Kenya has rejected a request to bring two young chimpanzees rescued in Ebola-hit Liberia to a Kenyan wildlife sanctuary due to fears about the deadly virus, the country's top veterinarian said on Wednesday.
Ebola has killed more than 11,200 people in the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea since late 2013. Liberia was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organisation in May, but there have been some new cases since then.
"There is a risk for us to import animals from West Africa because of Ebola," Kisa Juma Ngeiywa, Kenya's Director of Veterinary Services, told Reuters. "There is no malice. We do not want to endanger the human and the animal population in this country."
The two-year-old female chimps, Sweet Pea and Guey, were handed over to conservationists in April, and have been cared for by volunteers in the Liberian capital Monrovia.
But conservationists say time is running out to find a permanent home for the animals and Kenya's renowned Ol Pejeta Conservancy is the only sanctuary with space.
"The consequences of bringing Ebola into the country would be devastating and obviously nobody wants to risk that," said Daniel Stiles, a project manager at the Kenyan conservancy who helped rescue one of the animals. "My view is, Kenya has made the decision without all the information."
"We don't know of any other sanctuary that would take them," he said, adding that he hoped to appeal the decision.
Kenya's vital tourism sector took a hit last year from global fears about Ebola, even though it is thousands of miles away from the impacted countries.
Conservationists believe the animals were being held by people who hoped to traffic them. Baby chimps from West and Central Africa are often sold to Chinese zoos and private estates in the Middle East.
But since Ebola was first reported in West Africa, potential buyers have mostly been scared off, as chimps - man's closest animal relatives - can carry the deadly virus.