After finding 25 juvenile monkeys in a truck from Zambia during a routine border check, Zimbabwean officials knew they were on to something big.
It wasn’t just the largest monkey smuggling bust in history that set them off, it was the fact that none of the monkeys found were native to the region.
According to National Geographic, all of the primates on the truck are native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Officials found the following:
- 12 golden-bellied mangabeys
- two L’Hoest’s monkeys
- two lesulas
- two grey-cheeked mangabeys
- five putty-nosed monkeys
- two Allen’s swamp monkeys
Most of these species are classified as endangered or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Officials working with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (ZimParks) and Hemmersbach Rhino Force as part of the Chirundu Anti-Poaching Project found four men in the truck carrying the caged primates.
“Four foreigners, two Congolese, a Malawian and a Zambian have been arrested in connection with the crime. They appeared before a Karoi Magistrate and were remanded in custody,” said ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo.
According to Jean Fleming, communications manager for U.S.-based Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), smugglers have been illegally capturing primates in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and transporting them through Zambia and Zimbabwe to South Africa for decades. Like the recent bust, National Geographic emerging explorer and founder of the wildlife crime investigative organization Conserv Congo Adams Cassinga believes that thousands of animals are smuggled along the same route each year.
With increasing demand for primates in zoos, as pets, or for bushmeat, hundreds of monkeys are victims of poaching and smuggling annually, many sent overseas to China.
“Twenty-five animals is a lot—it’s not a random act,” Fleming says. “It’s an organized enterprise to get that many animals on a truck across borders.”
As All Africa reports, the monkeys rescued from this shipment are being given food and medical treatment. After a veterinarian’s evaluation, they will be sent back to their native habitats.
“We are nursing them and we are keeping them in cages. We are giving them food and fruits that were sourced from well-wishers. They are suffering from stress because of travelling,” Farawo said.
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