Category Archives: UAE

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.

image002

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.”

8

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.

10
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.

1

 

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.

 

1

 

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.

11223593_10155950662645611_1069515266357032241_n copy

 

 

 

 

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.

5gorilla

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.

6Dubai25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

9al ain

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.

11al ain

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.

 

Dubai Crown Prince imports 7 elephants from Zimbabwe

In an update to an earlier news post regarding the capture of baby elephants in Zimbabwe for sale to the UAE, China and possibly other countries, PEGAS learned recently during a visit to the UAE that Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum was the importer of the 7 elephants that the UAE reported to the media.

Sheikh Hamden, importer of the 7 Zimbabwe elephants

Sheikh Hamden, importer of the 7 Zimbabwe elephants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PEGAS was told that the 7 elephants had been held in captivity for some time and that they were not part of the group of baby elephants captured in the wild. There is at least one female adult in the group.

Elephants in the wild, where they belong

Elephants in the wild, where they belong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The elephants are being held as part of a private collection of wildlife. It is common for wealthy Emiratis to have private zoos and breeding centers, and many individuals keep exotic pets such as cheetahs, tigers and great apes. PEGAS will be publishing a news item shortly on the results of a nine-day visit to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, all Emirates in the UAE. Wildlife trade is rife, though the government is taking steps to curb the fashion trend of owning exotic wild animals. The royal families, naturally, are exempt.

Update 7 April 2015

PEGAS continues to receive erroneous claims that baby elephants from Zimbabwe are still destined for the UAE and that no elephants have  yet been sent. The UAE government has yet again substantiated the version PEGAS reported above on 25 March. The elephants are already in the UAE.

Fazza photographing one of his Zimbabwean elephants

Fazza photographing one of his Zimbabwean elephants

New Dubai Zoo to hold more than 1,000 animals

The current Dubai Zoo has been crammed into a 1.5 hectare space for several years. It holds hundreds of animals, including Eastern lowland gorillas and chimpanzees. The zoo will be moving to a new 120 hectare plot of land and expanding into the Dubai Safari Park. The Safari Park will have four sections, African, Asian and Arabian Villages and an open parkland for animals coming from different geographical locations, with an architecture and landscaping to match.

Will the new Dubai Safari Park import illegal great apes?

Will the new Dubai Safari Park import illegal great apes?

The new safari park will no doubt need new animals to stock its huge expansion. What species will they be? Where will they come from? Will they be imported following CITES regulations?

We ask those questions because the current Dubai Zoo has two Eastern lowland gorillas, named Digit and Daina, but the CITES Trade Database shows no gorilla imports since 1990, the year the UAE joined CITES. Were they imported prior to 1990?

PEGAS hopes to answer the questions, particularly in regard to great apes, in the coming months.