Category Archives: Thailand

Anatomy of a Sting: Postscript

Tom, Joe and all the rest of the wildlife traffickers who use social media platforms to market nature’s bounty are still out there, operating almost with impunity. U.S. law gives Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and all of the other Internet service providers immunity from responsibility for whatever third-party users post, even if it breaks the law, because of Section 230 in the Communications Decency Act.

A compounding problem to putting a stop to the rape of nature that exotic pet trade epitomizes is the fact that most countries consider wildlife crime relatively unimportant. Even though the Royal Thai Police put a lot of effort into pulling off the Kid Op sting, the prosecutor’s office apparently did not think the case important enough to investigate further and gather all the evidence needed for a court case. For example, who was “Joe” at Samutprakarn, who supposedly owned the orangutan infants?

Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm & Zoo, not far from Bangkok, is a horror show of abused animals, including an endless string of baby orangutans, chimpanzees and tigers that pass through there, used as photo props and for degrading performances for fee-paying visitors. There are several similar facilities in Thailand that rake in money from the suffering of wildlife, most of which originate in the wild from criminal capture. Were the ‘kids’ held at Samutprakarn from the time they arrived in the Bangkok area up to their seizure in the sting of 21st December? We will probably never know.

Samutprakarn often keeps orangutan or chimp juveniles chained to the floor to attract visitors.

The seized kids were named Nobita and Shizuka and are still, three years after their seizure, being held at the Khao Prathap Chang Wildlife Breeding Centre in Ratchaburi province. At the time of the sting funds were available for their repatriation to Sumatra, where they were originally captured, but three years later those funds are gone. I was repeatedly told they could be relocated to a sanctuary when the case was closed. There never was a case.

Nobita and Shizuka are still at the Thai government facility three years after their seizure. (Photo courtesy of Edwin Wiek)

Anatomy of a Sting – Part II

PART II – Nick and Tom

After coming to a dead-end as David with Tom, I decided to try another tack. I contacted a friend in Thailand whom I’d worked with previously on illegal wildlife trade investigations and asked her if she would assist with this online exotic pet probe. I’ll call her Noi, the fake name we agreed to use. She agreed. I gave her instructions of how to approach Tom using private messaging through the @exoticpetworld IG account. The account had recently posted this orangutan infant:

Noi made first contact:


 

I did not suggest that Noi describe the New York Times journalist and I as a ‘homo couple’, she came up with that herself. I only told her to say that two men who lived together in Phuket wanted an orangutan pet. Phuket is an island in the south of Thailand. I’d been there earlier in 2016 and saw two newly arrived infant orangutans at the local zoo that were being used as photo props, so thought that using them would be a good cover story.


 

Here he was asking about the zoo license again, so it appears that this is standard operating procedure. I wondered now whether some of this exotic animal supplier’s clients used zoos as a cover for illegal import. I knew that Thailand had some notorious private zoos such as Samutprakarn Crocodile Park & Zoo, Bangkok Safari World and Pata Zoo that had wild animals coming and going in and out of their facilities, often under questionable circumstances.

 

Exoticpetworld now sent six photos of orangutans and chimps, all from old Exoticpet88 posts. He told Noi that one was $12,000, including delivery to Thailand. He gave the name of his Thai associate and a Bangkok Bank savings account number into which I should deposit the down payment. Noi replied:


 

Tom of Exoticpetworld wanted the 50% deposit as a guarantee that this was not a ‘snooper’ operation or sting. He was calling the deal an ‘adoption’, to disguise the fact that it was an international commercial transaction and therefore illegal, as all CITES Appendix I cross-border trades require export and import permits, not to mention veterinary certificates, Customs clearances and tax declarations on profits. Noi thought that the apes might already be in Thailand. I asked Noi to send him a message in Thai asking this, which she did on 12th November. He answered with a ‘?’, which indicated that he wasn’t Thai and could not understand it. Noi asked Tom how delivery of the ‘kid’ could be made. He replied:


 

Tom was pressuring Noi to speak on the phone, but she was afraid she would blow it and refused. I asked her to try to set up a meeting on 18th November in Bangkok to inspect the orangutan. The NYT journalist was ready to hop on a plane once I had everything set up.

 

I decided that it was time to go to Thailand. I emailed Edwin Wiek of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand to explain the sting operation and asked if his rescue centre could take the orangutans after seizure, but he never replied. I was in communications with the Freeland Foundation, based in Bangkok, and they agreed to organize Thai police involvement and collaborate in the sting. They had done this type of thing previously with a slow loris trafficking gang.

I arrived in Bangkok on 16th November, bought a local Thai mobile network SIM card and contacted Tom’s +855 81 number via WhatsApp:

Nick: Hello I am person who asked anxxxxxxxx32 to look for orangutan for adoption

[Next day]

Nick:: Helloooo anybody home?

Tom: Hello sir

Nick: Oh you’re so polite, that’s nice. I’m just so tired going through Noi to agree on getting our lovely new kid. I talked it over with my partner and he is so suspicious and careful he’s like an old lady. Is there anything you can do to make him believe you will give us the baby when we deposit the money? We don’t know you or even where you are. Maybe you will run away with our money. You know there are lots of people who do nasty things like that. I’m not saying you do. I hope you understand. We really want to get Otan as soon as possible, we even bought baby clothes already

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nick: Not really. Yes I know. But we would really look after it like a real child. I googled all kinds of things about what orangutans eat, what kind of diseases they get and all kinds of things. Our house girl will bath it every day. Any advice you have please tell me

Tom: They are easy to take care . but sometimes they could get moody …just like kid.
Tom: Are you now in phuket ?

Nick: We had a cat for a really long time but it ran away. It was really moody. We don’t mind moody. Yes am in Phuket

Tom: I got a good friend in phuket . he’s retired wealthy aussie hippie .may be I should arrange a meeting with him to confirm you and me are legit person .

Nick: Let me ask my partner, he’s a shy guy. Where in Phuket does hippy live? Can we meet him in Patong?

Tom: Let ask if he’s in phuket now . where are you guys from ?

Nick: I’m from Canada my partner is an American. But he is very nice for an American not noisy and pushy like those foul rednecks that support Trump

Tom: Trump is a cancer

Nick: Worse

Tom: Sorry buts no other word .

Nick: Trump hates people like me

Tom: My brother used to study at [name of school] in Vancouver .

[I had never heard of the school, but googled it and replied]:

Nick: Oh wow!! That’s a good art school. Is he doing design? What kind?

Tom: Film director

Nick: Exciting! What kind of films?

Tom: Very indie
Tom: Let me call u tonight , sir

Nick: Best kind. Ok will talk later I have to go out now anyway

Tom: Ok

[Next day]

Nick: Good morning
Nick: Helloooo

Tom: Hello sir
Tom: I have spoken to my friend in phuket but he’s in Dubai now

Nick: Ecuse my delay I was swimming. So what do we do?

Tom: Instagram : XXXXXXXX007 [It was an Instagram account of a very wealthy Thai man who owned a chimpanzee pet. He seemed to be a jet-setter who travelled to Europe and the U.S. with his pretty girlfriend and he owned some very expensive cars. There was no indication on his Instagram or Facebook account of whether he worked or not and there was nothing that suggested he was in the exotic animal business. Maybe Tom had sold him the chimp].

[Next day]

Tom: Hello

Nick: Good morning Tom how are you?

Tom: This afternoon I will send you photos of one boy n one girl for you to decide .
Tom: You have seen that one IG account I sent you last night, Nick ?

Nick: Yes I looked the chimp looked big but nice and he seemed very happy

Tom: Yah . he’s very lucky ape.

Nick: I’m so excited can’t wait to see photos

Tom: Ok.
Tom: Here we go , Sir

Tom sent these:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nick: Incredible!!! When can we see?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom: Balance upon health check at local vet .

Nick: Ok will let you know asap

Tom: Thank you , Sir
Tom: My suggestion is as a couple if you may want to breed them .

Nick: Oh I never thought of that. Another thing to discuss. My partners not here now I’ll see him in a couple of hours but will let you know tonight cause I don’t want them going to China

Tom: Noted

Nick: To save time I’m going to see my partner I know where he is
Nick: I sent him the photos he’s thrilled!

Tom: Ok.

[Tom called me on WhatsApp audio to warn me not to share the photos or discuss what we were doing with anyone. I told him I wouldn’t. He asked me where I came from in Canada, I told him a small town in Alberta. He wanted to know if I would pay the 50% deposit, I said I would ask my partner. I contacted the NYT journalist and asked him what name he wanted to use. He said ‘Jeffrey’. We resumed on WhatsApp text]:

Nick: Don’t worry not sharing or telling ANYBODY

Tom: Thank you

Nick: Am so tired. Jeffrey insists since we don’t have any assurance that the kids would be delivered that he’s only willing to deposit $1000. Or if they are not too far away we could go and take money with us. We see them, pay 50% and see them shipped to Phuket. Sorry he’s very difficult

Tom: Completely understood from your point of view although if the kids are local and native in Thailand then we can do like jeffry said . but they are not local breeded and have to be shipped to Bkk from far away so since this is our first contact it’s not easy for both of us .
Tom: Are you guys looking for one or a couple ?

Nick: We decided on two, depending. Are the girl and boys related? Or different parents? If unrelated we can take girl and boy. This might make them more stable when they get older. Assuming they get along (:

Tom: They are from different parent and not related .
Tom: Let me figure what is the most fairest solutuon for both of us ,Sir .

Nick: Ok take your time

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom: I will keep them both for you .

Nick: Thank you tom you are very kind

Tom: My pleasure . i believe you and jeffey will take good care of them .

Nick: Promise

Tom: Hi Nicolas . I have spoken to my breeder on your terms . This is the best thing I can work out with him . he will accept 100,000 THB deposit for one couple of male and female . once they arrived bkk we can go to see the vet together . after the health check you could pay the balance . then you could either take them direct back to phuket or we can arrange shipping for you . please discuss with Jeffry and let me know please .this is the best solution I can come across with him .
Tom: If placing deposit tomorrow you can come to Bkk next Friday for pick up , Sir .

Nick: Deposit is in bank in Bangkok the one you gave before?

Tom: Yes , Sir .

Nick: Tomorrow Sunday will do Monday

Tom: Ok
Tom: Thank you for trusting me

[I did not want to turn over any money to wildlife traffickers for ethical and legal reasons. But previous negotiations with wildlife traffickers always ended at this point. Not a single one would agree to meet for an “inspection” or any other reason I could think of using as a cover story, without money up front first. Without a physical meeting it was impossible to set up a sting.
I discussed it both with my project sponsors and with people at Freeland. Thai baht 100,000 was about USD 2,850. Was it worth that much to put a major wildlife trafficker out of business? When trying to set up the sting in Indonesia I had been in communications with an Indonesian NGO. They had pulled off a sting that netted two traffickers, but it had cost $3,000 in lost deposit money.
Tom said he was coming personally to Bangkok and that we would meet. Freeland assured me that he would be arrested in the veterinarian’s office when the health check was made and the transaction concluded. Tom would be caught red-handed with the orangutan infants and cash payment, open-and-shut case. Jeffrey the NYT journalist would be there to witness and write about the whole affair. I wrote my sponsor that it was “high risk, high gain”. He replied, “Go for it.”]

[Next day]

Tom: Kids are already on the move to Bkk , Sir .

Nick: Fantastic. Where do we meet in Bangkok Friday?

Tom: I will inform you again which doctor my agent will be contacting.
[The ‘doctor’ was the vet who would do the health inspection. We needed to know as early as possible who this would be and where he was located in order to arrange the details of the sting.]

Nick: Ok

Tom: You have to prepare and start buying powder milk and other baby stuffs

Nick: Will do. Any special kind?

Tom: Any baby milk will do the job

[I flew to Phuket so I could deposit the down payment in a Phuket bank, strengthening my cover story.]

[Next day]

Tom: Please do send me your bank deposit slip once payment has being instructed, Sir .

[I haggled more with Tom, trying to get out of making a bank deposit. We’d brought on board a Thai staff member of Freeland, a retired senior Royal Thai Police officer, to act as a contact in Bangkok with a Thai associate of Tom’s, the man in whose bank account I was supposed to make the down payment deposit. I said a ‘friend’ (the Freeland Thai staff member) would leave the 100,000 baht cash at the vet’s office, as we needed to know where it was. Tom was not pleased.]

Tom: Please tell your friend you are not getting baby hamster from a zoo shop.

Nick: Oh Tom I’m so sorry I tried to convince him but he says if deposit left with your vet then no risk to you.

Tom: I understand you friend s idea but also the things is no vet would to get involve in this kind of business .
Tom: How do you want me to proceed , dear Nicolas .
Tom: Seller could disappear with money…no objection but also buyer could reject to take as well. This happend to be few times with Arab peoples.
Tom: I am a good Muslims

[Two more facts learned about Tom, he was not Arab and he was Muslim. This pointed more strongly than ever to him being Indonesian or Malaysian. He also admitted that ‘this kind of business’ was so shady that no veterinarian would get involved in it.]

Nick: I want to be fair of course. I’ve been arguing with my ex friend and Jeffrey about it. We won’t reject if kids are healthy. Even if they have small health problem we can still take if it’s treatable. Are you with kids?

Tom: No , Sir . I don’t have them with me . should I have my agent to call you thai friend and work out somethings ?

Nick: I thought you were coming with them and would meet us in vets office in Bangkok? No?

Tom: Yes ,we will meet .
Tom: But I want to solve the deposit issue at first cuz they are already on the way.
Tom: Otherwise I have to return them back first until things are set .

Nick: My friend said he can talk to your agent but he’d prefer doing tomorrow is that alright? Maybe he can give deposit to him

Tom: Ok

[I received an email from Freeland informing me that they had prepared a confidential report for me containing ‘closed-source and open-source information’ to help me decide on the best course of action. They would give it to me at a meeting we had scheduled in the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in a couple of days. Freeland also wanted a screenshot of my communications with Tom to pass on to the Natural Resources Environmental Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police that they could use to open a case file. I sent a few which showed Tom giving the prices and asking for a 50% deposit.]

[Next day]

Nick: Good morning. What number should my friend call? He has agreed to pay the deposit for me. I’m coming to bkk tomorrow

Tom: Ok. Let me get his number for you .
Tom: It’s +66 651xxxxxx.
Tom: His name is Ton

Nick: Ok wonderful. My friend is Kuhn Lee, I’ll pass on number

Tom: Ok
Tom: Jelly fish

Nick: What?
[What did jelly fish mean? Was it some sort of code word, or just a typo? I sent Ton’s number to Freeland’s Thai undercover staff, whom we’re calling Kuhn Lee (Mr. Lee). Lee called Ton’s number and was told that now the ‘kids’ were arriving Sunday, not Friday as previously agreed.]

Nick: Lee said kids arriving Sunday now what happened?

Tom: It’s always five working days after receiving the deposit .
Tom: And we don’t have transport connection everyday .
Tom: Today is Tuesday afternoon and I am still waiting for your deposit .
Tom: Kids were send off Sunday evening but last night I let them stop before crossing border

Nick: I don’t know why Lee didn’t make arrangements to pay deposit with Ton I asked him to do that. Lee is a bit difficult sometimes. Lee says he will give 100,000 cash to Ton after work tomorrow. Could they meet in bkk somewhere? Because kids not coming until Sunday I won’t come until Friday now

Tom: You got the bank account , Sir.

Nick: Ah ok he puts in bank. Ok I’ll tell him

Tom: Thank you

[Now, what to do? I had come to Phuket to establish my cover, but hadn’t had to prove it yet, Tom did not seem concerned where I was. I decided that if a bank deposit had to be made, I might as well do it here in Phuket.]

[Next day]

Nick: Good morning Tom I hope you are doing fine. I decided to deposit the 100,000 baht myself here in Phuket. What day will the kids arrive? I hope soon. You said they were already almost here. I don’t want the kids to suffer too much in a car or whatever. Is someone feeding them properly and giving them water? Can you send a photo so I can see they are alright. Jeffrey wants to see. Thank you

Tom: Hi Nicolas . if receiving your deposit today they should be in bkk on Monday at latest and don’t worry they are all well treated.they stop over near Malaysian border at my courier farm .please notify me once you paid in so I can continue the trip .

Nick: Why does it take so long if they are so close?

Tom: Malaysia Indonesia border

[I looked at a map to reconfirm what I thought – there is no land border between Malaysia and Indonesia, except on Borneo island.]

Nick: There isn’t one what do you mean?
Nick: You mean on Borneo?

Tom: No

Nick: Where else is there a border?

Tom: You are asking typical snooper question .

Nick: Tom I’m not a snooper but you’re saying strange things. I’m not stupid
[I was beginning to worry that this was a deposit scam, not unusual in the nefarious world of wildlife trafficking. Many animal photo ads on e-commerce or social media sites were simply just downloaded from the Internet, the person posting the photo did not actually have the animal. After receiving the deposit, the ‘seller’ was never heard from again.]

Nick: I’m in front of the Patong Bangkok bank right now I can even send you photo. It doesn’t open until 10

Tom: No problem
Tom: It’s just few minutes
Tom: Call me
Tom: Bad signal

Nick: Yes

Tom: There are no land border
Tom: But by boat

Nick: Except in Borneo I know my geography

Tom: Johor baru
[This was at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula opposite Singapore island. The otans must be coming from Borneo or Java, if they were actually passing through Johor Baru.]

Nick: You promise on the Prophet (peace be upon him) that you send kids? You said you’re a good Muslim

Tom: Yes , Sir
Tom: I promise

Nick: Ok thank you Tom I’ll deposit now. I’ll have $17,150 for you in cash in Bangkok. Give me address when you can of where we meet. We will take kids there I’ve arranged transport
Nick: You want cash right?

[I hoped the offer of this much cash would be enough to lure Tom to Bangkok.]

Tom: Ok

Nick: Can we use your cage or we buy one to bring?

Tom: No cage
Tom: They go in basket
Tom: I will arrange for u

Nick: Ok am in bank waiting for person

Tom: Ok

Nick: Here is deposit receipts


Tom: Ok. Thank you .
Tom: No need to worry , Sir . see you on Monday .

Nick: Thank you my friend
[I felt terrible depositing that money for the use of wildlife traffickers, but the thought of putting them out of business gave me the motivation to do it and carry on. The Exoticpet88 gang had captured and sold thousands of endangered animals and birds from at least 2012 up to now, and Tom’s IG account was posting animals for sale again, such as the pair of orangutan infants below. Were these the two ‘kids’ now on their way to Bangkok?]


[I returned to Bangkok and that night met with Freeland people at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club. They did not give me the report as promised, which apparently contained useful information, because of reservations held by Khun Lee. I was told they would give me the report when the case was closed. What good would it do me then? This was the first of several seemingly counter-productive and illogical acts by Khun Lee.
The Royal Thai Police were on board and we would hold a strategy session in a couple of days to lay out the detailed roles of each person. Jeffrey had made arrangements to fly to Bangkok on Friday.]

[Next day]

Tom: Expect your kids to be in bkk on Sunday at latest .
Tom: Will update .
Tom: Be prepared so sleepless night ….

Nick: Thank you thank you I was going to contact you tomorrow I didn’t want to hound you. We still meet Monday?

Tom: I think yes
Tom: Let me keep you up to date every evening
Tom: Should be OK

Nick: I’m so excited! I can’t wait. Thank you so much

Tom: Did you bought milk and etc.
Tom: Hot water boiler
Tom: Pampers
Tom: Three or four milk bottles
Tom: They will need the bottles every three or four hours

Nick: Not yet but now you reassured me so we will. I looked at pampers (we call them diapers) but not sure which ones to get

Tom: I will get for you
Tom: They are about 3-4 KGs
Tom: So it new born size

Nick: There are also different formulas for different ages, will buy the ones for 1 year old. Ok for pampers small ones

Tom: Welcome sleepless night …. For the next few months …
Tom: Yes
Tom: I think it’s fine

Nick: Oh dear I hope they don’t cry like human babies

Tom: Not like that…..
Tom: Worse…. Hahaha….
Tom: Just kidding

[I was bonding well with Tom, building trust, he seemed as excited as I was pretending to be about the imminent ‘adoption’ of my new kids.]

Nick: Whew good. NO oh good kidding.

Tom: I always enjoy watching them sleeping

Nick: We can’t wait.

Tom: Yah ….

Nick: Should they sleep in a baby crib or what?

Tom: I know that feeling
Tom: No need
Tom: Mine always use to sleep with me n my wife has n the same bed

[More information about Tom, he owned otans himself and he was married.]

Nick: Really? Ok we’ll try that

Tom: My wife will buy some nice baby dress for your kids .
Tom: They will bond to you and jeffey for the next couple of years

Nick: Oh thank you Tom that’s so kind of you. Jeffrey and I have been talking about what to get you
Nick: We’ll spend lots of time with them and hug them a lot

Tom: No need Sir . me n my wife will come to visit your kids in phuket from time to time .
Tom: Speak you tomorrow .
Tom: Yah ….
Tom: Happy happy

Nick: Ok sleep well
[I had to remind myself that this character was responsible for the capture of innumerable orangutan and gibbon babies in the forests of Southeast Asia and selling them into slavery, not to mention all of the other animals and birds from all over the world that showed up on their IG pages. I wanted to see him behind bars.
Freeland emailed me, they found the Facebook account of the person who owned the bank account I’d deposited the down payment into. They had his address as well.]


[The police had obtained the bank records of the ATM use of the bank account owner and it showed that within 24 hours the entire 100,000 baht had been withdrawn.]

[Next day]

Nick: Hello Tom any news?
Tom: On the way , Sir
Nick: Ok thanks

[Next day]

Tom: Your kids are now at Malaysia/Thailand border waiting for transfer courier
Tom: If lucky then tonight ID not tmr

Nick: Oh my!! Can’t wait!! Thank you Tom!!

Tom: Please book your flight after my confirmation . no need to book in advance , Sir

Nick: ok

Tom: Also you told me you want to take back your kids by yourself ?

Nick: Yes we’ve hired a car and driver in bkk

Tom: Are they any control on the way back to phuket ?
Tom: How many hours drive ?

Nick: Not that I know of but even if there is we can put a blanket over kids. I heard 12 hours

Tom: Ok

[Next day]

Nick: Hello Tom how are things going?

Tom: If my courier can cross border in to Thailand tonight it will arrive Bangkok tomorrow . he is checking if his border officer he work with has got his shift today , Sir . if he can cross he will call me and I will inform you ASAP.

[Aha! Another key bit of info, they had a corrupt Thai border officer working with them, this was common practice with wildlife and other illegal product smugglers.]

Nick: Ok good luck but come soon! Jeffrey is going crazy
[As was I, I had to leave Thailand soon as I had another operation underway on another continent that absolutely required my presence on 30th November. It was now the 27th. Jeffrey and I went to Bangkok Safari World this morning and I introduced him to the orangutan show, in which thin, bedraggled orangutans simulated a rock band, with a bikini-clad go-go dancer, and a boxing show. On the taxi drive out Jeffrey was on the phone with a Congolese army general he was interviewing for a story on Joseph Kabila, the DRC president. The general knew that Kabila kept a pet chimpanzee at his farm outside of Kinshasa, in answer to a question Jeffrey threw in at my prompting.]


[That night we held a strategy session in my hotel room with three Freeland staff – R. and two former senior Thai Royal Police officers (E. and Khun Lee) – a current member of the Natural Resources Environmental Crime Suppression Division (whom Jeffrey dubbed Inspector X), a cameraman to record everything, Jeffrey and myself.]

“Khun Lee” had drawn up an organizational chart of the actors and locations for the strategy meeting, but it made no sense to me and had nothing to do with what we needed to do when the exchange meeting would be held in the vet’s office.

Inspector X, designated to make the arrest, the cameraman and “Khun Lee” in my hotel room.

[Next day]

Nick: Good morning Tom hope you are well. Jeffrey and I are In Bangkok now did it go well at the border?

Tom: Hi . tonight I will arrive thai side . may be my agent can let you video chat with you boy and girl .
Tom: Do you have Skype ID ?

Nick: I don’t have Skype but maybe I could create an account. We can meet tomorrow then?

Tom: Yes , pls create one . tentative arrival is tomorrow morning in bkk .

Nick: So excited can’t wait. So we meet tomorrow we don’t want to stay in Bangkok. What time?

Tom: Tonight my courier will inform when they start departure . where do you stay in bkk ?

Nick: We’re in sukhumvit

Tom: Ok

Nick: Nana area

Tom: You can send me your address and location my courier will come to see you there and bring the kids .

Nick: You said we meet to get health check

Tom: Yes , he will take you to see the vet together .

Nick: So he doesn’t bring kids here? Don’t think we can bring into hotel

Tom: No problem . can go in with baskets . which hotel is it ?

Nick: [name of hotel]

Tom: Oh …they got nice congee.
Tom: It’s next to soi nana .

Nick: Haha! Yes I tried it. This morning I had nasi goreng

Tom: Great . so late late tonight I will update , Sir .

Nick: Wonderful we await your call with baited breath

Tom: Waiting for courier

Nick: Oh where are they?

Tom: Hatyai
[This was disappointing as Hat Yai was only just across the Malaysian border in southern Thailand.]

Nick: So far! So we meet tomorrow

[Tom sent this photo now. The date and time were correct]:


Tom: Hi . my local courier just tried to contact you on your mobile .
Tom: What’s your room number , Sir . he wanted to stop by and explain you how to meet and how to take care of your kids .

Nick: Am out to dinner with Jeffrey will be back at hotel in about an hour

Tom: Ok, let know when you are back . what’s your room number ?
[I couldn’t give him my room number as then he could check the name of the occupant and discover my real identity.]

Nick: We meet in lobby not room

Tom: Ok
Tom: Is it possible to have noi coordinate with my man because his English is not good .
Tom: My agent
[Tom sent a photo of his agent. He didn’t look Thai, more Central Asian or Middle Easterner.]

Nick: Noi is not here we’ll just meet him now in Hxxxxxxx bar we’re there
Nick: He goes into lobby and take elevator to B level

Tom: Let contact him again , Sir . he said he went to front desk and asking for Mr. Nicolas Shies but they couldn’t find you on the check in database so he left .

Nick: Well we are here. My name is not Schies
Nick: Or shies
[I had scribbled a fake name on the bank deposit slip.]

Tom: Ok. It was shown on the paying slip so I told him to ask for you sir .
Tom: Your kids will leave tonight around midnight and will probably get in late afternoon , Sir .
Tom: You brought milk and other stuffs or should he buy for you ?

Nick: Is the courier coming?
Nick: He doesn’t need to do anything
[Tom was trying to establish what we looked like and if we were real before making the delivery meet.]

Tom: I am trying to call him now
Tom: I couldn’t get through his number so I think he is on the way back home .if you don’t see him at the lobby waiting then tomorrow.
Tom: When kids arrive I will notify you , Sir .

Nick: Ok we wanted to buy him a beer

Tom: Haha very kind . I will have some beers in phuket soon with you two . havent been there for so long .
Tom: In fact hatyai is on your way back to phuket , isn’t ?

[Tom called now at 10;30 p.m. by normal mobile phone service and asked me if I wanted the kids delivered to Phuket. I said that Jeffrey and I were in Bangkok now and we had a car and driver already booked, plus we wanted the kids’ health cleared by a vet before paying the balance and taking delivery. I asked if Tom was going to meet us in the morning at the vet’s office with the kids. He said Ton his agent would get hold of us in the morning with instructions.
It was after 11 p.m. on 28th November, I had to leave the next night to go where I needed to be on the 30th. Jeffrey and I discussed it in the hotel bar, wondering if Tom’s agent wasn’t still around. I went to Thailand thinking that the exchange meet could be made on the 18th. Ten days later it looked like I would not be part of the sting. Jeffrey had to leave the night of 1st December to be at a Bar Mitzvah in Chicago, his home town, on 3rd December. I sent Tom another WhatsApp message.]

Nick: Tom I’ve been talking this over with Jeffrey and we decided you’re playing games with us. You keep changing the story. We have to meet tomorrow and take the kids. We have the money so let’s just do this
[No reply. At 11;30 p.m. I sent another message.]
Nick: Tom can we talk?
[No reply]

[Next day, 29 November]

[I called Tom’s number in the morning, no reply. I had to leave that night so decided that it was too late for me to take any active part. I informed Freeland that they should try to conclude the sting either today or on the 30th with Jeffrey in the vet’s office, as originally agreed. I turned over my Thailand SIM card to Freeland for them to continue using it for communications with Tom, which of course could only be text messages. That afternoon I received an email from R. my contact at Freeland:

Hi Xxxx,

Just wanted to let you know they we will actively pursue the case through Mr. Lee. We hope the fish will take the bait and we have a successful resolution to this case.

Will keep you updated with all ongoings.

Kind regards,

R.

I replied that I was still keenly interested in the case and would be willing to help out any way that I could, and for them to keep me updated.

A few hours later I was in a plane flying to Africa, hoping that Freeland could pull off the sting with Jeffrey present.]

End of Part II

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Wild, not captive-bred

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

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

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

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

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

International Circus in Zhuhai, China. Photo by anonymous source

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

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

Traumatized “photo props” and performers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The scale of the trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Traversing the legal landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creative solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Infant orangutans rescued in police sting

PEGAS has obtained the inside story of a joint Thai police and Freeland sting on a major wildlife trafficking network operating in South East Asia.

In police custody after the sting.

In police custody after the sting.

The Bangkok Post reported on 24th December that two baby orangutans had been seized and a trafficker arrested in Bangkok. The press report and a video story put out by the Associated Press stated that undercover police officers had arranged to buy the babies using a mobile phone app, but according to an anonymous source who wishes to be called ‘Nick’, the operation was much more complicated than the initial stories suggested.

“I live in Phuket,” Nick told PEGAS, referring to an island in the south of Thailand. “One day I and my partner Jeffrey visited the Phuket Zoo. We saw these two adorable baby orangutans there. The zookeeper let us hold them and have our photos taken with them. We just fell in love with them.”

Nick and Jeffrey hired an agent to find them two infant orangutans that they could buy as pets. The agent found what they were looking for on the Instagram account of a notorious wild animal trafficker, known to PEGAS first as @exoticpet88 and later as @exoticpetworld. Both accounts have now been closed as the owner has gone into hiding.

“He said his name was Tom,” Nick told PEGAS. “He was so polite, always saying ‘sir’ when he addressed me.”

This Instagram account advertised hundreds of exotic species for sale, many CITES Appendix I, which prohibits such commercial trade.

This Instagram account advertised hundreds of exotic species for sale, many CITES Appendix I, which prohibits such commercial trade.

 

 

 

Exoticpetworld replaced exoticpet88. These are the two orangutans that were eventually seized in the Bangkok sting.

Exoticpetworld replaced exoticpet88. These are the two orangutans that were eventually seized in the Bangkok sting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom sent Nick several photos of the babies using WhatsApp.

Tom sent Nick several photos of the babies using WhatsApp.

Tom asked USD 20,000 for the two orangutan babies. Nick agreed.

Tom asked USD 20,000 for the two orangutan babies. Nick agreed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trafficker arrested.

The trafficker arrested.

 

 

 
 

 

More to come after the Thai police conclude their investigations.

Thailand not a ‘Land of Smiles’ for great apes

Thailand tourist promos advertise the country as the Land of Smiles, because the people are so welcoming and friendly. But a recent visit to Thailand by the head of PEGAS (the Project to End Great Slavery) turned up dozens of great apes that definitely were not in the mood to smile.

PEGAS found chimpanzees, orangutans and a gorilla held captive in appalling conditions, and many were being used in commercial activities such as circus type performances and props in pay-for-play photo sessions with visitors.

Top of the list of great ape horror shows were Safari World, Samut Prakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo and Pata Zoo. None of these privately owned facilities are strangers to criticism and bad publicity. Many press articles and NGO reports and campaigns have been directed at them. What is surprising is that they continue to operate as if nothing had happened.

Safari World, for example, located less than an hour from downtown Bangkok, puts on a daily Orang Utan Show that gathers large crowds. Seven juvenile orangutans dress up as rock stars and pretend to play instruments while a young female obscenely go-go dances to blared music. Following the music show, orangutans engage in a boxing match, while a very young chimpanzee rushes in and out acting the clown.

1

Hundreds of people pay to watch captive great apes perform at Safari World.

2

Where did these apes originate? Not a single one could have been legally imported, according to the CITES Trade Database. Just as important, performances like that are illegal under Thai law. In 2004 the government seized 48 orangutans at Safari World for exactly the same offense and returned them to Indonesia, where they were met at the Jakarta airport by the Indonesian president’s wife.

“We are very happy to get the orangutans back,” Kristiani Yudhoyono said at a ceremony. “They belong to our vast nation…”. Now about ten more orangutans are back at Safari World.

3

A young chimpanzee plays the clown

In November last year, 14 orangutans confiscated at a Phuket island zoo were repatriated to Indonesia for doing the same things as seen at Safari World. No one was charged with a crime, even though obviously one had been committed.

Edwin Wiek of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, who was instrumental in having the Phuket orangutans confiscated and repatriated, said in August 2015 that “[the Department of National Parks] decision has sent a clear message to wildlife smugglers and zoos in Thailand that smuggled apes will never end up in the trade again.”

3a

Fourteen orangutans were returned to Indonesia in November 2015. Will it be a deterrent? Photo: Claire Beastall, TRAFFIC

Apparently Safari World and the traffickers who supply them did not receive the message.

The owner of Samut Prakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo missed the message as well. As soon as visitors enter they encounter baby chimpanzees, orangutans and tigers lined up in cages or cribs, there to be photographed. The zoo charges 200 baht (USD 5.60) for a framed photo with Meiya, a 5-month old female chimpanzee. Commercial use of great apes is supposedly prohibited if they are imported, as they are CITES Appendix I. If they are captive born, the facility must be registered with the government and receive authorization to breed that species, according to Section 17 of the Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act of 1992. Permission to breed crocodiles does not extend to great apes.

4

5

Entering Samut Prakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo one finds baby great apes kept there to make money in photo sessions

6

It costs 200 baht to take a photo with Meiya

On the edge of the farm and zoo, away from where the crocodile and elephant shows take place, PEGAS found some rusting cages that housed a pitiful orangutan and several adult chimpanzees. Five were visible and an employee said that eight more were kept in cages out of sight. A recent animal welfare law prohibits cruelty to animals. It unfortunately does not define cruelty. Many would think that cooping up intelligent creatures in such deplorable conditions constitutes cruel imprisonment.

7

8

An orangutan and several chimpanzees are kept in old, rusting cages at Samut Prakarn

The last of the terrible three is the infamous Pata Zoo, opened in 1984 on top of a Bangkok department store. Its biggest celebrity inmate is Bua Noi, a female gorilla that according to the International Gorilla Studbook originated in Guinea – a country that has no gorillas. What Guinea does have, however, is a notorious reputation for illegal great ape trade. The CITES Trade Database has no record of a gorilla import from any country to Thailand, thus it appears Bua Noi was illegally acquired. She lives in solitary confinement and tourists have even reported seeing her gripping the cage bars and shedding tears.

9

Bua Noi exists solely to earn money for the zoo owner

The Pata Zoo also holds five orangutans and three chimpanzees in cramped cages, a long-standing animal welfare issue. It, too, puts on an illegal show, which includes an orangutan that lifts barbells, and young orangutans sit with minders outside waiting for tourists to pay money to have their photo taken with them.

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Young orangutans of unknown origin sit outside the Pata Zoo to be used as money earning photo props

PETA Asia claims that “the conditions at the Pata Zoo are some the worst that PETA has ever encountered… The cages are extremely small and barren, and the animals are deprived of everything that is natural and important to them.” PETA has a campaign to close the zoo, but its license was recently renewed, and the zoo director Kanit Sermsirimongkhon said, “We have complied with all relevant laws”. Have they? Bua Noi and other great apes there were probably illegally imported, as they do not have CITES documentation.

11

PETA Asia has a campaign to close Pata Zoo

PEGAS visited several other zoos in Thailand as well, including Dusit, Lopburi, Khao Kheow and Korat. The seven orangutans and three chimpanzees found at Lopburi were living in dreadful conditions and are being used in illegal performances, but those at the other zoos were situated in well-designed enclosures with landscaping and amenities.

 

14

Lopburi Zoo keeps orangutans in a dark dungeon, except when they bring them out for weekend and holiday shows

In all, PEGAS estimates that there are at least 41 orangutans, 38 chimpanzees and one gorilla in nine facilities. In some, the animals could not be seen at the time of the visit. There are other great apes located in facilities not visited. Judging by records in the CITES Trade Database, some of the apes were probably illegally imported, although some were born in Thailand. Unless the facility has obtained express permission to propagate a species, even locally born apes could be illegal to possess.

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Khao Kheow has a pleasant environment for the great apes

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But a 6-year old female orangutan is kept outside for the money-making photo sessions

Why can’t the illegal exploitation of these sentient animals be stopped?

Because, as Edwin Wiek says, “It’s big business. Influential people.”

“There are ex-prime ministers that have chimpanzees and orangutans in their backyard. These are the kind of people that are opposing us,” said Wiek.

Just as with the problem of online wildlife traffickers in the Middle East, the solution has to start at the top. If the decision-makers in power are complicit with the crime, little can be achieved. Campaigns need to be directed at those at the very top of government. Only they have the power to change anything.