Mukudzei Chingwere Herald Reporter
A syndicate of four individuals that smuggled 32 monkeys from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to South Africa, used fake papers to cross the first border into Zambia and then into Zimbabwe but their luck ran out when Zimbabwean immigration authorities at Chirundu decided to check with ZimParks, who investigated and found the documentation fake.
So the four were arrested on the Zimbabwean side at Chirundu on charges of smuggling 26 rare monkeys from DRC. It is not clear what happened to the other monkeys, as the physical count shows six missing.
Two Congolese, a Malawian and a Zambian were arrested.
The suspects were remanded in custody and ZimParks is taking care of the monkeys waiting for court processes to be completed so they can be repatriated to DRC.
Experts based in Zimbabwe, United States of America and Holland said the smuggled monkeys belonged to the recently discovered Lesula species found in DRC.
US-based expert Mrs Jean Fleming praised Zimbabwean authorities for the “impressive bit of work” to intercept the truck and arrest the traffickers.
“The most recent information I had is from a couple of days ago so more may be available. But at that point we did not have a list of the species other than to confirm that they are monkeys not chimpanzees as was reported earlier.
“Some of the species of monkeys that were found are putty-nosed monkey, L’Hoest’s monkey, golden-bellied Mangabey and others,” she said.
Another expert, Mr Tjerk ter Meulen from the Animal and Plant Manager at ARTIS Royal Zoo in Amsterdam, corroborated with Mrs Fleming, adding that they are endangered species nearing extinction.
“Note, this is only about the monkeys we have photos of. There may be more species.
“Golden-bellied mangabeys (Cercocebus chrysogaster) are endangered, putty-nosed monkeys (Cercopithecus nictitans) are near threatened, and owl-faced monkeys (aka Hamlyn’s monkeys, (Cercopithecus hamlyni) are vulnerable. All are protected under CITES Appendix II,” said Mr Meulen.
Mr Baye Pigors who is based in Zimbabwe said the animals were monkeys.
The trafficking of monkeys is becoming a huge illegal business abroad. They are sold as pets, targeting a small market of celebrities and the rich, plus being used for illegal research, experiments in breeding and experiments in the manufacturing of drugs.
The value of the smuggled primates is in the region of US$6 000 to $12 000 depending on the market.
Mrs Fleming said the primates appreciated value possibly 10 times more when they reached the Asian market.
“The illegal trade in wildlife including monkeys and apes is a huge challenge. When combined with lost habitat and disease, it contributes to their possible extinction.
“The motivation is most likely financial. There seems to be an established trafficking route between the DRC and South Africa and we believe the animals were headed to South Africa where there was likely a buyer lined up,” said Mrs Fleming.
ZimParks authorities told us how they managed to intercept the animals.
“They had papers which were signed by DRC and Zambian authorities, but the standard procedure in the transportation of animals is that we are told prior to their arrival so when they arrived we verified their papers and they proved to be fake.
“They were headed for South Africa and the address on the papers showed they were going to Polokwane. Interpol is investigating the matter and most of the supplied information is proving to be fake.
“We are in contact with DRC authorities and we intend to repatriate them to the DRC,” said Zimparks spokesperson Mr Tinashe Farawo.
Meanwhile, this week ZimParks launched facilities for domestic tourism at their head offices Harare which include recreational facilities for fishing and game views.
They now have venues for weddings, conferences and herbal medication at their head offices.
Zimparks also received a donation of books for their libraries from Harare Rotary Club which were said to be worth around US$5 000.
Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) executive director Mr Gregg Tully, told The Herald that wildlife trafficking was one of the five biggest illegal industries.
He said the commercial trade in primates was a severe threat to the existence of many ape and monkey species, but said certain trade in primates was legal, and regulated by CITES, a UN treaty about trade in endangered species.
“Much of it is illegal, and much is in a grey area in between. Primates are believed to be the source of HIV, Ebola outbreaks in humans, and other infectious diseases.
“While this is more likely to be from great apes than monkeys, there is still an important disease risk due to trade in monkeys.
“In particular, little is known about animals as vectors of the novel coronavirus,” said Mr Tully.
PASA is an association of 23 rescue centres and sanctuaries for apes and monkeys across Africa.
Its members have strict procedures to reduce the risk of disease from the animals they rescue, including quarantine, health exams, and blood tests.
Smugglers do not take any such precautions.
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