia, Nigeria and
South Africa. This included briefing a Commission of Inquiry established
by the President of Nigeria and personal communication between
the Secretary-General of CITES and government officials in Malaysia
and Nigeria, to ministerial level. It passed to the relevant Parties
advice and suggestions received from non-governmental organizations,
individuals with expertise in primates, and also the general public
(which showed considerable interest in the case). The Secretariat
is grateful to these organizations and persons for responding
to requests for information or for providing it voluntarily.
It understands that the Commission of Inquiry in Nigeria has
confirmed the Secretariat’s suspicions that corrupt actions
by officials may have played a part in the export of the animals
from that country. It understands that South Africa has amended
the way in which its CITES Management Authority will monitor shipments
in transit. The Secretariat also understands that investigations
continue in Malaysia to identify those persons who acted improperly
or criminally there.
The Secretariat’s study of this case has left it in no
doubt that there was considerable criminality involved in Malaysia
and Nigeria that led to the illegal movement of the gorillas.
It believes much work remains to be done to bring the culprits
to justice. The Secretariat, and in particular the Secretary-General,
has communicated frankly with the Governments of Malaysia and
Nigeria to express concerns regarding a number of aspects of the
Aside from bringing offenders to justice, the remaining issue
was to identify a long-term home for the gorillas that were confiscated
in Malaysia. Here too, the Secretariat has extensively communicated
with government officials in Malaysia. It passed on an offer by
the National Zoo of South Africa and the Limbe Wildlife Sanctuary
in Cameroon to house the animals. In doing so, it provided Malaysia
with information from the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums
and from other non-governmental organizations and individuals
with an interest in primate conservation and welfare. It recommended
that DNA profiling be used to help determine the country of origin
of the gorillas. It reminded Malaysia that the Conference of the
Parties to CITES has adopted guidance relating to the disposal
of confiscated live animals (see Resolution Conf. 10.7). The Secretariat
made clear that it would not be appropriate for anyone involved
in this illicit trade, now or in the future, to benefit from it.
There are firm views held by organizations and individuals regarding
what would be the most suitable long-term home for the gorillas
and many of these views are in direct conflict with each other.
The Secretariat can, of course, not decide on this important aspect
and has not entered the debate on this aspect of the case. It
is conscious that the text of the Convention and the relevant
Resolution make plain that the decision rests with the State of
confiscation, i.e. Malaysia.
The Secretariat understands that Malaysia has decided that the
animals should be transferred to the National Zoo of South Africa.
The Secretariat neither endorses nor questions this decision;
it does, however, note that it complies with the guidance adopted
by the Conference of the Parties.