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Baby apes are being stolen for pets—and little is being done to stop it

Editor’s note: This article by Rachel Nuwer is based on the Global Initiative’s ‘Empty Forests’ report on illegal great ape trade. PEGAS has added a photo and links.

With baby gorillas fetching up to $550,000, the illicit trade is booming as demand for African great apes rises in China, the Middle East, and Pakistan.


Chimpu, a chimpanzee rescued from a smuggling operation in 2017, receives care at Central Zoo, in Kathmandu, Nepal. Two years later in a high-profile case, a Nepali court convicted five men of trafficking baby chimpanzees.  [see

Great apes in Africa face the severe threats of habitat destruction and poaching for bushmeat. Now, they’re also increasingly targeted to supply international demand for pets and zoo attractions, according to a new report published by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. So far this problem has largely escaped the notice of most groups tasked with protecting Africa’s great apes: chimpanzees, bonobos, and two species of gorillas.

All four species are endangered—most critically—and are protected by national and international laws. But few groups or governments track ape seizures, making it difficult to know how serious a threat poaching for the live animal trade poses. Circumstantial evidence suggests the problem is significant and growing, says Daniel Stiles, an independent wildlife trade investigator in Kenya who authored the report.

“International policymakers, conservation organizations, and donor governments have not grasped the staggering extent of the illegal trade in African great apes,” says Iris Ho, head of campaigns and policy at the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), a nonprofit coalition of 23 primate sanctuaries in 13 African countries, who was interviewed for the report.

Working with a network of undercover investigators and informants, Stiles found that advertisements for live baby great apes are on the rise on WhatsApp and social media. Since 2015, he documented 593 ads for great apes posted by 131 individuals in 17 countries. Prices for the animals have quadrupled compared to a decade ago, with chimps now selling for up to $100,000, bonobos for up to $300,000, and gorillas for up to $550,000. The new report doesn’t cover orangutans, which live in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Most of the African apes go to China, Pakistan, Libya, or the Gulf States—especially the United Arab Emirates—where they become pets or, increasingly, attractions at private zoos. Some 10,000 zoos opened in China between 2013 and 2020, nearly doubling the total number, Stiles reports. It’s easier for locally registered zoos to obtain import permits for strictly protected species than it is for individual citizens, which helps explain zoos’ proliferation. “Registered zoos provide legal cover in the guise of rescue or conservation centers,” Stiles says. “They also offer laundering facilities for animals smuggled in and sold as captive bred.”

In most countries, once a wildlife facility is registered with local authorities, he adds, “you can call them zoos, rescue or conservation centers, sanctuaries—whatever you want.”

Private wildlife facilities offer laundering facilities for animals smuggled in and sold as captive bred. [Photo added by PEGAS]

Another sign of increasing demand is the escalating number of young apes taken in by PASA-accredited wildlife sanctuaries in Africa since 2019, Ho says. PASA sanctuaries look after more than 1,100 chimpanzees, the majority confiscated from traders. Rescued young apes require permanent care, but most PASA sanctuaries are already operating at capacity, and all are underfunded.

Stiles found that traders mainly source baby apes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and West African countries, especially Guinea. For every kidnapped baby chimp, poachers usually kill six to seven adults. Experts also estimate that five to 10 babies die from injuries, illness, or mistreatment for every animal that makes it to buyers abroad.

Traders smuggle some great apes out of Africa in legal shipments of monkeys or birds, the report notes. Increasingly, though, animals are brought to registered zoos, including in South Africa. Evidence suggests that these facilities obtain legal export permits for wild-caught great apes by falsely claiming the animals were bred in captivity.

‘I was tired of battling the bureaucracy’

Little is being done to stop this new trend in illegal trade, Stiles writes, in part because three of the most important international groups tasked with protecting great apes have yet to pay serious attention to the problem.

The Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP)—a United Nations alliance—includes combating illegal trade among its priorities. But according to Doug Cress, GRASP’s former leader, the group “barely functions anymore.” Cress resigned in 2016 because the UN agencies that were supposed to be supporting the effort never treated it as a priority, he says. “I was tired of battling the bureaucracy.”

Johannes Refisch, who took over GRASP’s leadership, says that “halting illegal trade is a priority.” Refisch pointed to an ape seizure database that GRASP launched in 2016 as the group’s “main instrument to better understand the drivers of illegal trade so that we can help address it effectively.”

Stiles says that when he requested access to GRASP’s database, in August 2022, he received “a ridiculous report” containing a table of seizure numbers that had no details attached about locations or dates, and no citations. “It had no data,” he says. “Totally useless.”

Refisch declined National Geographic’s request to view the database.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the global authority on endangered species, is home to an expert group dedicated to great apes, but it doesn’t prioritize illegal trade, according to Stiles. This stands in contrast to IUCN specialist groups for different species, which actively report on illegal trade. “Look at pangolins,” Stiles says. “No one even knew what the heck a pangolin was until the IUCN specialist group started reporting and saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got tens of thousands of pangolins being trafficked’—and now it’s a big deal.”

“It’s insane that’s not being done with great apes,” he adds. [see

“The IUCN,” says Dirck Byler, of the organization’s Primate Specialist Group, “considers all threats to great ape populations as serious, and many of its members have dedicated their professional careers to reducing or reversing the threats to great apes, including efforts to reduce the illegal ape trade.”

CITES, the global treaty to ensure that international wildlife trade doesn’t threaten the survival of species, lacks a working group dedicated to great apes, Stiles reports. At last year’s CITES conference, where representatives from 183 countries and the European Union met to make decisions about trade in endangered species, great apes weren’t even included on the agenda. “Because this trade is international, it falls under the purview of CITES,” Stiles says. “But CITES is not taking action.” [see

Ben Janse Van Rensburg, chief of the enforcement unit at the CITES Secretariat, says that individual countries are responsible for making sure trade in protected species remains legal. In cases where concerns are raised, he says, the Secretariat “has issued a statement to provide factual background.”

CITES member countries are also responsible for setting the agenda for discussion at conferences and meetings, he says, and for establishing working groups for specific species.

Stiles counters in his report that representatives from Niger, Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Uganda did attempt to create a CITES working group dedicated to great apes, in 2014 and 2016. But these requests, he says, were “refused” by the CITES representative chairing the meeting.

Iris Ho adds that in March 2022 Gabon, supported by Senegal, Guinea and Nigeria, requested—to no avail—that great apes be put on the agenda for the CITES conference later in the year. She says the U.S. also emphasized the importance of paying attention to this issue.

Without concerted global action, the problem will only worsen, Stiles warns. Already, he’s seeing signs that great ape trade is spreading to India. “If the international community does not begin to take great ape trafficking seriously, it will continue to grow, threatening the very survival of our closest relatives,” he says.


EMPTY FORESTS: How politics, economics and corruption fuel live great ape trafficking

The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime has released a new report on great ape trafficking.

The under-reporting of great apes seized in illegal trade incidents, both nationally and internationally, is flagged as a serious problem in bringing a true appreciation of the great ape trafficking situation to the attention of governments, international organizations, and the media. Relevant institutions in the UN system and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are singled out as needing improvement in their approaches concerning the illegal trade in great apes.

By far the main demand driver for removing African great apes from the wild is for bushmeat, sold in local markets or transported to urban areas. Great ape body parts, particularly skulls and hands, have a local market for use in traditional medicine or rituals, and the skulls are sometimes purchased overseas by collectors, academic institutions and artists. Several seizures have been made of great ape skulls nationally or shipped internationally.

This report deals only with live African great ape trafficking, but infant capture often results as a byproduct of bushmeat hunting. Another potential deleterious impact of the illegal great ape trade was thrust into the spotlight by the COVID-19 pandemic. The most likely cause of the pandemic is that the virus passed from an infected wild animal to humans in a food market,4 although the possibility of a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology is favoured by some.

Most illegal great ape imports are done without veterinary health inspections or certificates, which raises considerably the risk of introducing one or more zoo-notic diseases to humans in destination countries. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised government and public awareness about the health risks involved in the illegal wildlife trade (IWT), which may lead to better legislation aimed at controlling this frequently ignored threat.

This report describes the evolution of this recent black market, which is different in important respects from the traditional exotic animal markets that preceded it. In some countries, the political and economic interests of corrupt government and law enforcement officials facilitate the illegal trade and hinder effective actions to stop it. Even international organizations dedicated to wildlife conservation are not free from the political and economic interests that impede successful trafficking-mitigation efforts, particularly in the case of great apes.

The report can be accessed here.

Explained: Why three baby chimpanzees were kidnapped from a Congo sanctuary

Editor’s note: Great ape capture in the wild and trafficking for the exotic pet trade has been rising for about two years. Prices for the infants have also been rising, providing even more incentive to the traffickers to increase their efforts. This new twist to infant capture introduces an alarming development that hopefully will be nipped in the bud. This article summarizes the situation at the time of writing. It is not over yet.

This is the ‘first incident in the world’ where baby apes have been kidnapped for ransom. The abductors have demanded a six-figure sum and threatened to harm the chimpanzees if their demands are not met

FP Explainers September 26, 2022

Explained: Why three baby chimpanzees were kidnapped from a Congo sanctuary

Three baby chimpanzees have been kidnapped in Congo for ransom. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons (Representational Image)

In a first, three baby chimpanzees have been kidnapped from an animal sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The kidnappers have demanded a six-figure ransom to free the three baby chimps– Monga, César and Hussein, reported The New York Times (NYT).

“This is the first time in the world that baby apes were kidnapped for ransom,” Franck Chantereau, co-founder of the sanctuary where the kidnapping took place, told CNN.

The sanctuary – Young Animals Confiscated in Katanga (shortened to  JACK in French) in Congo’s Lubumbashi – houses 40 chimpanzees and 64 monkeys of 14 species that have been rescued from Congo’s illegal wildlife trade, notes NYT.

How did the kidnapping take place and why were the chimps targeted?

Let’s take a closer look:

The abduction

As per CNN, the kidnappers broke into the sanctuary around 3 am on 9 September and took away three of the five baby chimpanzees rescued by Franck this year.

His wife Roxane Chantereau, co-founder of the sanctuary, received three texts and a video on WhatsApp showing two baby chimpanzees moving across a dirty floor covered with tumbled furniture, as per NYT.

As the video panned across the room, the third chimp was seen standing on a dresser with her arms tied over her head.

In the three voice messages, the kidnappers threatened to kill the chimpanzees unless Roxane paid the ransom money. Further, they reportedly threatened to kill her and abduct her two children.

“They told us that they had planned to kidnap my children because they were supposed to come here on vacation. But they didn’t come so the kidnappers took these three babies hostage and demanded a large amount of ransom from us,” Franck was quoted as saying by CNN.

The kidnappers claimed to have drugged the chimpanzees and threatened to hurt the hostage animals if their demand was not fulfilled.

Explained Why three baby chimpanzees were kidnapped from a Congo sanctuary

The kidnappers have demanded a six-figure ransom to release the three baby chimps. Wikimedia Commons (Representational Image)

A few days later, Roxane Chantereau again received texts from the kidnappers warning that they will decapitate one of the baby chimpanzees and sell the other two to Chinese traffickers, Franck told NYT.

He stated they have not heard from the abductors for two weeks now which is “worrying” them.

He stated the authorities have taken the case “very seriously” and “consider the robbing of these babies as a security threat for the country,” NYT reported.

Franck said the sanctuary is unable to pay the ransom money, adding that if they heed the demand, this incident is likely to occur again in the coming months. Expressing apprehension, he told CNN there is no guarantee if the chimps will be returned even after the kidnappers are paid.

The authorities are also not in favour of paying the ransom.

Calling the abduction “inhumane and unnatural”, Michel Koyakpa, media adviser to DRC’s environment minister, told CNN, “we will not give in to this kind of demand”.

Koyakpa said the search is on to find the stolen baby chimpanzees.

Notably, Congo, which has a rich biodiversity, offers sanctuaries the same legal protections as national parks.

Sanctuary targeted earlier

In 2006, months after the sanctuary was opened, a group of people had broken in and torched the baby chimps’ sleeping place, leading to the death of two of the five apes that were there then, reports CNN.

While in September 2013, the sanctuary’s education center was targeted and set ablaze by miscreants, however, there were no fatalities.

Illegal wildlife trafficking

Illegal wildlife trade is not rare in Congo. It is the only country in Africa where all four great apes– chimpanzees, bonobos, western gorillas and eastern gorillas–  are found.

Congo has become a hotspot for wildlife trafficking.

The illegal trade of ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, and poaching of live baby chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos has become rampant in Congo amid increase in demand for primates in China, Pakistan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Franck told NYT.

Explained Why three baby chimpanzees were kidnapped from a Congo sanctuary

This is the first time that an ape has been kidnapped from a sanctuary in Africa for ransom. Wikimedia Commons (Representational Image)

However, this is the first time that an ape has been kidnapped from a sanctuary in Africa for ransom.

Franck said the buyers of these exotic animals are mostly rich people. He added that they do not understand the consequences of their action as to capture one baby, an entire family of up to 10 adults is killed by poachers.

Experts fear that if the kidnappers are not punished, there can be more kidnappings for ransom. “If they get away with this, these cases are going to happen over and over again,” Adams Cassinga, founder of Conserv Congo, a nonprofit group battling wildlife trafficking in DRC, told NYT.

He said the Congo government and global community must come together and send a stern message that such incidents will not be “tolerated”.

Captured, trafficked and enslaved – what Bua Noi’s liberation could mean

Bua Noi, meaning Little Lotus in Thai, has festered in a bleak cage on top of a Bangkok department store for the last 33 years, deprived of sunlight and natural vegetation. She has never smelled the scents of nature that would float in on a fresh breeze in her tropical forest homeland back in Central Africa. She has never experienced the joy of having a baby. I therefore empathized as she glared at me with a ferocious scowl through the bars the first time I saw her many years ago.

Bua Noi glared at me with a ferocious scowl through the bars. I understood why.

Bua Noi has the distinction of being the only gorilla in all of Thailand. This gorilla has become the standard bearer for all the thousands of captive wild animals exploited for commercial gain in Thailand. She might also be the key to freeing many more illegally captured and trafficked wild animals held in private zoos and safari parks and putting a halt to a thriving trade that threatens endangered species. A highly disputed question has been, was Bua Noi acquired legally? If not, there can be a legal case for freeing her.

Pata Zoo is the Guantanamo Bay of the world’s worst zoos – no amount of campaigning seems able to close it. Bua Noi is its star prisoner, the focus of campaigns by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Thai animal welfare crusader Sinjira Apaitan, who has launched a petition that is closing in on its target of 150,000 signatures requesting the release of Bua Noi. 

This mural is as green as it gets in Pata Zoo. One enters through a side door.


Pata Zoo was opened in 1983 by Vinai Sermsirimongkol, a businessman who owned the seven-story high Pata Pinklao Department Store in the unfashionable west side of the Chaophraya River, which cuts through Bangkok, Thailand’s capital and largest city (8.2 million people). Vinai converted the top two floors into a zoo, with cabinets holding reptiles and amphibians on the sixth floor and mammals in cramped cages on the top floor, including chimpanzees, orangutans, tigers, other big cats, bears and a male gorilla that Vinai named King Kong, who arrived in 1984 with a CITES export permit from the Aachen Bird and Animal Park in West Germany. The Thai CITES import permit was issued to Siam Farm Zoological Garden, Bangkok. No further details are known, unfortunately, since this trade was not reported to the CITES Trade Database by either country, an infraction of CITES regulations, since Great Apes are Appendix I – no commercial trade from the wild. 

When Vinai died, his younger brother Kanit took over and has been fighting doggedly to keep “the world’s saddest zoo” open to the public. A 2010 story in The Guardian newspaper quotes Kanit as saying that, “…the zoo is a respite for people looking to escape the concrete jungle of Bangkok and to reconnect with nature. The animals are especially popular with children.” 

The zoo is popular with children, but what do they learn about the natural world seeing animals that should be wild in cages?

The comment about children is true, but there is nothing resembling “nature” in the concrete, barren zoo. I first visited the Pata Zoo in Bangkok in 2013 while attending the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties, a massive gathering of over 4,000 people concerned with the fate of the world’s wild plants and animals. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulates trade in over 37,000 wild species. I had been invited to attend because I was the lead author on a United Nations report on illegal great ape trade entitled Stolen Apes that was being launched at the conference. 

Stolen Apes was the first comprehensive study on great ape trafficking ever published by the United Nations.

I found the zoo to be a deplorable place to hold animals, with desolate cages marred by rusted bars and concrete floors. Big cats paced back and forth in well-worn tracks or slept, while great apes reached out for bananas offered by visitors or stared forlornly through the bars. Bua Noi seemed frustrated and angry at being cooped up for 26 years (in 2013) in a prison with no vegetation. King Kong had died in 2007, so the last six years she had been alone. 

Great apes reach out for bananas more out of boredom than hunger. 

I revisited the zoo in 2019 and found Bua Noi and the other great apes where I had left them six years earlier. It was heartbreaking to think that they had been there all that time, in addition to all of the years since they had arrived. There was even a bonobo (pygmy chimpanzee) in a dark cell above a chimpanzee cage, which I had not noticed before – perhaps arrived in the interim? No bonobo imports to Thailand are reported in the CITES Trade Database. No gorilla imports to Thailand are reported in the CITES Trade Database. So how could Bua Noi be a legally acquired import as the Bangkok Post reported in a 2014 story, repeated in 2020?

    There was a bonobo in 2019 that I hadn’t seen in 2013. Where did it come from?

I knew from personal investigations that a steady stream of orangutans were smuggled into Thailand to feed its commercial zoo industry, so it would not be surprising if gorillas and bonobos were as well. 

The Western Lowland Gorilla studbook indicates that both gorillas in Pata Zoo originated in the wild. The compiler erroneously entered Guinea instead of Equatorial Guinea. Guinea has no gorillas.

During the 2019 visit I was in Bangkok with a cameraman shooting footage for a film series on great ape trafficking entitled “Stolen Apes”. One of the series focuses on Bua Noi.  A man holding a monkey who seemed to be a supervisor came up to us and asked us to stop filming. I asked him, “Where does this gorilla come from?” He replied, “She was born in a German zoo, came here legally 30 years ago.”

The man holding a monkey, who seemed to be the manager, said that Bua Noi came from a German zoo.

I could elicit no more information from him. I decided to get to the bottom of the question of from where and how Little Lotus did in fact find herself at Pata Zoo. I combed through old copies of the very informative International Primate Protection League newsletters, exchanged emails with IPPL’s founder Shirley McGreal, scoured the gorilla studbooks, used Google to search out old stories on Pata Zoo and Bua Noi on the Internet, searched various NGO websites and social media accounts of individuals named who were connected with gorilla trafficking and reviewed the  TRAFFIC reports on great ape trade.

From the information amassed I have reconstructed a scenario that is consistent with known facts.

The Scenario[1]

Bibi received the order for four more baby gorillas in July 1987 from his father Walter, who was in Hohenstadt near Nuremberg in what was then West Germany. Walter Sensen moved back in 1985 from Equatorial Guinea, a former colony of Spain, to Hohenstadt because of a few brushes with the authorities, just as earlier in 1981 he had had to escape from neighboring Cameroon. Bibi replaced Walter in 1985 and now lived in Bata, a pleasant town on the Equatorial Guinea coast about 30 kilometers south of the border with Cameroon. Walter and Bibi were wild animal traffickers supplying shady zoos around the world with rare animals using their company African Animal Export. Bribes had secured them a five-year exclusive contract with the government for exports of gorillas and chimpanzees.

The Sensens’ company African Animal Export operated out of Bata, Equatorial Guinea, in red circle, from 1985 to 1991. They bought up gorillas and chimpanzees and exported them to zoos around the world.

Bibi, real name Bernd Sensen, sent out word to his contacts in the villages of Rio Muni (mainland Equatorial Guinea) and nearby Cameroon and Gabon that he needed baby gorillas. Kurt Schafer, a known bird and animal trafficker, and Dr. Daeng of Siam Farm in Bangkok had put in an order for the four infants. By early September Bibi had the four infant gorillas, two males and two females, all under a year old. The gorilla mothers ended up as bushmeat, killed and butchered in front of their terrified infants.

Equatorial Guinea was not a member of CITES at the time and the Sensen’s had an in with the Minister of Industry, Commerce and Promotion of Enterprise, Florencio Esoro Obiang Angue, who signed a ministerial export permit number 381 for the four gorillas. Bernd submitted the permit to the Thailand CITES Management Authority in Bangkok and requested an import permit. Thailand rejected the minister’s document as not equivalent to a CITES export permit. Since gorillas were listed as CITES Appendix I, protected from commercial trade, Bernd knew that without a Thai import permit they had a problem. 

Walter made some telephone calls to traders he knew and made a new arrangement. Only one gorilla would go to Thailand – it was too risky shipping all four now that the Thailand authorities were alerted – and two would go to Aritake Chojouten in Japan, a notorious animal trafficker. It wouldn’t be difficult to find a buyer for the fourth. Bibi got hold of Wabi Bello, a Nigerian trafficker who specialized in African grey parrots, to get him a certificado de origen. The Certificate of Origin had Wabi Bello’s name on it and showed that he was exporting one gorilla that weighed 10 kilograms to Siam Farm Zoological Garden, Bangkok, Thailand. The document had official-looking stamps on it, so Bibi was happy and paid Bello the agreed price.

Wabi Bello was arrested for trafficking parrots. He agreed to sign a Certificate of Origin for Bibi’s gorillas.

Bernd Sensen flew with the four gorillas as personal effects to Spain on Iberia airlines, using Minister Angue’s export permit. On 9 September 1987 he shipped the baby gorilla from Spain to Bangkok with the certificado de origen and two were shipped the same month to Chojouten in Japan, where he sold them to Chiba City Municipal Zoo for US$575,000. Fraudulent documents claimed that the two gorillas were bred in Ringland Circus, a modest outfit that toured Spain, it didn’t even have a permanent home.

The Iberia airlines waybill for Bua Noi identified the recipient as Dr. Daeng, Pata Zoo, Bangkok. The Pata Zoo owner, Vinai Sermsirimongkol, paid Siam Farm the agreed price for Bua Noi, just as he had paid them for Bwana in 1984. Vinai hoped that when Bua Noi became old enough she would mate with Bwana, now renamed King Kong, and give him valuable offspring to sell and recoup his expenses.

Bua Noi was shipped from Equatorial Guinea via Spain to Bangkok, arriving 10 September 1987.

Walter Sensen was convicted and jailed for 2 years on 14 March 1990 in West Germany for illegally shipping three gorillas from Cameroon in January 1987 to Taiwan. He was later freed on appeal and continued to export gorillas and other great apes from Central Africa, assisted by his son Bernd. The situation became so alarming that the CITES Secretariat had to issue a Notification in 1988 warning CITES Parties not to accept imports of CITES-listed species from Equatorial Guinea.

The Sensen exports from Equatorial Guinea became so alarming that CITES issued a Notification.

So Bua Noi was not born in a German zoo, was not imported legally from anywhere, but rather she was just one of many ill-fated gorilla and chimpanzee infants captured in the wild by bushmeat hunters who killed their mothers and sold them off to traffickers. In the 33 years that Little Lotus has been suffering in her concrete cage in Pata Zoo she has paid back the zoo owners many times over what she cost them.

Khun Kanit Sermsirimongkol, Pata Zoo owner, holds Little Lotus’s fate in his hands, as the Thailand government maintains that the gorilla entered the country legally. This article might change their minds. (Photo courtesy of the film Stolen Apes).

What now?

Recently, Sinjira joined forces with Polish activist Joanna Sobkowicz to launch the website to raise awareness of Bua Noi’s story and give updates about the campaign to free her. 

“I met with Kanit in 2014”, Sinjira told me, “he promised to move all of the large animals from the rooftop by 2020. I am waiting.”

Sinjiri Apaitan, far right, and Joanna Sobkowicz have been speaking with Thailand government officials about the possibility of freeing Bua Noi. (Photo courtesy of

There are two possibilities of where Bua Noi could go, if freed. The first is to a wildlife sanctuary in Thailand, the second is to be repatriated back to Central Africa. As with most alternative choices, there are pros and cons with both.

In June the famous singer Cher came on board with her Free the Wild organization. Cher has written a personal letter to the Honourable Minister Varawut Silpa-Archa (Thailand Ministry of Natural Resources), requesting his urgent assistance for the rescue and release of Bua and the other primates kept at the zoo.

Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne, the co-founder of Free the Wild, said, “I can advise that things are looking very hopeful.” After the success of freeing Kaavan, a lone elephant in the Islamabad Zoo, Free the Wild should be taken seriously.

The famous American singer and actress Cher is campaigning to free Bua Noi with her Free the Wild organization.

Damian Aspinall of the Aspinall Foundation  is ready to sponsor and transport Bua Noi to a sanctuary in the Congo, which is actually in the general area from which she was stolen.  

Will Little Lotus be able to return to her native forest from which Bibi stole her? 

The alternative possibility is a wildlife sanctuary located not too far from Bangkok. The sanctuary has a good track record for looking after rescued wild animals properly and it will also accept other primates from Pata Zoo, including chimpanzees, orangutans and the bonobo. 

Back to Africa might sound like the ideal solution to Bua Noi’s plight, but transport from Bangkok to Brazzaville, with layovers and plane changes, could be quite hazardous for a 33-year old female gorilla. The stress would be extreme. The maximum age for females in captivity is about 40 to 50 years, so she is probably close to the average age for mortality right now. Adjusting to life in a forest, even one where she would be supervised, could be a shock for Bua Noi, who reportedly has become attached to her two regular caregivers at Pata Zoo. 

Transport from Bangkok to the sanctuary would take about two hours by road. The surroundings are pleasant, with plenty of natural vegetation, fresh air and sunlight. With luck, one or two of her regular caregivers could go with her, at least for a transitioning period, to help her adjust to her new surroundings. 

And Khun Kanit Sermsirimongkol, Pata Zoo owner, could come to visit her, as he cares about Bua Noi as well. It would be a generous gesture on Khun Kanit’s part, gaining him the appreciation and respect of the international community and the Thai people.

With the verification provided here that demonstrates that Bua Noi was acquired in the wild and shipped and imported illegally into Thailand, there are good grounds to justify that she be freed. 

Illegal capture of endangered species in the wild for commercial zoos and the exotic pet trade is an enormous problem. Added risks of zoonotic spillover events are only too evident with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Commercial zoos such as Pata and many others like it encourage human-animal interaction for a fee (framed selfie photos, petting, playing, etc.). Three-quarters of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, transferred from animals to humans, facilitated by environmental destruction and wildlife crime. 

It is in the best interests of both humans and animals that commercial zoos and safari parks stop importing animals captured in the wild. Closing Pata Zoo and freeing Bua Noi would help current efforts to stop this type of wildlife trade and signal to the world that change is possible. 

[1] Walter Sensen has passed away, but a draft of this article was sent to Bernd Sensen asking for corrections or comments. None have been received.

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.



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 ( 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 ( 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

baby-orangutans/vp-BBxsilS /

Video of Bangkok trafficker and orangs

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




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 <>’ 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.

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,; RekBer IndoBank,; MangRekBer,

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

Update on the Iraqi Kurdistan chimpanzee Manno

Manno arrived in Nairobi from Erbil, Iraq, the afternoon of 30th November 2016. His rescue and relocation took exactly one year from the time PEGAS heard of Manno to the time of his arrival, giving some indication of the difficulty in rescuing and relocating chimpanzees across national frontiers.

Manno was released from his 4-star quarantine room at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on 31st March 2017. Many people were there to witness his transfer to the sleeping quarters of the New Group, where his introduction and integration process would begin. Manno remained in good spirits through it all and charmed all onlookers with his sweet disposition and amusing antics.

Manno could swing around to get exercise in his quarantine room

Dr. Edward Kariuki, KWS veterinarian on left, and Sweetwaters sanctuary staff carry Manno out of quarantine on 31st March

Manno’s transport crate, the same one used to ship him from Erbil, Iraq to Ol Pejeta, is loaded onto a small pickup truck.

Manno looks out with curiosity, “What’s going on?” he wonders.

A herd of elephants greets Manno’s transporters on the way to the New Group sleeping quarters.

The New Group sleeping quarters, where Manno will go through his introduction process.

No one was more charmed and happy to see Manno come out of quarantine than Spencer Sekyer, a Canadian ex-school teacher who brought Manno’s plight to the attention first of Jane Goodall, and then of Ol Pejeta Conservancy and PEGAS. Spencer flew all the way from Alberta, Canada, to see Manno’s release from quarantine and enjoy an emotional reunion with ‘the little guy’, as Spencer affectionately calls Manno.

Spencer greets Manno, whom he had not seen since early December.

Spencer first encountered Manno in late 2013 while volunteering at the Duhok Zoo, near Mosul in Iraqi Kurdistan. Manno probably arrived in Duhok about July 2013 from Syria and was the only chimpanzee in the zoo. The zoo owner dressed him up in children’s clothes and he generally had free reign to run around and interact with visitors. At night he slept in a small cage, except for the last few months when he was taken into the family home of a Syrian refugee zoo worker. Manno became part of the family.

Manno spent the last few months before he departed Duhok sleeping with Abdul Abde and family, a Syrian refugee who worked at the zoo.

The first step was to find Manno a foster mother, as she would constitute the foundation of a Sisterhood Protection Society, as it were, to shield Manno from aggressive males when eventually he would be introduced outdoors into the full group. The Sweetwaters team, led by Dr. Stephen Ngulu, Manager, and New Group supervisor David Mundia, first tried Akela, a docile senior female who had previously fostered Jane, one of five chimpanzees seized at the Nairobi airport in 2005.

Akela and Manno were first kept in cages with an empty cage in between, so that they could get used to seeing one another. Akela showed interest in Manno, but Manno showed only fear of Akela and of any other chimpanzee. He did not know what these strange, hairy creatures were, and their hooting and screeching frightened him, especially at evening feeding time when all the chimps were brought into the sleeping quarters. For the first four years of his life, Manno had only known human primates and he had worn clothes like them.


The males in particular eyed Manno with suspicion, but his young age and small size signalled that he posed little threat to the dominance hierarchy. The cage Manno lives in looks bleak, but he is there for his protection. If he were released into the group without a lengthy habituation process, the males would kill him instantly as a foreign intruder.

After a couple of weeks, Akela was put into the cage adjacent to Manno, as she showed no signs of aggression towards him, only of curiosity. Jane, who spends a lot of time with her foster mother, showed even more interest in Manno, so Stephen Ngulu, manager of Sweetwaters sanctuary, on the advice of David Mundia, added Jane to Akela’s cage. Manno continued, however, to reject their attempts to touch through the cage bars and he kept his distance.

The team felt confident enough that Akela posed no danger to Manno, so she was introduced to his cage in early May. Manno ran away from any attempts made by Akela for physical contact. Finally on 13th May, Akela was switched with the much younger Jane, who is about 13 years old. Again, however, Manno would evade any attempts at contact by running away and swinging around the cage bars.

The PEGAS manager just happened to be at Manno’s cage watching on 18th May when the breakthrough occurred. Jane was making repeated attempts to touch Manno and he kept scampering away.

Manno was sitting on the wood platform set against the wall and Jane was on the floor, looking up at Manno. She slowly raised her arms and placed her hands on the platform, just at Manno’s feet. He watched. She gently touched his feet, then reached up and touched Manno’s head. Manno did not run away, but took Jane’s hand and went into a crouching roll off the platform, falling right on top of her. They started playing!

Manno’s first voluntary touch with another chimpanzee. See

Jane ran off with Manno chasing her. They spent a good part of the rest of the day chasing each other and play wrestling. Now Manno and Jane are like brother and sister.

Manno and Jane chilling together (Photo: David Mundia)

Stephen and David then reintroduced Akela to the cage and Manno accepted her. In late May they introduced Bahati, which means ‘luck’ in Kiswahili, so Manno now has his own little family. Bahati is a female from Burundi who arrived at Sweetwaters in 1996 at the same time as Akela. They were both victims of the illegal pet trade, so share something in common with Manno and Jane.

Manno with his new family – Akela, Jane and Bahati. (Photo: David Mundia)

For the first time in his life Manno is being groomed, a fundamental aspect of social life. Manno is learning to become a chimpanzee.

For the first time in his life Manno is being groomed, a fundamental aspect of social life. Manno is learning to become a chimpanzee. (Photo: David Mundia)

I asked David Mundia on 31st May how Manno was doing. David replied, “He is the happiest chimp ever.”

PEGAS hosts Illegal Wildlife Trade Cyber-crime Workshop


Wildlife conservationists and law enforcement officials are becoming increasingly concerned about the use of the Internet in marketing and trading protected wildlife species. Before the Internet, live wild animals, plants and their products were normally traded in physical market places, auction houses or shops. Sellers and buyers congregated physically to trade, which set certain limits on the numbers of traders who could participate and the quantity of products that could be sold and shipped around the world.

With the arrival of the Internet, thousands of traders can communicate instantaneously with one another in cyber-space and sell millions of items at the touch of a key. Traders can use e-commerce websites and social media platforms, such as Instagram, WeChat, Twitter and Facebook, to advertise wildlife with photographs showing a multitude of items. They all have private messaging functions between users, which can allow illegal trading to take place anonymously. WhatsApp, Snapchat and other private communication applications can also be used to negotiate illegal trades out of sight of law enforcement.

The Project to End Great Ape Slavery (PEGAS) has been investigating online trading of great apes for about two years now, collaborating closely with the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Cheetahs and great apes share the unfortunate distinction of being popular exotic pets of the wealthy in the Middle East, former Soviet Union countries and elsewhere. The exotic pet and rare species industries make extensive use of cyber-space to conduct trade. Critically endangered CITES Appendix I species such as great apes and cheetahs can attract very high prices from buyers for unscrupulous traffickers, and they have organized suppliers in source countries, creating sophisticated wildlife trafficking networks.

One of the objectives of the PEGAS project is to coordinate actions of organizations and individuals who are engaged in similar work to stop great ape trafficking. With this in mind, PEGAS organized an Illegal Wildlife Cyber-trade Information Exchange Workshop, which was held 21-22 March at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

Those accepting invitations to attend were Tania McCrea-Steele, the Global Wildlife Cybercrime Project Lead of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW); Pauline Verheij, Senior Legal Investigator, Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC); Sarah Stoner, Senior Wildlife Crime Analyst, WJC; and Patricia Tricorache, Assistant Director for Strategic Communications and Illegal Wildlife Trade, Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). Joss Wright, Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute and Co-Director of the Oxford University Cybersecurity Doctoral Training Centre provided information electronically on illegal wildlife trade that he is investigating on the Dark Net.

Workshop participants visiting Sudan, the last northern white male rhino on Earth

The workshop focused on reviewing the strategies and tactics used by the participating NGO’s to detect and disrupt wildlife cybercriminals with the aim of increasing our impact by adopting a coordinated and consistent approach to tackling the problem across the NGO community. We presented our respective objectives, methodologies, outputs and outcomes and discussed ways of improving our effectiveness.

Each participant gave one or more PowerPoint presentations summarizing their objectives, methodologies, outputs and outcomes.

IFAW was one of the first to recognize the threat that online sales posed to wildlife. Tania McCrea-Steele explained how up to now IFAW has focused on e-commerce websites. In a recent background paper prepared for the OECD entitled ‘E-commerce and Wildlife Cybercrime: Effective policies and practices to stem the growth of illicit trade’, Tania summarized IFAW’s actions in this growing area. In 2004 IFAW launched an investigation called Caught in the Web that documented massive online marketing of live endangered and protected species and their parts including elephants, rhinos, sea turtles, tigers, lions, falcons, primates, parrots and serval cats. Three years later, another IFAW investigation, Bidding for Extinction, focused on eBay sites in the U.K., U.S., Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Germany, France, and China.

IFAW’s investigation in 2008 (Killing with Keystrokes) found 7,122 online advertisements for CITES Appendix I and II species over a period of just six weeks across eight countries. In response to the report’s findings which highlighted the large amount of ivory available for sale over e-commerce sites, eBay introduced a global ban on the sale of ivory across their marketplaces.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t have a cyber crimes unit, but IFAW’s findings inspired it to launch undercover stings in 2011 and 2012 called respectively Operation Cyberwild and Operation Wild Web, an example of using outputs successfully. USFWS charged 154 perpetrators in Operation Wild Web and officials seized a huge variety of illegal wildlife products.

In 2013, IFAW found that ads for endangered wildlife products available for sale in Australia, mostly on eBay, had increased 266 percent since 2008. In 2014 IFAW looked at 280 online markets across 16 countries (Wanted Dead or Alive). In just six weeks it found ads for 33,006 endangered animals and their parts. They found 56 live great apes offered for sale in 40 online ads, plus 8 other ads offering multiple species, including great apes.


Russia and Ukraine posted the most great ape ads (38 total). In 2015 IFAW released Elephant vs Mouse, exposing the illegal ivory trade on Craig’s List, a popular P2P e-commerce website, leading to Craig’s List pledging to monitor wildlife ads more vigorously and delist those that were advertising illegal items.



A growing number of online technology companies are banning the trade in endangered species on their sites. In 2008 Chinese online marketplace Tabao banned species included in China’s Wildlife Protection Law, while eBay’s ban on the sale of ivory across all their platforms came into effect in January 2009. In September 2009 Alibaba, a huge Chinese e-commerce site that provides online trade for individual consumers as well as businesses, banned all online postings of elephant ivory, rhino horn, shark fins and the parts and derivatives of sea turtles, tigers, bears and other protected wild animal and plant species.

More recently Etsy banned the sale of ivory and all other products made from endangered species in July 2013 and Chinese giant Tencent, that owns WeChat and the QQ instant messenger launched “Tencent for the Planet. Say No to Illegal Wildlife Trade” in May 2015. TRAFFIC, WWF and IFAW have been working with online companies to develop a united front against online wildlife crime across the sector. This has resulted in seven companies, including eBay, Etsy, Gumtree, Microsoft, Pinterest, Tencent and Yahoo! adopting a new standardised policy framework in August 2016.

Example of illegal ivory for sale on a Chinese social media site

Enforcement efforts are more challenging to track as prosecution data is not collated; however there have been a number of international and national operations, cross border investigations and successful prosecutions.

INTERPOL’s Project WEB (2013) was the first international enforcement operation investigating the scale and nature of online ivory trade in Europe. The operation found 660 advertisements of ivory items conservatively valued at approximately EUR 1,450,000 for sale during a two-week period on 61 Internet auction sites in nine European countries. Operation Cobra 3, an international law enforcement operation tackling the illegal trade in endangered species which took place in spring 2015, led to over 300 seizures of animals, plants and derivatives in the UK, the majority of which had been sold online.

Most recently Operation Thunderbird, a global wildlife crime operation held over a period of three weeks in January and February 2017, ensured that investigating online marketplaces and social media was an integrated part of the operation. In addition to these operations there have been multiple successful prosecutions.

Online wildlife trafficking has been elevated to the largest international conservation forum, CITES, through the adoption of multiple Decisions and the inclusion of specific text on this issue in a Resolution. This was addressed most recently with Decision 17.92 Combatting Wildlife Cyber-crime which was adopted at CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP) 17 in 2016. The Decision seeks to capture changes to legislation, establish best practise models, develop enforcement guidelines, and engage with online technology companies. In addition there is an obligation to report back at CITES Standing Committees and create a Resolution on the issue for CoP18.


IFAW has developed a standardised methodology for researching online wildlife trade which they have shared with interested enforcement agencies, NGO’s and academics. In addition, IFAW has developed a procedure for identifying scam ads on e-commerce websites. Posting fake adverts for wildlife has become a small industry in its own right. The scammers collect a deposit and shipping costs from the customer for nonexistent animals or products and are never heard from again.

The Wildlife Justice Commission was launched in March 2015 as a non-governmental charity registered in the Netherlands and is based in The Hague. WJC’s mission is to help disrupt transnational, organised wildlife crime by exposing criminal networks and the corruption that enables them to flourish by convincing – or if need be pressuring – governments to enforce the law. Pauline Verheij explained how one of WJC’s first investigations, dubbed ‘Operation Phoenix’, focused on the northern Viet Nam village of Nhi Khe, which is a hub of international wildlife product illegal trade, including ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts sold in the village, plus a much larger range and quantity of products sold online, including bear, pangolin, sea turtle and helmeted hornbill parts.


After gathering evidence for a year using undercover investigator visits to Nhi Khe and monitoring of online social media sites of traders based there (mainly WeChat and Facebook), WJC mapped out a network 51 perpetrators involved in selling over USD 53 million worth of illegal wildlife products. They contacted the Vietnamese government in January 2016 and provided a ‘Map of Facts’ report on their findings, requesting them to take appropriate law enforcement action. The government initially ignored the report.

The value of the illegal wildlife seen for sale by WJC

To apply further pressure, WJC held a public hearing in November 2016 in which the evidence of illegal wildlife trade was presented to the public. An Accountability Panel made up of distinguished legal personalities reviewed WJC’s information and described it as objective and reliable. They determined that Nhi Khe is, and continues to be, a major hub for wildlife crime in protected species. The government made a few token arrests, but has not yet taken the necessary steps to shut down illegal wildlife trade in Nhi Khe and neighbouring villages.

Sarah Stoner described how WJC uses iBase to store, process and analyse data. Both the social media account and a traded species product are recorded entities, provided with an ID code and a screen grab of each ad. The analysis produced links that are relationships between the entities. The analysis showed clearly who were the biggest dealers and determined the quantities of each product sold and the estimated value. Relationships between the various actors were also ascertained. The study concluded:

  • WeChat was the most popular platform and was used by one third of traders and WJC detected at least 8,300 images of illegal wildlife offered for sale on WeChat
  • WJC found that Vietnamese traders are targeting Chinese customers via WeChat
  • The volume and scale of products offered for sale on WeChat by a relatively small number of individuals was unprecedented and was occurring in an organised manner
  • Emerging Trend: WJC identified Chinese customers are using WeChat Wallet, particularly WeTransfer, to transfer funds to their Vietnamese suppliers
  • Facebook was used by a minimum of eight subjects
  • WJC detected a minimum of 200 offences under Article 190 of Viet Nam’s Penal Code
  • The estimated minimum value of products found for sale on Facebook equated to USD 445,356 along with a strong indication of trade occurring on a commercial scale
  • 31 of the 51 dealers (61%) used either WeChat or Facebook to trade illegally; some used both; WhatsApp was also used to communicate.

The illegal items illegally sold in Nhi Khe added up to hundreds of animal deaths

The Cheetah Conservation Fund was founded in 1990 and is an international non-profit organization headquartered in Namibia, with operations in the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and partner organizations in several other nations. Patricia Tricorache explained how she began recording cases of cheetah IWT in late 2005 mainly in the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia, Somaliland/Somalia, Djibouti and northern Kenya), which is the source area for most of the cheetahs going into the pet trade. She also records the illegal trade in parts (skins, bones, etc.) reported from anywhere. CCF uses Excel spreadsheets to both record and analyze the data. Since 2007, CCF has observed 641 live cheetahs in trade and found 406 cases of confiscated live cheetahs. Add to this at least 119 cheetahs represented in traded or confiscated parts totals 1,166 cheetahs taken from the wild in 10 years. CCF estimates that five cubs die for every one that makes it to the pet trade. With the total population in Africa estimated at only 7,100, the loss of so many cheetahs a year in illegal trade is seriously affecting their survival in the wild.


As alarming as the above numbers are, they do not represent the totality of the trade due to the difficulties in obtaining data. CCF’s field associates estimate that 300 cheetahs per year are being smuggled out of Africa for the pet trade. Consequently, in an effort to understand the trade better and obtain a broader picture, in 2014 , Patricia began searching the social media sites for cheetah dealers and mapping relationships between them. She continues to monitor them closely, having recorded well over 1,000 cheetahs offered for sale on the Net since 2012. This figure, which is much higher than the data collected through reports, indicates that the trade may indeed be closer to 300 cubs per year.

CCF collaborates with a number of partners, including IFAW and PEGAS, and its data served to support the inclusion of IWT of cheetahs on the CITES 16th Conference of the Parties agenda. Since then, CCF and has worked within the CITES process to raise awareness about cheetah IWT, which resulted in Decisions 17.124-17.130 being adopted at the CITES 17th Conference of the Parties in 2016. The Decisions call for the creation of a forum on the CITES website where users can exchange information on cheetah IWT and the development of a CITES cheetah trade resource kit that compiles relevant information and tools to assist in implementing the Convention with regard to trade in cheetahs, and addresses inter alia: identification of live cheetahs and parts and derivatives thereof; advice on procedures to be followed in case of seizures including handling, DNA sampling, guidance on the immediate and long-term disposal of live animals (e.g. decision trees based on relevant CITES Resolutions, veterinary care, contact details of experts or potential rescue centres, advice on procedures, reporting on disposal activities); and lists of suitable housing facilities for long-term placement of live cheetahs; and other relevant materials.

CCF also engages in demand reduction through awareness creation materials and campaigns and is in the process of building a cheetah genetics database at its laboratory in Namibia to support forensic investigations.

CCF carries out demand reduction activities

A bit of relatively good news was communicated by Joss Wright of the Oxford Internet Institute, who reported that he has found very little IWT on the Dark Net. It would appear that there is little incentive for traffickers to go to the trouble of establishing themselves on the Dark Net, where transactions have to be made using bitcoin, a virtual currency. Dealing in IWT on the open Net has proven to be low risk, low cost and very efficient. Unless law enforcement becomes much more effective against Internet dealers, it is unlikely that the Dark Net will be used for wildlife trade.

PEGAS made presentations during the workshop outlining its objectives, the methodology used in finding and tracking traffickers and the results achieved thus far, explained in the photos below.


During the workshop participants agreed that we are working towards the following outcomes:

• Disrupt wildlife cybercrime through enforcement actions including arrests, seizures and prosecutions
• Raise awareness with governments at an international and national level on the scale and severity of wildlife cybercrime
• Raise awareness with buyers on the negative impact of illegal wildlife trade on both the conservation and welfare of the animals being traded
• Effect policy and legislative trade at the international (CITES) and national level to specifically target wildlife cybercrime (i.e. adding offering for sale as an offense where this doesn’t exist)
• Ensure online tech companies (particularly social media platforms) pro-actively implement their wildlife trade policies

The participants decided to work together to explore the possibility of developing collaborative projects that would further the goal of reducing IWT, focusing initially on great apes and cheetahs.

The results of the workshop greatly exceeded the expectations that PEGAS initially had of its usefulness, and feedback from the participants has been very positive. We all learned a great deal, and PEGAS has a lot of work ahead to upgrade the way in which data are recorded and processed in its online IWT monitoring work.

Not only was the workshop technically and conceptually valuable, it was also very enjoyable, being held on the beautiful Ol Pejeta Conservancy where the wildlife that we are all working to conserve was seen in great abundance.

Walk for Animals in Dubai


PEGAS represented Ol Pejeta Conservancy at the Walk for Animals in Dubai’s Zabeel Park on 10 February, 2017. The purpose of the Walk was to create awareness about the abuse that domestic and exotic pets can suffer by uncaring owners.

The PEGAS Project Manager set up a table with reading materials on Ol Pejeta Conservancy and its Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, along with souvenir objects, in order to attract visitors from the Walk. PEGAS explained to visitors about the wild animal conservation objectives of Ol Pejeta and why there was a need for a chimpanzee sanctuary.


PEGAS set up a table


There was a surprising lack of awareness in the public PEGAS encountered about the problem of illegal trade of wild exotic species for use in the pet trade. PEGAS realizes that much more needs to be done to inform residents of the UAE about illegal exotic animal imports to the country and the negative impacts that this has on wildlife conservation, particularly with great apes.


Mahin Bahrami on left and Zara Hovelsas on right of the Middle East Animal Foundation, a PEGAS partner in the UAE

Dr. Jane Goodall and KWS Director General visit Sweetwaters

Renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall visited Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on 14th July, accompanied by the Director General of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Mr. Kitili Mbathi. When asked if she would be cold riding in the back of an open safari vehicle on the chilly morning, with characteristic pragmatism she replied, “I suppose I shall just have to be.”


Dr. Jane Goodall and Mr. Kitili Mbathi, Director General of Kenya Wildlife Service, arrive on Ol Pejeta Conservancy on a plane chartered by PEGAS

In July 1960, at the age of 26, Jane Goodall travelled from England to what is now Tanzania and courageously entered the extraordinary world of wild chimpanzees. She was equipped with nothing more than a notebook and a pair of binoculars. But with her resolute patience and optimism, she won the trust of these initially wary creatures, and she managed to open a window into their mysterious lives, finding surprising similarities with our own. The public was fascinated and remains so to this day. Her 1971 book, In the Shadow of Man, was an international best-seller.

Today, Jane’s work revolves around inspiring action on behalf of endangered species, particularly chimpanzees, and encouraging people to do their part to make the world a better place for people, animals, and the environment we all share.

The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), founded in 1977, works to protect the famous chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where she first began her research 56 years ago, but also supports community-based conservation throughout East Africa and the Congo Basin, engaging with communities to win long-term conservation impact.

The Institute’s community-centred conservation programs in Africa include sustainable development projects that engage local people as true partners. These programmes began around Gombe in 1994, but they have since been replicated in other parts of the continent. Likewise, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, which Jane started with a group of Tanzania students in 1991, is today the Institute’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program for young people from preschool through university with nearly 150,000 members in more than 130 countries.

Jane came to Nanyuki, where Ol Pejeta Conservancy is located, to speak at Mount Kenya Safari Club to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Kenya Roots & Shoots programme. PEGAS thought it offered an ideal opportunity for her to return to the Sweetwaters sanctuary, which was created in 1993 largely through her instigation, in cooperation with KWS and Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The aim is to provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees. The first chimpanzees to arrive were individuals that Jane had rescued from horrible conditions of captivity in Burundi.


Jane looks at a photograph of herself and Uruhara, a chimpanzee that she rescued in Burundi more than 20 years ago, as they share a hoot.

After obtaining enthusiastic agreement from Ol Pejeta for Jane’s visit, PEGAS contacted Alpana Patel, JGI’s representative in Kenya (also a PEGAS Steering Committee member) for her views on the visit. Would the 81-year old world traveller have the stamina and desire to combine a day visit to Sweetwaters with an evening talk and fund-raiser at Mount Kenya Safari Club? After checking with Jane’s people in the USA, yes was the resounding answer.

Jane and Kitili Mbathi arrived from Nairobi on the PEGAS charter flight right on time, and off we drove across Ol Pejeta Conservancy to the Sweetwaters sanctuary, where the CEO Richard Vigne and other staff were waiting to welcome them.


Richard Vigne, CEO of Ol Pejeta, welcomes Jane and Kitili to the Sweetwaters sanctuary


Jane poses with the Sweetwaters staff. Stephen Ngulu, veterinarian and Sweetwaters Manager on the left and Joseph Maiyo, head Caretaker, on the far right


Jane advises Annick Mitchell, Ol Pejeta’s Tourism Manager, about how best to explain the mock termite mound. Dr. Goodall first revealed to the world that chimpanzees are also tool-users, using twigs to catch termites to eat

The first order of business was for Jane to open the new Education Centre at Sweetwaters, which provides informative graphics that instruct visitors about the threats to chimpanzee survival, including the capture of infants for the lucrative pet and entertainment industries.


Jane opens the Education Centre with a celebratory chimpanzee hoot


After a presentation on infant capture and trafficking, Jane asked, “How many chimpanzees are killed during these infant captures?”

I replied, “It’s estimated that 9 to 10 are killed for every infant captured.”

With a slight smile Jane remarked, “I always hear that number, but chimps are intelligent. When the shooting starts they just run away.”

She made her point, and I think some actual field research is in order on great ape poaching and capture.

For the next two hours we visited both chimpanzee groups, which live in large, fenced enclosures vegetated by natural savanna bushland on opposite sides of the Uaso Nyiro River. The river acts as a natural barrier to separate the two groups, as chimpanzees cannot swim.

Jane was anxious to see Uruhara, a chimpanzee she had rescued from Burundi more than 20 years ago (see the photograph above). When we found him and Jane offered him a banana she remarked, “I wouldn’t have recognized him, he’s aged so much.” After a moment she turned to me with a twinkle in her eye and added, “I think I’ve done a bit better.” I had to laugh and agree with her – she certainly had.


Jane meets up with Uruhara after more than 20 years. “I wouldn’t have recognized him, he’s aged so much.”

Encouraged by the many media journalists who had been attracted by Jane’s visit, she began expertly tossing bananas through the fence wires. Both to protect the chimpanzees from predators – there are about 70 lions and numerous leopards on Ol Pejeta – and to prevent their escape, the 250 acre sanctuary is enclosed by an electrified fence.


Jane expertly tosses bananas through the fence wires

Jane requested some privacy from the media and other observers because she wanted a moment alone with the Sweetwaters caretakers. Some of these dedicated and professional staff have been with Sweetwaters since the beginning and Jane wanted to hear from them how the chimpanzees had been faring, what problems there might be, to hear stories of the individual chimpanzees that she had known from many years ago and to share her thoughts and observations with them. To take time out to do this demonstrates the thoughtfulness and care for others that this extraordinary woman has.


Jane shares a private moment with the Sweetwaters sanctuary staff to talk about the chimpanzees


Richard Vigne presented Jane with an honorary chimpanzee adoption kit

We then proceeded to visit the last three Northern White Rhinos left on the planet. Kitili Mbathi had yet to see them, so was particularly interested in finding out more about their situation. Attempts are being made to breed new offspring, but the single male, Sudan, is 43 and beyond mating capabilities – his age is equivalent to over 90 years for a human.



Kitili Mbathi meets Sudan, the last male Northern White rhino on Earth

I was astounded to see Jane Goodall appear, she had walked the 300 metres or so from Morani’s restaurant, where we were to have lunch, under the hot sun to meet Sudan. The woman’s curiosity and energy know no bounds.


Jane also meets Sudan, and gives him an affectionate rub

During lunch at Morani’s PEGAS had the opportunity to discuss the project and what we are trying to do and hope to achieve. Jane and Kitili were both very supportive and hopefully we can cooperate closely to achieve results in various planned actions in the near future.

It was an honour and great pleasure to host two such positive, outspoken and yet modest advocates for wildlife conservation at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.


NTV Wild features PEGAS

On 5th and 9th July a Kenyan television station, Nation TV (NTV), featured a 45-minute segment on its NTV Wild programme that toured Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Several staff were interviewed along with the PEGAS Project Manager, who explained to viewers the tragic problem of illegal great ape trade. The video of the programme can be viewed here


Great ape trafficking to Qatar for pets – and safari parks?

A story published on 16 March 2016 in the Doha News reported that a man was apprehended trying to sell a baby chimpanzee by a patrol from the Department of Environmental Protection. No details were given, but if a patrol saw it the man must have been trying to sell it outdoors. A person commenting on the story said that he had once seen it at the Wakra roundabout in Doha.

A photograph accompanying the story showed a miserable baby chimpanzee on a car seat wearing a child’s pajamas. The pajamas looked familiar.

One of the online traffickers PEGAS has been monitoring, located in Qatar, posted a video on 18 February of the baby chimpanzee that was later seized. The pajamas are identical with those in the newspaper report and the size and facial characteristics of the infant in the photograph and video are the same.

1Qatar seized chimp

The baby chimpanzee seized in Doha in mid March 2016


2 18.2.16 copy 2

This is the seized chimpanzee. This video post from 29 February demonstrates that a dealer was offering the chimpanzee for sale online for 75,000 rials, about USD 20,600.

The commentary displayed on the video post shows that the man was offering the chimpanzee for sale for 75,000 Qatar rials (about USD 20,600). It looked like he had a buyer, as one commentator asked that the dealer call him at a number provided. Apparently, the deal was not concluded. He also advertised it for sale on a Kuwaiti traffickers post on 29 February.


The dealer in Doha posted that he had a chimpanzee for sale on an Instagram page of a trafficker based in Kuwait.

Another infant chimpanzee was seized in November last year in Doha and the trafficker was arrested, though no further information is currently available on what has happened to the accused or the chimpanzee. The article said that the chimpanzee was sent to the Doha Zoo, but the zoo closed in 2012. Some animals are being moved to the Al Khor Park, and others were supposed to be moved to shelters in Rawdat Al Faras farm, but the fate of the two infant chimpanzees is unknown.

4Qatar seizure 11.15

Another infant chimpanzee seized in Doha in November 2015. (Photo: The Peninsula newspaper)

There were three other adult chimps already living in Doha Zoo (Rita, Timmy and Tina) and what has become of them is also unknown. PEGAS is making enquiries.

5Rita, Timmy&amp;Tina

Rita, Timmy and Tina, three chimpanzees about 15 years old in Doha Zoo. (Photo: Hilda Tresz)

Qatar is currently constructing a new zoo and safari park that is supposed to be the biggest in the region. The new zoo will cover 75 hectares, seven times the size of the current facility, and it will be divided into several regions representing the natural and climatic features of three continents, with a planned 3,000 animals. There will be a combination of drive and walk through exhibits and other facilities. It is expected to open at the end of 2017.


Schema of the new 75-hectare Doha Zoo planned to hold 3,000 animals. How many will be great apes and where will they come from?

This joins the safari park type expansions of the Dubai and Al Ain zoos in the UAE. Thousands of wild animals are pouring into the Gulf region to supply these new developments. Conservationists concerned about illegal wildlife trade need to monitor the sourcing of these animals carefully.

A government spokesman said that the new Doha Zoo “will be an entertainment outlet for the country’s residents and tourists”. PEGAS hopes that the “entertainment” does not take after what is seen in some places in East Asia, where great ape infants are used as photo props with visitors and juveniles are trained to perform in front of fee-paying audiences. Will this be the fate of the two chimpanzee infants?

PEGAS has written to the Qatari CITES office enquiring about the possibility of relocating the chimpanzees to Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, but has yet to receive a response. There is precedence. In 2001 two baby chimpanzees smuggled in to Qatar with a shipment of birds from Nigeria were sent to Chimfunshi sanctuary in Zambia.

If you would like to help, please write to:

Mr. Fawaz Al-Sowaidi
Director of Protected Areas and Wildlife Department
Head of CITES Management Authority
P.O. Box 7634

Politely enquire about the fate of the two seized chimpanzee infants and respectfully suggest that they should be sent to an appropriate facility that can offer secure and nurturing care in the company of other chimpanzees. Ol Pejeta Conservancy is one of the few wildlife establishments in the world that can offer to cover all transport costs, through the PEGAS project, and lifetime care for chimpanzees in need of a home.

Stay tuned.


Great Ape Illegal Trade Information Exchange Meeting

On 9th November, 2015, PEGAS organized a meeting with several key people involved in great ape conservation and welfare. The purpose was to exchange information with a view to enhancing synergy and cooperation in all of our respective activities. The meeting elicited unexpected – for PEGAS – differences of opinion on the best way forward. More on this will be presented in future posts.

Please see below a summary of the discussions, which was sent for review to all of the participants.


Great Ape Illegal Trade Information Exchange Meeting 

9 November, 2015 

Introduction and purpose of the meeting 

GRASP and PEGAS welcomed the participants to the meeting.

The names of individuals who expressed various points of view or who shared items of information will in most cases not be given, and only a very general summary will be presented here.

PEGAS organized the meeting with considerable assistance from GRASP, for which we are most grateful. It was held at the United Nations Office in Nairobi on 9th November 2015 from approximately 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The meeting participants (list in the annex) introduced themselves and briefly summarized their interest in great apes.

The purpose of the meeting was to exchange information related to illegal great ape trade: how and why it persisted – supply and demand drivers; what the scale of it was and the trends; what measures could be taken at the national and international levels to halt it; the issues of corruption and law enforcement; where and how many great apes were in captivity and in need of relocation to a sanctuary; the question of sanctuary space and capacity to care for new arrivals; policy related to relocating captive great apes; databases to capture, analyze, store and report information on illegal trade and sanctuaries; CITES enforcement issues; and future plans.

Great Apes in need of rescue and relocation

It was proposed that a database containing the following information be established: the location and number of great apes in need of sanctuaries by species, the capacity and willingness of sanctuaries to accept or not new arrivals by country and species, and the policy that would apply to relocating great apes from one country or region to another.

The final outcome was that no database of this kind will be produced, there was insufficient support from participants.

GRASP has a list of captive great apes in need, but it is not freely available. Many of the participants spoke of large numbers of great apes known to be in deplorable conditions. PASA has protocols and guidelines of how to deal with such cases, but these do not seem to operate in practice. Each case has its own individual characteristics, and efforts to relocate apes can be very time-consuming and expensive to achieve. The case of the Taiping Four gorillas was presented as an example, which took several years and considerable effort and expense to complete. CITES stated in 2007 that it should stand as an example and act to prevent a repeat occurrence – which has not been the case. [The Guinea to China C-scam began in 2007, the same year.]

The consensus opinion of the group seemed to be that relocation should be attempted only in extreme cases. In most instances, because of multiple factors – expense, difficulty, opportunity costs (more important things could be done with the time and money), sanctuary limitations – the apes would regrettably have to remain where they were. The PASA policy, however, was that if great apes were seized or otherwise acquired in a country and presented to a sanctuary in that country, the sanctuary was required to take the ape(s) in; lack of space and funds was not an excuse to reject acceptance.

Repatriation of internationally seized apes would preferably only be done soon after seizure. Those apes trafficked years ago and held in captivity abroad for long periods are not high priority for limited sanctuary space in Africa, except at a non-range country sanctuary such as Sweetwaters. Chimfunshi was suggested as being included, but some felt that this sanctuary was not up to standard. If a relocation was proposed from outside Africa to a PASA sanctuary, it would have to come with sufficient funding attached to cover the expense of caring for the ape over the course of its expected life span.

More sanctuaries are needed in range State countries that do not have them (e.g. Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and CAR), and existing sanctuaries need to expand, but there was no master plan of how to achieve it. Each country and sanctuary seems to operate independently.

Status and trends of illegal great ape trade

GRASP is keeping records of seizures with various partners reporting to it. The average rate over the past 18 months (?) was 2.11 apes a week seized, which is a higher rate than the period before the Stolen Apes report (2005-2011). Anecdotal reports from the media and informed individuals suggest that trade, particularly of orangutans, is at a high level. A high level for apes, however, was still very low compared to many other species. This, and the fact that CITES only accepts formal seizure data from governments, the WCO, INTERPOL and other official sources, was suggested as one reason why the CITES Secretariat does not accord priority to great ape trafficking.

Considerable discussion ensued about the motivation behind lack of action by CITES in regard to great apes and its reluctance to allow creation of a WG within CITES. The following were offered as explanations: (1) CITES has 35,000 species to deal with, only those with high levels of illegal trade and economic value are accorded concerted attention. Great ape trade does not cross the threshold; (2) related to (1), since CITES only accepts official trade records, it misses much of the informal reporting on trafficking and defends its actions based on the official data; (3) CITES does not want to tackle great ape trafficking because it does not want to enter into conflict with influential import countries such as China, Russia and the wealthy Gulf states, and (4) most of the informal sector reports presenting data on the trafficking have been presented in such an aggressive manner that the Secretariat is biased against according the data a platform in a WG.

It was pointed out that the main demand motivations for great ape trade persisted: (1) pets, (2) entertainment, (3) private menageries for the wealthy, (4) commercial zoos and safari parks.

Pegas announced that Vietnam, China and the Middle East (Egypt and the UAE) were developing new safari parks, the former USSR countries and eastern Europe were emerging as markets for great apes in the pet and private menagerie area, the Middle East had many online great ape traffickers, TRAFFIC had found many great apes in commercial and private ownership in SE Asia, and even India was now implicated in illegal trade [one of the Dubai online traffickers operates in India and is Indian]. The Indonesian land-clearance fires were creating increased opportunities for orangutan trafficking.

Views were divided on whether the best approach to address illegal great ape trade was at the national level or internationally through CITES. CITES was recognized as being ineffective and there were loopholes in using CITES permits and government-to-government ‘Ambassador’ gifts. Some felt it was generally impossible to improve CITES enough, so the national level law enforcement and community education approach was the preferred course of action, while others thought that CITES could be reformed enough to be effective.

Corruption was recognized as the biggest hurdle to achieving effective national action. In Africa, EAGLE had made corruption the keystone of its law enforcement strategy. They had found that approaching high-level government officials to back their work had led to successes down the line through the courts and police. But it was a constant battle with the accused attempting to bribe their way out at every level. Prosecutions could not always be successfully completed, or even if they had been, keeping convicts in prison needed constant monitoring and action, as there were cases where they were let out in irregular fashion. In high-level cases, influential people could intervene to sway the police or the courts to drop cases. The Doumbouya case in Guinea was offered as a ‘success’ example. Will it succeed in the long run against efforts to divert justice? Will it serve to deter others? Time will tell, but it is an excellent example to break the common impression that impunity prevails with ‘connected’ individuals.

Some felt that creating awareness and education at the local level worked effectively to reduce bushmeat hunting, the consequent creation of ape orphans, and the resultant trafficking. JGI offered parts of eastern DRC and Congo-Brazzaville as examples of places where billboards, a TV programme and community meetings had reduced cases of ape orphans significantly.

A participant pointed out that as long as the demand remained, and end-users were willing to pay USD 20,000 for a chimpanzee and USD 150,000 or more for a gorilla, traffickers would operate a market for great apes that no amount of supply country law enforcement or community work alone could effectively deal with. The demand had to be cut off, which posed an equally huge challenge. There were signs in China that the young generation was producing people that could change attitudes towards wildlife exploitation from within, and this should be encouraged. Partnerships could be established to work with Chinese NGOs and the media to campaign against illegal great ape trafficking. EIA and WildAid had been approached about undertaking great ape work, but neither had shown much interest.

Some expressed the view that better data were needed on the trade. An inventory of great apes in captivity in various countries and their uses would be extremely useful. A baseline of numbers was needed from which to monitor future activity. Age and sex was needed and ideally some form of identification – DNA profiles, microchips, facial recognition from photos, fingerprints, were all suggested.

DNA data could indicate not only source area, but also the presence of international trade in Africa, which was of relevance to CITES. The numbers of illegally traded apes could be increased substantially by DNA data indicating the movement of great apes from one country to another, which CITES could not ignore. Some asked, who would pay for it? Others pointed out the difficulty of obtaining permission to take DNA samples.

GRASP great ape illegal trade database

GRASP briefed the meeting on the status of the database they intend to launch. It was consulting with various partners on how the database should be structured, what variables would be included and so on. The World Conservation Monitoring Centre will host the database. It should enter into operation in 2016. GRASP stated that it would consist mainly of seizure data, similar to ETIS. A participant advised that it should be compatible with other relevant databases as much as possible. Some participants would like to know the format and how best to report instances of illegal trade they knew of to GRASP. GRASP stressed that illegal trade reports it received would be closely vetted to establish accuracy and to eliminate multiple source reports of the same case, which it had already experienced in Indonesia, for example. There was some uncertainty about how non-seizure trafficking reports would be dealt with, for example the online great apes seen for sale or great apes turning up in safari parks from unknown sources with no CITES paper trail. These issues would be resolved over the course of the next few months.

GRASP would in future be reporting to CITES on great apes jointly with the IUCN Section on Great Apes, which should provide a higher profile for great ape trafficking. It was signaled that the CITES-MIKE illegal killing of elephants programme had been expanded in the new MIKES programme to include great apes in some monitoring sites. GRASP could perhaps liaise with them to see if any relevant data might emerge.

Plans to ensure that a Great Ape Working Group be created at CITES SC66

PEGAS has prepared a Working Document and an Information Document to appear on the Agenda item ‘Great Apes’ at the 66th CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva in January 2016. Doug Cress of GRASP, Mark Jones of Born Free, Ian Redmond of Ape Alliance and Solomon Kyalo of KWS have made valuable comments that are producing revised versions. The first recalls the history of great ape trafficking in CITES and demonstrates that it is still occurring. CITES measures to date to address it had been inadequate and the CITES Resolution Conf. 13.4 (Rev) that deals with illegal great ape trade needed review and strengthening. The Info Doc provided the detailed history in CITES of great ape trade and reports selected incidents that had occurred since CITES last took action and were still occurring. Both documents called for the creation of a working group to discuss the issue. The documents had also been sent to two NGO members who were part of the CITES delegations of Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville (a Standing Committee member) respectively, asking if they might be able to co-sponsor the submission, but no response had been received.

KWS, which is the Kenya CITES Management and Scientific Authorities, spoke to explain how they supported the submission of the documents and that they were seeking the co-sponsorship of Uganda, since Uganda is a member of the Standing Committee and is a great ape range State. KWS hoped that after the issue was discussed in a WG at SC66 that a range State consultative meeting could be held well before the 17th Conference of the Parties in late September 2016. The range State meeting would formulate a joint position with recommendations of what revisions should be made to RC 13.4 and any other actions that could be taken to control the trade.

Suggestions for strengthening CITES Resolution Conf. 13.4 (Rev.) Great Apes

This topic was included with the previous agenda item in a joint discussion session. Meeting participants pointed out that many of the areas that needed addressing to strengthen measures to control great ape trafficking were included in other CITES working groups. These included fraudulent permitting, lack of timely monitoring of improper permits, lack of timely reporting of illegal trade, failure of the Secretariat and Parties to enforce Articles of the Convention and national law, and so on. It was suggested that the new electronic permitting system that CITES intended to establish might deal with many of these problems.

Various participants advised that suggestions for RC 13.4 revision should be specific to great apes and not overlap with topics that CITES was dealing with in other WGs. One participant stressed that the WG would be important to act as a forum for bringing non-official reporting of great ape trafficking into CITES documents and therefore permit Parties for the first time to examine their significance. Up to the present, most of the NGO investigations that have revealed the extent of illegal great ape trade have not been discussed in CITES meetings. Even the UNEP Stolen Apes report findings have not been admitted into official CITES documents. This lack of examination of unofficial data allows the Secretariat to continue to maintain that great ape trade is insignificant.

Some expressed the opinion that if the attempt to create a WG failed that political capital would have been wasted. The same objectives might be able to be achieved in the other WGs. However, none of the other WGs seemed to present a forum for presentation of the unofficial trade data that was in the Information Document and information that would be created as the result of investigations in future. It was anomalous that every major species group, and some not so major, had a WG, except for great apes. Was this simply a result of the Secretariat wishing to prioritize species by trade scale, a cost-benefit approach motivated by limited staff and time, or was there something else?

In spite of the risks of failure with this strategy, many if not most of the participants (no vote was taken) thought it was worth a try. If no WG was established, another attempt could be made at SC67 or CoP17.

Possibilities for continued information exchange to enhance cooperation

The Ape Alliance, a network of dozens of NGOs and individuals concerned with great ape welfare and conservation, announced that it had recently created a Great Ape Illegal Trade Working Group ( The WG had not yet formulated a Terms of Reference or work plan, but it could very well act as a forum for continued information exchange. PEGAS will consult with Ape Alliance and Born Free/Species Survival Network to formulate a ToR in the coming weeks and communicate the results to everyone.

GRASP also offers a forum for information exchange and is already a useful source of information dissemination through its Newsletter bulletins (email to sign up), Twitter ( and Facebook page (

Recommendations for follow-up action

  1. Establish the ToR of the Ape Alliance Working Group on Illegal Great Ape Trade.
  2. Disseminate to participants.
  3. Engage other NGOs and interested parties in concerted action concerning illegal trade.

Participants were requested to send in any other recommendations they might think of (


Great Ape Trade Information Exchange Meeting

9 November 2015

Daniel Stiles           PEGAS, Ol Pejeta Conservancy,

Doug Cress             UN-GRASP,

Laura Darby           UN-GRASP,

Johannes Refisch UN-GRASP,

Theodore Leggett UNODC,

Javier Montaño       UNODC,

Mark Jones             Born Free Foundation,

Ofir Drori                 EAGLE,

Gregg Tully             Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA),

Franck Chantereau PASA,

Susan Lutter         PASA,

Becky Rose           PASA,

Debby Cox            Jane Goodall Institute,

Jim & Jenny Desmond Humane Society of the United States,

Solomon Kyalo      Kenya Wildlife Service,

Ian Redmond        Ape Alliance (via Skype),

Julie Sherman      WildlifeImpact,

PEGAS rescues two chimpanzee orphans in Liberia – Part II

In late April PEGAS assisted Phoebe McKinney, founder of the NGO ISPARE, to rescue two young chimpanzees in Liberia from truly appalling conditions of illegal captivity (see Part I).

Jackson, renamed Guey, was living on an abandoned VW bus before rescue. (Photo: P. McKinney)

Jackson, renamed Guey, was living on an abandoned VW bus before rescue. (Photo: P. McKinney)







Jacksy, renamed Sweatpea, receives a back-scratch from the PEGAS manager in her bleak, filthy cage before rescue. (Photo: P. McKinney)

Jacksy, renamed Sweatpea, receives a back-scratch from the PEGAS manager in her bleak, filthy cage before rescue. (Photo: P. McKinney)




They were both rescued and relocated to a temporary enclosure at the Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, located in a patch of coastal forest about 40 km from Monrovia.

Guey and Sweetpea meeting for the first time in their new enclosure at Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, free to run and play with another chimpanzee for the first time in their lives. Mbama, their caretaker, looks on. (Photo: D. Stiles)

Guey and Sweetpea meeting for the first time in their new enclosure at Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary, free to run and play with another chimpanzee for the first time in their lives. Mbama, their caretaker, looks on. (Photo: D. Stiles)








The Libassa sanctuary is not equipped to look after chimpanzees over the long term. As they grow into adulthood chimpanzee infants, who are friendly and unaggressive, become increasingly forceful and surprisingly strong. Rudolphe Antoune, owner of the Libassa Ecolodge and land on which the sanctuary is located, had witnessed a captive adult chimpanzee violently break out of a barred cage and knew that the wire mesh enclosure would not be adequate for very long. Even if a strong enough enclosure could be constructed to hold grown chimpanzees, the support was not there for long-term care, which needed a full-time manager, veterinarian and trained caretaking staff.

The only hope was to bring the chimpanzees to Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya. No other sanctuary in Africa had the capacity to accept them. The United Nations Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP) was aware that there were many chimpanzees in Liberia in need, but they had been unable to find a solution.

Before leaving Liberia the PEGAS manager met with the Liberian head of the national CITES office and obtained his agreement that they would issue a CITES export permit for the chimpanzees, on the condition that Kenya would issue the corresponding import permit. Veterinary health clearances would also be necessary.

PEGAS also visited the Kenya Airways office in downtown Monrovia and spoke with the Cargo Officer about the requirements for transporting chimpanzees from Monrovia to Nairobi. Because of the Ebola crisis, Kenya Airways had suspended its scheduled Monrovia-Nairobi flight via Accra. We would have to wait for them to resume service, or use other airlines, which required changing planes and airlines in a third country, another complication.

As the complexity and difficulty of the task ahead became more apparent, PEGAS decided to visit the ‘Monkey Island’ chimpanzee colony, located near the Robertsfield international airport, just down the coast from Libassa. The misnamed Monkey Island contained over 60 chimpanzees abandoned by the New York Blood Center, and PEGAS was aware that plans were afoot to seek long-term care for them. Might those plans be able to embrace chimpanzees languishing in squalid, lonely circumstances around Monrovia? And might Guey and Sweetpea be the first to go?

Map showing the location of Monrovia and the chimpanzee islands in the red oval.

Map showing the location of Monrovia and the chimpanzee islands in the red oval.

The so-called Monkey Island actually consists of six islands in the Farmington and Little Bassa rivers, very near to the Atlantic Ocean. At the time of PEGAS’s visit there were 66 chimpanzees on the islands, but because of the lack of funds contraception had not been practiced for a few years and there were now more than ten infants under the age of 5 years to contend with, and more would surely be on the way if nothing was done. There was no wild food to speak of on the islands and caretakers had to bring food by boat, so allowing breeding was not a good idea.

Location of the LIBR chimpanzee islands. (Photo courtesy of D. Cox, Jane Goodall Institute)

Location of the LIBR chimpanzee islands. (Photo courtesy of D. Cox, Jane Goodall Institute)

The history of how the chimpanzees came to be on the islands is long and tragic. To summarize briefly, in 1974 the Lindsley F. Kimball Research Institute of the New York Blood Center established a Laboratory of Virology (VILAB II) in Liberia for research with chimpanzees. They took over a defunct Liberia Institute for Tropical Medicine, which the Liberian government renamed the Liberian Institute for Biomedical Research (LIBR). The New York Blood Center (NYBC) staffed and managed the LIBR in cooperation with the government from 1975 to 2002. Chimpanzees were caught in the wild and brought to VILAB II for biomedical research.

During the years of Liberian civil wars (1989-1996, 1999-2003), NYBC staff remained at the site and continued research activities and care for the chimpanzees, at considerable cost to themselves. This prevented the chimps from being slaughtered[1]. Research at the LIBR facilities in Liberia by NYBC led to a Hepatitis B vaccine and also contributed to the validation of a sterilization method that eliminated transmission of Hepatitis B and C and HIV viruses through blood products, so the chimpanzees deserve considerable gratitude for their sacrifices to science.

Since 1986, the research carried on in Liberia by the NYBC at LIBR using chimpanzees is reported to have contributed to the receipt by the NYBC of more than USD 500 million in royalties. Even with a stipulated provision in the agreement with LIBR that “LIBR will receive 5% of such royalty income as shall accrue to NYBC resulting in part or in whole from NYBC operation in Liberia”, LIBR was never informed about or received its share of the more than USD 500 million – about USD 25 million! The NYBC also signed agreements with the LIBR in 1999 and 2002, but after that time did not continue to use chimpanzees in research. The chimpanzees were gradually moved from the LIBR facility in Charlesville, about 7 km from the Robertsfield airport, onto the islands.

The NYBC had provided for the care of these animals in “retirement” on the islands, where they are safe from human predators, and local people are also safe from the animals, which having lost their fear of people can be dangerous. Because there is little wild food on the islands, the chimpanzees have to be fed by caretakers whom they have come to know and trust and provided with other care at a cost of about USD 30,000 per month. The NYBC on 5th January 2015 unilaterally announced that it would cease all support for the chimpanzees. Without concluding any formal discussion of the transition, NYBC ceased support for the care of the chimps on 6th March 2015. Since then, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Arcus Foundation have been providing funds to continue feeding the chimpanzees.

Joseph Thomas, with John Zeonyuway in the pick-up with food, two of the main staff in late April looking after the chimpanzees. (Photo: D. Stiles)

Joseph Thomas, with John Zeonyuway in the pick-up organizing food, two of the main staff in late April looking after the chimpanzees. (Photo: D. Stiles)









When PEGAS visited in late April 2015 the caretakers were taking food and milk to the chimpanzees, but because of a lack of funds the chimpanzees were being fed only every second day, which was barely keeping them alive. I joined a boat that had been arranged to take three visiting scientists from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the USA, who kindly allowed me to tag along.

John Zeonyuway on the left, setting off from the dock with three CDC scientists to visit the chimpanzee islands. (Photo: D. Stiles)

John Zeonyuway on the left, setting off from the dock with three CDC scientists to visit the chimpanzee islands. (Photo: D. Stiles)

We travelled down the Farmington River for less than a half an hour until we reached Island 5. The chimps had heard the sound of the outboard motor and were eagerly awaiting their fruit, sugar cane and milk. John bounded out of the boat into shallow water and began distributing fruit from a basin. The chimps shrieked and hooted their happiness, and then dug into the food like famine refugees, which in a way they were.

The chimpanzees dig into the fruit basin with delight. (Photo: D. Stiles)

The chimpanzees dig into the fruit basin with delight. (Photo: D. Stiles)









Each chimpanzee was also administered a measured amount of milk. (Photo: D. Stiles)

Each chimpanzee was also administered a measured amount of milk. (Photo: D. Stiles)

I was surprised at how self-disciplined the hungry chimpanzees were. There was no fighting, and no chimpanzee tried to grab the basin or jump into the boat. When the feeding had finished, we continued down the river past the village of Marshall on the right bank, and then swung to the left up the Little Bassa River past a long sand bar, on the other side of which I could see waves crashing from the Atlantic Ocean. We passed the opening to the sea and soon we reached Island 1. John and two assistants repeated the feeding procedure.

Chimpanzees waited in the trees for the boat to arrive. The blue barrel marks the site of where fresh water is piped to the island, as the islands have no permanent water source. The river water is salty from mixture with sea water. The water pumps periodically break down, and if they aren’t repaired quickly the chimps could die an agonizing death from dehydration. (Photo: D. Stiles)

Chimpanzees waited in the trees for the boat to arrive. The blue barrel marks the site of where fresh water is piped to the island, as the islands have no permanent water source. The river water is salty from mixture with sea water. The water pumps periodically break down, and if they aren’t repaired quickly the chimps could die an agonizing death from dehydration. (Photo: D. Stiles)






Island 1a had infants, so milk was particularly important here. (Photo: D. Stiles)

Island 1a had infants, so milk was particularly important here. (Photo: D. Stiles)






I could see that the islands would make a perfect sanctuary, if the funds could be found. One of the biggest problems with most chimpanzee sanctuaries was escape. Chimps are very intelligent and can usually find their way out of a fenced compound, if they are determined to get out. Sweetwaters in Kenya has periodic escapees, and on my visits to Tchimpounga in the Congo and Lola ya Bonobo in the DRC I learned that escapes were common – the tracking of one was in progress when I visited Lola.

Chimpanzees could not swim naturally, their huge torsos and relatively short legs made them sink like stones if they got into deep water. There would be no escapes from the islands.

Soon after returning to Kenya, Liberia was declared Ebola-free by the WHO. I met with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) veterinary and captive wildlife officials and discussed the possibility of bringing the chimpanzees to Sweetwaters on Ol Pejeta Conservancy. I assured them that the chimpanzees were healthy and were being kept in quarantine-like facilities, away from contact with any potential virus carriers. In another meeting I met with the head of the Species Conservation & Management Division and officers in the CITES department – KWS is both CITES Management and Scientific Authorities for Kenya. They were very cooperative and helpful.

I eventually managed to obtain an official letter from KWS approving the importation of the Liberian chimpanzees and informing us that we should proceed with obtaining the necessary permits to allow the import. I sent this letter to the Liberian CITES office and requested them to issue an export permit, assuring them that Kenya would issue a CITES import permit on the basis of the letter.

In late June, Jim and Jenny Desmond arrived in Liberia from Kenya, where they were temporarily staying after completing work in Uganda. Jim is a wildlife veterinarian and Jenny is an experienced primate caregiver, both of them having worked for years in many primate sanctuaries and conducting primate health research around Africa. Jim was now the Veterinary and Technical Advisor and Jenny was Consulting Director on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States. They had come to Liberia to work with the LIBR chimpanzees and look into the possibility of establishing a sanctuary for them. HSUS was vigorously leading a huge coalition campaign to find funding, including compelling the NYBC to resume support for the chimpanzees. To date, the crowdfunding site has raised an astonishing USD 232,500.

Jim and Jenny were very helpful in assisting getting the CITES export permit issued and obtaining an official health clearance letter from the Ministry of Agriculture. Jim prepared a document certifying that he had examined the chimpanzees and they were free of disease. This was all sent to KWS and PEGAS made an official application for a CITES import permit on behalf of Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Jim and Jenny were returning on 28th July to Kenya and offered to accompany the chimpanzees on their journey, so this offered a good target date to finalize all the paperwork.

In the meantime, I found out from the Nairobi office that the Kenya Airways plane flying the Monrovia-Nairobi route, which had now resumed, had quite strict dimension requirements for cargo shipments. We would have to construct transport carriers in Liberia that could meet the required dimensions. I communicated this to Phoebe and the Desmonds and they set about organizing construction of two carriers.

KWS then informed me that we would need an import permit from the Director of Veterinary Services (DVS), under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, before a CITES import permit could be issued. I wrote to the DVS explaining the situation and enquired how to go about obtaining the required permit. No reply.

There is no need to go into the details of all of the efforts made to obtain the DVS import permit, but the final result was that no permit was obtained before 28th July – in spite of KWS support – and no permit has been obtained since. The problem was no doubt the fact that after Liberia was declared Ebola-free, other cases cropped up. Even though it was virtually impossible that Guey and Sweetpea could be carriers of the virus, it was simply impossible politically to allow the importation.

The chimpanzees have been moved to the LIBR facilities in Charlestown, where they are looked after by trained staff. PEGAS reimbursed Phoebe McKinney for six months of care for the chimpanzees (May to end-October) and the construction of the transport carriers. The Desmonds have returned to Liberia to carry on their extraordinary work of improving the lives of captive chimpanzees, and they report that Guey and Sweetpea are like sisters now, enjoying each other’s company every day.

If Phoebe had never reached out to PEGAS that fateful day in March 2015, the two orphan chimpanzees would still today be living a horrible existence alone, one chained to a rusting vehicle and the other staring out of bars from a bleak chamber.

Sweetpea enjoying a little reading in the afternoon sun. (Photo: J. Desmond)

Sweetpea enjoying a little reading in the afternoon sun. (Photo: J. Desmond)







Guey enjoys a banana, free of her chain. (Photo: J. Desmond)

Guey enjoys a banana, free of her chain. (Photo: J. Desmond)









It’s playtime for Guey and Sweetpea at LIBR (Photo: J. Desmond)

It’s playtime for Guey and Sweetpea at LIBR (Photo: J. Desmond)















[1] See the gripping film about ‘Monkey Island’ at

Pan African Sanctuary Alliance sanctuary managers and executive board members visit Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary

The Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) held a PASA Strategic Development Conference in Nairobi 4-7th November. PASA is a coalition of wildlife sanctuaries and NGO’s working across Africa to protect primates in the wild and to ensure those orphaned primates are cared for to the highest standards.

As part of the conference activities a number of the delegates from all over Africa came on a special visit to our sanctuary. The delegates included other primate sanctuary managers from chimpanzee range states and ape conservation programme managers, as well as some of the PASA Executive Board and the new Executive Director who had flown in from Oregon, USA. They visited the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary so they could see for themselves the excellent facilities we have here on Ol Pejeta Conservancy for looking after these very special primates.

Stephen Ngulu, the Sweetwaters manager, guides PASA visitors

Stephen Ngulu, the Sweetwaters manager, guides PASA visitors

During their day they of course visited the chimps themselves and spent time seeing how much they enjoyed living in Laikipia. They also got an exclusive behind the scenes tour to see the housing facilities we have here. The most recent extension to the housing was completed in April 2013 and expanded the capacity of the sanctuary by 35 so we now have space for approximately 75 chimpanzees. Sweetwaters could expand even further in future if necessary.

Sweetwaters chimpanzees live a good life

Sweetwaters chimpanzees live a good life

The PEGAS Project Manager was on hand to explain exactly how this extra capacity can help relieve some of the population pressure on other sanctuaries who are close to or full to capacity. Despite some sanctuaries being full there are still many apes out there in range states that need rescuing from the illegal bushmeat trade or the illegal international trade in live apes. They also need a home within a PASA sanctuary and the SCS with its new increased capacity is ready to fill the places with chimps in dire need of somewhere to stay.

This visit has been followed up by a meeting held on Monday 9th November in Nairobi, hosted by PEGAS to further discuss ways we can all come together to find the best way we can all cooperate to do what is best for the chimps that are in such desperate need of our help.



Non-Human Rights Project

This is an issue that will become increasingly important in the 21st century. 

New NhRP Video Series: “What is the Nonhuman Rights Project?”

We’re excited to share with you this new short animated video about the Nonhuman Rights Project’s mission—the first in a series of videos designed to help members of the public understand why legal personhood for great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales is so important.  Please share far and wide!

GRASP warns illegal ape trade remains active

GRASP published the following alert [edited] on its press release webpage in June 2014:

The illegal trade in live chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans showed no signs of diminishing – and may actually be getting worse – since the Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) published the first-ever report to gauge the global black market in great apes in 2013.

Three chimpanzees captured in Ghana before transport.

Three chimpanzees captured in Ghana before transport.


The three chimpanzees in Dubai after shipment. (photos captured from Instagram)

The three chimpanzees in Dubai after shipment. (photos captured from Instagram)

“The number of apes being trafficked and confiscated indicates that serious threats remain to wild populations,” said GRASP coordinator Doug Cress. “Either the illegal trade is increasing or law enforcement is improving, but it’s clear there is still a significant population of [great apes] being captured and sold.”

Unlike wildlife contraband such as elephant ivory or rhino horn, the overwhelming majority of great ape confiscations occur within national borders. Only 5 percent of the total confiscations in 2013 and 2014 crossed international borders.