Monday, 8 October 2001
THE GUARDIAN, Nigeria
By Chineda Uwaegbulam
Following the controversial drownings of the primates, concerned local and foreign conservation bodies are blaming the Nigerian government for not putting in place the required machinery for the species' protection. They are also calling for an official protest to Egyptian authorities over the atrocity.
Global criticisms have trailed last week's reported drowning of a baby gorilla and a baby chimpanzee that were flown to Cairo airport from Nigeria without permits for endangered species.
Their owner, who said they were her pets, brought the gorilla and chimpanzee from Lagos. Airport veterinarians feared the primates might have carried diseases that could spread. They drowned the animals in a container filled with chemicals because of the risk that contaminated blood could spill if they chose another method of eliminating the primates.
Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, permits are required for the import, export and trade of gorillas, chimpanzees and other endangered species. Cairo airport officials had argued over what to do with the two primates. Veterinarians wanted to kill the gorilla while wildlife officers wanted to give it to Giza zoo. The zoo, however, does not have an enclosure for gorillas.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), medical doctors, virus experts and veterinarians strongly condemned the cruel killing of the two innocent animals belonging to highly endangered species. Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) berated the Federal Government for not putting the needed machinery in place for the protection of endangered species in the country.
According to NCF executive director, Dr. Muhtari Aminu-Kano, "it is something that happens often because our laws are weak. We have Decree 11 of 1985 that is supposed to protect trade in endangered species which is faulty. There is no will among government officials to implement this decree."
He revealed that in most big hotels and international airports, there is a section that is for the sales of goods from endangered species, which is not right, "Our neighbors - Ghana and Cameroon - have banned trade in gray parrot but Nigeria has not."
Dr. Aminu-Kano added that while the government goes ahead with setting up machinery for the review of Decree 11 of 1985, they should implement the existing laws to ensure that endangered species are protected.
Another group, Journalists Network for Environmental Conservation (JOUNET) demanded a probe into the cruel killing of the primates. JOUNET urged the Nigerian government to press for the trial of the veterinarians by the Egyptian authorities. The group's director of campaigns, Mr. Mohammed Abu said investigation should be carried out to bring to book any Nigerian involved in the smuggling of the baby gorilla and baby chimpanzee.
JOUNET believes that government agencies at the [small portion of hard copy fax from Africa is illegible - completed text will be posted as correction] on the implications of their actions. Mr. Abu pointed out that a lot of public awareness is needed to ensure that every citizen becomes a watchdog to save endangered species.
The International Primate Protection League (IPPL), an international organisation with 16,000 members in 80 countries, is outraged at the drowning of the animals. "IPPL would have been happy to help arrange for the return of these apes to a sanctuary in Nigeria if only we had been asked," according to Dr. Shirley McGreal, chairperson of IPPL.
"We request Nigerian authorities to protest strongly to Egyptian officials against this atrocity and to attempt to identify and punish any Nigerian national involved and the airline which carries the animals to their death," IPPL said.
Both the gorilla and the chimpanzee belong to highly endangered species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES to which both Egypt and Nigeria belong; as well as Cameroon, the country where the infant apes might have been captured. Gorillas and chimpanzees are humans' closest relatives in the animal kingdom. They share over 98 per cent of human's genetic structure. Because of the high commercial demand for these species, mother apes are often shot for their babies.
Dr. Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama, a world famous expert in the study of viruses carried out by African apes states, "I find the drowning totally unjustified, irrational and utterly appalling. There is no scientific or public health reason for these killings."
For Dr. Eliot Katz, a veterinarian and president-founder of In Defense of Animals, "we would have gladly offered to accept both babies for care and possible rehabilitation. All things considered, there was no reason for these little apes to be killed and as a veterinarian, I am appalled that any person who is supposed to be a qualified veterinarian would kill innocent animals with cause."
To Jean Swingle, "as a veterinarian, I think killing these infant apes should only have been considered an option if they had been gravely or terminally ill and their deaths would have been necessary to prevent them from suffering. If this had been the case, they certainly should have been euthanized in an acceptable manner which allowed for quick and painless death. Death by drowning is neither quick nor painless."