[monkeywire] Portlanders in middle of gorilla dispute
joshg1973 at yahoo.com
Mon Nov 11 10:02:21 EST 2002
Portlanders in middle of gorilla dispute
JENKINS Runs Limbe Wildlife Centre
Four baby gorillas captured illegally in the wilds of West Africa are at the center of an international controversy involving zoologists, government ministers and two Portland-based rescue organizations.
The three females and one male, ranging from 2 to 4 years old, remain in limbo at the Taiping Zoo in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, while a debate about their future is settled.
The Malaysian government has said it would send the animals back to Africa if a suitable place can be found -- this following several months of pressure from conservationists and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Among the top candidates as a suitable place, in Cameroon, is one run by two former Portland residents.
The animals are in good health and are not on exhibit, a Taiping Zoo official said last week.
But conservationists say they're concerned that the gorillas are traumatized and vulnerable to disease. Developmentally, the young apes are not unlike human toddlers.
There is support within the primate research and rescue community for sending the animals to the Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon. Limbe is financed by the Portland-based Pandrillus Foundation and supported by the Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance, another Portland-based organization.
The Limbe Wildlife Centre began as a colonial zoo. Today it is a primate sanctuary and education center run by Peter Jenkins and Elizabeth Gadsby, former Portlanders who went to Africa for an adventure 15 years ago and stayed.
Pandrillus and the Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance have raised $30,000 to help pay the estimated $200,000 cost of keeping the four animals at Limbe over their lifetimes. Gorillas can live to be 40 years old.
Jenkins said it makes ethical and practical sense to send the gorillas to Limbe.
"I'm almost certain that the gorillas came originally from Cameroon, and I think it would be a bad precedent to set for animals not to go back to their country of origin," he said. "It's the best thing for the gorillas, I believe, because it's the best place for them."
Gorillas are found in mountain and low-lying forests in nine African countries. At one time, their population was estimated at more than 100,000. But surveys indicate the numbers are declining as gorillas are hunted and forests are transformed into agricultural fields or cities.
Hunting or capturing the animals is illegal in Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria and Gabon. A global treaty that governs ivory trade and other activities, called the Convention on Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also bans the hunting or trapping of apes.
But neither hunting laws nor the global treaty has stopped poachers from selling gorillas as bushmeat or for other purposes on the black market.
Activists and primate experts think the gorillas, which arrived at the Taiping Zoo in January, were captured in a Cameroon rain forest.
Their mothers probably were killed, said Gadsby, of the Limbe Wildlife Centre.
Like humans, gorilla mothers and their youngsters bond deeply, she said. "It's likely that the babies were pulled screaming off their mother's dead body."
The Taiping Zoo official said his zoo thought the animals were born in the Ibadan Zoo in Nigeria and were part of a legitimate animal exchange between two zoos. Further investigation by activists found that the documents accompanying the gorillas had been falsified.
"The (Ibadan) Zoo has only one old female gorilla and a male who died years ago and is exhibited stuffed," said Shirley McGreal, chairwoman of the International Primate Protection League, based in Summerville, S.C.
The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums has identified the National Zoo of South Africa as the most suitable new location for the four young gorillas, said Peter Dollinger, the association's executive director.
But animal welfare advocates, including well-known primate expert Jane Goodall and the International Primate Protection League, are pressing for the gorillas to go to the Limbe Wildlife Centre.
"Limbe already has eight gorillas in its care, all rescued from local or commercial trade," Goodall wrote in a letter last week to the senior enforcement officer for the Convention on Trade of Endangered Species. "Although most of those gorillas arrived in desperate condition, sick and traumatized, the excellent care provided by Limbe's local and international staff restored their health."
The decision will be left to the Malaysian government.
Whether the gorillas go to another zoo or to a wildlife sanctuary, they will live in an enclosed area. If they go to Limbe, Jenkins said, there's a chance they could be taught to fend for themselves and reintroduced to the wild after they've grown.
Even then, he said, rescuers would have to search for a place where the gorillas would not once again be vulnerable to hunters. Michelle Cole: 503-294-5143; michellecole at news.oregonian.com
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