By Oscar Nkala
Five of the 25 Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) monkeys recovered from illegal wildlife traffickers in Zimbabwe last year en-route to South Africa have died while being repatriated back home after five months at a game sanctuary in Harare.
The deaths have been attributed to confinement fatigue and stress during the 38-hour journey, which began in Harare on January 31 and ended at the Jeunes Animaux Confisques au Katanga (JACK) centre in Katanga on February 2.
The 20 survivors are being rehabilitated at the centre ahead of a planned re-introduction to the wild.
The sanctuary rehabilitates distressed animals, especially those recovered from the Congo’s tangle of internationally-linked wildlife smuggling syndicates.
“We are happy that the monkeys were saved from the smuggling syndicate and life in captivity.
“However, five died during the repatriation journey. The cause of death is under investigation, but we strongly suspect it was fatigue and stress, which commonly affect confined animals,” said a source at JACK.
The monkeys were recovered from a South African-registered container truck, which entered Zimbabwe from Malawi through the Forbes border post.
The driver and five accomplices were arrested after failing to provide the necessary animal movement and export permits.
The six included Zimbabwean, Zambian and Congolese citizens.
Their fate remains unknown amid fears of a cover-up in Zimbabwe where they were remanded in custody after initial appearance in court.
They are alleged to be members of an international syndicate that has taken advantage of war and lawlessness in the DRC to steal chimpanzee babies, monkeys and baboons and smuggle them to Europe and the Middle East.
The animals are smuggled by trucks from DRC through Malawi and Mozambique.
From Johannesburg, some animals are smuggled to Europe, the Middle East and Asia where there is high demand from pet owners, zoos and circuses.