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Sierra Leone bans capture, killing of chimps

Sierra Leone bans capture, killing of chimps

25 Jul 2007

FREETOWN, July 25 (Reuters) - Sierra Leone outlawed the capture and killing of chimpanzees on Wednesday, declaring a one-month amnesty for anyone keeping a chimp to hand it over to authorities.

A statement from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Marine Resources read on national radio said anyone violating the new regulations would face a fine of up to $1,000 or jail.

"It is now illegal by law to possess, capture, kill or keep chimpanzees," said the statement.

"To provide the public sufficient time to surrender chimps in their possession a month's notice is hereby given for chimps to be handed over to the authorities."

The government of the war-ravaged West African nation has established a refuge at Charlotte on the outskirts of the coastal capital Freetown to take in chimps from the public.

Ecologists say Sierra Leone's wild chimpanzee population has declined dramatically from around 20,000 in the 1970s as a result of hunting, incursions on their territory and the trade in pets and animals for scientific research.

Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war, during which drug-fuelled rebels of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) hacked limbs off civilians, drove many of its 6 million inhabitants from the countryside.

Conservationists say that wildlife populations, including chimpanzees, recovered as a result of rural depopulation caused by the war, but the return of villagers after a 2002 peace deal has resulted in the destruction of habitat, more hunting, and trapping of rare animals for sale overseas.

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