At least 26 great apes illegally removed from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo) have been seized in Zimbabwe, where four suspected traffickers have been arrested, authorities in both countries said on Friday, as they considered repatriating the primates.
Congolese Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development Claude Nyamugabo Bazibuhe also announced a large seizure of pangolin scales from the country’s northeast.
The DR Congo is one of the world’s last refuges for endangered great apes, such as eastern lowland gorillas and mountain gorillas, while the pangolin is considered the most trafficked animal on the planet for its scales, which are prized in traditional Chinese medicine.
Two Congolese nationals, a Malawian and a Zambian were arrested on Wednesday during a routine border post check as they entered Zimbabwe with the apes in a truck, Zimbabwean Parks and Wildlife Authority spokesman Tinashe Farawo said.
The primates were being cared for by Zimbabwean officials until they could be returned to the DR Congo, Farawo said.
Nyamugabo Bazibuhe said in a statement that 32 live chimpanzees were had been taken from the Haut-Katanga Province in the nation’s southeast, on the border with Zambia.
Traffickers used fake documents to take them out of the DR Congo and they were destined for South Africa, he said.
“The investigation continues... to identify exactly the specimens” seized in Zimbabwe “before considering their repatriation,” the minister said.
“All great apes [gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees] and pangolins are fully protected,” he added.
On Wednesday, 56kg of pangolin scales were recovered from a private residence as they were being prepared for export, Nyamugabo Bazibuhe said.
They were taken from the Garamba National Park, on the border with South Sudan and Uganda.
The scales are used for the treatment of various diseases, such as arthritis, ulcers and tumors, despite a lack of scientific proof.
The small animals are thought by some scientists to be the possible source of COVID-19.
Seizures of their scales increased tenfold between 2014 and 2018, according to data from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
The world has lost more than two-thirds of its wild animal populations in less than 50 years, mainly due to human activity, the World Wildlife Fund said on Thursday in a hard-hitting report.
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