Who were the Taiping 4?
The 'Taiping 4' were one male and three female Western Lowland Gorillas (which later came to be named Oyin, Abbey, Izaan and Tinu) who were illegally held in Ibadan Zoo in Nigeria and through some Nigerians in Malaysia were sold to Taiping Zoo in Malaysia.
A little of their retrospective history
Later DNA tests (paid for by the Pretoria zoo) showed that these four little animals had been illegally caught in the wild in the Cameroons and smuggled into Nigeria.
'Caught' may sound simple but it is not the case. To obtain these four little animals many times that number of adult animals would have had to have been killed. The four young animals represent just the four remaining alive after the slaughter involved in their capture. It is a terrible, barbaric and cruel practice which often leaves the surviving animals emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives.
Yet it goes on. Gorillas, Chimpanzees, and other primates are caught and killed daily to supply the bushmeat and exotic meat trade. It is said you can eat ape meat in the biggest cities of the world today and that is so very very wrong.
Sustainable traditional bush meat for peoples who are not in a position to get protein by other means has to be acceptable though.
The 'Taiping 4' arrived in a roundabout way to Ibadan zoo in Nigeria and were later offered for sale as captive bred. This is ridiculous of course and anyone in the zoo world with just a little bit of knowledge would have known that. Here though the animals had all the right paperwork. It was wrong of course, it was corruption in the extreme.
Regardless of the wrongs and rights, legalities and illegalities, the offer of such animals is tempting if only to 'rescue' them from the far from satisfactory conditions they would be kept in in Ibadan zoo. If they had been 'rescued' and gone from there straight to Limbe or somewhere similar then we would probably never have heard any more about them.
It happens all the time, practically every day unfortunate Orangutans, Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Gibbons and Bears are rescued and taken to sanctuaries and rescue centres.
However, these four little Gorillas were 'rescued' by way of an animal exchange and exported to Taiping Zoo in Malaysia by way of South Africa. Some accounts state that 1.6 Million Dollars exchanged hands but I am unclear as to the truth of the matter.
For anyone to suggest that Taiping Zoo or Pretoria Zoo were in any way involved in ordering the capture of these little animals is nothing short of slander. I have never seen any evidence to support this and condemn the suggestion. If I were to see proof I would be more than happy to revise my thinking on the matter.
On a personal note I would never exchange an animal of mine to any collection that I did not know could offer equal or better conditions. Certainly Taiping could offer more than Ibadan. It was never discovered what animals would be going from Taiping.
Yes... CITES certificates should never have been issued for the export of these animals. Officials in Nigeria should have known it was wrong. The animals transited through South Africa. Official there should have known it was wrong. Taiping Zoo should have known it was wrong. It is all a very mixed bag. If the right document has the right signature and stamp on it then follow up documents just follow naturally. There was in fact certificates issued for another two animals which were not used. It is somewhat of a relief that the scam was uncovered otherwise a lot of other Gorillas would have died to fulfill the order.
I believe the whole incident was an example of what happens when blissful ignorance meets corruption and bureaucratic ineptitude. It does not excuse it. It should never have happened...but it did.
On their arrival in Malaysia CITES officials immediately noted the document irregularities and confiscated the four young animals. Immediately they set out to find suitable facilities to hold the Gorillas and Pretoria in South Africa offered to take them. Malaysian authorities were satisfied that this was a good arrangement and agreed to the move.
The arrival of the animals in Malaysia very quickly brought them on to the world stage and anyone with a mouth and anything to say was saying it. The Gorillas were rightfully confiscated by the Malaysian government and plans put in the place to return them to Africa. Nigeria laid claim to them as that was where they had come from. The Cameroons wanted them too because they thought they had originated there (rightly as it turned out later).
Because the whole thing was getting so arguementative CITES decided that the offer of a home in South Africa was a good move. It probably was. They could not go back to the crappy excuse for a zoo in Nigeria, they could not go back to the wild and Cameroon, at the time, had no legal claim. South Africa was the very best of choices to house them in the interim or, possibly, the long term.
IFAW Taiping 4 Gorilla Video - Christina Pretorius
Back to Africa
The four young Gorillas were transported back to Africa to the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria South Africa in April 2004.
All four quickly settled into their new home where they were given the very best care and attention by the professional and caring staff there. Almost immediately plans were instigated to provide them with a bigger and better home.
That is as it should have been but no, the anti-zoo brigade started jumping up and down saying that their arrival in South Africa was all part of an evil secret plan and that Pretoria had been in cahoots with Taiping. As far as they were concerned the Gorillas could not stay there. They must go to a Sanctuary....back to their 'native land'. What poppycock. The Gorillas would not have the faintest clue as to where they were. But no they must not go to a 'zoo'. One quote said "The well being of the animals must come first."
Really though. What is a Zoo?
There were a couple of voices lost amongst all this which said that CITES regulations should be upheld. These I have more sympathy and understanding with. Unfortunately they were drowned out in the anti-zoo gabble.
There was never any evidence to suggest that Pretoria had ever become involved other than with the very best intentions but the anti-zoo brigade continued their blinkered ranting giving little thought for the real care and welfare of the poor little Gorillas.
I really could not agree more that the well being of the animals should come first and, in my opinion, they were best in Pretoria Zoo.
On To the Cameroon
With more than enough funds being raised by way of donations the four young Gorillas were loaded onto a plane in November 2007 and transported to a Zoo Rescue Centre in Limbe in the Cameroons.
IFAW - Taiping 4 Gorillas About to Head Home
Nothing Against Limbe
I have nothing against Limbe as a facility for holding Gorillas as it is after all a zoo and a zoo with Gorilla experience. In this instance however I truly believe that the Gorillas would have had a far better life in South Africa. As ambassadors of their species they would have played an important educational role as a mega important African Animal in an African country. Ultimately they would have become part of a species programme and encouraged to breed.
They will never go back to the wild and, in their present location, it is unlikely that they will ever be allowed to breed.
I admit to being a bit curious as to why the Taiping 4 Gorillas never appeared on the Limbe Wildlife Centre website (last updated January 2008).
On the 8th June 2008 the first of the Gorillas to die was the female 'Oyin', who, after ten days illness, passed away from unknown causes.
The next to die was Izan who died on December 26th 2008. Again this followed a lengthy illness and to date the cause of death has not been determined.