Category Archives: trafficking

Facial Recognition: a new tool in great ape illegal trade investigations

PEGAS has identified and was until recently monitoring over 125 social media sites that have posted 315 individual great apes (a minimum number) either for sale or already purchased. In addition, PEGAS has visited zoos and safari parks in several Middle Eastern and eastern Asian countries that are exploiting hundreds of great apes commercially, ranging in age from infants to old adults. They act as fee-paying photo props with visitors, entertainment performers or as simple zoo attractions when they get older.

From sale online great apes are exploited for many commercial purposes

Photo props when young

Entertainer when a juvenile

Caged up when older, which can last 40 years

All of the great apes online and a high proportion of those seen in the zoos and safari parks were obtained illegally, many stolen from the wild. All of them have been moved from point A to point B, and many have been moved to point C and D and beyond, as they are bought and sold for various money-making purposes. These apes suffer tremendously in these callous moves, which are done in part to cover up the fact that they were imported illegally into the destination country by the first buyer. The second or third buyer can show sales records to the authorities, but when asked for CITES, Customs or veterinary import documents, they just say, “Go talk to the importer”. That’s where it usually stops, as the authorities do not have the time or resources to go find the importers.

If these great apes could be positively identified by some simple, non-invasive technology, that could be the breakthrough that wildlife trade investigators have been dreaming of. Identification using DNA or microchips has proven too difficult and expensive to carry out on a large scale. An ape facial photograph, akin to a police mug shot, could be the solution.

Wildlife dealers and owners post thousands of photos of great apes, most of them recurrences of the same ape. They are seen on multiple accounts as they are shared. It is not easy to determine if the same individual ape is posted on multiple accounts, unless the photos are identical duplicates. A facial recognition tool would enable the positive identification of each individual, as long as the face was showing at a good angle.

Are these the same or different chimps?

 

If we can positively identify an individual ape from its photo, it will be possible to track apes from seller to buyer online, and even from seller to buyer in zoos and safari parks, if the seller posted online the photo of that individual. It will also be possible to track movements of apes in zoos and safari parks, which may signal illegal arrivals, departures and replacements. This technology could even be used for prosecutions, depending on its accuracy.

Dr. Anil Jain, distinguished biometrics professor at Michigan State University, and his team modified their human facial recognition system to create LemurFaceID, the first computer facial recognition system that correctly identified more than 100 individual lemurs with 98.7 percent accuracy.

“Like humans, lemurs have unique facial characteristics that can be recognized by this system,” Jain said. “Once optimized, LemurFaceID can assist with long-term research of endangered species by providing a rapid, cost-effective and accurate method for identification.”

Dr. Jain and postgraduate student Debayan Deb have volunteered to adapt the LemurFaceID methodology to chimpanzee faces. If that proves successful, PEGAS hopes that they can repeat it with an orangutan face ID application in future.

PEGAS is now working with dedicated wildlife conservationist Alexandra Russo, who has generously volunteered to lead the development of the ChimpFaceID initiative. Using a more advanced method than was used with the lemurs, titled PrimNet, based on Convolution Neural Network (CNN) architecture, the Michigan State team will analyze and test their technology on hundreds of chimp face photos that we are now collecting in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute, members of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance and others.

“I have brought together volunteers working at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya, at Tchimpounga in the Congo, Tacugama in Sierra Leone and in the USA at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in Washington State and Save the Chimps in Florida to provide the photos,” said Alexandra Russo, nicknamed Allie.

Allie went on to say, “The Max Planck Institute provided photos for an initial test of the PrimNet system, but it needs to be further tested and perfected to achieve a higher rate of correct identifications.”

Although still in its initial stages, several organizations have shown interest in PrimNet for use in illegal wildlife trade investigations and for monitoring of great ape population numbers and distribution in the wild. We hope to be able to present an exposition of the application’s potential as part of Bio-Bridge Initiative at the 14th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Egypt in November 2018.

If the PrimNet technology works to the high 90s percent accuracy, investigators might one day be able to track an infant ape captured in the forests of Africa or Asia to a dealer selling it online in the home country to a dealer in the destination country and even on to the buyer. The photos, along with other evidence gathered in the course of investigations, could be used to arrest and prosecute the dealers, facilitators and even the buyer.

One day we may be able to positively identify chimp faces at point of origin, to dealer, to buyer.

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Smuggled, Beaten and Drugged: The Illicit Global Ape Trade

This will be the last post for this year, maybe forever. The PEGAS project has run its course, in fact it has run beyond its initial 3-year time frame. If additional funding is secured the project will continue.

This article on great ape trafficking and the project’s work just appeared in The New York Times .

The New York Times tracked international ape smugglers from Congolese rain forests to the back streets of Bangkok. Here is what unfolded.

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN NOV. 4, 2017

MBANDAKA, Democratic Republic of Congo — The sting began, as so many things do these days, on social media.

Daniel Stiles, a self-styled ape trafficking detective in Kenya, had been scouring Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp for weeks, looking for pictures of gorillas, chimps or orangutans. He was hoping to chip away at an illicit global trade that has captured or killed tens of thousands of apes and pushed some endangered species to the brink of extinction.

“The way they do business,” he said of ape traffickers, “makes the Mafia look like amateurs.”

After hundreds of searches, Mr. Stiles found an Instagram account offering dozens of rare animals for sale, including baby chimpanzees and orangutans dressed in children’s clothes. He sent an email to an address on the account — “looking for young otans” (the industry standard slang for orangutans) — and several days later received a reply.

“2 babies, 7.5k each. Special introductory price.”

The trafficker identified himself only as Tom and said he was based in Southeast Asia. Mr. Stiles knew what Tom was hoping for: to sell the infant orangutans to a private collector or unscrupulous zoo, where they are often beaten or drugged into submission and used for entertainment like mindlessly banging on drums or boxing one another. Such ape shows are a growing business in Southeast Asia, despite international regulations that prohibit trafficking in endangered apes.

Several weeks later, after a few more rounds of text messages with Tom to firm up the details, Mr. Stiles decided to fly to Bangkok.

“I was way out on a limb,” Mr. Stiles admitted later. But he was eager to bring down Tom, who indicated that he could find orangutans and chimps with only a few days’ notice, the mark of a major dealer.

Employees of the reserve, Lola Ya Bonobo, with young rescued bonobos in its nursery.
Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

‘Endgame Conservation’

Ape trafficking is a little-known corner of the illicit wildlife trade, a global criminal enterprise that hauls in billions of dollars. But unlike the thriving business in elephant ivory, rhino horns, tiger bone wine or pangolin scales, ape smuggling involves live animals — some of the most endangered, intelligent and sensitive animals on Earth.

Mr. Stiles, 72, grew intrigued by apes decades ago as a graduate student in anthropology. Since then, he has plunged deeper and deeper into the ape world, becoming the lead author of “Stolen Apes,” a report published by the United Nations in 2013 that was considered one of the first comprehensive attempts to document the underground ape trade. He and the other researchers estimated that the smuggling had claimed more than 22,000 apes — either trafficked or killed.

Malnourished and terrified apes have been seized across the world, in undercover busts or at border checkpoints, in countries as varied as France, Nepal, Thailand, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kuwait. Two years ago, at Cairo’s international airport, the Egyptian authorities discovered a baby chimp curled up into a ball and stashed in a piece of hand luggage. Just this summer, the authorities in Cameroon stopped a smuggler at a roadblock who was trying to move 100 pounds of pangolin scales and a tiny chimp, not even a month old, hidden in a plastic sack.

But for every successful bust, wildlife specialists say, five to 10 other animals slip through. And for every smuggled ape, several more may have been killed in the process. Most species of apes are social and live in large groups, and poachers often wipe out entire families to get their hands on a single infant, which is far easier to smuggle.

“Transporting an adult chimp is like transporting a crate of dynamite,” said Doug Cress, who until recently was the head of the Great Apes Survival Partnership, a United Nations program to help great apes. “The adults are extremely aggressive and dangerous. That’s why everyone wants a baby.”

Wildlife researchers say that a secret ape pipeline runs from the lush forests of central Africa and Southeast Asia, through loosely policed ports in the developing world, terminating in wealthy homes and unscrupulous zoos thousands of miles away. The pipeline, documents show, is lubricated by corrupt officials (several have been arrested for falsifying export permits) and run by transnational criminal gangs that have recently drawn the attention of Interpol, the international law enforcement network.

Apes are big business — a gorilla baby can cost as much as $250,000 — but who exactly is buying these animals is often as opaque as the traffickers’ identity. Many times, researchers say, they can only begin to track where the apes have ended up by stumbling across the Facebook posts and YouTube videos of rich pet collectors.

A bushmeat market along the Congo River. Many endangered apes disappear each year into the trade of bushmeat, a source of protein. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Wildlife officials said that a handful of Western businessmen had also been arrested. But the majority of recent busts, they added, have been in Africa or Southeast Asia, usually of low-level traffickers or poorly paid underlings, not the bosses who control underground exports and travel abroad to make deals.

For years wildlife officials suspected that a mysterious American known simply as “Joe” was running a large trafficking ring out of Thailand, one of the world hubs for smuggled apes. According to “Tom,” the trafficker Mr. Stiles discovered, “Joe” had recently retired.

And it’s not as if smuggling is the only threat apes face. The world’s hunger for biofuels and palm oil — a cheap food product used in things like lipstick, instant noodles and Oreos — is leveling tropical rain forests and turning them into farms.

According to the Arcus Foundation, a nonprofit group that studies apes, Indonesia and Malaysia have tripled their palm oil production in the past 15 years, wiping out the habitats of thousands of orangutans. In Africa, it’s the same, with new rubber plantations, new roads and new farms cutting deeply into gorilla areas. One species, the Cross River gorilla, is now so endangered that scientists think there are only 200 or 300 left.

“In living memory, there were millions of apes,” said Ian Redmond, a well-known primatologist. “Now, there’s just a few hundred thousand and falling.”

“What we’re looking at,” he added, “is endgame conservation.”

The Apes’ World

Most apes, which include gorillas, gibbons, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos, live deep in the rain forest. The Basankusu region of Congo, lying along a tributary of the legendary Congo River, is one of the last bonobo refuges and a source of many trafficked apes.

It’s not easy getting here. We flew from Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, to Mbandaka, a river town where 50-foot dugout canoes arrive every morning, edging into shore crammed with products of the forest: onions, eggplants, buckets of red-skinned peanuts, dead pangolins, dead turtles, dead monkeys and, occasionally, live apes.

From Mbandaka, we hired a canoe and motored upriver, our long, narrow boat slicing through the tannin-rich water like a pencil. We made it to the bonobo habitat, amazed to see wild bonobos quietly staring down at us from the highest branches of the trees.

“They have consciousness, empathy and understanding,” said Jef Dupain, an ape specialist for the African Wildlife Foundation. “One day we will wonder how did we ever come up with the idea to keep them in cages.”

In central African towns (as elsewhere in the world), many chimpanzees are kept as pets. Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, who lives in a riverside mansion in Kinshasa, the capital, has a large chimp locked up in a cage. At the Hotel Benghazi in Mbandaka, the owner had kept a muscular mascot for years: Antoine, a large male chimp who scraped an empty soda bottle against the iron bars of his garbage-strewn cage, like an inmate. (Antoine escaped in January and, after sowing disorder in Mbandaka, was hunted down by police officers, shot 10 times and left dead on a city street.)

Antoine, a captive chimpanzee at a hotel in Mbandaka, Congo. He escaped in January and was shot by the police.
Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

As one leaves the towns and travels into the thick forests, the use of apes changes. Out here, as in remote parts of Southeast Asia, where many people are poor and desperate for protein, apes are also food.

Jonas Mange, who now works on education projects for the African Wildlife Foundation, used to hunt bonobos in Congo, venturing into the shadowy recesses of the forest and laying snares made from loops of twisted wire. If he discovered an adult bonobo in one of his traps, he would quickly shoot it with a shotgun and sell the meat, usually for a few dollars per carcass, if that.

But a baby was different, he said. There was a specific market for infant apes, so he would sell them alive, for at least $10 each, to local traders who would then smuggle them to Kinshasa and sell them to foreigners for many times that amount.

“Bonobos are clever,” Mr. Mange said. If they get their feet stuck in a trap, they don’t screech wildly in panic, like pigs or other animals, which would reveal their location to the hunters. Instead, he said, bonobos quietly try to untangle the snare without being detected.

In Boende, a small town up another tributary of the Congo River, three hunters were recently caught with bonobo carcasses and sentenced to several years in a stifling colonial-era prison. The men said they were simply trying to feed their families by selling bonobo meat. But poaching an ape is a serious crime in Congo, and nonprofit wildlife groups have been assisting the Congolese authorities in prosecuting offenders.

“There is a culture here to eat meat, meat from the forest,” said the town’s prosecutor, Willy Ndjoko Kesidi. “Me, I like fish.”

Mr. Kesidi expressed some sympathy for the hunters he had just jailed, saying that the prison where they were housed was a horrible place where many prisoners had died.

“If you spend a lot of time in there,” Mr. Kesidi said, “the color of your skin changes.”

Men suspected of poaching bonobos, handcuffed together at a prison in Boende, Congo. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

The Sting

For years, Mr. Stiles has performed undercover research on wildlife trafficking across Africa, but recently his work has taken him off the continent. A big, freckled, gregarious man, he favors wearing baggy shorts and wrinkled safari shirts. He has also invented several false online identities, with webpages that depict him as an active buyer of rare animals.

Many illegal wildlife transactions start online, specifically through Instagram or WhatsApp. Mr. Stiles has made several trips to the United Arab Emirates, which he considers a new hub for the illegal online wildlife business. Dealers in the Middle East have posted many pictures of apes for sale, sometimes advertising them as friendly pets for children.

Disturbing stories often lie behind those pictures. Many chimps have been drugged with muscle relaxers or alcohol to make them easier to handle. Some are trained to smoke cigarettes and guzzle beer.

Orangutans are gentler than chimps, but still, they are not always gentle, and investigators say zoo trainers sometimes beat them with lead pipes wrapped in rolled-up newspapers to force them to perform tricks. Several years ago, the Indonesian police rescued a female orangutan who had been shaved and was being used as a prostitute at a brothel.

“Even if we can rescue them, it’s very difficult reintroducing them to the wild,” said Mr. Cress, the former head of the United Nations Great Apes program. “They’re all goofed up. They need serious rehab. The ones who have been given alcohol, their hands shake. They have the same withdrawal symptoms we do.”

International wildlife regulations prohibit the trade of endangered apes for commercial purposes. While zoos and other educational institutions are allowed to acquire apes, they need permits showing, among other things, that the apes were bred in captivity, not captured in the wild. (All great ape species are endangered; most gibbons species are as well.)

It’s relatively easy to falsify permits, though, and wildlife investigators have tracked illegally sold apes to Iraq, China, Dubai and Bangkok’s Safari World zoo, where orangutans have been trained to wear boxing gloves and spar with each other to howls of laughter.

Safari World was outed more than 10 years ago for using orangutans that had been smuggled from Indonesian jungles. Dozens of animals were seized from the park and flown home, where the wife of Indonesia’s president welcomed them.

But the boxing shows continue, with a new set of animals, despite an outcry from wildlife groups. Safari World executives said that none of their animals were abused and that the orangutans were fed “human-grade fruits” and lived in air-conditioned rooms.

They also said it wasn’t their fault that the authorities had discovered that some of their orangutans had been improperly acquired from Indonesia. Safari World said it relied on third-party suppliers, and the zoo insisted that most of its apes had been born in Thailand.

“When you come to our park,” said Litti Kewkacha, its executive vice president, “you will only see smiles on our orangutans.”

Constantly on the lookout for mistreated apes, wildlife activists have been frustrated with some celebrities as well. Last year, the United Nations program, Grasp, publicly chastised Paris Hilton for circulating pictures of herself cuddling an infant orangutan dressed in baby clothes. Saying that “apes are neither playthings nor pets,” it called Ms. Hilton’s behavior “appalling.”

To arrange his orangutan sting, Mr. Stiles checked into the Landmark hotel in Bangkok. From a quiet room overlooking clogged arteries of traffic, he began sending the wildlife trafficker Tom messages on WhatsApp.

Daniel Stiles, a self-styled ape detective who lives in Kenya.
Credit Georgina Goodwin for The New York Times

Mr. Stiles knew it was dangerous to flirt with a known smuggler. So he brought his investigation to Freeland, a nonprofit group that combats wildlife and human trafficking from a large office in central Bangkok. Freeland works in secrecy, with undercover agents based in a sealed room that other employees are not allowed to enter. It also works closely with the Thai police services, including one cheerful undercover officer who goes by the name Inspector X.

Over the next few days, with Inspector X and other agents lurking in his high-rise hotel room, Mr. Stiles exchanged more WhatsApp messages with Tom, trying to arrange a meet-up. A couple of times, they even talked on the phone. Tom’s real identity remained a mystery. He had a Malaysian or Indonesian accent, spoke English fluently and was never at a loss for words.

“Oh man, you’re going to have some fun,” Tom said about the orangutan babies. “Getting ready for some sleepless nights?”

In late December, the day of the meet-up, Inspector X and the other Thai agents staked out the appointed location — a supermarket parking lot in central Bangkok. A taxi pulled up.

Inspector X and the agents pounced, arresting the driver and discovering two baby orangutans in the back seat, clutching each other. They appeared scared but healthy, and have since been sent to a Thai wildlife sanctuary. But Tom was nowhere to be found.

Mr. Stiles was overjoyed that the orangutans were rescued, but he was frustrated, too. “We got to get to the dealers,” he said.

Since the sting, he has been back on Instagram, looking for more apes. And more Toms.

New interest in illegal Great Ape trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two orangutan babies offered to PEGAS for sale using WhatsApp

The two orangutan babies offered to PEGAS for sale using WhatsApp

The infants after rescue by the Thai police

The infants after rescue by the Thai police

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presidential pardon: Former head of Guinea CITES office pardoned before his case was finalized

Ansoumane Doumbouya is known for stating, “There is no dirtier convention than CITES.”

He should know, he’s one of the corrupt government officials that made it that way. Doumbouya, an affable and smiling man, made huge sums of money while engaged as the head of the Guinea CITES office between 2008 and 2013. How? By selling fraudulent CITES export permits that indicated that wild-caught Appendix I live specimens were supposedly bred in captivity and met the CITES criteria that allowed trade. A chimpanzee permit could earn him up to USD 3,000 and a gorilla USD 5,000. China made use of the Guinea “C-scam” between 2007 and 2012 to import over 130 chimpanzees and possibly 10 gorillas to supply commercial zoos and safari parks.

‘C’ is the Source Code put on permits indicating captive bred in conformance with CITES regulations.

Ansoumane Doumbouya seems like a nice guy, until you learn that he has helped send thousands of birds, reptiles and mammals illegally out of Africa

Ansoumane Doumbouya seems like a nice guy, until you learn that he has helped send thousands of birds, reptiles and mammals illegally out of Africa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the scheme was exposed, Doumbouya was finally removed from the post, but remained in the ministry. In 2013 at the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties Guinea was sanctioned with a commercial trade suspension. Not as bad as it sounds, since a C code is used with supposedly non-commercial trade.

Even after 2013 Doumbouya carried on signing old blank export permits he had kept, even though he had no authority to do so. Finally in August 2015 he was arrested by the local INTERPOL bureau in possession of the illegal permits and prosecuted. He was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Doumbouya appealed the conviction and was awaiting a ruling on his appeal when President Alpha Condé granted him a pardon. Guinean law states that a pardon can be given only after the conclusion of a court case.

The president’s action signals clearly to the world that corruption reaches to the highest office in Guinea and that the country will continue to export illegally thousands of wild-caught exotic specimens, destroying Guinea’s biodiversity.

A baby chimpanzee seized recently in Guinea destined for the pet market. With no support from President Condé this will continue. (Photo/GALF)

A baby chimpanzee seized recently in Guinea destined for the pet market. With no support from President Condé this will continue. (Photo/GALF)

 

PEGAS attends the joint IPS/ASP Congress in Chicago, 21-28 August 2016

Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo hosted the 26th Congress of the International Primatological Society jointly with the 39th meeting of the American Society of Primatologists. This Joint Meeting marked the 20th anniversary since the most recent joint IPS/ASP meeting and was the first to be hosted by a zoological park.

PEGAS submitted an abstract of a presentation entitled ‘Illegal Great Ape Trade Persists for Use as Pets and for Stocking New and Expanding Safari Parks and Private Zoos’. It was accepted for presentation in the prestigious President’s Forum, whose theme was ‘The Global Primate Pet Trade; How Can Primatologists Working in Habitat Countries Reduce the Threat’.

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PEGAS’s presentation gave a short history of great ape trade and how the nature of it had changed significantly since the early 20th century. Great apes were captured in the wild up to the 1970s for use in biomedical and cognitive research, to stock zoos and circuses, and to perform in television and film.

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The PEGAS Project Manager presents a history of great ape trade

The early importers of great apes captured in the wild, mainly Europe, the Americas and Australia, stopped the practice in the late 1970s. Because there were no national laws against it, and CITES did not exist until 1975, these early imports were by default legal.

A new type of great ape trade came to the attention of CITES in the 1980s. Great apes were now supposedly protected from international commercial trade by a CITES Appendix I listing. Parties to the Convention were obligated to adopt national laws in conformance with CITES regulations. However, reports began coming in to CITES, both in the Trade Database of “legal” trades and in seizures, that suggested that there was demand for live great apes in various countries.

The increase in public interest for great ape pets was possibly stimulated by the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, adopting a pet chimpanzee he named Bubbles. MJ took Bubbles on tour with him around the world in 1988 and in the 1990s was seen with him everywhere, which generated a huge amount of media coverage.

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Did the King of Pop inadvertently spark interest in status-seekers buying chimpanzees as pets?

In the following decade and up until recently, many celebrities have been pictured with ape pets. Did this motivate wealthy status-seekers in the Middle East and elsewhere to want chimpanzee pets?

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Numerous celebrities have been pictured in the media with cute chimpanzees, further stimulating demand.

The illegal trade and its more organized nature emerged in the 1990s with a woman of dual Egyptian-Nigerian nationality, working with family members and an Egyptian doctor. They organized infant chimpanzee and gorilla captures in West and Central Africa for smuggling to Egypt. In 1997 the World Society for the Protection of Animals published the results of their investigation into this operation. They found that Kano in northern Nigeria was the centre of this woman’s trafficking, along with other wildlife traffickers based in Kano. They were capturing wild animals in Nigeria and neighbouring countries and shipping them out to multiple destinations.

Since then, other networks in Africa and Asia have developed that capture and sell a variety of endangered species, including great apes, for use in the exotic pet trade, private menageries of the wealthy, and for exhibition and performing in commercial zoos and safari parks.

Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, until recently, Guinea were central in this organized trafficking in Africa. Important branch “offices” have been set up in Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and elsewhere. In Asia, Indonesia and Thailand are key source and entrepôt countries. Egypt still acts as a transit country, but now dealers also smuggle out chimpanzees and gorillas that they have bred themselves.

The main destination countries for great ape prestige pets are the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf countries, and countries of the former Soviet Union, especially Russia. China and Thailand have large numbers of great apes that they use as photo props when babies, in entertainment shows in the 2 to 10 year old range, and then in zoo displays in cages when older.

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Great apes are now in demand for use as photo props and as performers in wildlife facilities in eastern Asia.

In the new age of the pet trade, the Internet reigns supreme as a marketing and trading tool. Dealers in the Middle East and Southeast Asia have connections with suppliers in source countries and with buyers in destination countries. They post photographs on Instagram and Facebook and the negotiations begin.

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Social media Internet sites are used today to market and trade great apes.

Primatologists gave talks in the President’s Forum on other species that are used in trade, ranging from lemurs and slow lorises up to gibbons. Under the leadership of Sylvia Atsalis of the University of Chicago, an Action Group has been created which will formulate a survey questionnaire that will be used to gather information in research areas from local people on the collection and trade of primates as pets, asking particularly about the motivations behind it. The Action Group also intends to develop social media messages that can be used to dissuade people from capturing primates for use as pets.

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Many other primate species are also sold online.

PEGAS will make input to the questionnaire that will ensure that information is also collected on the use of primates in international trade. The investigations that PEGAS is carrying out of Internet social media and Web sites is showing that many primate species are being offered for sale online.

The target date for launching the questionnaire toolkit is January 2017.

Dr. Jane Goodall attended the Congress and received an International Primatological Society Lifetime Achievement Award, well deserved for her amazing contribution to the understanding and conservation of great apes. The PEGAS Project Manager held a useful one-on-one meeting with Dr. Goodall, in which various matters of mutual interest were discussed.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.”

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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.

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.

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.