The Great Ape Rescue Mission
UNEP Helps Spearhead Great Ape
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
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
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
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
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
Notes To Editors:
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 www.unep.org/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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254-(0) 20-623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733-632755, E-mail: email@example.com