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Kingpin Linked to Trafficking of 500 Chimps Gets Maximum Sentence in Guinea

Aug 26, 2013 04:50 PM EDT

A notorious wildlife trafficker and two of his accomplices have been captured in the Republic of Guinea. Ousmane Diallo, who is connected with the smuggling of more than 500 chimpanzees out of the West African nation, will receive the maximum penalty under laws aimed at wildlife traffickers.

Diallo will serve one year in prison and pay a fine of 50 million Guinean francs (about $7,000 USD), according to GALF (Guinée- Application de la Loi Faunique), a wildlife law enforcement group involved in the case.

Many African nations have similarly low penalties for wildlife trafficking crimes, with the punishment if caught often not outweighing the financial gains to be seen from breaking the law. Still, Diallo's sentence is being hailed as a breakthrough; just being able to successfully convict and imprison someone for crimes against wildlife in Guinea is a major accomplishment, according to Kevin Heath, editor of the UK-based Wildlife News.

GALF reports Diallo to have trafficked and sold more than 500 chimpanzees out of Guinea since 1994. Diallo has also reportedly trafficked untold numbers of hyenas and panthers, as well as a lion and thousands of birds.

GALF, along with INTERPOL, Guinea's Ministry of Environment and other agencies spent nine months investigating Diallo and recorded his illicit actions using hidden cameras, which GALF said "revealed a lot of information on international trade in great apes."

The surveillance also recorded Diallo boasting about his role in wildlife trafficking across Africa.

"In Africa, I touch everywhere, to Central Africa. Even those in Dakar, Abidjan, Ouagadougou, Niamey, Bamako. When you say my name, they know me," Diallo was reported as saying.

The maximum sentence brought upon Diallo is the first time the rule of law has been used to its full effect. GALF said the historic ruling is "a message against the impunity, it is a real step forward for wildlife crime in Guinea."

While cross-border trading of great apes, including chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutangs is prohibited under international law, trafficking the animals is a lucrative business with a high demand for the animals from zoos, exotic pet shops and wildlife parks, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported.

In March of this year, the Republic of Guinea was sanctioned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) for circumventing rules meant to keep the country's wild animals safe, according to the WWF.

"Poachers target young chimpanzees for the illegal pet trade, but their families will often fight to the death to protect them. For every baby that is exported alive another 10 chimps may have died. Infants often perish from the trauma of capture leading poachers to pursue yet another victim, and repeating time and again the tragic killing scenario," said David Greer, WWF's African Great Ape Program Manager.

Greer said there might be as few as 8,000 chimpanzees remaining in Guinea.

Diallo's accomplices, who were named by GALF as Thierno Mamadou Diallo and Mamadou Alimou Bah, were sentenced to half a year in prison and fined 15 million Guinean francs (about $2,000) each.

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