Chimpanzee and gorilla heads seized in Gabon

Part of the animal parts seized in Gabon in January 2011 Those arrested for the possession of illegal animal body parts are expected to appear in court this week

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One of the biggest hauls of illegal ape parts in Central Africa has been seized by officials in Gabon, the global campaign group WWF says.

Five people were arrested for the cache which included the head and hands of an endangered gorilla, 12 chimpanzee heads and 30 chimpanzee hands.

WWF called for a tough judicial approach to act as a deterrent.

Africa's wildlife is often poached for the profitable bushmeat trade or for use in traditional good luck charms.

Gabon's rainforests teem with wildlife, including lowland gorillas and forest elephants - and national parks make up around one tenth of the country.

'Highly disturbing'

The raids were conducted by Gabon's water and forestry and defence ministries with the help of various environmental aid groups.

Conservation Justice, one of the environmental groups involved, said the crackdown is significant.

"The problem of illegal wildlife poaching and trade is not specific to Gabon; such specialised dealers exist throughout Western and Central Africa. But these arrests demonstrate that stopping them is possible with effective law enforcement," Luc Mathot, from Conservation Justice, said in a statement.

Other confiscated items include 12 leopard skins, a portion of lion skin, snake skins and five elephant tails.

"The massive collection of protected species confiscated in this operation is highly disturbing," WWF's Africa great ape manager David Greer said.

"To my knowledge, there has not been a seizure of great ape body parts of this magnitude in Central Africa in the last 10 years."

According to WWF, the suspects are expected to appear in court this week.

Experts say in rural areas of Central Africa, bushmeat provides up to 80% of protein in peoples' diets.

There are also markets in Central and West Africa where animal parts are sold for use in juju (black magic) and traditional remedies.

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