Mountain gorillas and other endangered species in the Democratic Republic of Congo are at risk of being captured in the wild for export to Chinese zoos, say associations.

A letter from the DRC Minister of the Environment to a Chinese company, which has been leaked, apparently makes reference to an export request for a number of rare species. Protective associations of nature are indignant.

The mail in question refers to a request for a dozen mountain gorillas, 16 pygmy chimps or “bonobos”, 16 chimpanzees, eight African manatees and 20 okapis.

The animals, all of which are endangered species, were reportedly requested for the Taiyuan Zoo in Shanxi North Province and the Anji Zhongnan Zoo in Eastern China.

The DRC does not have a breeding program in captivity, so it is understood that any agreement would require that animals be captured in the wild. Only 200 mountain gorillas remain in the DRC.

The letter, dated June 8, 2018 and signed by the Congolese Minister of the Environment, Amy Ambatobe Nyongolo, seems to confirm an agreement for the export of animals and specifies that a team of Congolese experts should be hosted in China to ensure the appropriate introduction and conservation of the various species at both zoos.

The response is addressed to Liu Min Heng, CEO of Tianjing Junheng International Trade Corporation Ltd., and quotes a so-called agreement between Chinese zoos and the Congo Conservation Institute (ICCN), the guardian of wildlife and the flora of the country.

The mail was recovered by Adams Cassinga, an investigative journalist who became an environmentalist and founder of Conserve Congo.

He put it online and launched a petition to prevent the export of animals, a petition that has been signed by nearly 3,500 people.

“Most of us here have never seen these rare animals. For my part, I did not see a manatee in the DRC. I hope that the Chinese are involved in the conservation of our wildlife, but they are among those who destroy it. We do not have pandas in our zoos. Why should our rare species appear in theirs?” Said Cassinga.

Amy Ambatobe, the Congolese Minister of the Environment, denies agreeing to export the animals. He states that he has only sent the request to conservation experts in the country: “If we needed specimens from China in our country, that might be a reason for the ICCN to allow an exchange. If we did not need it, the ICCN could refuse. As a minister, I could not say yes or no, which is why I sent the letter to the competent authorities”. With the exception of okapi, these animals are not allowed for export, he said adding that the animals would not be exchanged for money.

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