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KINDIA, Guinea, (Reuters) - - Police in Guinea have arrested an army colonel on suspicion of animal trafficking and seized a menagerie of animals from two properties he owns that they described as private zoos, a senior officer said on Saturday.
Chimpanzees, a baboon, ostriches from Mali and turtles that inhabit the edge of the Sahara were among the 33 animals and 12 species found during police raids, said Charlotte Houpline of the WARA Conservation Project which worked on the investigation.
"He was the owner of the animals and planned to sell them. He will be charged with animal trafficking," Gadiri Conde, a divisional police commissioner, told Reuters.
A senior police source named the man, arrested in the capital Conakry on Wednesday, as Colonel Ibrahima Bangoura.
WARA, a French charity based in Guinea and Senegal, began investigating Bangoura in 2013, suspecting him of being part of a network that trades protected species on the international market, Houpline said.
"This is a victory in the fight against corruption and impunity," she said, adding that Interpol has collaborated on the case.
Reuters was unable to contact Bangoura for comment.
After one of the raids, chimpanzees peered from cages as security officials in army fatigues carried them through the woods and loaded them onto pick-up trucks, Reuters TV pictures showed. A crocodile snapped at its rescuers as it was dragged from a shallow pool.
The animals have been released into the wild except for four chimpanzees that have been taken to a sanctuary.
Guinea is a major wildlife trafficking hub, with ivory, skins, shark fins and live mammals regularly sold internationally by criminal groups. In March, authorities arrested two senior members of network suspected of trafficking chimpanzees and other endangered animals for over 30 years.
In recent years charities have worked with authorities to protect forests from poachers and traffickers. A priority is to protect elephants in the Ziama forest, in the south of the country around 800 km (500 miles) from Conakry.
Additional reporting by Nellie Peyton in Dakar, Saliou Samb in Conakry and Matthew Mpoke Bigg in Accra; Editing by Robin Pomeroy