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Gabon arrests 5 for trafficking in illegal animal parts

By Katy Byron, CNN
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Confiscated animal parts
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Authorities confiscated parts from gorillas, chimps, leopards and more
  • Five suspects are being held in Gabon's capital, Libreville
  • If convicted, they could receive up to six months in jail
  • Their next hearing is January 25
RELATED TOPICS
  • Gabon

(CNN) -- Authorities in Gabon have arrested five people for dealing in illegal animal parts, which included the heads of a gorilla and 12 chimpanzees, according to Conservation Justice, a wildlife preservation group.

"This is the first time 13 ape heads were confiscated," Luc Mathot, the president of Conservation Justice, said Friday. Along with the heads, two hands from gorillas and 30 from chimps were seized.

In addition, 12 leopard skins, a partial lion skin, snake skins and 5 elephant tails were confiscated.

Mathot said he was present when the animal parts were laid out at the Forces of Order station in Libreville on January 14, the day after the raid.

The five suspects -- a woman from Benin and four men from Nigeria -- were arrested on January 13 in Gabon's capital, Libreville, and have been charged with wildlife crimes for dealing in illegal animal parts, according to Mathot. They could face up to 6 months in jail if convicted, according to Mathot.

Other African nations like Cameroon and Congo have stiffer penalties for trafficking -- up to five years.

Their next hearing is January 25.

Authorities in Gabon worked with the AALF -- an organization developed by Conservation Justice to fight against the trafficking of protected wildlife in Central Africa -- in the operation.

"WWF commends the Water and Forest Ministry and AALF for this important arrest," David Greer, a great ape manager for the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement Wednesday. "However, the massive collection of protected species confiscated in this operation is highly disturbing."

"Putting these dealers behind bars probably has a direct impact on the lives of hundreds of chimps and gorillas," Mathot said.