Undercover investigations over the past 10 years have unearthed an insidious great ape criminal trafficking network. Great apes are listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which means that their trade for commercial purposes is strictly prohibited. But the UN estimates almost 3,000 great apes – our closest living evolutionary relatives – are lost every year in trafficking occurrences, as several are killed for every infant captured.
Great apes – chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans – are in great demand in Middle Eastern and East Asian safari parks, zoos and private menageries. To capture one or two infants for the great ape slave trade, poachers annihilate whole groups. The adults are killed and used as bushmeat, trophies and juju charms, leaving behind frightened and traumatized orphans. They are captured and shipped off to become money-makers for the new owners as a fee-paying public flocks to watch them perform in demeaning skits, wearing colorful costumes while riding bicycles or playing drums. After the show they are locked up in dark, barren cages to await the next performance.
Imagine your child or little brother or sister in such a situation. Great apes experience very similar emotions to humans, so they suffer greatly in this cruel slavery condition.
Most shocking is the fact that corrupt national CITES officials in several countries are deeply involved in the trafficking. They doctor fraudulent CITES permits and sell them to traffickers, who use them over and over to export the apes, usually infant orphans whose mothers have been killed for bushmeat. Hunters go into the forest with shotguns and ruthlessly blast the adult apes and capture the traumatized infants.
The Project to End Great Ape Slavery aims to understand and document this sinister trafficking in great apes, map trade routes and identify individuals involved as well as using information gathered from project activities to lobby for effective law enforcement. Where opportunities exist to repatriate illegally exported chimpanzees to Africa, the project will work with Ol Pejeta Conservancy’s Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary and the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) to achieve this.