Rare stowaway primate arrives in dutch harbour

The cargo ship Rolldock Sun, which arrived in the Dutch harbor of Vlissingen on Friday August 3rd, was carrying a very special load: one specimen of galago, a small primate mainly native to Tanzania, also known as “bushbaby”. The galago most likely climbed on board without being noticed while the ship stopped in Tanzania two months ago. Since being discovered and until his transport to AAP, he had been cared for by the crew.

Edwin, still on board of the Rolldock Sun. Photo credit: Björn van der Meer

The animal, whom the crew named Edwin, is suspected to be a Garnett’s galago (Otolemur garnetti), of which there are only 20 others in European zoological institutions, according to available data. The stowaway was found by a Dutch member of the crew, whose father contacted AAP for expert advice about care and a potential final destination for Edwin. ‘We the official centre of reference for quarantine of primates of unknown health status arriving to or found in the Netherlands,’ explains David van Gennep, Director of AAP Animal Advocacy and Protection, organization running the rescue centre where the animal will be quarantined. Wild galagos, as other African primate species, can be carriers of contagious diseases such as yellow fever, and thus the highest veterinary safety standards and protocols are required.

In good health
According to the crew the animal is in good condition, aside from a bald spot behind his ear, and despite the very high temperatures on the ship. In the evening he becomes more lively, which is only logical given that it is a mainly nocturnal species. Upon his arrival at AAP a thorough health and behavioral check-up, including blood tests, will be conducted as part of the standard intake procedure. During the quarantine period, which lasts a minimum of 12 weeks, it will be established whether Edwin is completely healthy. After this mandatory period, Edwin will be moved to a suitable zoo where he will receive the specialist care he needs.

Galago Edwin roaming the ship before being caight. Photo credit: Björn van der Meer

‘The arrival of such unexpected guests is a by-product of global trade, as we also saw with five Asian macaques coming from Malaysia in 2016 or raccoon Famous arriving last year from New York,’ van Gennep points out. ‘We are fairly certain that this is not a case of wildlife trafficking but an accident.’ However, this primate species is present in the European exotic pet trade, with a detected market value of up to €550 per specimen in countries like Germany.

The galago, like all primates, is protected under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which lists 5.800 animal species. When found stray or confiscated and when there is no option to return them to the wild, these protected animals should be placed in a facility able to ensure their welfare and prevent them from re-entering the trade. According to published reports, between 2010 and 2014 more than 64.000 live animals were confiscated. Van Gennep: ‘It is illogical and inefficient that every country would have one facility able to take in the thousands of species in the trade, also in the exploding numbers that we see coming to rescue centres.’

The global wildlife rescue crisis
In fact, not even within the EU all Member States have suitable quarantine and rehabilitation facilities. ‘This is not an issue in itself’, van Gennep claims, ‘as long as regional or international coordination is improved to ensure that animals can be moved quickly from the point of detection to the best available facility. That coordination is currently minimal, missing, or subject to all sorts of bureaucratic red tape which further impairs the welfare of animals who have already been through a great deal.’ For example, AAP’s quarantine in Spain has been at maximum capacity for extended period of times in the last two years, partly due to administrative delays which have made it impossible to move animals to another location. As a consequence, animals have to stay longer than desirable in enclosures which are not suitable for long-term housing and new confiscations or rescues cannot take place because there is no available capacity.

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