Category Archives: court rulings

Research on lab chimps is over. Why have so few been retired to sanctuaries?

On 12th June, 2015, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service classified chimpanzees as Endangered, effectively ending biomedical studies on them. Two years later only 73 chimps have been moved to sanctuaries, leaving almost 600 still caged up in research facilities. They say there is a problem with finding space to house them all. Ol Pejeta Conservancy can help, the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary can take 30 right now, if anyone is interested. There is potential to accept many more.

This article published in Science , authored by David Grimm, explains the issue.

A chimpanzee waits for lunch at the National Center for Chimpanzee Care in Bastrop, Texas. (Photo: Shelby Knowles)

Hercules and Leo are only 11 years old, but they’ve already come close to retiring twice. The two chimpanzees, born and raised at Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center, became lab animals at the State University of New York in Stony Brook in 2011. There they shared a three-room enclosure, where scientists inserted small electrodes into their muscles to study the evolution of bipedalism. In 2013, they were the subject of an unusual legal gambit. An animal rights group sued to declare the pair legal persons and retire them to a Florida sanctuary, but the effort failed.

Two years later, Hercules and Leo returned to New Iberia, where they mingled with other chimps in outdoor domes with ladders and ropes. But retirement to a sanctuary, where they could climb real trees and have more room to roam, again seemed imminent: The U.S. government had just effectively ended invasive work on chimpanzees, and many observers expected all lab chimps to move to sanctuaries in short order. Yet today, Hercules and Leo, along with nearly 600 of their kind across the country, remain at research facilities. It’s unclear when—or whether—they’ll leave.

In the past 2 years, only 73 chimps have entered sanctuaries, and the slow pace has heightened tensions between the laboratory and sanctuary communities. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Labs have dragged their feet, sanctuaries haven’t expanded quickly enough, and the government itself didn’t have a concrete plan for retirement, despite setting the process in motion in the first place.

Chimps freely roam around an artificial termite mound at Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana. (BRANDON WADE/AP IMAGES FOR THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES)

The biomedical community has spent years defending the use of chimpanzees in research … instead of figuring out how to retire them,” says Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who has studied chimpanzee behavior at sanctuaries around the world. “Now we’re scrambling to do something about it.”

Some labs have argued that their animals would be better off staying where they are. Retirement to a sanctuary is a “silly decision,” says William Hopkins, a neuroscientist at Georgia State University in Atlanta who has studied chimp cognition at research facilities for decades. “I don’t think that’s really helping the chimps, and I think it’s going to take a really long time.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, acknowledges the delay. “We share others’ frustration,” says Deputy Director James Anderson, whose division of strategic initiatives oversees the NIH Chimpanzee Management Program. “But we’re moving as quickly as we can for the safety of the chimps.”

For advocates of Hercules and Leo, and hundreds of other chimps stuck in limbo, that may not be quick enough.

Ambling into retirement

Movement from lab facilities to sanctuaries has been slow. (G. GRULLÓN/SCIENCE; (DATA) CHIMPCARE.ORG,OTHER SOURCES)

What to do with all the chimps?

The U.S. government has been in the chimpanzee business since 1960. That year, Congress created a national network of primate centers to conduct research on these animals—some bred in captivity, most taken from Africa. The country stopped importing wild chimps in 1973, but 13 years later, when the AIDS epidemic created a demand for humanlike models of infection, NIH launched a chimp breeding boom. By 1996, 1500 of the apes lived in research labs, an all-time high. Some were owned outright by NIH, whereas others belonged to universities, foundations, and companies.

Just 4 years later, the government began talking about retirement. A law passed in 2000 created a national chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana. The nonprofit sanctuary’s founders, who had worked with chimps in laboratories, felt that the highly intelligent animals—who, like humans, use tools, have some form of culture, and live in complex social groups—deserved to live out their lives in a setting designed wholly around their needs.

NIH got on board, pledging up to 75% of the cost of lifetime care for its chimpanzees that entered the refuge. (Other sanctuaries take privately owned research chimps.) But labs themselves decided whether the apes were ready for retirement.

That changed in 2013, when—in response to an Institute of Medicine report that concluded most invasive studies on chimpanzees were unnecessary—NIH announced it would phase out support for this type of research and retire most of its chimpanzees. Then in 2015—2 years ago today—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classified all U.S. chimps as endangered, effectively ending biomedical studies on them. NIH followed by declaring that all of its approximately 300 chimpanzees would be retired, though it gave no time frame. Experts assumed that the remaining 340 or so in private hands would follow suit.

Since then, however, only 51 government chimps and 22 privately owned chimps have entered sanctuaries—a pace far slower than anyone had anticipated. “Large numbers are still languishing in laboratories,” Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D–CA) complained to NIH head Francis Collins last month at a congressional hearing. Collins said his agency was committed to chimpanzee retirement, but that the process had been “challenging.” “Realistically,” he said, “it’s going to take us several more years.”

The reasons are complex—and contentious.

Where are all the research chimps?

Fewer than half of all former research chimps now live in sanctuaries. The rest are still in scientific facilities.

G. GRULLÓN/SCIENCE; (DATA) CHIMPCARE.ORG, OTHER SOURCES

Sanctuary struggles

On a sweltering day in mid-June, a group of about 20 chimpanzees emerges from a small forest and crowds around an artificial termite mound filled with applesauce and Kool-Aid. They seem to be negotiating over the food: Some scream, some wave their hands, and some climb 20-meter-tall pine trees to avoid the ruckus. When everyone has had their fill, a few disappear back into the forest, while the rest take refuge from the heat in nearby cooling rooms.

Such a scene, which took place at Chimp Haven last summer, buoys the sanctuary community: It’s a picture of what life can be like when chimpanzees are free to roam and interact with each other on their own terms. Not every sanctuary can offer what Chimp Haven does, but many are trying.

One is Project Chimps, a new 95-hectare sanctuary among the wooded hills of Morgantown, Georgia. The nonprofit organization made headlines last year when it announced it would take all 220 of New Iberia’s chimpanzees—including Hercules and Leo—within 5 years, in the most ambitious chimp retirement ever attempted.

Perhaps too ambitious. Construction has gone more slowly than expected, and Project Chimps has taken only 22 of New Iberia’s apes so far, rather than the 60 it agreed to accept by now. And although the sanctuary hopes to eventually give its animals access to the surrounding forest, they now live in enclosures that aren’t much different from the domes at New Iberia: three “villas” with indoor-outdoor areas for climbing and swinging.

Some say the slow pace and exclusive contract blocked other sanctuaries that could have taken some of New Iberia’s apes. Project Chimps Co-Founder and President Sarah Baeckler Davis left the organization last month, although the sanctuary would not comment on the reasons.

Funding also has been a challenge. Like other sanctuaries, Project Chimps relies on a mix of grants and public donations. Interim President Ben Callison says it will cost about $6.4 million to build new facilities, not to mention the expense of providing food, toys, and veterinary care for the apes; other sanctuaries spend $16,000 to $20,000 per chimp per year on those costs. That could mean more than $3 million in annual expenses for Project Chimps once all New Iberia’s animals are in residence. But New Iberia has only agreed to contribute a one-time payment of $19,000 per chimp, with no funding for lifetime care.

Other sanctuaries are scrambling to raise cash as well. Even Chimp Haven, which has an agreement to take all NIH chimps and so has some guaranteed funding during their lifetimes, pays for all construction out of its own pocket. Accommodating the 250-odd NIH chimpanzees still in research facilities could cost $17 million, says the sanctuary’s president, Cathy Spraetz.

Transportation is another bottleneck. Only four to 10 chimps are typically moved at a time because they can be aggressive and must be housed in individual cages; sanctuaries also prefer to keep them in the same social groups they lived in while at the labs. Once at a sanctuary, chimps are typically quarantined for a couple weeks to make sure they have no transmissible diseases. Keepers then sometimes carefully ease them into larger groups, but reintegration isn’t always easy. (When Hercules and Leo first returned to New Iberia, they didn’t get along with the females they were housed with and had to be resocialized with a group of young males.)

Transporters also have to be mindful of the health of the apes, many of whom are geriatric and have been injected with hepatitis and HIV. “They’re very social and sensitive animals,” says NIH’s Anderson, who notes that many suffer from diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease. “Retirement has to be done in a safe way, because we owe a lot to these chimps.”

All this slows transfers. The largest one on record—when Save the Chimps, a nonprofit sanctuary based in Fort Pierce, Florida, accepted nearly 260 chimpanzees from a private New Mexico lab—took almost a decade and cost $5 million.

“Primadomes” housing chimps at New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. (FRANCOIS VILLINGER/NEW IBERIA RESEARCH CENTER)

Retire in place?

But retirement has been a long time coming, and critics say lab facilities should have prepared for it. Duke University’s Hare notes that a 1997 National Research Council report recommended a breeding moratorium, concluding that chimps had not proved as useful as expected for biomedical research. “The writing has been on the wall for 20 years.” Yet, Hare says, labs continued to insist the animals were needed, preventing sanctuaries from launching fundraising and construction. “It’s created a huge challenge for the sanctuary community,” agrees Save the Chimps Executive Director Molly Polidoroff.

Now, after the government has concluded the animals are not necessary for research, some labs still insist chimps are better off staying put. Neither the National Center for Chimpanzee Care (NCCC) at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Bastrop, Texas, nor the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico—which together house the 257 government-owned chimps not in sanctuaries—would speak to Science for this story. But NCCC Director Christian Abee told the Houston Chronicle in 2015 that half of his chimps were geriatric and not up to the stress of transport. He has advocated for retiring the animals at NCCC, citing their bond with the facility’s experienced care staff (and vice versa), as well as NCCC’s outdoor treehouses and playgrounds, which aren’t much different than those at some sanctuaries.

Some labs housing privately owned chimps agree. “[Our researchers] strongly believe the chimpanzees currently in our care are in the best possible environment,” Lisa Cruz, a spokesperson for the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, which houses 81 chimps, told the Chronicle in the same story. “Just because it’s a sanctuary, doesn’t mean it’s better for the chimp,” says Georgia State’s Hopkins. “Prove to me you’re making their lives happier.”

Proving happiness is a tall order. Renowned primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta says the small group housing found at many research facilities, with closely spaced geodesic dome habitats, “is a stress-causing design” because it forces chimps to hang out with, or at least see, animals they may want to avoid. De Waal says NCCC is as good as it gets for research chimps, but still doesn’t compare to facilities like Chimp Haven. “Whether the chimps are happier [at Chimp Haven] than elsewhere is another question,” he says. “They certainly look less agitated.”

NIH’s Anderson says his agency remains committed to transferring its animals. “They’re receiving great care at [NCCC], but we’ve made a commitment to move them to a federal sanctuary, and that’s a path they’re taking.”

Still, some say NIH, too, has lagged. A 2016 Government Accountability Office report found that the agency had not developed a clear plan for the transfer or effectively communicated its plans to lab facilities. Anderson says his agency needed time but now has a concrete plan. It will begin with the Alamogordo center, which now houses 126 chimps, before moving on to the 131 at NCCC. “We think a 10-year time frame for retiring all of these animals is realistic.”

A “villa” at the Project Chimps sanctuary in Morgantown, Georgia. The sanctuary hopes to eventually allow forest access. (PROJECT CHIMPS)

The waiting game

For the chimps in private hands, money rather than a government commitment may shape the future. With research funding no longer available and overhead payments from NIH dwindling, private facilities like Texas Biomed and Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, which houses 47 chimps, will have less and less financial incentive to keep their animals. Perhaps they’ll even help pay for sanctuary retirement. Or so people in the sanctuary movement hope.

Financial pressures were certainly at work in New Iberia’s decision. The research center’s director, Francois Villinger, says he sees the appeal of retiring his chimpanzees where they are, noting his facility’s large outdoor play areas and social groups of apes that have been stable for years. “When the Project Chimps staff came down here, they were surprised by how good the conditions were.” Yet New Iberia could no longer afford to pay for hundreds of chimps not being studied, he says, and did not want the public relations headache of keeping the animals.

He says New Iberia will do whatever it can to ease the transfer to Project Chimps. “It’s a beautiful and ideal property,” he says. “We just want to make sure they succeed.”

Project Chimps remains optimistic about the agreement, too. Financially, the sanctuary is now “solidly in the black,” says interim president Callison, and should have room for up to 100 chimpanzees within a year. The final phase of construction, slated for next year, should be able to accommodate the rest, he says. “It’s a balancing act between getting them out as quickly as possible and giving them the best environment,” he says. “We want to grow smart.”

He hopes the arrangement will serve as a model for other lab-sanctuary partnerships. It took many years to build trust with New Iberia, he says. “After decades of being on opposite sides of the issue, we’re finally working together.”

In the end, not all research chimpanzees will make it to a sanctuary. Dozens die every year from old age and illness. But, if all goes according to plan, youngsters like Hercules and Leo should live to move to Project Chimps. Indeed, says Villinger, they should be on their way in a few months.

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Do Apes Deserve ‘Personhood’ Rights? Lawyer Heads to N.Y. Supreme Court to Make Case

Reprinted from NBC News

When Steve Wise first started out as an animal rights lawyer, people used to bark at him when he entered a courtroom.

For more than 25 years, Wise has been arguing that animals who have cognitive complexities similar to humans should be legally endowed with basic rights of autonomy.

Now when he enters a courtroom, no one is barking.

On Thursday [9 March], Wise — who founded the Nonhuman Rights Project on behalf of the great apes, cetaceans and elephants — will go before the appellate division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Manhattan and argue that two of his clients, chimpanzees Kiko and Tommy, should be afforded the rights of “personhood.”

“‘Personhood’ is not synonymous with ‘humans.’ It is not now and never has been,” Wise told NBC News. “A ‘person’ is the law’s way of saying that entity has the capacity for rights. A ‘thing,’ which chimpanzees are now, don’t have capacity for any kind of rights.”

Wise is hoping to prove in the eyes of the court that chimpanzees and other great apes aren’t “things” but rather are autonomous beings that possess consciousness and deserve to live their lives to the fullest possible extent of that autonomy.

Tommy and Kiko

Wise has been fighting on behalf of Tommy and Kiko since 2013.

Since then, Wise has been running to and from court with habeas corpus cases for both chimpanzees, and while judges often sympathize with their cause, they’ve ultimately reject their pleas.

Despite representing the primates for the better part of four years, checking on their condition is a frustrating subject for the staff at Nonhuman Rights Project.

“We see them as clients of ours, but we can’t get a jail house visit or help them exercise a Sixth Amendment right,” said Kevin Schneider, executive director of Nonhuman Right Project. “They’re things, so we can’t barge in and see what’s going on.”

Image: Tommy, a chimpanzee in his late 30s, was kept in a cage behind the Circle L Trailer Sales in Gloversville, New York
Tommy, a chimpanzee in his late 30s, was kept in a cage behind the Circle L Trailer Sales in Gloversville, New York. Pennebaker Hegedus Films

Tommy, believed to be in his late 30s, is owned by Patrick Lavery. The chimpanzee lives in a cage of cement and green-painted steel behind Circle L Trailer Sales in Gloversville, New York, according to the Albany Times Union.

In 2013, Lavery told the Times Union that Tommy, although he was living without companionship, had enrichment in the form of television, cable and radio.

“To treat them as things destroys them,” Wise said. “The same way we would be destroyed in solitary confinement.”

In the 2016 HBO documentary “Unlocking the Cage,” which documents Wise’s fight to file habeas corpus petitions on behalf of chimpanzees in New York, Lavery is seen telling Wise he wants Tommy to be sent to a Florida farm because the ape is “lonely.” Wise later argues that the Florida farm is not a suitable environment for Tommy.

Kiko, believed to be in his early 30s, is a former animal actor, who was beaten so badly by his trainers, he’s partially deaf, according to Nonhuman Rights Project.

The chimpanzee now lives in the Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls, New York, which is operated by Carmen and Christie Presti. Nonhuman Rights Project alleges the sanctuary is run out of the Presti’s home, and the animals aren’t in a natural environment.

The Prestis and Lavery did not immediately respond to a request for comment made by NBC News.

A case about rights, not welfare

Although Wise and Schneider said the chimpanzees aren’t being kept in ideal conditions, they’re not alleging their owners have done anything wrong.

In fact, they said everything the Prestis and Lavery have done is entirely legal.

“We specifically say we are not alleging [the Prestis or Lavery] have violated any local, state or federal law,” Wise said. “What we’re saying is those laws are grossly insufficient and [the chimpanzees] should have right to bodily liberty. We’re not trying to protect their welfare, we’re trying to protect rights.”

Image: Steve Wise argues a case that chimpanzees deserve non-human rights in a New York Court
Steve Wise argues a case that chimpanzees deserve non-human rights in a New York Court. Unlocking The Cage / HBO

Wise said the only reason chimpanzees and other great apes are able to be kept in cages is because they are legally deemed “things.” The last time Wise was in court in 2015 — arguing on behalf of chimpanzees Hercules and Leo, who were kept at Stony Brook University on Long Island for research — the state argued the animal’s classification should remain just that.

“The reality is these are fundamentally different species. I worry about the diminishment of these rights in some way if we expand them beyond human beings,” Christopher Coulston, an assistant New York state attorney general said.

Coulston told New York State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe, that even though “personhood” is sometimes attributed to corporations and ships, those entities are “in some way related to human interests.”

“Whether it’s a corporation, whether it’s a ship that is treated as a legal person, we think that is the principle that has governed the assignment of legal personhood,” Coulston argued.

But Wise said society has come a long way since the apes were first deemed “things” and more than half a decade of studying great apes has revealed a wealth of knowledge about their intelligence and awareness.

“The reason we chose [great apes, elephants and cetaceans] is there’s an extraordinary amount of scientific observation— more than half a century — that’s been done,” Wise said. “Articles reveal they are extremely cognitively complex, similarly to the way we’re complex. ”

Scientists on their side

Although Wise is facing an uphill battle in the courtroom on Thursday, he has some of the foremost experts behind him as he heads to Manhattan.

This includes Jane Goodall, considered the premier expert on chimpanzees after more than five decades studying them in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania.

Goodall, who sits on the board of Nonhuman Rights Project, filed a 27-page affidavit on behalf of the chimpanzees along with several other experts. Wise said the case currently has 160 pages of expert affidavits filed on behalf of the chimpanzees.

Jaffe ruled against Wise’s case for Hercules and Leo, saying that, while she sympathized with their cause, she was bound by a decision made by a different New York judge. An appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court known as the Third Department had concluded that the chimpanzees did not meet the requirement for “personhood” because the apes did not carry out duties and responsibilities in society.

Wise then enlisted Goodall to write an affidavit that would challenge that decision.

She said that in her 50 years of observation, chimpanzees demonstrated “well-defined” duties and responsibilities, listing how communities care for each other and are responsible to one another through a host of examples.

But Wise is also arguing that while chimpanzees do exhibit responsibilities, they also don’t need to have responsibilities to deserve rights.

“What we’re doing is arguing that the Third Department was wrong in at least six different ways and that you don’t need to have duties in society in order to be a person and have legal rights,” he said.

Small steps forward

The last time Wise went before a judge to argue the case of Kiko and Tommy, no chimpanzee in the world had ever been granted nonhuman rights.

But that won’t be the case on Thursday.

In November 2016, Judge María Alejandra Maurico of Argentina ruled that a chimpanzee named Cecilia was a “nonhuman legal person” and agreed that the ape had “inherent rights.”

Two years earlier, the same judge deemed an orangutan named Sandra also deserved “personhood.”

Both apes were transferred to a sanctuary in Brazil to live as autonomously as possible with other animals in their species for the rest of their lives.

Wise and Schneider said they will be using Cecilia’s case as a tool to argue theirs and are hoping for a similar outcome.

“Assuming the court agrees [with us], we suggest [Kiko and Tommy] should be sent to Save the Chimps in Fort Pierce, Florida,” Wise said.

He said it’s at this 150-acre sanctuary the chimpanzees will be able to live out their lives to the maximum amount of autonomy possible for animals raised in captivity.

“We think [the court] is going to say, ‘You don’t need to have duties and responsibilities to not be enslaved,’ and remand that case to Justice Jaffe and say ‘Don’t look at Third Department’s decision; hold a hearing and decide the case,'” Wise said. “That’s what we think is more likely than other two extremes, but the court surprises us all the time. We’ve been wrong every time.”

Great Ape trafficking — an expanding extractive industry

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)

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)

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.

3_Paris_Hilton_Instagram
Paris Hilton holding an infant orangutan in Dubai, a known wildlife smuggling center. Photos like this on social media create the impression that it is trendy to keep ape pets. Photo via Instagram.

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.

4. naming
Publishing the names of online traffickers simply drives them underground where they can no longer be easily monitored. Composite of images found on Instagram.

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.

5. For sale
Traffickers commonly post apes for sale online to solicit buyers. Image via Instagram.

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.

7b. cage
In Thailand, a large crocodile farm and zoo uses infant chimpanzees and orangutans as photo props, then cages them up for life when they get too old. Photos by Daniel Stiles.

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.

9. Doodoo in Giza
Today Doodoo languishes in a rusting cage because the Egyptian CITES authorities refuse to allow him to go to a proper sanctuary. Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya has offered to pay all expenses to relocate him there, to join five other chimpanzees that were rescued from Egyptian traffickers in 2005. Photo by Dina Zulfikar.
8. Doodoo
Doodoo with a zoo veterinarian shortly after he was brought to the Giza Zoo. He was found in the carry-on luggage of a trafficker smuggling him to Kuwait. Photo by Dina Zulfikar.

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.”

10. Safaga
The wildlife breeding facility in Sharm el Sheikh is on the grounds of this hotel. When the author visited it in November 2014 he witnessed the purchase of three addax, loaded in the crate in the back of the pickup truck. Addax are listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN and are CITES Appendix I. No addax are reported exported from Egypt in 2014 or 2015, although 12 are from other countries. Photo by Daniel Stiles.

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.”

Overlooked Fact

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.”

11. mothers
All hominid mothers are incredibly protective of their children. Photos by GRASP and Daniel Stiles.

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.

12. Sweetwaters
Chimpanzees are free to roam and socialize as they wish in Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Although Sweetwaters can take 30 or more additional chimpanzees, this is not sufficient to handle all those currently held as a result of illegal trade. Photo by Daniel Stiles.

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.

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The Orangutan Show at a safari park in the suburbs of Bangkok, Thailand, has been making use of trafficked great apes from Indonesia for years. Thai law prohibits these performances, which include boxing matches, and dozens of orangutans have even been seized and returned to Indonesia, but the safari park replaces them and carries on. There is no system of registration and monitoring in place, which would prevent such abuses. Photos by Daniel Stiles.

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.

First Time in World History a Judge Recognizes Chimpanzees as Legal Persons

In a landmark decision, the Nonhuman Rights Project has won the first step in granting habeas corpus to a nonhuman species. The court’s ruling effectively recognizes chimpanzees as “legal persons”. A court hearing will be held in May to decide if the decision can survive the State of New York’s response that there exists a legally sufficient reason to continue imprisoning the two chimpanzees.

If chimpanzees are considered to be “legal persons” in New York state, the repercussions would be great. Legal challenges could be launched across the United States to prohibit chimpanzees being owned as pets (orangutans already are), to be freed from zoos, circuses and safari parks, and to no longer be used in entertainment. There are more than two thousand chimpanzees in the U.S..

The implications are daunting. Where would they all go?

The article follows:

Judge Recognizes Two Chimpanzees as Legal Persons, Grants them Writ of Habeas Corpus

April 20, 2015 – New York, NY – For the first time in history a judge has granted an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a nonhuman animal. This afternoon, in a case brought by the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe issued an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, who are being used for biomedical experimentation at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York.

Under the law of New York State, only a “legal person” may have an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus issued in his or her behalf. The Court has therefore implicitly determined that Hercules and Leo are “persons.”

A common law writ of habeas corpus involves a two-step process. First, a Justice issues the order to show cause and a writ of habeas corpus, which the Nonhuman Rights Project then serves on Stony Brook University. The writ requires Stony Brook University, represented by the Attorney General of New York, to appear in court and provide a legally sufficient reason for detaining Hercules and Leo. The Court has scheduled that hearing for May 6, 2015, though it may be moved to a later day in May.

The NhRP has asked that Hercules and Leo be freed and released into the care of Save the Chimps, a sanctuary in Ft. Pierce, Florida. There they will spend the rest of their lives primarily on one of 13 artificial islands on a large lake in Ft. Pierce, Florida along with 250 other chimpanzees in an environment as close to that of their natural home in Africa as can be found in North America. In the second step of the process, the Court will determine whether the reason given by Stony Brook is legally sufficient, or whether Hercules and Leo should be freed.

Hercules and Leo’s suit was originally filed in the Supreme Court of Suffolk County in December, 2013. A Justice of that Court refused to issue the requested writ of habeas corpus, and the Appellate Division, Second Department, dismissed the appeal on the ground that the NhRP lacked the right to appeal.

In the belief that both courts erred, the Nonhuman Rights Project respectfully re-filed its petition for an order to show cause and writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Hercules and Leo in March, 2015, in the New York County Supreme Court in Manhattan, which led to today’s decision.

In two similar cases on behalf of two other chimpanzees, Tommy and Kiko, the Nonhuman Rights Project has filed Motions for Leave to Appeal to New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. Decisions in both cases are pending.

 

Freedom a step closer: Argentina gives orangutan human rights

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Sandra pictured at the Buenos Aires Zoo. Marcos Brindicci/Reuters

In a landmark court decision, an Argentine court has recognized that an orangutan unlawfully imprisoned in a Buenos Aires zoo is a “non-human person” and thus entitled to habeas corpus rights. Argentina has shown itself to be more enlightened than the United States in recognizing the principle that all members of the biological family Hominidae should enjoy basic hominid rights.

The Guardian reports:

An orangutan held in an Argentinian zoo can be freed and transferred to a sanctuary after a court recognized the ape as a “non-human person” unlawfully deprived of its freedom, local media reported on Sunday.

Animal rights campaigners filed a habeas corpus petition – a document more typically used to challenge the legality of a person’s detention or imprisonment – in November on behalf of Sandra, a 29-year-old Sumatran orangutan at the Buenos Aires zoo.

In a landmark ruling that could pave the way for more lawsuits, the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights (Afada) argued the ape had sufficient cognitive functions and should not be treated as an object.

The court agreed Sandra, born into captivity in Germany before being transferred to Argentina two decades ago, deserved the basic rights of a “non-human person”.

“This opens the way not only for other Great Apes, but also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories,” the daily La Nacion newspaper quoted Afada lawyer Paul Buompadre as saying.

Sandra’s case is not the first time activists have sought to use the habeas corpus writ to secure the release of wild animals from captivity.

A US court this month tossed out a similar bid for the freedom of Tommy the chimpanzee, privately owned in New York state, ruling the chimp was not a “person” entitled to the rights and protections afforded by habeas corpus.

In 2011, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) filed a lawsuit against marine park operator Sea World, alleging five wild-captured orca whales were treated like slaves. A San Diego court dismissed the case.

Orangutan is a word from the Malay and Indonesian languages that means “forest man”.

The Buenos Aires zoo has 10 working days to seek an appeal.

A spokesman for the zoo declined to comment to Reuters. The zoo’s head of biology, Adrian Sestelo, told La Nacion that orangutans were by nature calm, solitary animals which come together only to mate and care for their young.

“When you don’t know the biology of a species, to unjustifiably claim it suffers abuse, is stressed or depressed, is to make one of man’s most common mistakes, which is to humanize animal behaviour,” Sestelo said.

Read the original article here.