A syndicate of four individuals that smuggled 32 monkeys from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) destined for South Africa using fake documents to cross the first border into Zambia were nabbed at the Chirundu border post following a cross examination by the Zimbabwe immigration and ZimParks officials.
Zimbabwean immigration authorities at Chirundu decided to check with ZimParks, who investigated and found the documentation not authentic.
Of the 32 Monkeys illegally taken from DRC, only 26 were accounted for leaving the other 6 missing. The four involved in the trafficking of a rare monkey species, are two Congolese nationals, a Malawian and a Zambian. Meanwhile, ZimParks is taking care of the monkeys waiting for court processes to be completed so they can be repatriated to DRC.
Experts 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,” said Fleming.
Another expert, Mr Tjerk ter Meulen from the Animal and Plant Manager at ARTIS Royal Zoo in Amsterdam, was in agreement with Mrs Fleming, adding that rescued monkeys are an 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.
The Zimbabwe based Baye Pigors said, 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 narrated 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.
Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) executive director Mr Gregg Tully, said wildlife trafficking was one of the five biggest illegal industries.
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 as such, smugglers do not consider taking such precautions.