Last Monday (9 February) a man from Kuwait nervously put his carry-on bag into the security x-ray machine at Cairo International Airport and prayed. His prayers were not answered as the security agents seized the bag and opened it. A frightened baby chimpanzee, hunched up into a ball, stared up at them.
The agents confiscated the chimpanzee and called Dr. George Michelle of the Egyptian Wildlife Services, an arm of the national CITES Management Authority, who is the designated wildlife trade officer at the airport. It is still unclear who made the decision, but the Kuwaiti trafficker was released without charge to continue his journey, and thus we will never know the circumstances of the attempted illegal trade. Where did the chimpanzee originate? Where was it going and for what purpose? Dr. Michelle sent the chimpanzee to the Giza Zoo.
Dr. Dina Zulfikar, an Egyptian animal welfare activist, declared to the Egyptian government on her Facebook page [edited], “As a civil society representative I inquire why an interrogation did not take place with the Kuwaiti passenger, why were national law and the international convention (CITES) not applied? I also inquire why a DNA test was not ordered, why also did this case of violation of laws and international conventions not follow normal procedures in compliance with the CITES Egypt statement to CoP10….? Transparency should be the policy of all Egyptian Governmental entities according to the law and the constitution, thus you are kindly asked in public to provide a statement about the confiscation and procedures taken. We care to follow, so does all the world.”
Will the Egyptian government comply with her plea?
The Giza Zoo is the only legal holding facility for seized, illegally trade wildlife in Egypt. The CoP 10 (10th CITES Conference of the Parties, 2010) document referred to by Dr.Zulfikar, stated that the Egyptian government recognized that it did not have an appropriate rescue centre for confiscated illegally traded wildlife, but that they would build one. They have not done this, so under what conditions is this poor baby chimpanzee being held? The photo below shows the deplorable type of cage that chimpanzees are kept in at the Giza Zoo.
All facilities holding CITES-listed species must be registered and monitored by CITES-Egypt. The CoP 10 document (SC58 Doc. 23 Annex), which can be read here, states that all captive great apes held at these facilities would be DNA-tested and microchipped. If these pledges have indeed been complied with, the identity of the facility and/or African subregion origin of the baby chimpanzee should be able to be established by DNA testing of the baby.
What should happen in a case like this? Both CITES, in Article VIII, and Egyptian law, in Ministerial Decree 1150, call for prosecution of the offenders and either return of the seized animal to its country of origin, or placement of it in an appropriate facility. A cage in the Giza Zoo is not an appropriate facility for a baby orphan chimpanzee.
The management of the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya has written to CITES-Egypt to inform them that it is willing and able to accept up to 30 captive chimpanzees, as long as all Egyptian and Kenyan laws and CITES regulations are respected. PEGAS has offered to pay for their transportation from Egypt to Sweetwaters.
Why does CITES-Egypt not even have the courtesy to reply to our offer? Why won’t they free the captive great apes held in bondage in contravention of CITES regulations? Will CITES-Egypt just return the baby chimpanzee to the breeding facility in Sharm el-Sheikh?