Category Archives: CITES 17th Conference

New interest in illegal Great Ape trade

The BBC recently released the results of a 12-month investigation entitled ‘The secret trade in baby chimps’. It was on World Service radio and television repeatedly all day the 30th of January and was accompanied by an excellent story by David Shukman and Sam Piranty on the BBC News website. Shukman has followed up with a thoughtful, more analytic story on how humans treat great apes in general and a 30-minute documentary ‘The Chimp Smugglers’.

The public reacted viscerally and vociferously to the story and to the heart-rending video of little Nemley Junior, an infant chimpanzee rescued during the sting. My Facebook pages were full of comments expressing outrage, anger, shock, sadness. Born Free’s president Will Travers blogged on National Geographic’s Voice for Wildlife about it.

Little Nemley Junior, seized during the sting. (BBC)

Little Nemley Junior, seized during the sting. (BBC)

 
But why did BBC call it ‘the secret trade’? It’s not a secret. Apparently to them it was, but the UN report Stolen Apes was released almost four years ago and it revealed in detail the trafficking in little ape babies for use as pets and money-makers in zoos and safari parks. PEGAS has published several articles on it in Africa Geographic, Mongabay.com and elsewhere, and Agence France-Presse, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Paris-Match the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and others have reported on it, with The Dodo even publishing many of PEGAS’s disturbing photographs of the stolen ape babies.

PEGAS was even involved in a sting very similar to the one that the BBC pulled off, which so far has netted three people involved in trying to sell two orangutan babies that were smuggled from Indonesia to Thailand. AP posted a brief video story on it and the Bangkok Post reported it, but most of the large news outlets like the New York Times, CNN and Sky ignored it, even though technically it was a bigger story than BBC catching two traffickers and one baby ape. The BBC actually posted the AP video, but made nothing of the story.

The two orangutan babies offered to PEGAS for sale using WhatsApp

The two orangutan babies offered to PEGAS for sale using WhatsApp

The infants after rescue by the Thai police

The infants after rescue by the Thai police

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The way the BBC covered the Abidjan sting story, which involved repeated headline news announcements all day 30th January, a long news video clip, two comprehensive written stories and a 30-minute documentary, not to mention discussion of the story on other BBC programmes, resulted in the massive public reaction.

A huge thank you to BBC and to the Ivory Coast authorities. But we need more of this if we are to get CITES and governments to take meaningful action. Great apes have been ignored by CITES for several years now. The CITES Secretariat has prevented a Great Apes working group from being formed, which is the only forum in CITES where detailed evidence can be produced and discussed and where a meaningful revision to the Great Apes resolution could be made. At the 17th CITES Conference of the Parties last year, CITES even reneged on its own Decision to devise a special reporting system for illegal great ape trade. They effectively killed it.

In the BBC documentary film Scanlon tried to convince viewers that traffickers forge the permits. This happens in some cases, but more commonly national CITES offices issue them in return for bribes.

To put a huge damper on the illegal trade CITES needs to revise the Great Ape resolution to recommend that Parties (which are countries that have ratified the Convention) require that any facility or individual that possesses great apes shall obtain a government permit to do so, fill out a registration form reporting details of the ages and sexes, and update the registration annually. Each Party will submit an annual report summarizing the total registered great apes to CITES to be included in the reporting on the Great Ape resolution (Res. Conf. 13.4 Rev) at Standing Committees and Conferences of the Parties.

Currently, ape babies are shipped illegally and once in a country the traffickers move them from facility to facility to lose the paper trail (or the fact that one does not exist). Documents can be fabricated or bought through bribery that bestow legal possession of the ape victims. If permitting and registration are required upon arrival in a country, it makes it much more difficult to fiddle the paperwork – and where are the CITES permits on arrival? They should be produced upon registration.

There is also a well-developed practice of corrupt CITES officials selling fraudulent permits, indicating that the ape babies were bred in captivity and are to be used for educational or scientific purposes. If importers were required to obtain a domestic permit and register the infants on arrival these fraudulent permits could be spotted immediately. Please sign our petition requesting CITES to control the use of these fraudulent permits.

These control actions are not unreasonable. CITES has already required even more sweeping actions and reporting than proposed above under Res. Conf. 10.10 concerning elephants and ivory. Several countries have even been compelled to formulate and report on national action plans to address poaching and ivory trafficking. Don’t Great Apes deserve something similar? 

Two infant orangutans turned up recently at the Phuket Zoo in Thailand.

Two infant orangutans turned up recently at the Phuket Zoo in Thailand.

 

 

 

 

 

The enclosure where they are being exploited as photo props has posted documents claiming that they were born in Bangkok’s notorious Safari World, which twice has had its illegal entertainer orangutans seized and returned to Indonesia. Being born there makes them legal? How the Thai authorities can allow this is inexplicable.

The enclosure where the orangutans are being exploited as photo props has posted documents claiming that they were born in Bangkok’s notorious Safari World, which twice has had its illegal entertainer orangutans seized and returned to Indonesia. Being born there makes them legal? How the Thai authorities can allow this is inexplicable.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s hope that this new found interest in our closest biological relatives does not fade away.

Both Mr. Shukman and Will Travers of Born Free offered to help find Nemley Junior a sanctuary. He is currently in the Abidjan Zoo, an unpleasant place for a chimp to spend the rest of its life. If the Ivoirian authorities are agreeable, PEGAS offers to bring Nemley Junior to Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a paradise for abused chimpanzees.

The Abidjan Zoo is an unpleasant environment for a chimp. Will Nemley Junior spend the rest of his life here?

The Abidjan Zoo is an unpleasant environment for a chimp. Will Nemley Junior spend the rest of his life here?

 

 

 

 

Or here at Sweetwaters, living in the African bush with other chimps?

Or here at Sweetwaters, living in the African bush with other chimps?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Great apes jilted at the CITES CoP 17

The 17th Conference of the Parties (CoP) of CITES is finally over. Almost two weeks of complex discussions spoken in a code of numbers and acronyms that only experienced aficionados of the CITES process could decipher.

Many journalists and NGO blogs have summed up the outcomes of the proposals, Decisions, Resolutions, etc. for elephants, rhinos, tigers, lions, pangolins, sharks and rays, sturgeons and paddlefish, tortoises and fresh water turtles, African Gray parrots – the list goes on.

I have yet to find one that mentions great apes. Why do NGOs and animal lovers that become apoplectic when all elephants are not put on Appendix I – all commercial trade is already banned for them – say nothing when CITES decides to sweep reporting on illegal great ape trade under the carpet?

And this is after the UN Great Apes Survival Partnership launched its Great Apes Seizure Database. Over 1,800 great apes were seized from an illicit live traffic that went undetected for over a decade. If we assume 10 per cent of the specimens are seized (a high assumption rate from what PEGAS has observed), that means over 18,000 were trafficked from 2005 until earlier this year. Add onto that the fact that about 5 on average die for every one trafficked, that makes 90,000 apes!

Live great ape infant trafficking is on the rise, according to UN-GRASP

Live great ape infant trafficking is on the rise, according to UN-GRASP

 
“For too long, the illegal trade in great apes was anecdotal, and therefore difficult to judge in terms of scale and scope,” said Doug Cress, programme coordinator of GRASP. “But with the Apes Seizure Database, the numbers are plain to see. We can see it doesn’t take long to identify areas of concern in Africa or Asia, or recognize that critically endangered species are in extreme danger.”

Only BBC wrote about the database launch and new findings, with a couple of news services repeating BBC. Hundreds, if not thousands, of articles were written about the elephant and rhino proposals, and the day the proposals came up for discussion the immense Sandton Conference Centre hall was packed, with TV and video cameras lined up to record the vote.

The conference hall was packed for the elephant and rhino proposals

The conference hall was packed for the elephant and rhino proposals

 
It’s status quo ante for elephants and rhinos, but great apes are worse off, because there was a demand in Decision 16.67 that a way be found for illegal trade to be reported to CITES. With the verdict that only Parties will report seizures to CITES, taken as a result of the Secretariat’s recommendations contained in the Great Apes CoP 17 Doc. 61, CITES will still not have complete data before them at meetings and conferences.

The new GRASP Apes Seizure Database will not be reported to CITES. In fact, the Secretariat recommended that GRASP not even establish its own database and reporting on illegal trade. There was a request made earlier on that GRASP work with the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group to prepare a great apes status report, but it wasn’t ready for release at CoP 17. It is scheduled to be submitted now at the 69th Standing Committee meeting early next year. Will illegal great ape trade be reported in it?
 

CITES decides not to report on illegal great ape trade

At the CITES 16th Conference of the Parties (CoP) in 2013 in Bangkok, CITES issued Decision 16.67, which requested the Standing Committee to consult with various interested parties “with a view to establishing an illegal trade reporting mechanism, and present a summary of its consultations and its recommendations at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties.”

At CoP 16 the UN released Stolen Apes, which presented overwhelming evidence that illegal trade was a significant problem. Not only did it result in the loss of 3,000 great apes annually, the trade put hundreds of orphaned infants into a life of slavery and suffering.

Stolen Apes

 

Here we are at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Johannesburg. What did the Standing Committee summary say? The important part stated that it “…recommended that reporting on illegal trade in great apes should be part of the new annual illegal-trade report, as presented in Annex 5 of document SC66 Doc. 30.2.”

If one examines Annex 5 (which you will find here at the end of this document) you will see that it is not an illegal trade reporting mechanism – it is a report of international trade seizures. There is a big difference between the two.

Very few Parties (countries) report great ape seizures to CITES, just look at the CITES Trade Database. Nor does the World Customs Organization or INTERPOL. Also, international seizures are a very small part of the illegal trade. GRASP estimates that only 12% of all reported seizures are international, the other 88% are in-country, although many of these probably would have entered international trade. And many seizures are not reported at all, except perhaps in the media.

A chimpanzee seized in Guinea. This is not reported to CITES, along with all other in-country seizures in great ape range States.

A chimpanzee seized in Guinea. This is not reported to CITES, along with all other in-country seizures in great ape range States.

But probably the biggest problem with a seizure report is that it obviously does not contain incidents of illegal trade in which a seizure is not made. The work of PEGAS and others has shown that there are hundreds of illegally traded great apes seen on Internet social media and Web sites and being displayed or performing in zoos and safari parks. There should be some reporting mechanism to take these examples into consideration.

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How to report obvious examples of illegally traded great apes, but where no seizure has been made?

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These orangutans are examples of smuggling, but how best to report it to CITES?

These questions about reporting should be discussed in a working group, but CITES will not allow the creation of a great apes working group. There are many issues relating to great ape trafficking that need examination in a working group so that a revision of the CITES resolution concerning great apes can be made. But the CITES Secretariat and the Parties have shown no interest in doing this.

PEGAS made an intervention at CITES CoP 17 during the agenda item on great apes, in which the reporting problem was explained and requesting that the Parties consider forming a working group, but we were ignored. UN-GRASP also made an intervention pointing out that CITES currently underreports illegal great ape trade. They were ignored.

PEGAS requested a working group at the CITES conference, but was ignored.

PEGAS requested a working group at the CITES conference, but was ignored.

The final outcome is that CITES considers that they have implemented Decision 16.67, and it was summarily deleted on the Secretariat’s recommendation. This is outrageous.

The continuing fight to put great apes on the CITES agenda

The PEGAS Project Manager attended the 65th CITES Standing Committee meeting held in Geneva on July 7-11, representing Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The CITES Standing Committee “…provides policy guidance to the Secretariat concerning the implementation of the Convention and oversees the management of the Secretariat’s budget. Beyond these key roles, it coordinates and oversees…the work of other committees and working groups; carries out tasks given to it by the Conference of the Parties; and drafts resolutions for consideration by the Conference of the Parties.” The Standing July12_newCommittee also initiates action to suspend trade as a sanction against Parties (ie. countries) that egregiously break the rules.

This was a particularly important Standing Committee meeting as there were several significant agenda items concerning various species and issues. Over 400 participants attended, the largest in history. As usual, most of the discussion was devoted to elephants, rhinos and big cats, with pangolins making a breakthrough as a big issue as well. Great apes languished in obscurity, as usual, although several NGOs and UNEP tried to bring more discussion to the floor.

The CITES Secretariat, ably assisted by the Standing Committee chairman Øystein Størkersen, managed to prevent the requested formation of a Great Apes Working Group. Only through a working group could the evidence related to great ape trafficking be adequately examined and remedies proposed. The Secretariat continues to try to minimize the issue and thus avoid taking action. See Why are great apes treated like second-class species by CITES? and a PEGAS report addressing the issue for more details.

The PEGAS Project Manager met and networked with many representatives of governments, the UN and NGOs, but attendance was principally a learning experience in how best to plan strategies to get something effective achieved in future with CITES for great apes. Plans are accordingly in the works for the 66th CITES Standing Committee meeting to be held in January 2016, followed by the crucial 17th CITES Conference of the Parties to be held later that year in South Africa.