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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.

Ivory prices in 2015 in Nhi Khe, Viet Nam. The latest raw ivory prices averaged USD 725/kg

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

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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.

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PEGAS set up a table

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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Jane opens the Education Centre with a celebratory chimpanzee hoot

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMQqLe5CSOs.

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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.

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The baby chimpanzee seized in Doha in mid March 2016

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
Doha, QATAR
Email: fasowaidi@moe.gov.qa

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.

REPORT OF MEETING

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 (http://www.4apes.com/working-groups/ape-trade). 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 newsletter@un-grasp.org to sign up), Twitter (https://www.twitter.com/graspunep) and Facebook page (https://web.facebook.com/graspunep).

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 (pegas@olpejetaconservancy.org).

PARTICIPANTS’ LIST

Great Ape Trade Information Exchange Meeting

9 November 2015

Daniel Stiles           PEGAS, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, pegas@olpejetaconservancy.org

Doug Cress             UN-GRASP, Douglas.cress@unep.org

Laura Darby           UN-GRASP, Laura.Darby@unep.org

Johannes Refisch UN-GRASP, johannes.refisch@unep.org

Theodore Leggett UNODC, Theodore.LEGGETT@unodc.org

Javier Montaño       UNODC, javier.montano@unodc.org

Mark Jones             Born Free Foundation, markj@bornfree.org.uk

Ofir Drori                 EAGLE, lastgreatape@yahoo.com

Gregg Tully             Pan African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA), gregg@pasaprimates.org

Franck Chantereau PASA, jack@lub.gbs.cd

Susan Lutter         PASA, sllutter@gmail.com

Becky Rose           PASA, rebeccar0214@gmail.com

Debby Cox            Jane Goodall Institute, dcox@janegoodall.org

Jim & Jenny Desmond Humane Society of the United States, jjdesmond@hotmail.com

Solomon Kyalo      Kenya Wildlife Service, cites@kws.go.ke

Ian Redmond        Ape Alliance (via Skype), ele@globalnet.co.uk

Julie Sherman      WildlifeImpact, julie@wildlifeimpact.org

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)

8a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

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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 http://www.vice.com/video/the-lab-apes-of-liberia.