The following is a guest post from the WWF.
Law enforcement officers in Gabon have arrested five men accused of possessing illegal animal products, including those of endangered species.
The raids, conducted by the country’s Water and Forest and Defense Ministries with the assistance of WWF partner AALF, yielded an alarming number of ape, leopard and elephant parts.
Among the items confiscated were the head and hands of an endangered gorilla, along with twelve chimpanzee heads and 30 chimpanzee hands. The skins of twelve leopards, a portion of lion skin, snake skins and five elephant tails were also discovered.
“WWF commends the Water and Forest Ministry and AALF for this important arrest,” said David Greer, WWF African Great Ape Manager. “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 Central Africa over the last ten years.”
AALF, known by the French acronym for Support for the Application of the Wildlife Act, is a joint program of Gabon’s Water and Forest Ministry with the organizations 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 Organization in Cameroon, which has been replicated with success in neighboring 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,” Mathot said.
“This monumental arrest is only the first step toward catalyzing 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,” said Greer.
Editor’s Note: Photographs available; please contact Luc Mathot
For further information:
Conservation Justice: Luc Mathot, firstname.lastname@example.org, +32 495 922 558
WWF: Natalia Reiter, email@example.com, +41 22 364 9111
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with more than 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.
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Photo via BBC