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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
Jail for Cameroon chimp trafficker
By Francis Ngwa Niba
BBC, Yaounde, Cameroon

Chimpanzee
The chimpanzee is seen as a delicacy in Cameroon
A 40-year-old man has become the first Cameroonian to be sentenced for trying to sell a female baby chimpanzee, nine years after a law prohibiting trade in endangered animals was passed.

Tonye Nkeng was sentenced to one month imprisonment and was ordered to pay a fine of 500,000 CFA francs ($1,000).

He was arrested about five months ago when he tried to sell the female baby chimpanzee named Kita to a dealer.

Kita is now living in a safe haven at the Limbe wildlife centre in south-western Cameroon.

The verdict will not have any impact on the sale and consumption of bush meat, even if they sentence everyone in Cameroon
Cameroonian housewife

"This is what I wanted and this is what I got. I am very happy," Francois Ntolo Tsinya, the lawyer for the Ministry of the environment and forests said after the sentencing.

She said she had not been sure she would even get a conviction, let alone a prison term, because poaching of wildlife is a very common crime in Cameroon.

'Strong signal'

This is due to the flourishing bush meat trade.

"This will send a strong signal to people that they cannot just eat any type of animal, anytime," said Ms Tsinya.

Map of Cameroon

However, a defiant housewife that I met after the verdict said she was shocked by the sentencing.

"The verdict will not have any impact on the sale and consumption of bush meat, even if they sentence everyone in Cameroon".

"It is our tradition, our grandparents ate bush meat and we will continue eating bush meat," said the housewife.

The sprawling bush-meat markets that operated in Yaounde have been closed after police started arresting dealers.

But a flourishing illegal trade in endangered animals continues in the country.

Informers

The convict was charged following intelligence provided by an animal rights organisation known as The Last Great Ape (LAGA).

LAGA's Israeli-born director, Ofir Drori, said he was "elated" by the verdict.

He risks his life everyday using a sophisticated web of informers and equipment to track down wildlife poachers.

Cameroon is home to hundreds of endangered animals, including chimpanzees, gorillas, lions and elephants.

They are however being killed at an alarming rate to satisfy the huge national and international market for bush meat and animal skin.

A 1994 law prevents people from trading in endangered animals but it has taken nine long years for the first person to be sentenced under that law.




SEE ALSO:
Illegal meat trade 'getting worse'
21 Feb 02  |  UK News
The cat eaters of Cameroon
17 Mar 03  |  UK
Country profile: Cameroon
27 May 03  |  Country profiles


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