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Anatomy of a Sting – Part III

Nick, Khun Lee, Eddy and Tom

I was very occupied the next few days with my other operation in Africa. I heard from Jeffrey that nothing happened on the 30th of November, there were mis-communications between Khun Lee and Ton, Tom’s agent. Tom called Jeffrey in his room at the hotel the night of the 30th, scaring the heck out him, which he later wrote up for the NYT. Jeffrey left Bangkok on the 1st.

On 1st December I WhatsApped Freeland: “…give me an update.” They replied, “…again it was a no-show, we will need to wait and try again tomorrow.”

Since nothing seemed to be happening, I emailed Freeland on 2nd December:

“Hi R. and [Khun Lee],

I was thinking, what if I started communicating with Tom again directly? I can say I’m back in Bangkok and very keen to receive the orangs and pay the money and be done with it. What did you say to explain my absence?

I think I could sign back onto WhatsApp with my former number if you stop using it. I will have to sign on again and they will send a 6-digit code to the number, which you will receive.  Then you will have to pass it on to me so I can verify.

Brief me on what has been said, and send me some screen grabs. We can say that I’m going to meet them with Mr. Lee to do the exchange.

Regards,

Xxxx”

Back then, a WhatsApp account was tied to a device, not to a SIM card. So even if the SIM card of the number the WhatsApp account was set up with was not in one’s phone, you could still operate it as long as you inserted the verification code. Since then, WhatsApp has done an update that allows it to detect the SIM card so the account will only operate with the device and SIM card together.

R. of Freeland replied immediately:

“Just to update you for yesterday, Ton lied to us and said he was delivering the kids in a black Toyota, this story later changed to ‘they will be delivered by taxi’. We waited until about 7:30, our driver was then asked to travel to Chanthaburi and would be paid 20,000 THB to deliver the Orangs. At this point we refused to proceed and called it a day.

Both [Khun Lee] and I agree that your plan would be a good idea. Please call me at your earliest convenience and we can do this while we are all together so I can pass you the 6-digit code.”

Chanthaburi? That was like a 5-hour drive southeast from Bangkok to a town only 40 km from the Cambodia border. It didn’t make any sense.

I called them and got the WhatsApp account using my Thai mobile phone number set up on my phone. I saw that Tom had sent me a message saying “Hello” at 18:35 on 29th November and another message early the morning of 30th November saying:

“Use this code to verify my WhatsApp messages and calls to you are end-to-end encrypted:

[three lines of numbered code]

No one had replied to either of Tom’s messages. Khun Lee had the SIM card, had he even put it in a phone to read Tom’s messages? That’s why Tom called Jeffrey’s hotel room the night of the 30th, no one was answering my number.

I discovered that Exoticpet88 was back online. This photo of the kids was posted 1st December:

 

These two were posted 3rd December:

 

This photo was posted on @exoticpetworld on 1st December:

Because Nick had disappeared, Tom was advertising the kids for sale. It would be disaster if someone else bought them.

On 2nd December I WhatsApped R. at Freeland: “Exoticpet88 is back and showing the kids.”

No response, so on 4th December I emailed R.:

“Strangely, the Instagram account exoticpet88 (https://www.instagram.com/exoticpet88/) is back online. The account had no posts from 27 April, then was kicked off of Instagram in around October, I don’t know how they got back on. They are showing the kids from 1st December. The account they replaced it with is still functioning (https://www.instagram.com/exoticpetworld/) and also showing the kids.

I hope Khun [Lee] was serious about refunding me the THB 100,000. Are you going to try and arrest the bank account holder for fraud?”

No reply.

On a whim, I thought I would try contacting Tom using my +27 South Africa WhatsApp, which I had on another mobile phone:

Tom never replied to the old David WhatsApp number.

Still no reply from R., but on 6th December I was copied an email from the head of Freeland to Jeffrey, offering to collaborate on future sting operations to generate stories. One line caught my eye: “You saw [Lee] and [E.] in action during the on-the-job training support.” So Inspector X was being trained, he wasn’t an experienced police operative. I thought he looked young. The head of Freeland concluded: “Meanwhile, believe it or not, Op Kid continues in SE Asia. Hopefully more to come, but lets see.” He didn’t sound overly optimistic.

I received nothing more until 8th December, when R. sent a WhatsApp for me to call. I spoke with R. and with Khun Lee. I tried to formulate a plan of how Khun Lee could act as my agent in Bangkok to conclude the deal with Tom in my absence, me pretending to be in Phuket. I would contact Tom with my usual WhatsApp, saying that after no one had delivered the kids as agreed, I went back to Phuket. I would say I left the $17,150 with Khun Lee to pay for the kids. So if Tom was still in Bangkok, I would authorize Khun Lee to meet with Tom, make sure the kids were in good health, and give him the cash and take the kids. I would fly up to Bangkok and bring the kids back to Phuket.

Talking to Khun Lee about setting up how the sting would go was like an old Abbott and Costello skit, “who’s on first?”, except there was no humor in it. It was almost as if he didn’t want a concrete plan of who would do what, where and when. The call concluded with no clear understanding of what the next steps would be.

I contacted Tom on 15th December:

 
Nick: Lee is an idiot I don’t know what is wrong with him. I am trying to get my money back from him. When you didn’t show up Sunday or Monday 2 weeks ago I left money with him. I got fed up and left Tuesday. Lee has over $17,000 of my money. Why didn’t you meet to give kids and take money? I only get nonsense answers from Lee

Tom only replied with a photo:

 
[Next Day]

Nick: Ohhh they look adorable! Can I send someone to see them? If everything looks good I’ll fly up and we’ll finish it

Tom: Ok
Tom: Give me the number of your person .

Nick: Let me find someone I have to ask them. Do they have to go very far from Bangkok?

Tom: Just a bit . but we can easily work it out to see your kids .
Tom: Did you get your money back , Sir ?
Tom: Mr. Lee , Sir . your 17,000 $ .

Nick: Lee said he would give my money when I came up again

Tom: Ok.

[I didn’t want Khun Lee to run the op, so contacted Noi to see if she was in Bangkok. She wasn’t, she had left the country for something. But she sent me these screenshots from after the blown meeting of 1st or 2nd December, it wasn’t clear from R.’s communications which day the attempted meet took place:



 
This was the result of Khun Lee’s great management skills. I sent these screenshots to R. and said someone else should manage the sting meet for Freeland. R. said ‘Eddy’ would do it, one of their Thai operatives.

[Two days later]

Tom: Hi
Tom: Any update yet , Sir ? Holidays are approaching and I think we should plan as soon as we can .

Nick: I finally found someone who said they can contact you tomorrow. I don’t know that many people in Bangkok I had to ask Noi. She refused but said she knew someone who had time

Tom: Ok
Tom: So he will come to see the kids and take it ?
Tom: In fact I can send down the kids for you too but we have to manage how I should get paid and safe for both of us .

[Next day]

Nick: Noi said this guy can go look to see if kids are healthy and if they are I’ll come to pay and take them. His number is +66 64 275 xxxx
[This was Eddy’s number]

Tom: Ok
Tom: Let me forward the number now .

Nick: Ok

Tom: Noi told me you were inspired to get otans babies because you saw them in phuket zoo , rite ?

Nick: Yes. I was there with Jeffrey and they looked so cute

Tom: Great .
Tom: They got two babies , rite ?

Nick: Yes the keeper told me they got them from a zoo in Bangkok

Tom: But kept in the zoo is not good for them .
Tom: Really
[This was rich coming from an ape slaver.]

Nick: I think they were born in a zoo so what to do?

Tom: If they were captive born then should be OK . safari world in Bangkok got lots of jubenile otans when I was there
Tom: And at least ten little babies they got .
Tom: They breed them quite successful .
[More useful intel on Tom, he had inside info at Bangkok Safari World]

Nick: Really?

Tom: Yes
Tom: A lots of them .
Tom: My agent talked to Eddy today .
Tom: Eddy will go and meet your kids in the next couple of days .

Nick: I should have asked if they wanted to sell. Can they sell to individuals? Is eddy noi’s friend?

Tom: Eddy is nois contact .

Nick: Ok fine I hope he goes soon
[I was trying to distance myself from Eddy, in case Tom asked me any questions about who he was. If asked, my story was that Noi just gave me the phone number with no name.]

Tom: They can’t sell to private person .

Nick: What I thought

Tom: In fact Eddy could take back the kids for you if you want .
Tom: He can go inspect , inform you and take it back if you want .

Nick: Lee would have to give him the money. Let me think about it and find out from Noi more about who eddy is

Tom: Ok , Sir .

[Next day]

Tom: Hello

Nick: Hello

Tom: Have you spoken to Noi about Eddy ?
Tom: My guy in bkk is on stand by for you

Nick: She hasn’t answered my call maybe she’s busy. I sent her message to call me

Tom: Ok

Nick: Noi called me and said Eddy is very trustworthy. He will go look at the kids and if they are in good health he will let me know and I will tell Lee to deposit the money. Should it go into the same account as before?

Tom: Yes , Sir .
Tom: Ok
Tom: I will tell my local guy to set up meeting with Eddy , Sir .

Nick: Wonderful

Tom: Will.update

[I was in communications with R. and another Freeland staff member coordinating the meet between Eddy and Tom’s agent. We were all on the same page. It was disappointing that Tom would not be there for the sting, but hopefully his agent would be able to spill the beans on the network and the true identities of Tom and others.]

[Next day, 21 December 2016]

Nick: Hello Tom. Eddy is not answering his phone. Did he pick up the kids?

Tom: My guy is waiting for him since one hour .
Tom: He said he is on the sky train

Nick: Ok I’ll try to be patient

Tom: Ok
Tom: Eddy called you back yet ?


 
[Tom’s guy never took the kids to a vet. The deal was supposed to be a handover of the kids to Eddy, Eddy would inform Lee, and Lee would deposit the final payment. I received a call from Freeland that the courier had been arrested and the kids seized by the police. I later discovered that the sting had been held in a mall parking garage. Why? What happened to the plan to make the arrest in the vet’s office? I was never to receive an answer to my question.]

Nick: Noi told me kids were seized. What do l do?

[No reply]

On 25th December I sent a last message:

Nick: Merry Christmas Tom

The +855 81 number went dead, never to return to service, and the Exoticpet88 and Exoticpetworld IG accounts disappeared from the Internet.

There was considerable media coverage of the sting (selected):

AP on youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCHe8zYIDsE

http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/general/1167496/baby-orangutans-rescued-in-thai-police-sting

https://www.freeland.org/post/exotic-wildlife-trafficking-ring-broken-in-asia

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38409849

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4063418/Baby-orangutans-rescued-Thai-police-sting.html

http://www.usatoday.com/videos/news/nation/2016/12/22/thai-police-rescue-two-baby-orangutans/95742732/

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/videos/news/thai-police-rescue-two-baby-orangutans/videoshow/56124321.cms

http://www.thestartv.com/episode/thai-wildlife-authority-agents-seized-two-smuggled-infant-orangutan-from-sting-operation/

baby-orangutans/vp-BBxsilS / https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/thai-police-rescue-two-baby-orangutans/vp-BBxsilS

http://www.khou.com/features/baby-orangutans-rescued-in-thailand/376899269

http://thailand-uk.com/forums/showthread.php?21750-Baby-orangutans-rescued-from-Thai-taxi

https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/world/its-really-saddening-see-thai-police-rescue-baby-orangutans-in-wildlife-trafficking-bust-v1

http://globalheadlines.ddns.net/news/baby-orangutans-rescued-from-thai-taxi

http://www.entirenewslink.com/baby-orangutans-rescued-from-thai-taxi/

http://hottestnews.xyz/sciencenature/baby-orangutans-rescued-from-thai-taxi/

http://journaltimes.com/news/world/video-thai-police-rescue-baby-orangutans/video_33d70f5a-6de0-5765-a2e7-3892694bfd7c.html

http://www.bta.bg/en/gallery/image/3837244

http://theworldlink.com/news/world/video-thai-police-rescue-baby-orangutans/video_3783ccaf-ea34-5b43-89f1-804bba58e74d.html

http://azdailysun.com/news/world/video-thai-police-rescue-baby-orangutans/video_e43d6cd8-1a1d-5fd1-b489-d064bd581940.html

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-23/thai-police-rescue-two-baby-orangutans/8144566

http://www.bkgnews.com/sciencenature/baby-orangutans-rescued-from-thai-taxi/

http://www.gazettetimes.com/news/world/video-thai-police-rescue-baby-orangutans/video_a453a52f-08cf-5658-8e28-6d3168672bb5.html

https://www.aargauerzeitung.ch/panorama/vermischtes/zwei-baby-orang-utans-aus-schmugglerhaenden-befreit-130814731

https://freetheapes.org/2016/12/28/infant-orangutans-rescued-in-police-sting/

Video of Bangkok trafficker and orangs https://www.facebook.com/edwin.wiek/videos/10153985145382443/

Freeland sent me some photos of the bust.

I only found out later that there was only a taxi driver in the car, no ‘agent’ of Tom’s – unless the driver was the agent.


 
The kids were taken to a government wildlife holding facility outside of Bangkok.


 
I tried for weeks to get news from Freeland of what was happening with the case, but no one would give me a straight answer, just saying it was in progress. I didn’t even know if anyone had been arrested or if a prosecution was planned. I thought at least Jirapat, the person in whose bank account I had made the deposit, could be prosecuted. I only found out from tweets on Edwin Wiek’s Twitter account later what happened.


 
Nothing. No arrests, no prosecutions, no investigation. The only good outcome, other than preventing the trafficking of the kids, was Jeffrey’s New York Times article, which came out almost a year after the sting:

End of Part III.

Anatomy of a Sting – Part I

by

Nick

 

Editor’s note: This comprehensive account describes the prodigious effort it took to set up relations with a large-scale exotic pet trafficker based in Southeast Asia and pull off a sting operation. Exoticpet88, the name of an Instagram account, was reputedly run by a kingpin animal trafficker named Joe. The account advertised a wide range of wildlife species for sale, with most of the animals or birds being captured in the wild. Exoticpet88 operated a farm on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia, where it held the animals before shipment. The network was made up of field wildlife collectors in Southeast Asia and wildlife suppliers further afield in Africa and Latin America, inferred from the species seen in online posts. They had particularly strong connections with traders and buyers in the Middle East and South Asia.

It took 5 months of effort, with dead-ends, stops and starts, shifts in undercover identities, and great persistence to finally lay a trap aimed at catching the head of the Exoticpet88 network in the act of illegally selling two infant orangutans. The undercover investigator used various aliases and this narrative describes how others assisted in the operation. The investigator last used the alias Nick and this is his story.

PART I – David and Joe

I first heard of Exoticpet88 in late December, 2015, when Patricia emailed me with a screenshot of his Instagram account as it appeared on a mobile phone. She wrote, “Instagram account exoticpet88 … is apparently a man who calls himself Joy [sic] in Thailand. He exports all kinds of animals to the Arab countries via the Oman airport. He sends gibbons with dogs in crates, so the dogs’ barking veil the gibbons. He is one of many Thai dealers, I’m told, that do the same. They take animals from all over Southeast Asia (gibbons, lorises, orangs, etc.). He even has a picture of a clouded leopard on the attached image.”

 

I first met Patricia Tricorache of the Cheetah Conservation Fund electronically in June, 2015, when she emailed me out of the blue asking if I knew anything about cheetah cub capture and trafficking from the Horn of Africa. I said I didn’t, but that I’d seen quite a few posts on social media of cheetahs either being offered for sale or being flaunted by proud owners, mainly in the Gulf. Since we were both engaged in investigating illegal wildlife trade, me with great apes and her with cheetahs, we agreed to collaborate. Soon after that, she began sharing with me a very large collection of material that she had amassed from years of work. I had only started looking at Facebook and Instagram accounts in March of that year, so Patricia’s information provided me with a huge boost.

I reciprocated by sending her the account links of cheetahs I came across, after checking first with her Excel spreadsheet that listed those she had already found. We soon had an active exchange system running, demonstrating the truth of the adage that ‘two heads are better than one’.

Over time I developed my methodology of how I would find new traffickers, figure out who was linked with whom, who was a dealer, who an exotic pet owner (i.e. buyer), who was both, and discerning the networks of suppliers, middlemen, clients and those who collaborated closely with one another. It took a while to determine the composition of the interlinked wildlife trafficking networks based in South, Central and Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Americans, Europeans and Hong Kong Chinese also appeared in the exchanges, but not mainland Chinese. I thought this odd, until I discovered that China does not allow Facebook or Instagram to operate. Chinese use mainly Weibo, Alibaba, Taobao (owned by Alibaba) and WeChat to conduct the trafficking business.

The way I recorded the information I found online also evolved over time. After about a year I had down pat how I would crop the screen grab to include the photo, the name of the account, any important comments on it (which might mean more than one screenshot if I had to scroll down) and the date. I would label the screenshot in a numbered sequence with the date of the post DD/MM/YR. I downloaded mainly great ape posts, but I also started collecting information including contact emails and mobile/WhatsApp numbers, other social media accounts, posts of financial transactions (some of the traffickers actually posted bank transfer and deposit documents), visits to other countries, group photos, Friends and Followers of interest, and any other photos that might provide useful information about activities, identities and locations. I discovered that re-posts of the same animal photo on different accounts was fairly common, which created problems for identifying who made the original post and when it was made. Some ‘for sale’ advertisement posts were also deleted after a sale was made, creating more difficulties in recording everything that was going on, as I must have missed many of those. I made up a couple of Excel databases, one with the names and data by country, the other with the names and numbers of each species seen to get a count.

The work was extremely time-consuming and as the number of persons-of-interest (POI) increased, it became progressively more difficult to monitor all of the existing POIs and add new ones. Some of the POIs had multiple Facebook (FB) and/or Instagram (IG) accounts in different names, and determining that took time. Accounts would also close from time to time, I was never certain of the reason, and sometimes I could find a new one pop up owned by the same POI as a recently closed account.

Back to Exoticpet88

Patricia gave me access to her screengrabs of Exoticpet88. Most were crops of the photos only, but some were whole page screen grabs so I could see the photo, name of the account, a few comments and how long ago it was posted. One of these proved that the account owner was based in Jakarta and strongly suggested he was selling chimpanzees. Where were they coming from? The screengrab was dated 14 July 2014 and it was 87 weeks old, so posted around April 2012. There were other posts of chimpanzees, infant orangutans, all kinds of monkeys, big cat cubs, red pandas, reptiles (including crocodiles) and colorful birds. On many of his posts and in his profile he gave his email address. In early 2016, the Exoticpet88 account disappeared from Instagram.

“I am in Jakarta”. Exoticpet88 was selling chimpanzees. Where were they coming from?

I made some enquiries and was told that Joe had quit the exotic pet trading business. Some time earlier I had come across a Kuwaiti who announced he was quitting the business. His IG moniker was @exoticpet, plus other accounts with a variation on the name. Was there a connection with @exoticpet88?

An IG account owned by a Kuwaiti animal trafficker.

In August 2016 I decided to contact the old @exoticpet88 email address with an alias name email account I had set up for other purposes years earlier, so if @exoticpet88 checked it he would see it was old and not one set up recently just to contact him.

I wrote, “Hello, are you still in business? I’m looking for something.”

Three weeks later a ‘Joe TK <exoticpet88@gmail.com>’ replied:

 

I’d struck pay dirt! Over two weeks later I replied, “Am looking for young otans.” In previous communications with Indonesian traffickers some referred to orangutans as ‘otans’, so I thought using the term would show Joe that I was not a novice.

The next day he replied, “Give me your cell number pls”.

Two days later I responded, “Use WhatsApp +XXXXXXXXXX”, giving him a WhatsApp number from a country I was not in, to help hide my identity. As I travelled around I opened WhatsApp accounts on different devices with the country codes and numbers of the different countries. As long as we stuck with WhatsApp I was okay, but if he wanted a cell phone call I was dead, unless I was actually in the country of the number at the time.

Joe got back to me the next day with the message below.

 

A zoo license? I guessed he was being careful, trying not to appear to be what he was – a big-time exotic pet trafficker, as his IG handle indicated. Our conversation progressed as shown below. I’m the green-coloured text.

 

The person I thought was Joe called me by mobile service network, not WhatsApp audio, I imagine to confirm that I actually was in South Africa. I was using a +27 country code SIM card and just happened to be in South Africa at the time. The man spoke reasonably good English with what sounded like a Malaysian or Indonesian accent. He said that Joe was no longer running @exoticpet88, but that he was. He said for me to call him Tom. After speaking briefly, he sent me a video of a young orangutan he said was for sale. He asked me if I knew a wildlife trader in South Africa named Eddy. I said I didn’t. I later passed the name on to someone who studied wildlife trade based in South Africa with TRAFFIC. He hadn’t heard of any Eddy either.

His mobile number was +855 81 followed by six numbers. I went online to see if I could trace it, using Truecaller and a reverse caller number lookup app, plus just using a Google search. Nothing. A +855 area code is both the country code for Cambodia and a toll-free number that can be purchased for use in the USA and Canada. But there was no ‘81’ city code for Cambodia and the only five mobile prefixes in the country were +855 11, 12, 15, 16 and 18. No 81. All the North American +855 numbers require seven following numbers, and Joe’s was eight. Indeed a mystery.

 

 

 

 


It was now the 3rd of October, I was leaving South Africa on the 5th. There was a New York Times journalist very interested in doing a story on great ape trafficking and he was eager to go along with me to witness the sting and arrest, but it was difficult setting a time when he could go to Indonesia. That explains my “am checking with partner and buyer” above. I flew to another country on the 5th and contacted Tom on 6th October with the South African WhatsApp number.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had found that Tom or his associates had set up a new IG account in September or October 2016 called @exoticpetworld and many of the posts were re-posts from @exoticpet88.

This post of an orangutan infant posted on 10th October 2016 was first posted on @exoticpet88 in 2014.

It looked like Tom and/or his associates were reviving the online business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Otans selling quickly to China was not good news. I knew that there was a rapidly expanding zoo and safari park industry there, orangutans were popular.

I was in Dubai 18-22 October to collect information about wildlife traffickers operating there from various sources that I had developed over the previous two-and-a-half years. I replaced the South African SIM card with a UAE one.


 

 

I traced the number to Byat Juma bin Byat, one of the owners of Amazonpet, a major exotic animal trafficker in the UAE. I had recently visited their two pet shops in Al Warsan, on the outskirts of Dubai, and had been monitoring their ads of great apes, gibbons, tiger and lion cubs and other endangered species for a couple of years. I had even posted comments on their IG account asking to buy chimpanzees, but no reply, and then on 19th October while in Dubai I sent a message by WhatsApp to the number advertised on their IG account asking to buy an ape pet. They replied that they only had reptiles. I thought it was too risky to contact them again with the same UAE number and a different cover story. By 23 October, when Tom sent me the number, I had already left Dubai and could not therefore buy a new UAE SIM card. Bad timing.

Six months earlier, in March 2016 Amazonpet posted this photo, along with many others around the same time, of apes, big cats, etc., so their WhatsApp message to me that they sold only reptiles rang hollow.

My exchange with Tom ceased for the time being.

End of Part I

Indonesian traffickers’ transaction method of selling illegal wildlife: Rekber

PEGAS has been monitoring online social media accounts for over three years, finding wildlife dealers who sell great apes captured in their forest habitats to the highest bidder. Dealers in Indonesia are amongst the most active of these ape traffickers, especially of the lesser apes (gibbons and siamangs).

The Facebook or Instagram posts of Indonesians are always in Bahasa Indonesia, the local language. PEGAS struggles with Google Translate to try to figure out what they are saying. One word, even in very short comments, keeps recurring when an animal is offered for sale: ‘rekber’, often with the word ‘wajib’. ‘Wajib’ is translated as ‘required’, but no translation could be found for ‘rekber’.

Here are many examples of both adverts and transaction instructions:

The fact that business PIN numbers are almost always given by dealers indicates that CITES Appendix I species – supposedly protected from commercial trade – are being trafficked with a veneer of legality.

 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
One day PEGAS got lucky when a big Indonesian wildlife trafficker gave a short tutorial on what ‘rekber’ meant and how it operated. The word is an abbreviation of ‘rekoning bersama’, which means ‘joint account’. There are several private rekber services comprised of individuals or companies that have set up bank accounts to act as escrow services. They make money by charging a service fee for the financial transaction (e.g. RekBer CeperzBank, ceperzbank.com; RekBer IndoBank, http://www.rekberindobank.info; MangRekBer, http://www.mangrekber.com).

Here is how it works: the dealer and buyer agree on a price, for example, for two orangutan infants, let’s say Rupiah 140 million (~USD 10,000). They go to an online Rekber service. The service cannot release funds to the seller (i.e. dealer) until the buyer gives the thumbs up. Then, (1) the seller deposits the agreed price into the account, (2) the service informs the seller that the funds are there, (3) the dealer ships the orangutans, (4) the buyer informs the service that he has received what he paid for and (5) the service releases the funds to the dealer.

A schematic diagram showing how RekBer works

So Indonesian banks are facilitating illegal wildlife trade, albeit without direct knowledge of what is being traded. These services are not registered as banks, which means that they operate largely on trust between the buyer and seller and the service entity. Regulatory steps need to be taken to ensure that Rekber services are not used for trade in illegal commodities, or for illicit financial flows in the form of tax evasion and money laundering.

Ape Only Walks Upright After Spending 9 Years Stuck In This Cage

ELIZABETH CLAIRE ALBERTS wrote a wonderful story in The Dodo on Poco, one of Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary’s most famous residents. We reprint it here.

He might look different, but he’s the sweetest chimp — and loves to show off for visitors at his new sanctuary home.

Rusted metal cage
Chimp sitting on the ground at sanctuary
Chimp lying on grass at sanctuary
Chimp standing at fence of enclosure
Woman looking at cage that imprisoned chimp

Inside the cruel world of illegal chimp trading: How apes are stolen to order, crammed into crates then smuggled across the world to satisfy the whims of the ignorant and wealthy

Ian Birrell of the Mail On Sunday has published an article on wildlife traffickers that were arrested in Nepal last October. One of them, a Pakistani named Jawaid Khan, has been in PEGAS’s crosshairs for several months. Khan has been smuggling chimps out of Kano, Nigeria, for years. PEGAS brought the story to Birrell’s attention and worked with him on it. 

Ian Birrell, Mail On Sunday, 13 January, 2018

  • Traumatised animals are transported thousands of miles from their native lands
  • Chimps sold for up to £50,000 to wealthy collectors in Asia and the Middle East
  • Police have launched crack down on smugglers, arrested four men last week

RESCUED: The two baby chimps found hidden in a crate flown into Kathmandu

The crate flown in from Istanbul was filled with exotic creatures for collectors: tantalus and patas monkeys, golden and ring-necked pheasants, scores of parrots and several dozen pigeons.

The cargo quickly cleared customs and quarantine checks –thanks to a £4,400 bribe, say investigators – and was collected by a pair of local bird dealers in Kathmandu.

Little did they know they were being observed by a special squad of Nepalese police investigating a major international wildlife smuggling ring.

For also inside the crate – stuffed into a secretive middle section – were two infant chimpanzees, cowering in fear after being ripped from their slaughtered families in an African forest.

The traumatised animals had been transported thousands of miles from their native lands and were at risk of dying of suffocation. They could barely be detected hidden among the more humdrum birds and monkeys.

For these terrified chimps, barely a year old, suffering severe dehydration and shedding body weight inside their grim container, were prized assets in a barbaric global trade in great apes that is decimating the species.

Such creatures can be sold for up to £50,000 to wealthy collectors in Asia and the Middle East – but for each one seized from the wild, up to ten of our closest genetic cousins are killed by poachers to get the babies demanded by buyers.

The Central Bureau of Investigation team, acting on a tip-off from an informant, watched as the crate of creatures was taken to the nearby base of one of the dealers. There the dealers were joined by an Indian businessman and his assistant.

The police moved in and arrested the four men on suspicion of settling a clandestine deal to shift the animals to India, which shares open borders with Nepal.

Investigators suspect he could be a significant figure in the shady world of animal smuggling in which selfish crooks send baby apes in the most horrific conditions to collectors around the planet.

They wonder whether he might be the figure known as ‘Jawaid Chimpanzee’ in the secretive forums where illicit deals are made and amid the furtive chatter of traders.

Exposed: Jawaid Aslam Khan poses as an animal lover on Facebook but investigators say he is a key player in a cruel industry
[photo provided by PEGAS]

Investigators suspect that Khan, whose social media sites show him routinely clutching baby chimpanzees and other rare animals such as white tiger cubs along with rapid-fire guns, has become one of the key players in a cruel industry.

‘This guy’s name would pop up again and again,’ said Doug Cress, chief executive of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and former head of a United Nations initiative to protect great apes.

Great apes are among the world’s most intelligent and protected animals, and their sale is banned except from certified breeding centres. They have become a highly profitable part of the illegal wildlife trade, with baby gorillas fetching up to £200,000.

Unlike trade in ivory or rhino horn, however, this involves fast transit of live animals. Often they are drugged and crammed into suitcases or containers; one baby chimp was even discovered in hand baggage scanned at Cairo airport.

The buyers are rich families in the Arabian Gulf and Asia who often keep these sensitive and sociable creatures in solitary cages, dressing them up in children’s clothes then dumping, killing or selling them when they grow into more aggressive teenagers.

SHAMEFUL: Rich buyers often dress up baby chimps
[Photo provided by PEGAS]

Some have been taught to smoke, forced to wear make-up or simply beaten into performing the most banal tricks for their masters.

Many end up as props for tourist pictures, performing stunts such as boxing in animal shows or suffering miserable incarceration for decades in dodgy zoos. Some are driven mad, making them hard to rehabilitate if rescued.

There is also huge risk of spreading disease and parasites from animals evading quarantine checks. Experts fear scores of great apes are being smuggled each month, many dying in transit. ‘We are only just beginning to understand the scale of this,’ said Cress. ‘It is an incredibly brutal market in very fragile animals.’

This is why last year’s Nepal bust marks a significant breakthrough, since those usually caught are low-level poachers and traders on the ground in Africa, not the people suspected of running sophisticated global smuggling networks.

Nepalese investigators suspect Khan was also sending smuggled chimpanzees to Bangladesh, Thailand and several other countries.

Khan, currently held in Nepalese custody, is a familiar figure to those fighting the trade, such as Daniel Stiles, a Kenya-based conservationist who hunts smugglers. He has developed a network of informants and scans dark web sites and social media.

Stiles said Khan’s name cropped up in previous investigations – including one that resulted in the capture of traders in Ivory Coast last year – and in online discussions. ‘They talk about Jawaid Chimpanzee because he holds so many chimps,’ he said.

Bubbles: The chimp once owned by Michael Jackson seen painting

Khan has regularly posted pictures of baby chimps, sometimes in his arms, on his Facebook site as he travels the world. In one post, in May 2016, he replies to an enquiry asking if one of the infant apes can go to Pakistan, saying ‘why not’. Under international rules to protect wildlife, chimpanzees have the highest protection. Their export is tightly controlled. Chimps sent abroad must be bred in recognised centres of captivity and destined for non-commercial use, while all trades must be registered.

Stiles saw that Khan had posted a picture of two baby chimps in June last year on the site of a suspected Turkish animal smuggler with links to central Africa. He contacted Anil Jain – a biometrics expert and professor of computer science at Michigan State University who has been developing facial-recognition systems for wildlife – to help determine if these were the same animals seized in Kathmandu.

‘The scores indicate a high likelihood these are the same chimps,’ said Prof Jain last week.

Khan’s social media postings discovered by Stiles also show other pictures of endangered species –and guns such as a semi-automatic Heckler & Koch rifle, plus a clip of bullets. They reveal he makes frequent trips to Kano, Nigeria – a noted centre for wildlife smuggling where the shipment for Nepal originated – and has made multiple trips to Istanbul, the transit point. He even posted online a snap of an airline boarding pass between the two cities.

Other recent postings show giraffes and hippopotamuses packed into crates and lorries. There are images from Kano of wooden crates marked ‘Live Animals’ on a runway beside an aircraft – along with the message ‘congratulations boss’ from an employee of an African firm linked to the illicit trading of birds and bushmeat.

Many key smugglers run firms that also legitimately trade animals. This helps mask illicit activities, aided by corrupt officials who assist them to evade customs and conservation controls in return for chunky pay-offs.

A report being finalised by Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based think tank, will reveal the chimpanzee trade is worth tens of millions of dollars annually – although those capturing them earn as little as £36 for each animal.

‘This is a very well organised business,’ said Channing May, a policy analyst. ‘You need organisation and skills to transport these animals. Many traders operate front companies that manipulate documents to make movements look legitimate.’

The impact of their callous trade is catastrophic. It is thought that about 300,000 chimps survive in the wild, where they face threats from population growth, loss of habitat, conflict and poaching. They have been wiped out already in four countries.

Poachers usually wipe out entire families or social groups to grab one cute infant, selling any slaughtered creatures for bushmeat.

Adult chimpanzees are several times stronger than humans and can deliver savage bites. Some captives have their teeth pulled out, thumbs amputated to stop them climbing, or are hideously beaten with metal bars to control them.

One landmark UN study revealed that 1,800 apes were discovered in 23 countries while being trafficked between 2005 and 2011. But over the same period there were only 27 arrests in Africa and Asia – and some of those held were not prosecuted.

Yet there is a glimmer of good news.

The two Kathmandu chimps have become friends and are recovering well from their trauma in Nepal’s Central Zoo while experts await results of DNA testing to discover if they hail from Nigeria or another African nation for safe return to a sanctuary.

‘These guys may have a happy ending and hopefully live for another 60 years,’ said Mr Cress.

‘But sadly, thousands of other less fortunate chimps will die because of this vile trade.’

Will Chimpu and Champa, the names given to the chimpanzees, have a happy life? Nepal’s Central Zoo seems determined to keep them. The zoo is little better than the Abidjan Zoo where Nemley Junior, the chimp seized in the BBC sting, died. Ibrahima Traore and his brother Mohamed were out in six months after their arrest.

Abraham Foundation provides bridging funding

The Abraham Foundation, based in New York City, USA, kindly responded to a PEGAS request for funding to allow the project to continue operating into the new year, when hopefully PEGAS can obtain sufficient funds to continue its important work.

 

 

 

PEGAS has targeted a number of high profile wildlife traffickers that it will try to put out of business, and there are a number of captive great apes that are in dire need of a sanctuary. The work will carry on, thanks to Nancy Abraham and the Foundation. Thank you.

Short video on Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary

PEGAS, working in collaboration with Sam Wolson Media, has produced a short 4-minute video that explains why the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary exists, its history and connection with Dr. Jane Goodall, the renowned chimpanzee expert and conservationist. Jane was kind enough to narrate the video herself. The residents of Sweetwaters are the victims of the illegal pet and zoo trade, as the video explains.

Please view the video here