After Debby Cox of the Jane Goodall Institute contacted PEGAS about Spencer Sekyer’s enquiry concerning a sanctuary for Manno, PEGAS replied, “I have heard about the chimpanzees in the Duhok and Erbil zoos already, but I did not think it feasible to get them out given the political situation there.”
PEGAS learned of captive chimpanzees in Kurdistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran and elsewhere in the region from press reports, YouTube videos and correspondence with Jason Mier of Animals Lebanon. There exist numerous ‘mom and pop’ family-owned private zoos across the region, some of them travelling from town to town in old rickety trucks. They keep the animals in appalling conditions and there do not seem to be laws in most countries regulating these exotic animal concentration camps.
Erbil Zoo, where Manno first arrived from Syria, is nothing more than a concentration camp for exotic animals. Unfortunately, it is typical of most found in the region. (Erbil Zoo Facebook page)
PEGAS began communicating with Spencer from 1st December 2015. He was very positive about getting Manno freed, but a stumbling block was compensating Ramadan, the Duhok Zoo owner, for Manno. He first demanded USD 20,000, and then dropped it to USD 15,000. Spencer hoped that Ramadan would accept zoo improvements in lieu of cash, but PEGAS had no intention right from the start of compensating a wildlife trafficker. Giving any form of reward for illegally buying a chimpanzee and placing it in captivity to make money was off the table.
Within a week, Ramadan changed his request for compensation to ‘only’ two cheetah cubs. This was, of course, out of the question. PEGAS countered with the offer of a visit to Ol Pejeta and a training course of how to look after animals properly. Ramadan turned this offer down, and insisted that he get two cheetah cubs or, he now added, two zebras in exchange for Manno.
Dr. Sulaiman was acting as go-between in the negotiations since Ramadan spoke no English. PEGAS wrote back, “Mr. Ramadan should understand that Kenya does not allow sales of wild animals. ….. My project does not have funds for buying animals anyway, so I am afraid we will have to find something else that he will accept.”
In the meantime Spencer was sending more background information about Manno. He sent a photograph of Manno’s cage, saying, “When I was not with Manno he was held in a very small cage, what can only be described as a bird cage. When he was in this cage visitors … would often taunt him, feed him junk food from the confectionary & I even admonished some young men who were trying to get Manno to smoke a cigarette.”
Manno’s ‘bird cage’, where he spent his time being taunted by zoo visitors.
Spencer mentioned that he knew someone with good contacts in the KRG. With Ramadan holding firm on unacceptable compensation, PEGAS decided to escalate. Spencer introduced Cheryl Bernard, the wife of the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan and the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad. Cheryl and her husband’s work with ARCH International, an organization dedicated to the promotion and defense of cultural monuments threatened by crisis and war, take them to the Middle East often. They are friends with Nechirvan Barzani, Prime Minister of the KRG.
Cheryl was very positive about helping Manno and said that Zal, her husband, was planning on going to Erbil in early January. We decided that the best course of action would be for Ol Pejeta Conservancy to send a letter addressed to Prime Minister Barzani requesting Manno’s freedom and offering to provide him with lifetime care at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary.
Cheryl also sent PEGAS a brilliant Briefing Paper: The Status of Conservation and Animal Welfare in Kurdistan. She knew well the problems that Manno and other exotic animals faced in the region.
The letter to PM Barzani was prepared and signed by Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta’s CEO. Zal handed over the letter on about 10th January and on 18th January we received officially the good news, “His excellency received your letter and decided to help facilitate the chimpanzee’s return…”, from Mr. Ahmed Oathman, Advisor to the Council of Ministers in the Kurdistan Regional Government.
PEGAS contacted Jason Mier to ask if he could help do the ground work necessary to relocate Manno, as Jason had considerable experience in doing this type of activity in the region. PEGAS and Jason began correspondence not long after the PEGAS project launched in May 2014, mainly in connection with Egypt, where PEGAS had directed early investigations. Jason had conducted research there after the confiscation of six chimpanzees coming from Egypt in the Nairobi airport in early 2005. Five of these chimpanzees have resided at Sweetwaters sanctuary since then (one died on arrival in Nairobi). He was the perfect person for this complicated task.
We needed basically four permits – the CITES import and export and the veterinary health import and export. Sounds simple, but it wasn’t to be.
Ol Pejeta Conservancy submitted the first CITES import permit application to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in late February, after consulting with them about the procedure and what was needed. The same was done with the Kenya Department of Veterinary Services (DVS). The DVS had previously denied import of two orphaned infant chimpanzees from Liberia, so PEGAS knew that they were very strict.
Finally, on 28th February 2016, the DVS issued the Conditions for Importation of Non-human Primates into Kenya. The conditions were very strict indeed, and included the proviso that the animal had not been born or resident in any country that had reported Ebola hemorrhagic fever.
Jason Mier went to Erbil and Duhok the first week of March to begin the arduous task of conducting all of the various blood, urine and fecal tests to satisfy the veterinary requirements. Dr. Sulaiman Tameer, a government veterinarian, assisted greatly in this.
At the same time, Dr. Stephen Ngulu, manager of Sweetwaters sanctuary and a veterinarian, was in discussions with KWS about the CITES import permit. We also wrote to the Iraq CITES Management Authority, briefing them on Manno’s background and notifying them that once the import permit had been received we would be requesting an Iraq export permit, which was the standard CITES operating procedure. We advised that Mr. Ahmed Oathman was the contact in the KRG.
On 22 March the Iraq CITES MA wrote back saying they would contact Mr. Oathman. In early April Jason informed me that Mr. Oathman and Mr. Adel Omran Badrawi of the CITES MA had spoken. The Iraq MA needed to see import documentation on Manno, so Jason sent the veterinary document.
On 27 April the Iraq CITES MA sent a letter to KWS assuring them of their wish to cooperate and that they would issue the export permit upon receipt of the Kenyan import permit. In early May KWS requested that Ol Pejeta submit another import permit application, they could not find the one submitted on 24th February. We did this and waited….. and waited. Both Dr. Ngulu and the CEO Richard Vigne followed up with KWS into July, but still with no import permit.
The DVS told us that we could not submit an application for a veterinary import permit until we had the CITES import permit. KWS was telling us that we needed to show them proof that all veterinary requirements had been satisfied before they could issue a CITES permit. We had long ago sent all of the veterinary test results to KWS showing that Manno was in perfect health. We were at an impasse.
PEGAS received word that Jane Goodall was visiting Nanyuki for a talk at the Mount Kenya Safari Club to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Roots & Shoots programme in Kenya. Mr. Kitili Mbathi, Director General of KWS, would be an honoured guest. If the DVS Director could be brought to Sweetwaters along with Jane Goodall and the KWS DG, that just might break the impasse.
On short notice all three agreed to visit Sweetwaters during the day on 14th July, before the Roots & Shoots event that night. If this didn’t work, Jason had already begun a backup plan to send Manno to a sanctuary in the U.K.
During Jane Goodall’s visit to Sweetwaters, Dr. Murithi Mbabu, Deputy Director of the DVS (centre), and Mr. Kitili Mbathi, DG of KWS (on right), saw first-hand what Sweetwaters was all about. Meeting Jane Goodall and discussing Manno’s situation spurred KWS to issue the CITES import permit. (Photo: PEGAS).
After a very enjoyable lunch at Morani’s restaurant at Ol Pejeta, PEGAS delicately raised the question of the CITES import permit with Kitili Mbathi. “Don’t worry, I’ll sort it out,” he replied.
Good to his word, on 8th August 2016 KWS issued the CITES import permit, and on 24th August the Iraq CITES MA issued the export permit. Now Stephen could submit the veterinary import permit application. We had that in hand on 25th August.
Dr. Stephen Ngulu, Sweetwaters sanctuary manager, holds the original CITES import permit for Manno. (Photo: PEGAS)
We thought it would now be clear sailing, but meeting the requirements made by Emirates Airlines took Jason another two months of work getting a list of certificates, attestations, letters, etc. that seemed never to stop.
There was also the problem of getting the CITES export permit physically from Baghdad to Erbil in the middle of the new offensive by the Iraqi army, Pesh Merga and other allies to retake Mosul from the Islamic State. PEGAS eventually found someone to get it to our handling agent. Middle Eastern Airlines kindly agreed to transport Manno’s shipping crate from Beirut to Erbil for free, for which they get a big thank you.
There were so many invoices coming in to pay for this, that and the other with international wire transfers that Ol Pejeta’s Finance officers were tearing their hair out. The final payments were only received by the handling agent and Emirates a couple of hours before departure. It was not certain that Manno would leave on 29th November as scheduled.
Left to right, Ramadan Hassan, Sulaiman Tameer, Jason Mier’s back and Spencer Sekyer prepare the transport crate to pack Manno.
Bringing Manno out of the zoo to the shipping crate, Jason Mier on the left holding Manno’s hand. The man on the right, a Syrian caretaker named Abdul, became very close with Manno, as did his family. PEGAS was told later about how sad the family was to lose Manno.
The KRG bid Manno farewell at a small going away ceremony in an Erbil hotel. The prime minister was represented by Mr. Ahmed Oathman.
PEGAS prepared a certificate of appreciation for Prime Minister Barzani, which Spencer presented to Mr. Oathman.
Manno spent the first night in his crate in the Dubai airport, where he connected to the regular scheduled passenger flight to Nairobi the morning of 30 November.
Touch down Nairobi! Manno has arrived
Manno’s crate was given expedited offloading and it was brought soon after landing to the cargo area, where it was loaded immediately into the back of an Ol Pejeta Conservancy 4 x 4.
Our first view of Manno. It was hard to believe that we had actually succeeded in bringing him. (Photos: PEGAS)
Manno looked around at all the faces staring at him and seemed to be saying, “Anybody got a banana?” (Photo: PEGAS)
Off to Sweetwaters…
Manno woke up on 1st December 2016 to his first morning at Sweetwaters. It was exactly one year to the day since PEGAS had received the email from JGI asking if PEGAS could help free a chimpanzee in Kurdistan. (Photo: PEGAS)
Manno’s case represents much more than saving one chimpanzee from a life of punishing captivity. Manno symbolizes all great apes enslaved in foreign lands. If against all odds Manno could be freed, then any captive great ape can be.