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The Great Ape Rescue Mission

UNEP Helps Spearhead Great Ape  

Rescue Mission

by The United Nations Environment Program



"Kano Two" Gorillas Going Home Following Historic Deal Between Cameroon and Nigeria  


Lagos/Nairobi, 23 May 2003 - A pair of Western lowland gorillas, among the rarest and most endangered species in the world, will today jet out of Nigeria to a new life after being rescued from the clutches of the illegal pet trade.


Brighter and Twiggy, who it is believed were captured as infants in their native Cameroon before being smuggled over the border to Nigeria and sold to a businessman in the northern city of Kano, will be taking up residence in the world famous Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon.


Their rescue and return home owes much to the courage and vigilance of wildlife campaigners and Dr Imeh Okopido, the Nigerian State Minister for the Environment.


Once alerted to their plight and whereabouts, Dr Okopido took action to confiscate the "Kano Two" as the gorillas have come to be known.


The pair are today being flown from Kano to Lagos before taking a noon flight onto Douala which is 80km from Limbe in South West province, Cameroon.


The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), under its Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP), is co-funding the repatriation with support from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Pan African Sanctuaries Alliance is also helping to fund the mission.


Robert Hepworth, Deputy Director in UNEP's Division of Environmental Conventions, said: " Great apes across Africa and South East Asia are in peril. The massive and unrelenting destruction of their habitats, the slaughtering of apes for meat and the pet trade are just some of the factors behind their demise. Indeed it is quite likely that Brighter and Twiggy fell into the hands of smugglers after their mothers were killed for bushmeat".


"However their story is not just one of tragedy, but of hope. In the past there have been concerns over the role of Nigeria as a route for the illegal pet trade in West Africa. But the actions of the Nigerian authorities and the personal intervention of Dr Okopido, show a new determination to crack down on this harmful trade. It sends a loud and clear signal to poachers and smugglers that their illegal and destructive activities will no longer be tolerated there and that there is no longer a profit to be had from these wildlife crimes".


Mr Hepworth said the cooperation between the two governments could also signal the improving relations between the Cameroon and Nigeria which hopefully will now extend to other areas of the environment, including great apes.


The cooperation has been made possible by the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission established in November 2002. The Commission, in which Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General has taken a personal interest, is designed to improve cross border relations between the two nations. 

Melanie Virtue, GRASP Team Leader, and Ian Redmond of GRASP's technical team, will begin a fact-finding mission to help Nigeria draw up a great ape conservation plan after seeing Brighter and Twiggy off from Lagos airport on a Cameroon Airways flight.


UNEP is working to develop great ape conservation strategies in all of the 23 states in Africa and South East Asia that have populations of humankind's closet living relatives. These national strategies are being developed in close consultation with governments, wildlife groups and local communities.


Liza Gadsby, co-director of Pandrillus, a wildlife group that has also played a crucial role in the release and return of the "Kano Two" and which runs the Limbe sanctuary with the Cameroon Ministry of Environment and Forests, said: "The arrival of these two gorillas will bring the number of gorillas at Limbe to ten".

She said that Brighter and Twiggy might, if they remain in good health, live to be over 40 years-old.


" Over their life time they will cost about $80,000 each to keep in terms of staff salaries, feed and routine veterinary bills," said Ms Gadsby.

Peter Jenkins, also of Pandrillus who yesterday was in Kano making last minute travel arrangements for the pair, said: " Twiggy has nerve damage to one arm, which means it is just hanging down. But apart from that they both look in good physical and mental shape".


The story of how Brighter and Twiggy came to be bought in the Sabon Gari animal market in Kano by a businessman of Middle Eastern origin is shrouded in mystery. But it is believed that they were born in south or east Cameroon and captured by poachers when they were around two years old.

The Federal Ministry of Nigeria intervened last December, confiscating them from the businessman without compensation.


To return them to Cameroon, has required the authorities to issue special permits under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which is a UNEP-linked convention. The convention's secretariat has given enthusiastic support to the repatriation.


Notes To Editors:


The Great Ape Survival Project (GRASP) was launched in May 2001 by Klaus Toepfer, the Executive Director of UNEP. It is a World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Type II Partnership. For more details on the Project, reports, fact sheets on great apes, maps and partners please go to


GRASP is currently being supported by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Government of Norway, Six Continents, Dorling Kindersely, Britannia Airways and the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species


For details of how to support Brighter and Twiggy and other GRASP activities please contact : Sarah Mundy GRASP Fundraising Consultant 

P O Box 30552 Nairobi Kenya

Tel: + 2542 62 4011 (direct line) Fax + 2542 62 3926 Mobile + 254 722 745 342 Email:


Limbe Wildlife Centre's homepage has a map with the general location of the sanctuary:


For More Information Please Contact Eric Falt, UNEP Spokesman/Director of the Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254-(0) 20-623292, Mobile: 254(0) 733-682656, E-mail: or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254-(0) 20-623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733-632755, E-mail: 



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