The 69th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee just wrapped up and again nothing was done to address the lax trade regulations that currently allow live great apes to be illegally traded for the exotic pet and commercial zoo industries.
In fact, the CITES Secretariat itself ignored an instruction addressed to it in CITES Resolution Conf. 13.4 ‘Great Apes’, which states in part, “2. DIRECTS the Secretariat to: (d) report to the Standing Committee on the implementation of this Resolution at each of its regular meetings.”
The Secretariat did not prepare a report on Great Apes for this meeting, the only species ignored in this way. If the CITES Secretariat does not follow its own resolutions how can we expect governments to do so?
No report for Great Apes, unlike other species. Why this neglect by CITES?
The Great Apes resolution is desperately in need of wording that would require governments to register all great apes immediately upon importation. Some form of identification should also be employed, such as a DNA profile or inserted microchip. In addition, all individuals and facilities possessing great apes should be required to register each one, with identification, age and sex. Any changes in number should be reported to the government agency responsible for maintaining the registry. Updates on the registries should be reported to CITES, or to an approved entity such as UN-GRASP, at agreed intervals (e.g. annually or at each Conference of the Parties).
If these simple steps were carried out it would be impossible for traffickers to smuggle in apes to a country and claim that they were bred domestically in captivity, which is a common ploy used by traffickers. China has already started to collect DNA profiles on captive great apes in zoos voluntarily, to their credit, but other countries need a bit of direction, which a CITES resolution could provide.
One bright spot in an otherwise dim meeting for apes was the creation of a working group for review of the report on the status of and trade in great apes mandated in Decision 17.232. This long-delayed report is now scheduled to be submitted to the CITES Animals Committee (AC30) in July 2018 for initial review.
If the will is there, the members could use this working group to widen the mandate to include the revision of the Resolution 13.4 on Great Apes. Their report from the Animals Committee could then be submitted to the 70th Standing Committee meeting and a draft resolution could be agreed for review at the CITES 18th Conference of the Parties in Sri Lanka in 2019.
While the Standing Committee was busy ignoring great apes, PEGAS found more of the suffering creatures for sale online.
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)
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 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.
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?
Or here at Sweetwaters, living in the African bush with other chimps?
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.
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.
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.
How to report obvious examples of illegally traded great apes, but where no seizure has been made?
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.
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.
This article was published in Mongabay.com on 10th May 2016. https://news.mongabay.com/2016/05/great-ape-trafficking-expanding-extractive-industry/
There are two main uses to which trafficked young apes are put: as pets or as attractions in commercial wildlife facilities (such as disreputable zoos, safari parks, circuses, hotels and use as photo-props).
The trade is facilitated by celebrities who pose with great ape pets in the press or in social media posts, which act as advertisements that say that owning an ape is “cool.”
Stiles has been investigating great ape trafficking for the past three years, since being invited to be a co-author of the United Nations report Stolen Apes, released in March 2013 at the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties in Bangkok.
Today his name is Manno and we believe he recently turned four years old, though he is small for his age. Manno has bright, inquisitive eyes, has a penchant for pumpkin seeds and loves to run and play. He has been living alone as the solitary chimpanzee in a small, private zoo in Duhok, Kurdistan, in northern Iraq for about three years.
“Manno turned up in 2013 with wildlife dealers in Damascus, Syria, as a traumatized baby orphan,” Spencer Sekyer told me. Spencer, a teacher in Canada, volunteered to help animals kept in the Duhok Zoo in Kurdistan in late 2014. He fell in love with Manno. “His mother was no doubt killed for bushmeat somewhere in Central Africa and the poachers sold him off to animal traffickers.”
Spencer has been trying to get Manno freed for over a year now.
Spencer showed me a colored piece of paper with prices written on it. “The owner of the Duhok Zoo paid US$15,000 for Manno, and the little chimpanzee has repaid the investment by becoming a very popular attraction. People come from all over the Duhok area to play and have their photographs taken with Manno… spending money.”
The zoo owner dresses the little chimpanzee up in children’s clothes and visitors shower him with food and drink that kids like — junk food. This probably explains why Manno is small for his age.
Manno eating pumpkin seeds bought for him by adoring zoo visitors. (Photo: Spencer Sekyer)
Two chimpanzees captured in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Manno very likely endured this before being smuggled to Syria. (Photo courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute)
If Manno stays in the zoo, the day will come when he stops being cuddly and playful. He will grow in strength and in aggressiveness, as is normal with chimpanzees. If he is not caged up permanently first, he will attack and no doubt seriously injure someone. His future is not bright.
No bright future
In fact, the future is not bright for any great ape that is trafficked. There are two main uses to which young apes are put: as pets or as attractions in commercial wildlife facilities (such as disreputable zoos, safari parks, circuses, hotels and use as photo-props).
The trade is facilitated by celebrities who pose with great ape pets in the press or in social media posts, which act as advertisements that say that owning an ape is “cool”. The coordinator of the United Nations Great Ape Survival Partnership, Doug Cress, warned that celebrities do not realize that many of the apes were obtained illegally.
“These pictures are seen by hundreds of millions of fans, and it sends the message that posing with great apes — all of which are obtained through illegal means, and face miserable lives once they grow too big and strong to hold — is okay as long as it’s cute. But it’s not. It’s illegal, and it contributes to the destruction of already endangered species,” Cress told The Guardian newspaper.
I have been investigating great ape trafficking for the past three years, since being invited to be a co-author of the United Nations report “Stolen Apes,” released in March 2013 at the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties in Bangkok. The report documents an alarming situation in which more than 1,800 cases were registered of trafficked chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans being lost to the forests of Africa and Asia between 2005 and early 2012.
This is only a fraction of the real number, as documented cases are those involving seizures by the authorities, and the vast majority of incidents go undetected. More tragically, for every live ape that enters the trade, at least one — the mother — and more than ten can be killed as collateral damage. The number lost is multiplied again because many infants die before reaching the intended destination.
I’ve traveled to West and Central Africa, the Middle East, and most recently made a trip to Thailand, Vietnam, and China, gathering information on this 21st century slave trade. I have also been discovering and monitoring a growing network of online wildlife traffickers, who post photos of their prized wildlife acquisitions and those for sale on social media sites. Unfortunately, recent publicity naming those involved in the illegal trade has resulted in them closing Instagram and Facebook accounts and going underground.
Great apes are becoming increasingly expensive. Of a trade in December last year, Patricia Trichorache from the Cheetah Conservation Fund told me, “Right now there are two baby chimps about to be shipped to Dubai … $40,000 each.” An owner flaunting a $40,000 pet on Facebook or Instagram gains instant prestige. It is common to see friends’ posts saying, “I want one sooo bad,” followed by a string of heart emojis.
Dealers also use social media sites to market their wares. The usual routine is to move to the encrypted WhatsApp or Snapchat to conduct the negotiations after the initial contact is made on a photo post.
In the Gulf countries, infant chimpanzees and orangutans are commonly dressed up in designer clothes, made to wear sunglasses and baseball caps to look cool, and are fed junk food and taught to smoke. I’ve even seen chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons, and lion cubs all playing together in videos posted on Instagram. Sometimes the play goes too far and the little apes are terrorized, which only elicits laughter from the owner and his friends who gather in carpeted livingrooms to watch the “fun.”
The typical road a slave-ape takes in a commercial zoo or safari park starts with being used as a photo prop. When they get older they are usually trained to perform in some kind of entertainment show and after they reach puberty they are caged up to become a zoo attraction and to breed. Increasingly, dealers and zoos are breeding their own animals.
The Egypt excess
Traffickers in Egypt were amongst the first to see the financial advantages in breeding great apes. A woman with dual Egyptian and Nigerian nationality had been trafficking chimpanzees and gorillas out of Kano, in Nigeria, and Guinea since at least the early 1990s, assisted by family members and an Egyptian pediatrician. Two of her clients run holidaymaker hotels in Sharm el Sheikh that used young chimpanzees as photo props with tourists.
Both hotel owners have since the early 2000s established wildlife breeding facilities for great apes and other animals. Chimpanzees and even gorillas are now being smuggled from these breeding centers to other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. They often go to Damascus first to pick up a CITES re-export permit, which corrupt officials issue for a price, so that they can arrive in the destination country with documentation that makes it look like a legal trade.
A baby chimpanzee from one of the Egyptian breeding facilities was seized in the Cairo airport last year during the security check, being smuggled to Kuwait, where infant great apes are in high demand.
Dina Zulfikar, a well known Egyptian animal welfare activist, followed the case of little Doodoo, as they named him. Dina told me, “The authorities did not follow procedure. They let the trafficker go and did not file a case with the police, as the law requires.” This is an all too typical story in countries with lax law enforcement.
Poor Doodoo now languishes in the Giza Zoo in precarious conditions. Dina recently informed me that his cellmate Bobo died of unknown causes, after another chimpanzee Mouza died some months earlier. The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya offered to rescue the little chimpanzee and provide him with lifelong care, but the Egyptian CITES authorities thus far have not responded to the offer. Little Doodoo could join five other chimpanzees at Sweetwaters that were seized in Kenya in 2005 after being refused entry into Egypt, trafficked by the Egyptian-Nigerian woman.
Ian Redmond, head of the U.K.-based Ape Alliance, worked with Dian Fossey and mountain gorillas in the 1980s, before Fossey’s untimely murder, recounted in the film Gorillas in the Mist. I work closely with Ian on the problem of great ape trafficking and he has tried, without success, to rescue the chimpanzees and gorillas held illegally by the Egyptian breeding facilities.
After a visit in 2015 to meet with the great ape breeders in Egypt, Ian told me, “Recent shipments out of Egypt seem likely to be infants bred at G. O.’s [name withheld] facility – if so we are faced with a different problem: essentially, a chimpanzee baby farm where infants are pulled from their mother and bottle-fed to be sold.”
The situation has been reported to the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), based in Geneva, but they reply that “it is up to the national CITES Management Authority to take action.”
The number of great apes trafficked internationally every year is not large compared to some other species, but when the collateral damage is factored in we are talking about up to 3,000 lives lost from the wild each year, which is close to one percent of the great ape global population.
One important fact is overlooked when simply numbers are used to assess the significance of this extractive industry. Great apes are unlike any other species group. We humans share millions of years of evolutionary history with them and our genetic makeup is surprisingly similar — about 97% with orangutans, 98% with gorillas, and almost 99% with chimpanzees and bonobos. We all belong to the same biological family called Hominidae.
Increasingly, as more behavioral and genetic research is conducted, we are accepting more easily the fact that great apes are very much like humans in so many ways. Just recently, Jane Goodall was quoted as saying, “Chimpanzees taught me how to be a better mother,” indicating just how much great apes are similar to us.
Ian Redmond, who studies ape behavior, says that “Great ape mothers are incredibly protective of their children, which is why they are always killed when poachers go out hunting for infants to sell.”
Beginning in the 1960s, the National Geographic Society was instrumental in funding the research of the Trimates — Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas. These three exceptional women carried out long-term research respectively of chimpanzees, mountain gorillas, and orangutans. They made known to the world the surprising fact that characteristics previously thought of as exclusively human are shared by these intelligent, emotionally sensitive great apes.
The Nonhuman Rights Project, led by attorney Steven Wise, has been leading a mission in the United States “to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere ‘things,’ which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to ‘persons,’ who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.”
The project is focusing on freeing captive chimpanzees, because a chimpanzee (and other great apes), as Wise argues, “is a cognitively complex, autonomous being who should be recognized as having the legal right to bodily liberty.”
A documentary film about Wise’s work, Unlocking the Cage, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January to a packed house and a standing ovation. It will be shown around the world on HBO in July. This film could very well be the hominid version of Blackfish, the film that brought the suffering of captive killer whales in marine parks to the world’s attention, and which has launched a campaign to halt this appalling practice. Sea World announced recently that it would halt killer whale breeding and phase out its theatrical shows using them.
Wise and his colleagues have been battling in court to free the chimpanzees Tommy, Kiko, Hercules, and Leo from inhumane captivity, and recently they gained a huge victorywhen it was announced that not only Leo and Hercules, but all of the 220 chimpanzees at the University of Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center, will be freed and sent to a sanctuary. Argentine courts have already ruled that an orangutan named Sandra deserved the basic rights of a “non-human person” and can be freed from a Buenos Aires zoo and transferred to a sanctuary. Likewise, New Zealand and Spain have extended personhood rights to great apes.
Legal systems are increasingly recognizing that it is immoral for nonhuman hominids to be bought and sold, put into captivity and suffer abuse for any reason. Currently, CITES treats great apes like any other animal or plant species. Although classified in Appendix I, which means that commercial trade is prohibited, great apes can be traded for “non-commercial” purposes if they satisfy certain criteria.
Creating exceptions to the prohibition on international trade in great apes tacitly accepts that it is appropriate for humans to own and imprison them. Once in captivity, it is very difficult to monitor whether they are being used for commercial purposes or are being abused in other ways.
Already, hundreds of great apes are being freed in Europe and the U.S. from biomedical research laboratories, and very soon chimpanzees from private commercial zoos in the U.S. will be liberated, due to changes in laws and understanding of the uniqueness of great apes. This is creating a huge problem of where to put them, once liberated. If all commercial wildlife facilities stretching from the Middle East to the Far East are included, it quickly becomes apparent that all great apes cannot be immediately emancipated after changes in law might come into effect.
CITES must act
So what is the answer? Change should be planned, gradual, and move in stepped phases. The first step is stopping the illegal trade, which adds every year to the number that eventually will have to be freed. CITES could be instrumental in achieving this, but it is not implementing what needs to be done. Other organizations concerned with great apes also are not doing all that they could be doing. Attempts to strengthen CITES actions to crack down on great ape trafficking at the last CITES Standing Committee meeting in January 2016 were actually undermined by organizations that profess to be helping great apes.
CITES needs to put teeth into the resolution that deals with great apes. There should be a system of registration and monitoring of institutions and individuals that possess great apes, so that new arrivals and movements can be detected. Currently, great apes arrive illegally in countries and are internally transferred and re-exported with little monitoring. Zoo studbooks are often out of date and inaccurate, as my research has found. The CITES Trade Database records only a small fraction of great apes that are traded internationally.
Will Manno and others like him ever be freed to live with others of his kind in a sanctuary, enjoying social life, natural vegetation, and security? Will the day ever come when unthinking people will realize that chimpanzees and orangutans are not playthings and objects of entertainment? They are our family members.
As Dame Jane Goodall says, “In what terms should we think of these beings, nonhuman yet possessing so very many human-like characteristics? How should we treat them? Surely we should treat them with the same consideration and kindness as we show to other humans; and as we recognize human rights, so too should we recognize the rights of the great apes.”
Author’s note: All social media photographs in this article are screen shots from accounts open to the public. In May of 2014 I began working with a project funded by the Arcus Foundation called the Project to End Great Ape Slavery — PEGAS for short. The project is sponsored by the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and it works in association with the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. See FreeTheApes.org. I am also Coordinator of the Ape Alliance Great Ape Trade Working Group. I invite readers to visit our page and sign the pledge to never use a great ape as a pet.
The 66th meeting of the Standing Committee of CITES was held 11-15th January 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland. The Standing Committee is an important body in the functioning of CITES. It “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 66th CITES Standing Committee meeting had over 400 participants
The Standing Committee (SC) also initiates action to suspend trade as a sanction against Parties (i.e. countries belonging to the Convention) that do not comply with important recommendations. Certain ‘recommendations’ contained in Resolutions and Decisions are in fact requirements, but CITES does not use undiplomatic words such as ‘require’ or ‘command’.
The SC is the best place to initiate any new actions within CITES to address the illegal trade of great apes or any other species. The entire membership of CITES is now 182 Parties, while the SC is made up of only 35 Parties (including the SC host country, and previous and next Conference of the Parties host countries), most of which rotate. It is more efficient to get things done with 35 SC Party members than with 182 at a Conference of the Parties (CoP), which is held every 2-and-a-half to 3 years. Fewer than 500 participants attend a SC meeting, thousands attend a CoP.
The preparatory work of examining illegal trade evidence, identifying the primary perpetrators of illegal trade, and the supply and demand countries, the methods employed in trafficking and trade routes, and related information can be carried out in the SC meeting in order to formulate strategies and actions to address the problems.
Once actions have been agreed upon, wording must be formulated to either produce a new Resolution or Decision, or revise an existing one, to provide ‘recommendations’ (i.e. instructions) to Parties, the Secretariat and the Standing Committee respectively for action.
This process of examination and discussion cannot be carried out in the plenary meeting because there simply is not enough time (see Sellar’s recent commentary on it). The usual procedure is for a SC member or observer Party to request from the Chair that a working group (WG) be created. If other Parties support the request, the Chair invites expressions of interest from Parties and observers, including NGOs. The WG usually numbers 20 or fewer Parties, international organizations and NGOs. They then schedule meetings to take place in rooms adjoining the main conference hall, and report their findings back to the plenary.
The proposed new or revised Resolution or Decision is submitted as a working document at the next Conference of the Parties as an agenda item to be discussed, possibly revised further, and then either accepted or rejected by the full CITES membership. The WG, possibly with additional members now, is essential in this process.
All of the major species groups, and some not so major, at some time or other have had a WG formed to discuss important trade issues (e.g. elephants, rhinos, Asian big cats, cheetahs, pangolins, sharks and rays, snakes, various plant and timber species, even sturgeons and paddlefish).
Great apes, oddly, have never had a WG, even for discussion of the formulation of CITES Resolution Conf. 13.4 Conservation of and Trade in Great Apes, produced by the CITES Secretariat in 2004. The Secretariat also prepared on its own the only revision to RC 13.4, made at the 16th Conference of the Parties (CoP) in March, 2013.
At the 65th SC meeting in July, 2014, a SC member did request formation of a great apes working group (GAWG), supported by another Party and several NGOs. The discussion was abruptly cut off by John Scanlon, the CITES Secretary-General, when he initiated a closed-microphone consultation with the SC Chair. See this Mongabay article for a description. In the report on great apes submitted to the 65th SC, the Secretariat stated in part, “data from official sources suggest that the illegal international trade in great ape specimens is currently limited” and “there is very little illegal international trade in great ape specimens”.
The key words in this statement are “data from official sources,” which apparently consist of its own Trade Database and reports compiled by INTERPOL and the World Customs Union. “Official sources” seemingly do not include its sister organization within the UN Environment Programme, the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP), which is charged with great ape conservation. At the last CITES Conference of the Parties, held in Bangkok in March 2013, GRASP released a report entitled Stolen Apes. This report found that between 2005 and 2011, approximately 22,200 great apes were lost in trafficking related incidents. The report estimates that every year approximately 5% of the total great ape population on Earth is lost due to trafficking and related killing. Is that really “limited” and “very little”?
The situation has not improved since then. In June 2014 GRASP released a press statement asserting that “The illegal trade in live chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans showed no signs of diminishing – and may actually be getting worse.” In an October 2015 webcast the GRASP coordinator said that seizure rates of illegally traded great apes were higher than previously.
Great ape illegal trade seizure rates have increased since the Stolen Apes report was written, according to GRASP
The findings on trafficking from unofficial sources such as media reports and NGO investigations are not included in the Secretariat’s reports, nor up to the present is GRASP’s information included, although there are plans for GRASP to begin reporting officially, probably in cooperation with the Section on Great Apes (SGA) of the IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group. The intended contents and format of the reports are currently being developed.
Recognizing that there was a glaring need for a more complete set of information on great ape trafficking to be presented to CITES Parties, PEGAS devised a plan to achieve this at the 66th SC meeting. The plan was composed of three parts: (1) persuade one or more Parties to submit a Working Document containing a call to revise RC 13.4 to deal with increasing levels of great ape trafficking, (2) induce a Party or Parties to submit an Information Document that contained highlights of the excluded media and NGO investigation findings and (3) call for the creation of a GAWG to examine the new (to CITES) information and discuss the RC 13.4 revision.
PEGAS met with the Kenya Wildlife Service – Kenya’s CITES Management Authority – in 2014 after the 65th SC meeting to present the plan and seek their support, which was obtained. PEGAS and Ol Pejeta Conservancy CEO Richard Vigne met with GRASP staff on 28 August 2015 to discuss a number of issues of mutual concern regarding great ape illegal trade. At that meeting PEGAS brought up the need for a GAWG in order to create a forum within CITES for examining the full range of information available that reported on great ape trafficking. GRASP did not think that a GAWG would achieve anything, because the Secretariat’s position was firm, but GRASP did not say anything opposing the creation of a working group.
PEGAS in 2015 then drafted a Working Document and Information Document and shared it with Doug Cress of GRASP, Ian Redmond of the Ape Alliance and Mark Jones of the Born Free Foundation for their comments. After making the advised revisions by the reviewers the documents were submitted to KWS for their review.
The plan was also presented and discussed at an Information Exchange Meeting held at the GRASP offices in the United Nations headquarters in Gigiri, Kenya, on 9th November 2015. The organizations attending were PEGAS, GRASP, KWS, Ape Alliance, Born Free Foundation, PASA, UNODC, EAGLE, Jane Goodall Institute, Humane Society of the United States and WildlifeImpact. The Wildlife Conservation Society was also supposed to attend, but the person came down with the flu and gave his apologies.
Not everyone expressed their full support for the plan, but none of the participants openly opposed it. The main doubts were that the objectives of a revision of RC 13.4 could be achieved by other means, and if the GAWG was again rejected it would constitute a major setback for the eventual creation of one. A main concern of PEGAS, however, was not just the revision of RC 13.4, but also the presentation of the ‘non-official’ information on the scale of great ape trafficking, and the details of it, to CITES Parties. Without a GAWG, there was no way to accomplish this officially and get it into the CITES record. The Secretariat could continue to assert its claims that “there is very little illegal international trade in great ape specimens”.
KWS, with the assistance of the Ape Alliance, obtained the co-sponsorship of the Uganda CITES Management Authority to submit the Working Document, which was done as SC66 Doc. 48.2. Uganda is a great ape range State and a member of the Standing Committee, so this was an important accomplishment. PEGAS would like to thank sincerely Patrick Omondi and Solomon Kyalo of KWS and James Lutalo of the Uganda CITES M.A. for their assistance and cooperation.
In the end no sponsor of the Information Document could be found, even though revisions were made to water it down. There was simply too much evidence of malfeasance on the part of certain named Party countries by non-official sources for another Party to attach their name to it. The Information Document, in CITES format, can be viewed here. Information Documents are limited to 12 pages of text, so not everything could be put in. There is quite a bit of history given of great ape activities within CITES because it is important to establish continuity of the past with what is occurring today. CITES has not solved the great ape trafficking problem, in spite of trying to create the impression that it has.
CITES has not solved the great ape trafficking problem, in spite of trying to create the impression that it has.
PEGAS investigations of online wildlife trafficking, particularly in the Middle East, and a recent visit to Thailand, Vietnam and China, have shown that great ape trafficking and misuse in commercial activities are more common than even PEGAS believed a year ago.
Online trafficking in the Middle East is out of control
East Asian zoos and safari parks import dozens of young great apes annually for performances and use in fee photography with visitors
The plan to get a GAWG created at SC66 was undone by two main factors – agenda scheduling and lack of support for SC66 Doc. 48.2 from the Secretariat, GRASP and certain NGOs. GRASP claimed that certain great ape range States and NGOs did not support 48.2 because they had not been involved in the process. The Ape Alliance had, however, written to all SC members prior to the start of the meeting to inform them of the contents and reason behind 48.2 and requesting their support for it.
The Species Survival Network, which coordinates the activities of dozens of “conservation, environmental and animal protection organizations around the world to secure CITES protection for plants and animals affected by international trade”, recommended that SC66 agree to establish the proposed Working Group. Nevertheless, GRASP requested Kenya and Uganda to withdraw the document, which with considerable consternation they felt they had to do if GRASP did not support it.
The scheduling was also a major factor. The Great Apes item on the agenda was originally scheduled for Thursday afternoon (which wasn’t known when the document was drafted), the penultimate day of the meeting. Even if a GAWG had been formed, it would not have had the time to meet, adequately discuss revision of RC 13.4, and report back to the plenary. As it turned out, because of delays, Agenda item 48, Great Apes, did not come up until mid morning on Friday, the last day.
The solution could have been for Uganda and Kenya to request that the GAWG be formed, which would only have taken about 10 minutes, with the instruction from the Chair to meet electronically after the meeting, as other working groups do. A draft revision of RC 13.4 could have been discussed and agreed upon in a Google Group or similar forum, and submitted as a draft resolution revision Working Document to CoP17 before the 27 April deadline. Presumably GAWG members who were Parties would co-sponsor the submission. The Information Document could also have been circulated to the GAWG members for their review. If this course had been taken, the GAWG could have met early on during CoP17 to finalize the presentation to plenary under the Great Apes agenda item.
So what happens now?
An informal group of NGOs is working on a draft RC 13.4 revision by email, which eventually will be reviewed by GRASP and selected Parties, and Party sponsors will be solicited to submit it before the 27 April deadline. If the Great Apes agenda item is scheduled on a Thursday again, the same thing that happened at SC66 could occur again. No time for a GAWG to be formed, to meet to review the revision, and report back to plenary. The Chair would no doubt put consideration of it off until a subsequent Standing Committee meeting.
In the meantime great ape trafficking continues, and CITES is still doing little about it, with lack of support from organizations that should be helping.
Eight young orangutans used in a band at Safari World, just outside of Bangkok. This is illegal according to Thai law.
Ansoumane Doumbouya, the former Guinea CITES official arrested recently in Conakry for wildlife trafficking using fraudulent CITES permits, also signed permits for the export of bonobos to Armenia in 2011. No bonobos live in West Africa, they are restricted to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ofir Drori of EAGLE reports that Doumbouya has been transported to prison to be held for trial. An unsigned blank CITES permit was found in his bag!
The following story published in an Armenian newspaper gives some background and links to earlier stories about great ape imports to Armenia.
Arrest of Guinean Official Implicated in Illegal Animal Trade; Signed Export Permits for Armenia as Well
A bonobo smuggled into Armenia with a Guinea CITES permit
Ansoumane Doumbouya, former head of the CITES Management Authority of Guinea anda key player behind the illegal export of hundreds of chimpanzees and gorillas to China and elsewhere, was arrested on August 21.
EAGLE (Eco Activists for Governance & Law Enforcement) announced the arrest of Ansoumane Doumbouya, along with the infamous wildlife trafficker Thierno Barry, in Conakry, Guinea’s capital.
Hetq has the following CITES export permit, signed by Doumbouya in 2011, under which two bonobo primates were imported by the Zoo Fauna Art company in Armenia.
The CITES export permit signed by Doumbouya
A Hetq investigative series into the illegal animal trade in Armenia led to criminal charges against Zoo Fauna Art owner Artur Khachatryan.
The investigative division of Armenia’s Ministry of Finance has been dragging out an inquiry into the matter for one and a half years.
Even after he lost his position with CITES, Doumbouya retained a position within the Guinean Ministry of Environment as Commander of the national wildlife and forestry mobile enforcement brigade and was still signing CITES permits for traffickers.
On 21st August 2015 EAGLE (Eco Activists for Governance & Law Enforcement) announced the arrest of Ansoumane Doumbouya, the former head of the CITES Management Authority of Guinea, along with the infamous wildlife trafficker Thierno Barry in Conakry.
Doumbouya has long been known as a key player behind the illegal export of hundreds of chimpanzees and gorillas to China and elsewhere using fraudulent CITES export permits (see The Conakry Connection). Even after he lost his position with CITES he continued to fraudulently sell permits to traffickers to allow them to ship protected wildlife around the world, in spite of the fact that there is currently a CITES suspension of trade from Guinea (PEGAS is in possession of a copy of such a fraudulent permit, signed by Doumbouya a year and a half after he was removed from the CITES office).
Ofir Drori, head of EAGLE, has told PEGAS that there is huge political pressure from high government officials in Guinea to free Doumbouya. Those who wish to see the scourge of great ape trafficking stopped must protest political interference. Read the announcement by Charlotte Houpline, Director of GALF, below:
Today is a special day of victory against high level corruption and complicity.
Since the beginning of the collaboration between GALF and the Guinean Government, many traffickers have been arrested and condemned. Today, however, we are proud to send one of the biggest traffickers behind bars – the former head of CITES in Guinea – Ansoumane Doumbouya.
Abusing his position as the authority of this international convention he has been assisting and collaborating with traffickers. Different reports, including one from the CITES secretariat, implicated him in illegal exports, but he is still holding a position within the Ministry of Environment as Commander of the national wildlife and forestry mobile enforcement brigade and still signing CITES permits for traffickers.
Doumbouya signed CITES permits to send wild-caught chimpanzee orphans to China to perform in circuses
The shocking hidden footage in the link below shows a trafficker explaining in details the corrupt system.
This time, the vicious cycle of impunity has been broken. Our long and meticulous investigation that led to this arrest took more than a year as Doumbouya is experienced and cautious in his illegal activities. He had just delivered a CITES permit for 2 primates to an international trafficker, Thierno Barry that has been regularly exporting protected species to China and other part of the world, with the CITES’ head’s complicity. Thierno Barry have been arrested. The two operations have been conducted by the BCN INTERPOL and the GALF project.
The case of Doumbouya became one of the most known examples of CITES high level corruption and has been discussed in the convention’s international meetings. Several hundreds of apes and many other totally protected species, were known to have been exported through this corrupt system.
The former head of CITES was even convoked and interrogated by the police early last year, where he declared that all the CITES permits, bonobos, chimpanzees and others were falsified. He pretended to have lost his official stamp, and that the traffickers imitate his signature.
Our investigation aimed to demonstrate that Mr Doumbouya kept on delivering CITES permits to several wildlife traffickers. He was using an old stock of permits that he had kept with him even after he lost his position as the head of CITES.
The satisfaction from this arrest is very personal to me. During the 10 years I spent in Guinea, and before I started fighting in wildlife law enforcement, I was an advisor to the Ministry of Environment for 2 years, and it is in the neighboring office that Mr Doumbouya -the CITES head of Guinea, provided wildlife traffickers with CITES permits, abusing the same national laws and international conventions that he was entrusted to protect.
Thierno Barry, the director of a fictive company involved for a long time in the international wildlife trade (BARRY PETS COMPAGNY IMPORT-EXPORT) have been arrested holding protected primates and a CITES permit signed by Ansoumane Doumbouya. Before his arrest, during several months of undercover investigation, he explained the implication of the former CITES MA in the international illegal wildlife trade.
Here is the criminal’s description of the corrupt system:
Email – “I have talked with the former director, head of CITES. He confirmed that he can provide me with the permits. He says he’s a bit afraid because he is no more the head of CITES. Chinese are difficult and often ask for confirmation”.
Hidden footage: “He is no more the head of CITES now, do you understand? When we take the CITES to send in Jordan, there could be problems if they see on the internet that he is not holding the position. He can say that I betrayed him. The former director has been fired but he has kept the old permits. But if there is some kind of confirmation, there will be some problems.
Do you understand? If the former director gives me, you know that he’s not allowed to give the CITES because he’s been fired, so if he gives me the CITES, I take the CITES and I send to Mr Hassan. If Mr Hassan sends to his ministry in Jordan to see the confirmation, there will be phone call to the one who is now in charge of CITES. This will create a lot of problems”.
Today, Mr Doumbouya faces the Justice. According to the penal code of Guinea, Mr Doumbouya faces charges from 6 months to 10 years of prison for usurpation of qualification and office, unlawful extension of authority, forgery on public acts and documents, forgery of administrative documents, receiving, complicity and corruption.
After a long suspension from CITES, Guinea has an important responsibility to send a strong message to its citizen and the international community. Doumbouya should be severely punished according to the law.
Please warmly congratulate these Ministers and ask for the maximal sentence for the former CITES head of Guinea.
Richard Vigne CEO, Ol Pejeta Conservancy Stephen Ngulu Deputy Manager, Ol Pejeta Conservancy Daniel Stiles Project Manager, PEGAS Tom Butynski Director of Research, Sustainability Centre Eastern Africa Alpana Patel Jane Goodall Institute, Kenya Yvonne de Jong Eastern Africa Primate Diversity and Conservation Program, Kenya