Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo hosted the 26th Congress of the International Primatological Society jointly with the 39th meeting of the American Society of Primatologists. This Joint Meeting marked the 20th anniversary since the most recent joint IPS/ASP meeting and was the first to be hosted by a zoological park.
PEGAS submitted an abstract of a presentation entitled ‘Illegal Great Ape Trade Persists for Use as Pets and for Stocking New and Expanding Safari Parks and Private Zoos’. It was accepted for presentation in the prestigious President’s Forum, whose theme was ‘The Global Primate Pet Trade; How Can Primatologists Working in Habitat Countries Reduce the Threat’.
PEGAS’s presentation gave a short history of great ape trade and how the nature of it had changed significantly since the early 20th century. Great apes were captured in the wild up to the 1970s for use in biomedical and cognitive research, to stock zoos and circuses, and to perform in television and film.
The early importers of great apes captured in the wild, mainly Europe, the Americas and Australia, stopped the practice in the late 1970s. Because there were no national laws against it, and CITES did not exist until 1975, these early imports were by default legal.
A new type of great ape trade came to the attention of CITES in the 1980s. Great apes were now supposedly protected from international commercial trade by a CITES Appendix I listing. Parties to the Convention were obligated to adopt national laws in conformance with CITES regulations. However, reports began coming in to CITES, both in the Trade Database of “legal” trades and in seizures, that suggested that there was demand for live great apes in various countries.
The increase in public interest for great ape pets was possibly stimulated by the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, adopting a pet chimpanzee he named Bubbles. MJ took Bubbles on tour with him around the world in 1988 and in the 1990s was seen with him everywhere, which generated a huge amount of media coverage.
In the following decade and up until recently, many celebrities have been pictured with ape pets. Did this motivate wealthy status-seekers in the Middle East and elsewhere to want chimpanzee pets?
The illegal trade and its more organized nature emerged in the 1990s with a woman of dual Egyptian-Nigerian nationality, working with family members and an Egyptian doctor. They organized infant chimpanzee and gorilla captures in West and Central Africa for smuggling to Egypt. In 1997 the World Society for the Protection of Animals published the results of their investigation into this operation. They found that Kano in northern Nigeria was the centre of this woman’s trafficking, along with other wildlife traffickers based in Kano. They were capturing wild animals in Nigeria and neighbouring countries and shipping them out to multiple destinations.
Since then, other networks in Africa and Asia have developed that capture and sell a variety of endangered species, including great apes, for use in the exotic pet trade, private menageries of the wealthy, and for exhibition and performing in commercial zoos and safari parks.
Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, until recently, Guinea were central in this organized trafficking in Africa. Important branch “offices” have been set up in Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere. In Asia, Indonesia and Thailand are key source and entrepôt countries. Egypt still acts as a transit country, but now dealers also smuggle out chimpanzees and gorillas that they have bred themselves.
The main destination countries for great ape prestige pets are the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries, and countries of the former Soviet Union, especially Russia. China and Thailand have large numbers of great apes that they use as photo props when babies, in entertainment shows in the 2 to 10 year old range, and then in zoo displays in cages when older.
In the new age of the pet trade, the Internet reigns supreme as a marketing and trading tool. Dealers in the Middle East and Southeast Asia have connections with suppliers in source countries and with buyers in destination countries. They post photographs on Instagram and Facebook and the negotiations begin.
Primatologists gave talks in the President’s Forum on other species that are used in trade, ranging from lemurs and slow lorises up to gibbons. Under the leadership of Sylvia Atsalis of the University of Chicago, an Action Group has been created which will formulate a survey questionnaire that will be used to gather information in research areas from local people on the collection and trade of primates as pets, asking particularly about the motivations behind it. The Action Group also intends to develop social media messages that can be used to dissuade people from capturing primates for use as pets.
PEGAS will make input to the questionnaire that will ensure that information is also collected on the use of primates in international trade. The investigations that PEGAS is carrying out of Internet social media and Web sites is showing that many primate species are being offered for sale online.
The target date for launching the questionnaire toolkit is January 2017.
Dr. Jane Goodall attended the Congress and received an International Primatological Society Lifetime Achievement Award, well deserved for her amazing contribution to the understanding and conservation of great apes. The PEGAS Project Manager held a useful one-on-one meeting with Dr. Goodall, in which various matters of mutual interest were discussed.