Category Archives: trafficking

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

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.

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’.

1

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.

2

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.
8. Doodoo
Doodoo with a zoo veterinarian shortly after he was brought to the Giza Zoo. He was found in the carry-on luggage of a trafficker smuggling him to Kuwait. Photo by Dina Zulfikar.

Ian Redmond, head of the U.K.-based Ape Alliance, worked with Dian Fossey and mountain gorillas in the 1980s, before Fossey’s untimely murder, recounted in the film Gorillas in the Mist. I work closely with Ian on the problem of great ape trafficking and he has tried, without success, to rescue the chimpanzees and gorillas held illegally by the Egyptian breeding facilities.

After a visit in 2015 to meet with the great ape breeders in Egypt, Ian told me, “Recent shipments out of Egypt seem likely to be infants bred at G. O.’s [name withheld] facility – if so we are faced with a different problem: essentially, a chimpanzee baby farm where infants are pulled from their mother and bottle-fed to be sold.”

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

The situation has been reported to the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), based in Geneva, but they reply that “it is up to the national CITES Management Authority to take action.”

Overlooked Fact

The number of great apes trafficked internationally every year is not large compared to some other species, but when the collateral damage is factored in we are talking about up to 3,000 lives lost from the wild each year, which is close to one percent of the great ape global population.

One important fact is overlooked when simply numbers are used to assess the significance of this extractive industry. Great apes are unlike any other species group. We humans share millions of years of evolutionary history with them and our genetic makeup is surprisingly similar — about 97% with orangutans, 98% with gorillas, and almost 99% with chimpanzees and bonobos. We all belong to the same biological family called Hominidae.

Increasingly, as more behavioral and genetic research is conducted, we are accepting more easily the fact that great apes are very much like humans in so many ways. Just recently, Jane Goodall was quoted as saying, “Chimpanzees taught me how to be a better mother,” indicating just how much great apes are similar to us.

Ian Redmond, who studies ape behavior, says that “Great ape mothers are incredibly protective of their children, which is why they are always killed when poachers go out hunting for infants to sell.”

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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.

 

 

 

 

Wildlife traffickers exposed to the authorities

We will call him FS. In November 2014, FS flew to Accra, Ghana, to meet with local wildlife dealers to set up a deal for three infant chimpanzees, no doubt captured in the forest after their mothers had been killed. It took some time to arrange their shipping to Dubai, where FS is based, as they arrived in March 2015. He soon found buyers, since baby chimpanzees are favoured pets in the Middle East. Buyers pay USD 20,000 and more for baby chimpanzees in the UAE. They arrive without CITES documents.

The places and dates were reconstructed by the Project to End Great Ape Slavery, which Ol Pejeta Conservancy sponsors. PEGAS and has been following this wildlife trafficker for almost a year by monitoring his Instagram and Facebook accounts, where he posts photographs of his travels – and the animals he trades.

An Instagram photo showing that FS was in Accra in November 2014. There were others as well.

An Instagram photo showing that FS was in Accra in November 2014. There were others as well.

 

The three chimpanzees FS came to Ghana to buy.

The three chimpanzees FS came to Ghana to buy.

The chimpanzees arrive in Dubai in March 2015, frightened and traumatized from the long journey.

The chimpanzees are held with the African trafficker in the ‘blue room’ before departure in March 2015, frightened and traumatized.

 

FS put the chimpanzees up for sale and no more posts of them appeared on his Instagram page.

After arrival in Dubai, FS put the chimpanzees up for sale and no more posts of them appeared on his Instagram page.

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Dozens of wild animals have appeared on FS’s Instagram and Facebook pages since March 2015, most recently a baby orangutan. PEGAS has traced FS’s travels to India, Thailand, Russia, Ghana, Kenya and possibly China. His Instagram account has now gone private.

FS is just one of many such wildlife traffickers that PEGAS has found, working in close collaboration with a Cheetah Conservation Fund investigator. Cheetahs and other big cats are even more popular than great apes in the Gulf.

Just knowing who the dealers are at the end of the trade chain is only part of the story, however. If the networks are to be shut down, the suppliers and transport routes and methods also need to be known.

PEGAS went to Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, in late 2014 to track down addresses that had been put on CITES export permits, to see if any could be verified as illegal great ape exporters.

Working with a local assistant provided by the environmental law NGO Juristrale, PEGAS set about finding the addresses. In the course of driving around the bustling and chaotic Kinshasa city, the team passed a stretch of roadside where primates, birds and other animals were displayed for sale. PEGAS ordered the taxi to pull over and soon two men approached to ask what they wanted. PEGAS recounts what transpired:

“I instructed Fiston, my assistant, to ask them if they knew where I could buy a chimpanzee. I told him to tell them that I was from Dubai on a buying trip. On such short notice it was the best cover story I could come up with. It seemed to work, as they said that, yes, they could get me one. We agreed to return the next day and took their names and mobile phone numbers.

“Further down the road we encountered three more wildlife dealers and repeated the routine. After several visits with the two sets of traffickers, some carried out by Fiston alone, we learned quite a bit about how they operate. I used undercover video recording during some of the questioning sessions.”

The roadside where the animals are displayed is located next to a military base. The traffickers are all middlemen who sell the displayed animals on behalf of officers in the military base. More important, they take orders for protected species that cannot be displayed openly and make arrangements for the animals to be procured. In the case of great apes, they may have to be captured in the wild, but on occasion chimpanzee infants turn up with itinerant traders visiting Kinshasa from the interior.

The red circles show monkeys and the blue ovals are around soldiers that protect the middlemen.

The red circles show monkeys and the blue ovals are around soldiers that protect the middlemen.

The middlemen were protected by soldiers from the base who patrolled in the vicinity of the traffickers. “In fact, soldiers came to look at us while we were speaking with the middlemen,” said PEGAS. “Making sure we weren’t trouble-makers.”

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The middlemen are constantly on their mobile phones taking orders and putting out commands to their suppliers to bring in various species that they have received orders for. Note the soldier coming to see that everything is fine.

Chimpanzees and bonobos were usually shipped down the Congo River on boats from Mbandaka, and western lowland gorillas and chimpanzees were captured in the coastal Mayumbe Forest and driven to Kinshasa from Boma. A bonobo was even found in Boma and rescued by Ian Redmond in 2013. PEGAS saw her in Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary.

The red lines show the main trade routes from the Mayumbe Forest in the west and Mbandaka down-river in the north east.

The red lines show the main trade routes from the Mayumbe Forest in the west and Mbandaka down-river in the north east.

Prices for chimpanzees in Kinshasa ranged from USD 500 to 800, for bonobos USD1,000 to $2,500, and gorillas USD 2,500. Obtaining CITES export permits would be an additional USD 3,000-5,000, depending on species.

Great apes are shipped by air in crude boxes like this one. It is not uncommon for fatalities to occur during transport.

Great apes are shipped by air in crude boxes like this one. It is not uncommon for fatalities to occur during transport.

PEGAS found no chimpanzee during the brief visit to Kinshasa, as it takes two to three weeks to acquire one on order, but Fiston was notified of one that had arrived soon after PEGAS left the DRC. Before arrangements could be made to have it seized by the authorities, it was sold and disappeared. Perhaps it ended up in Dubai.

Fiston sent PEGAS a photo of the chimpanzee that was offered for sale in Kinshasa soon after PEGAS left the country.

Fiston sent PEGAS a photo of the chimpanzee that was offered for sale in Kinshasa soon after PEGAS left the country.

 

Perhaps the Kinshasa chimpanzee is a pet of a wealthy Emirati today.

Perhaps the Kinshasa chimpanzee is a pet of a wealthy Emirati today.

 

PEGAS has prepared a report naming some of the Gulf area online traffickers, including FS, and providing their contacts. The report has been sent to national authorities, the CITES Secretariat and to INTERPOL. Now to see what happens.

Chimpanzee mothers are very protective of their infants. The mothers always have to be killed or incapacitated to capture the infants for trade.

Chimpanzee mothers are very protective of their infants. The mothers always have to be killed or incapacitated to capture the infants for trade.

Chilling Photos Show What Happens To Baby Apes Stolen From Their Families

This article from The Dodo is based on PEGAS work…

By Sarah V Schweig 15 December 2015

Sometimes an exposé reveals a seedy secret world of animal exploitation and makes a huge splash.

And sometimes a dark world of horrific exploitation is hidden in plain sight.

luxurypetss2

 

A quick look online reveals a terrifying truth about the lives of orphaned great apes, who are being illegally bought by wealthy people in the Middle East who want to dress them up and keep them as pets.

“Almost all of these animals have been captured as infants from the wild, and been bought online,” the Ol Pejeta Conservancy wrote in a press release provided to The Dodo.

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Ol Pejeta has started the Project to End Great Ape Slavery (PEGAS) with support from the Arcus Foundation, which seeks to develop a better understanding of the illegal trade in great apes by investigating websites that advertise apes for sale or display photos and videos of great apes as pets.

PEGAS collected the photographs in this article from online sites open to the public.

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All great ape species are listed under Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), an international agreement that is supposed to ensure that international trade of animals and plants does not threaten their survival. This means that any commercial trade of these animals is illegal.

Firoz Sama 25.3.15b
Illegal — and also horrifically wrong. According to Ol Pejeta:

The demand for great apes as pets, entertainment props, or for display in private zoos in the Middle East is fueling the large scale wild capture of infants in the forests of West Africa and Indonesia. In order to capture young chimpanzees, hunters kill the mothers and often the rest of the troop as well. Many of these infants die en route to their selling destination, as a result of rough handling, cramped transport conditions, stress and dehydration.

One such case was a baby chimp known as Little Doody.

Little Doody was discovered in the Cairo airport being smuggled into a plane bound for Kuwait.

 

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Even though PEGAS offered to relocate him to a sanctuary, the Egyptian CITES office did not respond to the offer.

Little Doody was brought to the Giza Zoo. He now lives in a cage.

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Arrested Guinea former CITES official also signed Armenia permits

Ansoumane Doumbouya, the former Guinea CITES official arrested recently in Conakry for wildlife trafficking using fraudulent CITES permits, also signed permits for the export of bonobos to Armenia in 2011. No bonobos live in West Africa, they are restricted to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ofir Drori of EAGLE reports that Doumbouya has been transported to prison to be held for trial. An unsigned blank CITES permit was found in his bag!

The following story published in an Armenian newspaper gives some background and links to earlier stories about great ape imports to Armenia.

Arrest of Guinean Official Implicated in Illegal Animal Trade; Signed Export Permits for Armenia as Well

Kristine Aghalaryan

24 August, 2015

A bonobo smuggled into Armenia with a Guinea CITES permit

A bonobo smuggled into Armenia with a Guinea CITES permit

Ansoumane Doumbouya, former head of the CITES Management Authority of Guinea and a key player behind the illegal export of hundreds of chimpanzees and gorillas to China and elsewhere, was arrested on August 21.

EAGLE (Eco Activists for Governance & Law Enforcement) announced the arrest of Ansoumane Doumbouya, along with the infamous wildlife trafficker Thierno Barry, in Conakry, Guinea’s capital.

Hetq has the following CITES export permit, signed by Doumbouya in 2011, under which two bonobo primates were imported by the Zoo Fauna Art company in Armenia.

The CITES export permit signed by Doumbouya

The CITES export permit signed by Doumbouya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hetq investigative series into the illegal animal trade in Armenia led to criminal charges against Zoo Fauna Art owner Artur Khachatryan.

The investigative division of Armenia’s Ministry of Finance has been dragging out an inquiry into the matter for one and a half years.

Even after he lost his position with CITES, Doumbouya retained a position within the Guinean Ministry of Environment as Commander of the national wildlife and forestry mobile enforcement brigade and was still signing CITES permits for traffickers.

Former head of CITES in Guinea arrested

On 21st August 2015 EAGLE (Eco Activists for Governance & Law Enforcement) announced the arrest of Ansoumane Doumbouya, the former head of the CITES Management Authority of Guinea, along with the infamous wildlife trafficker Thierno Barry in Conakry.

Doumbouya has long been known as a key player behind the illegal export of hundreds of chimpanzees and gorillas to China and elsewhere using fraudulent CITES export permits (see The Conakry Connection). Even after he lost his position with CITES he continued to fraudulently sell permits to traffickers to allow them to ship protected wildlife around the world, in spite of the fact that there is currently a CITES suspension of trade from Guinea (PEGAS is in possession of a copy of such a fraudulent permit, signed by Doumbouya a year and a half after he was removed from the CITES office).

 Ofir Drori, head of EAGLE, has told PEGAS that there is huge political pressure from high government officials in Guinea to free Doumbouya. Those who wish to see the scourge of great ape trafficking stopped must protest political interference. Read the announcement by Charlotte Houpline, Director of GALF, below:

 Today is a special day of victory against high level corruption and complicity.

Since the beginning of the collaboration between GALF and the Guinean Government, many traffickers have been arrested and condemned. Today, however, we are proud to send one of the biggest traffickers behind bars – the former head of CITES in Guinea – Ansoumane Doumbouya.

Abusing his position as the authority of this international convention he has been assisting and collaborating with traffickers. Different reports, including one from the CITES secretariat, implicated him in illegal exports, but he is still holding a position within the Ministry of Environment as Commander of the national wildlife and forestry mobile enforcement brigade and still signing CITES permits for traffickers.

Doumbouya signed CITES permits to send wild-caught chimpanzee orphans to China to perform in circuses

Doumbouya signed CITES permits to send wild-caught chimpanzee orphans to China to perform in circuses

 

 

 

 

 

 

The shocking hidden footage in the link below shows a trafficker explaining in details the corrupt system.

https://youtu.be/M_KDIW1nLC8

This time, the vicious cycle of impunity has been broken. Our long and meticulous investigation that led to this arrest took more than a year as Doumbouya is experienced and cautious in his illegal activities. He had just delivered a CITES permit for 2 primates to an international trafficker, Thierno Barry that has been regularly exporting protected species to China and other part of the world, with the CITES’ head’s complicity. Thierno Barry have been arrested. The two operations have been conducted by the BCN INTERPOL and the GALF project.

The case of Doumbouya became one of the most known examples of CITES high level corruption and has been discussed in the convention’s international meetings. Several hundreds of apes and many other totally protected species, were known to have been exported through this corrupt system.

The former head of CITES was even convoked and interrogated by the police early last year, where he declared that all the CITES permits, bonobos, chimpanzees and others were falsified. He pretended to have lost his official stamp, and that the traffickers imitate his signature.

Our investigation aimed to demonstrate that Mr Doumbouya kept on delivering CITES permits to several wildlife traffickers. He was using an old stock of permits that he had kept with him even after he lost his position as the head of CITES.

The satisfaction from this arrest is very personal to me. During the 10 years I spent in Guinea, and before I started fighting in wildlife law enforcement, I was an advisor to the Ministry of Environment for 2 years, and it is in the neighboring office that Mr Doumbouya -the CITES head of Guinea, provided wildlife traffickers with CITES permits, abusing the same national laws and international conventions that he was entrusted to protect.

Thierno Barry, the director of a fictive company involved for a long time in the international wildlife trade (BARRY PETS COMPAGNY IMPORT-EXPORT) have been arrested holding protected primates and a CITES permit signed by Ansoumane Doumbouya. Before his arrest, during several months of undercover investigation, he explained the implication of the former CITES MA in the international illegal wildlife trade.

Here is the criminal’s description of the corrupt system:

Email –  “I have talked with the former director, head of CITES. He confirmed that he can provide me with the permits. He says he’s a bit afraid because he is no more the head of CITES. Chinese are difficult and often ask for confirmation”.

Hidden footage: “He is no more the head of CITES now, do you understand? When we take the CITES to send in Jordan, there could be problems if they see on the internet that he is not holding the position. He can say that I betrayed him. The former director has been fired but he has kept the old permits. But if there is some kind of confirmation, there will be some problems.

Do you understand? If the former director gives me, you know that he’s not allowed to give the CITES because he’s been fired, so if he gives me the CITES, I take the CITES and I send to Mr Hassan. If Mr Hassan sends to his ministry in Jordan to see the confirmation, there will be phone call to the one who is now in charge of CITES. This will create a lot of problems”.

Today, Mr Doumbouya faces the Justice. According to the penal code of Guinea, Mr Doumbouya faces charges from 6 months to 10 years of prison for usurpation of qualification and office, unlawful extension of authority, forgery on public acts and documents, forgery of administrative documents, receiving, complicity and corruption.

After a long suspension from CITES, Guinea has an important responsibility to send a strong message to its citizen and the international community. Doumbouya should be severely punished according to the law.

Please warmly congratulate these Ministers and ask for the maximal sentence for the former CITES head of Guinea.

Minister of Justice, Cheick SAKHO : cheick.sako1@gmail.com or moussakourouma90@yahoo.fr

Minister of Environment, Hadja Kadiatou NDIAYE : tenin-souleymane@yahoo.fr or hadjakadiatoundiaye@gmail.com

Charlotte

*************************************************

Charlotte Houpline

Directeur GALF / Guinée- Application de la Loi Faunique www.wara-enforcement.org

United Arab Emirates – research into illegal wildlife trade

PEGAS recently completed eight days of investigations into wildlife trade in the UAE, focusing on great apes. A local NGO assisted greatly.

The UAE is made up of seven emirates, each with its own local government headed by a hereditary sheikh. The federal government is based in Abu Dhabi and the federal President is Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the Vice President and Prime Minister is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai.

Map of the UAE. The red line shows the places that PEGAS visited.

Map of the UAE. The red line shows the places that PEGAS visited.

PEGAS visited the following facilities and individuals:

  • The Dubai Zoo – director of the new Dubai Zoo and Safari Park and a Dubai Zoo veterinarian.
  • Sheikh Butti bin Juma Al Maktoum Wildlife Centre, Dubai – the manager.
  • A Pet Care Clinic, Dubai – The veterinarian owner
  • Al Ain Zoo, Abu Dhabi – a veterinarian and a species coordinator.
  • Arabia’s Wildlife Centre, Sharjah – a South African weekend manager, spoke to us on short notice.
  • Al Bustan Zoological Centre, Sharjah – Closed to the public, but spoke with the guard and later had correspondence with the manager.
  • Sharjah Birds and Animal Market
  • Environment Agency, Ministry of Environment and Water, Abu Dhabi – Dr. Shaikha Al Dhaheri, Executive Director, Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector and Pritpal Soorae, Unit Head, Terrestrial Assessment and Monitoring, Terrestrial & Marine Biodiversity Sector.
  • We tried to meet with Dr. Ahmed Esmaeil Al Hashmi, head of CITES-UAE and Director, Biodiversity Department, Ministry of Environment and Water, Dubai, but he said that he would have to obtain clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which never came.

Dubai Zoo

The current small and cramped Dubai Zoo will be closing down near the end of the year and the animals will be moved to the new, much larger grounds out of town on the road to Sharjah. Press reports indicated that the new zoo and safari park would hold over 1,000 animals, but the new director said the actual number would be closer to 3,000. Many additional animals will have to be legally sourced from zoos and animal dealers. Elephants are also planned, but PEGAS received conflicting information about whether they would be from Asia or Africa.

Dubai safari park

A sign for the new safari park in the Dubai Zoo.

There are currently 7 great apes in the Dubai Zoo, all held in old cages with concrete substrate and few enrichment amenities. Two gorillas said by the zoo to be of the eastern lowland subspecies (Gorilla beringei graueri) arrived as undocumented infants, which the veterinarian said were the result of illegal trade confiscations. The CITES Trade Database contains no reports of any kind involving any gorilla subspecies for the UAE. The International Studbook for the Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla g. gorilla) confirms that the two in Dubai were captured in the wild from an unknown source. The male, Digit, was thought to have been born in 1994 and arrived in the zoo in October 1996. The female Diana was born about 1999 and arrived in January 2000.

Diana is in a particularly bad state and shows signs of severe depression, including grooming herself to the extent that she has pulled out quite a bit of hair on her arms. According to the new director, she has tried to interact with the male, but is rebuffed. The director thinks it’s because the male was captured so young he has not learned how to behave towards females.

Digit the male does not seem too badly off, but Diana shows signs of deep depression.

Diana shows signs of deep depression.

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The male does not look so badly off.

PEGAS and a local NGO have made a plea to free the gorillas and relocate them to a sanctuary. Debby Cox of the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) is assisting in assessing whether this would be possible. The director said that he wishes to have replacement gorillas in place before the Dubai municipality, which owns the zoo, would allow relocation of Digit and Diana. The new zoo plans call for a one-acre (0.40 ha) gorilla enclosure, which could house several gorillas comfortably.

The first order of business is to conduct DNA testing of the gorillas to confirm what subspecies they belong to. Additionally, the Congolese CITES and wildlife authorities (ICCN) must agree to request the return of the gorillas, if indeed they originated in the DRC, and agree that they go to a sanctuary, and a gorilla sanctuary must agree to take them.

The zoo has 4 chimpanzees, 2 each in two cages. None of them are listed in the European zoos chimpanzee studbook. Since 1990, when the UAE joined CITES, only two chimpanzees are reported in the CITES Trade Database as being imported for zoos, one in 1992 and one in 1999. Therefore, at least two of the Dubai chimpanzees were imported illegally. A local NGO will assist PEGAS to work with the zoo to see if more can be learned of the chimpanzees’ origins and when they arrived.

The four chimpanzees are held in two squalid cages.

The four chimpanzees are held in two squalid cages.

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PEGAS requested that the chimpanzees be freed on the grounds that they were imported illegally and are living in poor circumstances, and has offered to assist their repatriation to an appropriate sanctuary in Africa. As with the gorillas, unless replacements can be found, this most likely will not occur. The new Dubai Zoo director intimated that he wishes to display a large group of chimpanzees in the new facility under construction.

There is one baby orangutan that the zoo veterinarian said was dropped off as a 4-5 month-old infant by an unknown person. It appears to be about 2 years old now. There are no records of orangutan imports to the UAE in the CITES Trade Database. It, too, is a victim of trafficking.

The baby orangutan is in a barren cage alone with no enrichment. PEGAS saw it rolling around trying to play.

The baby orangutan is in a barren cage alone with no enrichment. PEGAS saw it rolling around trying to play.

7orang

 

Sheikh Butti bin Juma Al Maktoum Wildlife Centre

The manager was kind enough to take us on a complete tour of the 17-hectare private breeding centre and wildlife park. The centre has no great apes and does not plan to acquire any. He did know of people who owned great apes, however, and provided information on routes and methods that he was aware of for smuggling illegal wildlife from Saudi Arabia, Oman and the sea into the UAE.

The Sheikh Butti Wildlife Centre is a well-managed private wildlife breeding centre.

The Sheikh Butti Wildlife Centre is a well-managed private wildlife breeding centre.

A Pet Care Clinic

The veterinarian owner treats the pets of many wealthy Emiratis and expat residents, including royal family members. The royal families import exotic animals at will, often using their own jet planes. They are not subject to normal CITES and other procedures and there are no authorities that can use legal means to halt the trade. He has made attempts to create awareness about animal welfare issues, but has been warned that he will be made to leave the UAE if he says anything negative about the government. This is a situation that affects all expatriate residents. He knew of illegal pet trading, but could say little specific about it. He did not think that great ape ownership was very common in the UAE.

Al Ain Zoo

The zoo has one gorilla and 7 chimpanzees. The western lowland gorilla, named Lady, was born about 1974 in Cameroon, according to the gorilla studbook, and was captured in the wild. She came to Al Ain Zoo in May 1978 with a male named Maxi, who died around 2006. The male is not in the studbook. Lady is kept in a fairly large enclosure with a grass and earth substrate and good enrichment amenities. There are no bars to the enclosures at Al Ain, but rather a number of reinforced glass windows are set in artificial “rock” walls for viewing. Lady lives in isolation, except for a rabbit that has been put in the enclosure for company. A large group of local boys was taunting the gorilla during the PEGAS visit.

Lady is a western lowland gorilla that arrived at Al Ain Zoo in 1978. She has been alone since about 2006.

Lady is a western lowland gorilla that arrived at Al Ain Zoo in 1978. She has been alone since about 2006.

 

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A group of young boys was taunting Lady at the time of the visit.

The chimpanzees are divided up into two groups, one consisting of 4 that is on view to the public, and 3 others that are kept out of view. All 7 are listed in the European chimpanzee studbook. The origin of 6 is unknown, while one is an in situ birth. The arrival dates do not correspond with any reported dates in the CITES Trade Database, thus all were imported outside of CITES procedures, all but one imported before the UAE joined CITES. The one enclosure on view to the public appeared to be well-maintained with good substrate and enrichment amenities.

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The chimpanzees looked content and healthy.

The spacious chimpanzee enclosure contained four animals.

The

The spacious chimpanzee enclosure contained four animals.

As with the Dubai Zoo, the Al Ain Zoo is currently expanding to become a more than 900 hectare wildlife park and resort, dedicated to wildlife conservation education. Hundreds of new animals are being imported to stock the open drive-through safari park, including several white rhinos that have already arrived from South Africa. PEGAS was told no new great apes or elephants are planned to be imported, even though a large, new ape house was being constructed. We asked to be informed if staff at Al Ain hear anything about great ape trade from the dealers they do business with.

An idealized vision of the new Al Ain safari park.

An idealized vision of the new Al Ain safari park.

Arabia’s Wildlife Centre

PEGAS and MEAF visited this facility on a Friday (the weekend) before it opened at 2 p.m. A workman telephoned the weekend manager, who drove to meet us. He informed us that the centre had no primates other than indigenous hamadryas baboons. The centre breeds wild species found in Arabia and supplies other vetted facilities on request. He said that the centre receives complaints from people about neighbours who keep noisy or dangerous exotic pets, but they advise people to contact the authorities in Sharjah.

The Arabia's Wildlife Centre has no great apes.

The Arabia’s Wildlife Centre has no great apes

Sharjah decreed a new law last November that outlawed private ownership of exotic animals that had been imported illegally. Since the amnesty for handing in animals expired in late December, the centre has been receiving a rash of exotic pets turned in to the government or anonymously dumped at the gate. Since most of them cannot be used for breeding and there is a lack of space to keep them, they are euthanized. They even found a baboon dressed in designer clothes and with a meticulously shaved beard chained to the gate.

As with other informants in the UAE, the manager was reticent to share information about wildlife traffickers and illegal trade, but said that he knew it occurred on a regular basis. The new Sharjah law might curb it.

Al Bustan Zoological Centre

This privately-owned zoo is not open to the public, but the guard at the gate said that chimpanzees had recently been brought and left there by private owners. PEGAS subsequently got into contact with the manager to find out the circumstances surrounding the chimpanzees. The two animals appear to be the result of illegal import as infant pets at least 15 years ago. They were originally kept in the house, but as they grew up and became dangerous they were moved out into an enclosure on the grounds. With the new law, the owners decided to dispose of the pair at Al Bustan.

The Al Bustan Zoo is privately owned.

The Al Bustan Zoo is privately owned.

 

It is closed to the public, but the guard said that chimpanzees had recently arrived there.

It is closed to the public, but the guard said that chimpanzees had recently arrived there.

PEGAS has offered to relocate the chimpanzees to Sweetwaters. The zoo is owned by an advisor to the President of the UAE. The manager said that he would consult with the owner and inform PEGAS of what they decided to do. PEGAS has requested Al Bustan to inform us of any future great ape arrivals.

Sharjah Birds and Animal Market

This infamous pet market has received considerable negative press and sparked campaigns to close it. Mammals, reptiles and birds are crammed into small cages and sold like they were inanimate commodities, not live creatures. It used to contain many exotic species, but since the new law, very few remain. PEGAS saw no primates in a tour of the market. It was deemed a waste of time to enquire about buying great apes, as con men abound there and they would simply spin a tale about how anything wanted could be obtained. It is hoped the absence of exotic animals will be long-lasting.

Environment Agency

PEGAS and a local NGO met with the Executive Director, Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Sector, and Pritpal Soorae, Unit Head, Terrestrial Assessment and Monitoring, Terrestrial & Marine Biodiversity Sector. Dr. Al Dhaheri briefed us on the new bill that aims to regulate the possession and trade of predatory, dangerous and semi-dangerous animals and protect people from harm and from spreading animal diseases. She confirmed that great apes were included. The bill has passed many of the lower level stages of approval and is now with the federal cabinet. The Environment Agency expects the bill to become law before the end of 2015 and this will provide the legislative foundation upon which to enforce regulation of the illegal pet trade.

PEGAS raised the issue of airports such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi being used as both destination and transit points for illegal wildlife trade, for example chimpanzees and bonobos that are known to have transited Dubai to go to Armenia. Dr. Al Dhaheri said that the government does not have legal authority to seize anything in transit, but if something illegal was found they would notify the destination country authorities. The government has recently been communicating with the national airlines (Emirates, Etihad and Air Arabia) and obtaining agreements from them not to carry illegal wildlife products. There are a number of royal family, cargo and low-cost airlines registered in the UAE, it is unknown if these were also contacted.

PEGAS has not revealed all of the information that was communicated by the different informants because of requested confidentiality, and because it could compromise ongoing investigations. A trafficker was also found that operates out of Dubai and India and who has posted online numerous great apes, other primates, wild cats, exotic birds, etc. Investigations are ongoing.