Category Archives: China

Great apes in Asian circus-style shows on rise — so is trafficking

Millie Kerr recently published this article in Mongabay.com dealing with the problem of Great Ape commercial entertainment in safari parks and zoos in Asia. PEGAS provided information for the article.

  • Asian zoos, circuses and safari parks are mounting large-scale productions with costumed, dancing, roller-skating great apes. Investigations show that nearly all of these trained primates were not bred in captivity, but illegally traded out of Africa and Indonesia, with destinations in China, Thailand and other Asian countries.
  • The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that the illegal trade may have removed as many as 22,218 great apes from the wild between 2005-2011. An estimated 64 percent were chimpanzees, whereas 56 percent of great apes seized by authorities were thought to be orangutans.
  • Wild young apes are traumatized by their capture, and many die along the supply chain, or with their final “owners” by whom they are frequently poorly treated. Young great apes trained in captivity become increasingly unmanageable as they age, and many are “retired” to tiny, solitary cages, or simply disappear.
  • Trafficking arrests are rare. UNEP recorded just 27 arrests in Africa and Asia between 2005-2011, over which time more than 1,800 cases of illegally trafficked great apes were documented, with many more undetected. Solutions are in the works, but time is running out for the world’s great apes if they are to be conserved.
Boxing orangutans at Safari World in Bangkok, Thailand. Video courtesy of PEGAS

 

After 146 years of operation, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is closing its circus, citing dwindling ticket sales. That decline in business reflects a growing sentiment among Americans that circus-style shows involve inappropriate, if not inhumane, treatment of animals, says Julia Galluci, a primatologist who works with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

That sentiment is not, however, current in many parts of Asia, where certain countries are seeing a rise in circuses and other forms of animal-focused entertainment.

A growing number of Asian zoos and safari parks are mounting large-scale productions that feature great apes — with young chimpanzees and orangutans commonly forced to pose with visitors in clownish costumes, or to “ape” human behaviors, dancing and roller skating to entertain audiences. By contrast, Ringling halted its great ape performances in the early 1990s.

Training techniques and conditions in captivity at these Asian zoos and parks are raising serious animal welfare concerns, while the illegal trade used to procure endangered great apes for Asian entertainment is a red flag for wildlife conservationists.

China’s Shanghai Wild Animal Park. Photo by China-based NGO that asked to remain anonymous

Wild, not captive-bred

In theory, Asian zoos and wildlife parks should be able to breed great apes in captivity or legally acquire captive-bred animals from abroad for their shows. But, as evidence reported below suggests, many of the animals appearing in Asian performances have been, and continue to be, illegally snatched from the wild as infants.

TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network, recently published a report detailing the demand for apes in wildlife attractions in Peninsular Malaysia and Thailand. It shows that a significant proportion of great apes in these attractions come from the wild or are of unknown origin due to sketchy recordkeeping. The authors found, for instance, that while 57 Thai facilities exhibited 51 orangutans, their studbooks only showed records for 21 of the animals.

Likewise, a China-based animal welfare group — that prefers anonymity for the sake of ongoing undercover investigations — believes that the majority of great apes in Chinese animal shows originated in the wild; in fact, some shows even publicize that the chimpanzees they feature began their lives in Africa.

Although two Chinese ministries ban the use of animals in circus shows, the animal welfare group has recorded 11 Chinese safari parks or zoos using chimpanzees in performances. Of these, at least six have featured wild-caught chimpanzees.

Daniel Stiles manages the Project to End Great Ape Slavery (PEGAS), and has been investigating the great ape trade for four years. He’s made several trips to the Middle East, China and Southeast Asia since 2013, where he’s observed an increase in circus-style shows featuring chimpanzees and orangutans.

International Circus in Zhuhai, China. Photo by anonymous source

China’s circus shows are the most sophisticated and large-scale, says Stiles, and they attract massive crowds. Over the recent Chinese New Year, the Chimelong Group reportedly welcomed 30 million visitors to its parks in a single day.

The TRAFFIC study and other undercover investigations in China demonstrate that shows featuring animal performances are indeed widespread, but not necessarily that zoo and circus owners are acting in knowing disregard of international trafficking laws. Chinese importers are probably complicit, but even they could, theoretically, be ignorant of breaking the law because falsification of records has only been proven on the African end of the supply chain. Chinese and Thai officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Traumatized “photo props” and performers

Young great apes are initially traumatized when captured in Africa, then again by being trafficked (often without adequate food or care) to Asia. They are subsequently housed at zoos, circuses and animal parks in reportedly appalling conditions — deprived of proper attention, affection, and the company of other apes, something that is required for healthy development among these social species. Severe training regimens only compound the trauma.

Great apes taken from the wild as infants are exceptionally vulnerable. And their first year of life is critical to their healthy development, explains Stephen Ross, Director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Asian animal attraction trainers typically break-in young chimpanzees and orangutans at just several months of age as photo props, reports Stiles. The animals are made to appear with visitors for a fee. Then, as the primates age, they’re trained to perform in shows that feature unnatural tricks ranging from faux-boxing matches to dance circles.

Chimpanzees are social learners, explains Galluci, so young chimps in captivity often mimic their keepers’ behaviors. However, Galluci and Ross both believe that the training required for choreographed primate shows almost always requires animal abuse.

Stiles agrees: “To train these animals to perform, keepers would almost certainly [need to] beat the animals into submission, rewarding good behavior with food, which means they’re not only traumatized: they’re also likely underfed.”

A skating chimp at Yangcheng Safari Park just outside of Changzhou, China. Photo by China-based NGO that asked to remain anonymous

Ross has extensively studied captive chimpanzee behavior, comparing that of chimps kept as pets or performers in early years against behaviors exhibited by animals that have had greater exposure to other chimpanzees while young. He found that adult chimps reared by people, and with limited exposure to other apes, are less extroverted as adults — even after years of enjoying improved conditions, like those offered by sanctuaries. This tendency toward introversion disrupts the animal’s ability to properly socialize with other chimpanzees. The resulting loss of wild tendencies means there is zero chance of these primates ever being safely returned to the wild.

As importantly, Ross also discovered a major difference between how audiences perceive performance animals and their wild counterparts — with familiarity leading to a diminished belief in the urgency for conservation.

In one study, researchers found that audiences who often saw chimps in commercials and on TV automatically assumed that these “common” animals were more numerous and less endangered than other great ape species. It seems likely that if Asian show-goers make the same leap in logic, they will struggle to understand the need for great ape conservation or to perceive the detrimental effects animal attractions have on captive primates.

As apes grow older, they become less desirable to their masters. Adult primates are more difficult to control, not to mention stronger, which makes them more dangerous to the public and keepers.

Adult chimpanzees are particularly hazardous: in 2009, a pet chimpanzee living in Connecticut attacked a friend of its owner, nearly killing her. (The event helped shift American attitudes away from the desirability of keeping pet chimps).

TRAFFIC wonders what happens to Asia’s performing apes once they enter “retirement,” stating in its Apes in Demand Report, “It [is] unclear what happens to animals once they are too old for these activities.” If animal photo opportunities and performances continue to be legal across Asia, TRAFFIC recommends that facilities notify a country’s relevant authority once the animal is being retired, detailing future “care and housing.”

Photojournalist and investigator Karl Ammann contends that Asia’s performing apes are often “retired” to tiny, solitary cages; others, he says, simply disappear. The lucky ones spend the remainder of their lives in animal sanctuaries.

Traffickers in the Ivory Coast took this video to show potential buyers they had infant chimpanzees for sale, a video which PEGAS secured. Photo courtesy of PEGAS

The scale of the trade

Great ape trafficking is believed to be vastly underreported, and its usually illegal nature makes it difficult to quantify. In a 2013 report, Stolen Apes, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) identified 1,808 great apes taken from the wild illegally between 2005-2011, but those were only documented cases. Far more surely entered the black market without a trace; likewise, multiple studies show that more animals die during the hunt or in transit than are ever confiscated.

In its report, TRAFFIC notes that, “the number of apes that appear in trade is thought to be far smaller than the quantity that die in the process of capture and transit and with the final consumer.” Hard data is difficult to come by, but TRAFFIC asserts that deaths occur at every stage of the chain, from capture to transit to arrival with the ultimate buyer.

The UNEP report echoes these points, stating, “It is likely that these numbers are in fact a gross underestimation of the real impact of the illegal trade.” To improve monitoring, UNEP urges governments and NGOs to work together to keep and share records.

When it comes to wild-caught chimpanzees, their intimate social organization means that a large number of adults are killed for every infant that is captured. A BBC investigation discovered that 10 adult chimpanzees are typically killed when one infant is snatched from the wild. UNEP concluded that up to 15 great apes die for every individual that enters the illegal trade. Adults are typically shot and processed as bushmeat for local consumption, or their meat is shipped to urban cities, and possibly as far away as Europe. Adult skulls and body parts are also sold and transported via the illicit supply chain.

Great ape trafficking is a worsening problem in countries like Cameroon, as human activity expands into great ape habitats via logging roads, and as more forests are converted to oil palm plantations and clear cut for other uses in Africa and Southeast Asia. As opportunities for encountering and taking animals from the wild rise, so does the likelihood that impoverished hunters as well as sophisticated, often heavily armed, poachers will seek out great apes for capture and sale to criminal trafficking networks.

A source who elected to remain anonymous for fear of disrupting ongoing covert investigations took this photo of two costume-clad chimpanzees forced to dance for guests at China’s Heifei Wildlife Park

UNEP estimates that the illegal trade may have removed as many as 22,218 great apes from the wild between 2005-2011. An estimated 64 percent were chimpanzees, whereas 56 percent of great apes seized by authorities were orangutans. Chimpanzees, with whom we share 98 percent of our DNA, are Endangered, with a global population as low as 150,000 animals, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Orangutans are faring worse: they are Critically Endangered, and WWF estimates that just under 120,000 remain in the wild. However, Orangutan Foundation International points out that actual numbers could be considerably lower.

Worryingly, UNEP believes that the great ape trade is continuing to grow, to the obvious detriment of wild populations. Some of that growth is fueled by the high demand for young primates as pets (often in the Middle East) or as performing animals in Asia.

Traversing the legal landscape

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international treaty that came into effect in 1975 to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals doesn’t negatively impact their survival. Currently, 183 countries are signatories; all are required to enact domestic laws to bring the treaty into effect.

In a 2014 report, law firm DLA Piper noted that, although all signatories have passed some type of legislation to meet CITES requirements, these national laws sometimes fall far short of what’s needed, contain legal loopholes, or are poorly enforced.

Too often, arrests are few and far between. UNEP found, for example, that only 27 arrests were made in Africa and Asia between 2005-2011, over which time more than 1,800 great apes were documented as being illegally trafficked. Prosecutions are uncommon, and sentences are often insignificant, so fail to deter future criminal activity. As a result, the illegal wildlife trade is flourishing. It is now considered the fourth most valuable form of illicit trade (behind drugs, guns, and human trafficking), per DLA Piper’s report.

Keeper and infants in China’s Chimelong Safari Park. Photo by anonymous source
Great ape as “photo prop”: A visitor and baby chimp at Bangkok’s Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo. Photo by PEGAS

As with a range of species, it is important to note that some of the great ape trade occurs legally. Species protected by CITES are listed on three appendices — I, II, and II. Appendix I covers species threatened with extinction, specimens which can’t be traded internationally unless imported for non-commercial purposes. Species that could become extinct in the absence of closely controlled trade are listed on Appendix II. Although all great ape species are listed on Appendix I, they can be legally traded as if they were on Appendix II if they were bred in captivity at facilities registered with CITES.

But traders often game the CITES system, sometimes exporting great apes by falsifying permits — claiming the animals they’re selling were captive-bred when they were in fact wild caught. According to Ammann, widespread corruption makes falsification easy.

Between 2009-2011, China imported most of its great apes from Guinea, using permits stating that all traded animals were captive-bred. Conservationists knew, however, that Guinea didn’t have any ape breeding facilities, so they asked CITES to intervene. In fact, “CITES has not registered any chimpanzee or orangutan breeding facilities for commercial purposes,” anywhere in the world explains Juan Carlos Vasquez, the chief of the organization’s legal and compliance unit.

After conducting an investigation, CITES concluded that Guinea was falsifying permits to illegally export wild-caught apes. As a result, CITES suspended all commercial trade in CITES-listed species with Guinea in 2013, and the head of Guinea’s CITES Management Authority was subsequently arrested for fraudulently issuing permits (he was convicted but subsequently pardoned by the country’s President).

China, at the other end of the Guinea chimpanzee supply chain, suffered no consequences for these violations, and authorities there insisted they were unaware that the imported animals were wild-caught. However, both Stiles and Ammann suspect China was complicit. Regardless, any legal action against China could only have been initiated by the Chinese themselves under their domestic laws, since the importation had already occurred.

Like China, Thailand is a CITES signatory that has passed domestic conservation legislation, but Thai law doesn’t protect the great majority of non-native species. And when someone is caught possessing a legally protected animal or plant, the burden of proof is on the Thai state rather than the individual to show legal importation. According to TRAFFIC, Thailand is currently drafting new legislation that would, if passed, protect non-native species. During a January 2016 CITES Standing Committee meeting, the international organization encouraged all countries to eliminate loopholes of this kind.

Creative solutions

A range of individuals and organizations are developing and utilizing creative tactics to fight wildlife crime. There are new technologies under development — ranging from citizen reporting apps, to DNA testing kits for use in the field, as well as databases that track wildlife trafficking in real-time.

New York University is working on an innovative web crawler that mines online web postings for animal and wildlife product sales. Stiles warns, however, that the crawler’s application may be limited since transactions involving live animals typically occur on social media platforms rather than websites. Social media has lately proven to be a prime way of connecting illegal great ape sellers with buyers, especially in the Middle East.

In July 2015, the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) was quietly launched in The Hague. This non-profit seeks to “activate justice” by supporting national governments as they investigate and prosecute wildlife crime.

Keeper and infant great ape at China’s Chimelong Safari Park. Photo courtesy of PEGAS

When dialogue with national governments fails, the WJC can hold hearings in The Hague in which independent, impartial experts review cases of wildlife crime. Unlike other judicial bodies, however, such as the International Courts of Justice, Commission hearings are not legally binding. They do, however, shine a light on wildlife crime and provide recommendations for actions to curb it.

“CITES is merely an international treaty, so we must work on the country level,” explains Executive Director Olivia Swaak-Goldman. “Through collaborative investigations and public tribunals, we hope to put an end to wildlife crime. After all, time is running out.”

The sobering reality: so long as there is public demand for boxing and dancing chimps, or photo ops available with orangutans in Asia, there will be poachers and traffickers willing to bear the legal risk of providing those animals, importers willing to forge documents to get great apes from abroad, and showmen willing to keep (and mistreat) them.

If great apes are to be conserved, then the Asian public will need to come to the same conclusion as Americans — that these primates don’t belong on roller skates or in boxing rings; they belong in the wild.

The Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou is one of China’s biggest animal attractions. On its website — the source of this photo — the park claims to be the “largest wild animal theme park in the world” with a collection of more than 20,000 “rare animals.”

Chinese television show to feature great apes

PEGAS has learned that Hunan TV, a popular, nationwide, free television channel in China will launch a new “reality” show on January 24th featuring five pop stars playing zookeepers at the Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou, which claims to be the largest animal theme park in Asia. It covers 130 hectares (over 320 acres) and imprisons over 20,000 animals and 500 species. The show is sponsored by vip.com, an Amazon-type online shopping corporation based in Guangzhou, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

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A trailer from the TV show showing three of the pop star “zookeepers” with an infant orangutan. 

“If this show turns out successful, there will be sequels or copy-cats…”, warned a Chinese great ape expert (who wishes to remain anonymous), who found out about the new show.

Chimelong is infamous for its spectacular animal entertainment acts, using great apes, elephants, bears and many other animals. A report by Animals Asia in 2009 concluded, “Zoos and safari parks are ideally placed to foster compassion for animals and raise awareness and understanding of the welfare and conservation needs of individual animals and species. Xiangjiang [a.k.a. Chimelong] Safari Park, Guangzhou Crocodile Farm and Chimelong International Circus make no attempt to provide this knowledge and to educate their visitors for the benefit of welfare and conservation.”

Animals Asia found that the animals at Chimelong were kept in cramped quarters and that cruel methods were employed to train them to perform circus acts.

Where are the great apes coming from? Is illegal trade involved? This is something that PEGAS will attempt to establish.

Chimelong chimp

Two chimpanzees are housed in a small barren enclosure containing plastic bottles, which have been thrown into the enclosure by the public. The chimpanzees’ indoor enclosure has one complete glass wall, and no private area, therefore the chimpanzees cannot escape from the public glare. (Photo: Animals Asia)

PEGAS would also not be surprised to see baby African elephants from Zimbabwe turn up on the TV show sometime in the not too distant future. Currently there are only Asian elephants at Chimelong.

Stay tuned.

China drafting better animal laws

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A tiger performs at Chongqing Safari Park in China. China Photos/Getty Images

If this legislation goes through, it could signal a major shift in great ape trafficking to China, saving hundreds of chimpanzee and orangutan lives in the next decade alone.

Bloomberg reports:

It’s getting a little easier to be an animal in China. The country’s fledgling animal-rights movement this week received a double boost, with an animal-welfare law in the works and a prominent zoo taking action to stop animal performances.

On Wednesday, Dec. 17, the Global Times, the tabloid affiliated with the official Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily, reported that that the National People’s Congress is moving ahead on a plan to pass landmark legislation to protect animals, both in the wild and in captivity. Lawmakers have just completed a draft of the proposal, Chang Jiwen, vice director of the Research Institute of Resources and Environment Policies under the Development Research Center of the State Council, told the newspaper.

There’s still a long way to go before the proposal becomes law: China’s parliament isn’t likely to take up the amendment until late in 2015. But given China’s track record, we should take progress wherever we can get it. Or, as the Global Times reported, “Shi Kun, director of the Wildlife Institute at Beijing Forestry University, told the Global Times that China has long been criticized for not treating wild animals humanely, but with legal recognition of animal welfare, the country should be able to make progress on curbing phenomenon like overtime performance by zoo animals and harsh living conditions for wildlife on farms.”

Chinese zoo animals need the help. The country has about 180 zoos, and almost all of them feature performances by animals, according to the Animals Asia Foundation, an NGO that has been lobbying Chinese zoos to stop the practice. There are also about 50 safari parks that include animal performances, said Dave Neale, animal welfare director at Animals Asia. “They have black bears riding bicycles, macaques on bicycles, tigers doing circus tricks,” he said. “A lot of the big cats—the tigers and the lions—have had their teeth removed.”

In the spring, the Beijing zoo joined the foundation’s campaign against animal performances. Now the zoo in Hangzhou—the eastern Chinese city that is home to e-commerce company Alibaba (BABA)—has said it will stop animal performances after lobbying by the Animals Asia Foundation, the NGO announced on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, the World Association of Zoos & Aquariums (WAZA), which represents zoos worldwide, can’t be much help in China. The group includes two Taiwanese zoos, as well as a Hong Kong marine park and zoo, but no zoos from the mainland belong to WAZA. “That may change over time,” said Neale. “A lot of the individual zoos [in China] are interested in becoming members.

Read the original article here.

What do elephants going to China have to do with great ape trafficking?

(CITES has issued a response to the widely reported Zimbabwe elephant capture-for-export story. An update discussing their response can be found below this post.)

A story broke a few days ago reporting that more than 30 baby elephants had been captured from their mothers in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, destined for China. A subsequent story reported that a Zimbabwean government spokesperson stated that the elephants were bound for the United Arab Emirates, which was confirmed by the UAE; they aim to import seven elephants for an unnamed facility. But PEGAS has obtained reliable information that a zoo in Guangzhou, China, intends to import 50 elephants from Zimbabwe. In preparation, the government hired a conservation consulting firm to prepare a study entitled “Guidelines for Translocation of African Elephants”. The study recommended that no wild, young elephants be transported, but those concerned should monitor the situation closely to see what actually happens.

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A baby elephant caged up awaiting shipment to China. (Photo courtesy of Sunday Express)

This is a repeat on a larger scale of a story that broke in early 2013 about baby elephants going to China. A few elephants actually were shipped, arriving in November 2012, where one died soon after arrival at the Taiyuan Zoo in freezing weather. The CITES Trade Database reports that eight live elephants were imported by China from Zimbabwe that year. Further shipments were temporarily stopped after campaigns were launched by the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force and Born Free-UK.

Since 2000, the CITES Trade Database indicates that China has imported 54 live African elephants, most of them from South Africa and Tanzania, so this practice is nothing new. PEGAS conducted an extensive Google search, and could only find mention of three African elephants in China, two females at the Nanning Zoo and one male at Beijing Zoo. Either all those imported died, or they are only written about in Chinese, or not at all.

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A female African elephant at Nanning Zoo in 2013. (Photo courtesy of China Daily)

3China elephant permit

(Click to enlarge) A Chinese translation of an English-language CITES trade permit indicating that the Shanghai Wild Animal Park imported 4 elephants from Tanzania.

The relevance this case has for great apes is that African elephants and apes are sent to the same facilities in China using similar abuses of the CITES trade permit system. In 2011 China imported 7 elephants from Tanzania, according to the CITES Trade Database. PEGAS has obtained a copy of a Chinese translation of the CITES export permit used to send 4 elephants from Tanzania to the Shanghai Wild Animal Park (see picture at left). The date of the permit is September 2010, and since permits have a six-month period of validity these four may have made up part of the 7 reported in 2011.

4China chimp permit

(Click to enlarge) A copy of a CITES trade permit for 8 chimpanzees sent from Guinea to the Shanghai Wild Animal Park.

In the same month, the Shanghai Wild Animal Park was also indicated on a CITES trade permit as the destination for 8 chimpanzees exported by Guinea (see picture at right). Note on both permits the two boxes next to each other containing a C and a Z. The C source code signifies that the animals were at least second generation bred in captivity and that the purpose Z is a zoo. The Guinea permits are known to be fraudulent, as it has no breeding facilities of any kind, and CITES sanctioned the country in 2013 with a commercial trade ban. China was cleared of any wrongdoing by CITES, a gross miscarriage of justice in the eyes of many observers (see The Story of the Shanghai Eight for details).

The CITES Trade Database does not report any elephants imported by China with a C source code. However, an Appendix I specimen with a C source code is treated as an Appendix II specimen by CITES regulations, which requires no import permit. The Chinese language permit above, therefore, is probably a translation of the Tanzanian export permit. In any case, Tanzania has no breeding facility for elephants, so the permit is fraudulent in the same way that the Guinea chimpanzee permits were. CITES should investigate to establish the truth of the matter.

The Shanghai Wild Animal Park is not a zoo as defined by any credible zoo association such as the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) or the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), and in fact is not accredited by any zoo association. The facility is a commercial amusement park that trains the animals for use in circus performances.

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A chimpanzee infant performs as a “bull” in an animal show at the Shanghai Wild Animal Park. Is this an educational zoo activity? (Photo courtesy of Nature University)

This is possibly what awaits the elephants from Zimbabwe destined for Guangzhou, which has two enormous safari park type “zoos”, the Chimelong complex and the Guangzhou Zoo. Both of these parks use great apes in commercial performances in contravention of CITES regulations, but CITES has taken no action on the practice.

Zimbabwe and China must be compelled to disclose transparently the details of where the elephants are destined and for what purpose they are intended. They should also make public the CITES import and export permits – we already know that the elephants were not bred in captivity, and they were stolen from their mothers. Appendix I African elephants captured from the wild cannot be used for commercial purposes. Common sense would indicate that a multi-million dollar deal involving 50 elephants could be nothing else but commercial.

Will the CITES Secretariat guide appropriate action, or will it maintain its usual pose when China is involved?

6seenoevil

In the issue of illegal imports of chimpanzees to China, the CITES Secretariat has seen, heard or spoken no evil concerning the country. Will it be the same for African elephants?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update: The CITES Secretariat makes a statement on the Zimbabwe elephant case (December 20, 2014)

The CITES Secretariat has issued a statement  that clarifies some aspects of the news reports that baby elephants have been captured in Zimbabwe for export to the UAE and/or China, but adds a new element that contributes to the muddle. It appears that Zimbabwe is perfectly within its legal rights to export live elephants, as elephants in the country are listed in Appendix II, which allows restricted trade. As long as the elephants are transported humanely in accordance with the Live Animals Regulations of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and they are traded to “appropriate and acceptable destinations”, the trade is allowable. “Appropriate and acceptable destinations” is defined in Resolution Conf. 11.20 of the Conference of the Parties to CITES. Much of this information was released in 2013 when the 2012 elephant exports from Zimbabwe to China came to light.

The new muddle is that the UAE claims that it is importing “seven elephants as a family group that has been in captivity in Zimbabwe for more than 10 years.” So where does this leave the captured babies allegedly held in a stockade in Hwange National Park? Could they still be destined for China? News reports have linked Hank Jenkins, an Australian, with the elephant exports to China. PEGAS has obtained personal email correspondence from Jenkins stating that he is not involved with the current elephant captures. The press reports were also inaccurate in describing Jenkins as “a former top official from Cites”. The CITES Secretariat stated that “He was never an official of the CITES Secretariat and has no association with the Secretariat.” It seems that we cannot believe everything we read in the press. Jenkins’ disassociation with the current elephant brouhaha, however, does not mean that he will not be involved in future elephant exports from Zimbabwe to China.

For those (like PEGAS) who believe that wild animals should not be put in captivity for use to entertain humans, the only legal recourse to stop the exports would be to demonstrate that they were not headed to “appropriate and acceptable destinations”. (The transport angle would only be temporary.) That is difficult to do without knowing the destination. CITES defines the term “to mean destinations where the Scientific Authority of the State of import is satisfied that the proposed recipient of a living specimen is suitably equipped to house and care for it.” The Secretariat described it as a “private park”. That eliminates public zoos, but there are many private parks and zoos in oil-rich UAE. The purchaser should allow an independent inspection of the facility to verify that it is appropriate for seven African elephants, and to pledge that they will not be used for commercial purposes. Investigations should also be carried out to verify that the seven elephants have indeed been in captivity for ten years.

To return to great apes, there are no Appendix II apes in Africa. Any export of them currently (or in the recent past) would be illegal. PEGAS saw great apes in captivity in a recent visit to the UAE, and media stories have reported them in private collections. We will continue investigations as to how they got there, resources allowing. If any are demonstrated to be the result of illegal trade, PEGAS will campaign to have them confiscated and repatriated to their country of origin or, if unknown, to an appropriate facility such as a sanctuary.

Veterinarians for Animal Welfare in Zimbabwe have clarified the mystery of the captured baby elephants by stating that 27 of them are bound for China. So now we have come full circle from China to UAE and back to China as the destination. Director for Conservation at the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Authorities, Geoffreys Matipano, said in a December 18 interview at Hwange:

“We are pursuing it [the export] aggressively as part of conservation efforts because we have plenty of elephants here. We don’t receive state funding and we rely on selling animals for our day to day operations, we are nowhere near what we want.”

It would appear that eight more elephants, in addition to the seven announced, will go to the UAE, and France intends to buy and import 15 to 20. PEGAS believes that at least 20 more than the 27 babies will be bound for China. Stay tuned…