At 1 a.m. on April 1, 2004, Malaysian Airways Flight 201 departed from Kuala Lumpur Airport, Malaysia. Among the many passengers in the cabin were three Malaysian nationals associated with Taiping Zoo. Four young gorillas traveled in the cargo hold.
The gorillas, known as the "Taiping Four" had been smuggled from Nigeria to Malaysia on falsified documents claiming that the wild-caught animals were born in captivity at a Nigerian Zoo (see AWI Quarterly, Winter 2004). The reality was that the animals had been born in the wild in Cameroon and probably smuggled across the long road border between Cameroon and Nigeria. The Malaysian Government had issued import permits for these gorillas without checking into the dubious claims that they were captive-born.
In late 2002, the Malaysian Government announced that it would confiscate the gorillas and send them to Pretoria Zoo in South Africa, but Pretoria Zoo has had a poor record with gorillas, five of six having died, including two babies born there. Nevertheless, Pretoria Zoo's cause was promoted by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. South African Airways, which officially bans primate shipments, was somehow persuaded to carry the baby gorillas.
Instead of sending the primates to South Africa, the gorillas should have been sent to Limbe Wildlife Centre in Cameroon, which has a good record of caring for confiscated gorillas, as requested officially by Cameroon's Minister of the Environment.
It is outrageous that nobody in Malaysia, in or out of government, has been prosecuted in connection with the "Taiping Four" affair. Please send a letter requesting that there be a thorough investigation of the "Taiping Four" gorilla smuggling case, with anyone found to have acted improperly prosecuted or removed from his or her job. Contact the Malaysian Ambassador to your country (or High Commissioner if you live in a Commonwealth nation):
The U.S. address is:
The Ambassador of Malaysia
Embassy of Malaysia
2401 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008