At least 26 great apes illegally removed from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have been seized in Zimbabwe, where four suspected traffickers have been arrested.
Congo’s environment minister, Claude Nyamugabo Bazibuhe, also announced a large seizure of pangolin scales from the country’s north-east.
Congo is one of the world’s last refuges for endangered great apes, such as eastern lowland gorillas and mountain gorillas, while the pangolin is considered the most-trafficked animal worldwide for its scales, which are prized in traditional Chinese medicine.
Two Congolese nationals, a Malawian and a Zambian were arrested on Wednesday during a routine border post check as they entered Zimbabwe with the apes in a truck, Tinashe Farawo, a spokesman for the Zimbabwean parks and wildlife authority said on Friday.
Farawo said the primates were being cared for by Zimbabwe officials until they could be returned to Congo.
Nyamugabo Bazibuhe said in a statement that 32 live chimpanzees were recently taken from the Haut-Katanga province in south-eastern Congo, on the border with Zambia.
Traffickers used fake documents to take them out of the country and were destined for South Africa, he said.
“The investigation continues … to identify exactly the specimens” seized in Zimbabwe “before considering their repatriation”, the minister said.
“All great apes – gorillas, bonobos and chimpanzees – and pangolins are fully protected.”
On Wednesday, 56kg (125 pounds) of pangolin scales were recovered from a private residence as they were being prepared for export, Congo’s environment minister announced.
They were taken from the Garamba natural reserve, on the border with South Sudan and Uganda.
The scales are used for the treatment of various diseases such as arthritis, ulcers and tumours, despite a lack of scientific proof.
The small animals are thought by some scientists to be the possible host of the novel coronavirus.
They are the most trafficked mammals in the world and seizures of their scales increased tenfold between 2014 and 2018, according to the UN office on drugs and crime.
The world has lost more than two-thirds of its wild animal populations in less than 50 years, mainly due to human activity, the World Wildlife Fund said on Thursday in a hard-hitting report.