Anatomy of a Sting: Postscript

Tom, Joe and all the rest of the wildlife traffickers who use social media platforms to market nature’s bounty are still out there, operating almost with impunity. U.S. law gives Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and all of the other Internet service providers immunity from responsibility for whatever third-party users post, even if it breaks the law, because of Section 230 in the Communications Decency Act.

A compounding problem to putting a stop to the rape of nature that exotic pet trade epitomizes is the fact that most countries consider wildlife crime relatively unimportant. Even though the Royal Thai Police put a lot of effort into pulling off the Kid Op sting, the prosecutor’s office apparently did not think the case important enough to investigate further and gather all the evidence needed for a court case. For example, who was “Joe” at Samutprakarn, who supposedly owned the orangutan infants?

Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm & Zoo, not far from Bangkok, is a horror show of abused animals, including an endless string of baby orangutans, chimpanzees and tigers that pass through there, used as photo props and for degrading performances for fee-paying visitors. There are several similar facilities in Thailand that rake in money from the suffering of wildlife, most of which originate in the wild from criminal capture. Were the ‘kids’ held at Samutprakarn from the time they arrived in the Bangkok area up to their seizure in the sting of 21st December? We will probably never know.

Samutprakarn often keeps orangutan or chimp juveniles chained to the floor to attract visitors.

The seized kids were named Nobita and Shizuka and are still, three years after their seizure, being held at the Khao Prathap Chang Wildlife Breeding Centre in Ratchaburi province. At the time of the sting funds were available for their repatriation to Sumatra, where they were originally captured, but three years later those funds are gone. I was repeatedly told they could be relocated to a sanctuary when the case was closed. There never was a case.

Nobita and Shizuka are still at the Thai government facility three years after their seizure. (Photo courtesy of Edwin Wiek)

Anatomy of a Sting – Part III

Nick, Khun Lee, Eddy and Tom

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

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

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

“Hi R. and [Khun Lee],

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

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

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

Regards,

Xxxx”

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

R. of Freeland replied immediately:

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

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

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

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

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

[three lines of numbered code]

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

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

 

These two were posted 3rd December:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

No reply.

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

Tom never replied to the old David WhatsApp number.

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

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

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

I contacted Tom on 15th December:

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

Tom only replied with a photo:

 
[Next Day]

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

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

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

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

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

Tom: Ok.

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



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

[Two days later]

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

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

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

[Next day]

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

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

Nick: Ok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nick: Really?

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

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

Tom: Eddy is nois contact .

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

Tom: They can’t sell to private person .

Nick: What I thought

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

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

Tom: Ok , Sir .

[Next day]

Tom: Hello

Nick: Hello

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

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

Tom: Ok

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

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

Nick: Wonderful

Tom: Will.update

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

[Next day, 21 December 2016]

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

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

Nick: Ok I’ll try to be patient

Tom: Ok
Tom: Eddy called you back yet ?


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

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

[No reply]

On 25th December I sent a last message:

Nick: Merry Christmas Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freeland sent me some photos of the bust.

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


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


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


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

End of Part III.

Anatomy of a Sting – Part II

PART II – Nick and Tom

After coming to a dead-end as David with Tom, I decided to try another tack. I contacted a friend in Thailand whom I’d worked with previously on illegal wildlife trade investigations and asked her if she would assist with this online exotic pet probe. I’ll call her Noi, the fake name we agreed to use. She agreed. I gave her instructions of how to approach Tom using private messaging through the @exoticpetworld IG account. The account had recently posted this orangutan infant:

 

Noi made first contact:


 

I did not suggest that Noi describe the New York Times journalist and I as a ‘homo couple’, she came up with that herself. I only told her to say that two men who lived together in Phuket wanted an orangutan pet. Phuket is an island in the south of Thailand. I’d been there earlier in 2016 and saw two newly arrived infant orangutans at the local zoo that were being used as photo props, so thought that using them would be a good cover story.


 

Here he was asking about the zoo license again, so it appears that this is standard operating procedure. I wondered now whether some of this exotic animal supplier’s clients used zoos as a cover for illegal import. I knew that Thailand had some notorious private zoos such as Samutprakarn Crocodile Park & Zoo, Bangkok Safari World and Pata Zoo that had wild animals coming and going in and out of their facilities, often under questionable circumstances.


 

Exoticpetworld now sent six photos of orangutans and chimps, all from old Exoticpet88 posts. He told Noi that one was $12,000, including delivery to Thailand. He gave the name of his Thai associate and a Bangkok Bank savings account number into which I should deposit the down payment. Noi replied:


 
Tom of Exoticpetworld wanted the 50% deposit as a guarantee that this was not a ‘snooper’ operation or sting. He was calling the deal an ‘adoption’, to disguise the fact that it was an international commercial transaction and therefore illegal, as all CITES Appendix I cross-border trades require export and import permits, not to mention veterinary certificates, Customs clearances and tax declarations on profits. Noi thought that the apes might already be in Thailand. I asked Noi to send him a message in Thai asking this, which she did on 12th November. He answered with a ‘?’, which indicated that he wasn’t Thai and could not understand it. Noi asked Tom how delivery of the ‘kid’ could be made. He replied:


 
Tom was pressuring Noi to speak on the phone, but she was afraid she would blow it and refused. I asked her to try to set up a meeting on 18th November in Bangkok to inspect the orangutan. The NYT journalist was ready to hop on a plane once I had everything set up.


 
I decided that it was time to go to Thailand. I emailed Edwin Wiek of the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand to explain the sting operation and asked if his rescue centre could take the orangutans after seizure, but he never replied. I was in communications with the Freeland Foundation, based in Bangkok, and they agreed to organize Thai police involvement and collaborate in the sting. They had done this type of thing previously with a slow loris trafficking gang.

I arrived in Bangkok on 16th November, bought a local Thai mobile network SIM card and contacted Tom’s +855 81 number via WhatsApp:

Nick: Hello I am person who asked anxxxxxxxx32 to look for orangutan for adoption

[Next day]

Nick:: Helloooo anybody home?

Tom: Hello sir

Nick: Oh you’re so polite, that’s nice. I’m just so tired going through Noi to agree on getting our lovely new kid. I talked it over with my partner and he is so suspicious and careful he’s like an old lady. Is there anything you can do to make him believe you will give us the baby when we deposit the money? We don’t know you or even where you are. Maybe you will run away with our money. You know there are lots of people who do nasty things like that. I’m not saying you do. I hope you understand. We really want to get Otan as soon as possible, we even bought baby clothes already


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nick: Not really. Yes I know. But we would really look after it like a real child. I googled all kinds of things about what orangutans eat, what kind of diseases they get and all kinds of things. Our house girl will bath it every day. Any advice you have please tell me

Tom: They are easy to take care . but sometimes they could get moody …just like kid.
Tom: Are you now in phuket ?

Nick: We had a cat for a really long time but it ran away. It was really moody. We don’t mind moody. Yes am in Phuket

Tom: I got a good friend in phuket . he’s retired wealthy aussie hippie .may be I should arrange a meeting with him to confirm you and me are legit person .

Nick: Let me ask my partner, he’s a shy guy. Where in Phuket does hippy live? Can we meet him in Patong?

Tom: Let ask if he’s in phuket now . where are you guys from ?

Nick: I’m from Canada my partner is an American. But he is very nice for an American not noisy and pushy like those foul rednecks that support Trump

Tom: Trump is a cancer

Nick: Worse

Tom: Sorry buts no other word .

Nick: Trump hates people like me

Tom: My brother used to study at [name of school] in Vancouver .

[I had never heard of the school, but googled it and replied]:

Nick: Oh wow!! That’s a good art school. Is he doing design? What kind?

Tom: Film director

Nick: Exciting! What kind of films?

Tom: Very indie
Tom: Let me call u tonight , sir

Nick: Best kind. Ok will talk later I have to go out now anyway

Tom: Ok

[Next day]

Nick: Good morning
Nick: Helloooo

Tom: Hello sir
Tom: I have spoken to my friend in phuket but he’s in Dubai now

Nick: Ecuse my delay I was swimming. So what do we do?

Tom: Instagram : XXXXXXXX007 [It was an Instagram account of a very wealthy Thai man who owned a chimpanzee pet. He seemed to be a jet-setter who travelled to Europe and the U.S. with his pretty girlfriend and he owned some very expensive cars. There was no indication on his Instagram or Facebook account of whether he worked or not and there was nothing that suggested he was in the exotic animal business. Maybe Tom had sold him the chimp].

[Next day]

Tom: Hello

Nick: Good morning Tom how are you?

Tom: This afternoon I will send you photos of one boy n one girl for you to decide .
Tom: You have seen that one IG account I sent you last night, Nick ?

Nick: Yes I looked the chimp looked big but nice and he seemed very happy

Tom: Yah . he’s very lucky ape.

Nick: I’m so excited can’t wait to see photos

Tom: Ok.
Tom: Here we go , Sir

Tom sent these:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nick: Incredible!!! When can we see?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

Tom: Balance upon health check at local vet .

Nick: Ok will let you know asap

Tom: Thank you , Sir
Tom: My suggestion is as a couple if you may want to breed them .

Nick: Oh I never thought of that. Another thing to discuss. My partners not here now I’ll see him in a couple of hours but will let you know tonight cause I don’t want them going to China

Tom: Noted

Nick: To save time I’m going to see my partner I know where he is
Nick: I sent him the photos he’s thrilled!

Tom: Ok.

[Tom called me on WhatsApp audio to warn me not to share the photos or discuss what we were doing with anyone. I told him I wouldn’t. He asked me where I came from in Canada, I told him a small town in Alberta. He wanted to know if I would pay the 50% deposit, I said I would ask my partner. I contacted the NYT journalist and asked him what name he wanted to use. He said ‘Jeffrey’. We resumed on WhatsApp text]:

Nick: Don’t worry not sharing or telling ANYBODY

Tom: Thank you

Nick: Am so tired. Jeffrey insists since we don’t have any assurance that the kids would be delivered that he’s only willing to deposit $1000. Or if they are not too far away we could go and take money with us. We see them, pay 50% and see them shipped to Phuket. Sorry he’s very difficult

Tom: Completely understood from your point of view although if the kids are local and native in Thailand then we can do like jeffry said . but they are not local breeded and have to be shipped to Bkk from far away so since this is our first contact it’s not easy for both of us .
Tom: Are you guys looking for one or a couple ?

Nick: We decided on two, depending. Are the girl and boys related? Or different parents? If unrelated we can take girl and boy. This might make them more stable when they get older. Assuming they get along (:

Tom: They are from different parent and not related .
Tom: Let me figure what is the most fairest solutuon for both of us ,Sir .

Nick: Ok take your time


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom: I will keep them both for you .

Nick: Thank you tom you are very kind

Tom: My pleasure . i believe you and jeffey will take good care of them .

Nick: Promise

Tom: Hi Nicolas . I have spoken to my breeder on your terms . This is the best thing I can work out with him . he will accept 100,000 THB deposit for one couple of male and female . once they arrived bkk we can go to see the vet together . after the health check you could pay the balance . then you could either take them direct back to phuket or we can arrange shipping for you . please discuss with Jeffry and let me know please .this is the best solution I can come across with him .
Tom: If placing deposit tomorrow you can come to Bkk next Friday for pick up , Sir .

Nick: Deposit is in bank in Bangkok the one you gave before?

Tom: Yes , Sir .

Nick: Tomorrow Sunday will do Monday

Tom: Ok
Tom: Thank you for trusting me

[I did not want to turn over any money to wildlife traffickers for ethical and legal reasons. But previous negotiations with wildlife traffickers always ended at this point. Not a single one would agree to meet for an “inspection” or any other reason I could think of using as a cover story, without money up front first. Without a physical meeting it was impossible to set up a sting.
I discussed it both with my project sponsors and with people at Freeland. Thai baht 100,000 was about USD 2,850. Was it worth that much to put a major wildlife trafficker out of business? When trying to set up the sting in Indonesia I had been in communications with an Indonesian NGO. They had pulled off a sting that netted two traffickers, but it had cost $3,000 in lost deposit money.
Tom said he was coming personally to Bangkok and that we would meet. Freeland assured me that he would be arrested in the veterinarian’s office when the health check was made and the transaction concluded. Tom would be caught red-handed with the orangutan infants and cash payment, open-and-shut case. Jeffrey the NYT journalist would be there to witness and write about the whole affair. I wrote my sponsor that it was “high risk, high gain”. He replied, “Go for it.”]

[Next day]

Tom: Kids are already on the move to Bkk , Sir .

Nick: Fantastic. Where do we meet in Bangkok Friday?

Tom: I will inform you again which doctor my agent will be contacting.
[The ‘doctor’ was the vet who would do the health inspection. We needed to know as early as possible who this would be and where he was located in order to arrange the details of the sting.]

Nick: Ok

Tom: You have to prepare and start buying powder milk and other baby stuffs

Nick: Will do. Any special kind?

Tom: Any baby milk will do the job

[I flew to Phuket so I could deposit the down payment in a Phuket bank, strengthening my cover story.]

[Next day]

Tom: Please do send me your bank deposit slip once payment has being instructed, Sir .

[I haggled more with Tom, trying to get out of making a bank deposit. We’d brought on board a Thai staff member of Freeland, a retired senior Royal Thai Police officer, to act as a contact in Bangkok with a Thai associate of Tom’s, the man in whose bank account I was supposed to make the down payment deposit. I said a ‘friend’ (the Freeland Thai staff member) would leave the 100,000 baht cash at the vet’s office, as we needed to know where it was. Tom was not pleased.]

Tom: Please tell your friend you are not getting baby hamster from a zoo shop.

Nick: Oh Tom I’m so sorry I tried to convince him but he says if deposit left with your vet then no risk to you.

Tom: I understand you friend s idea but also the things is no vet would to get involve in this kind of business .
Tom: How do you want me to proceed , dear Nicolas .
Tom: Seller could disappear with money…no objection but also buyer could reject to take as well. This happend to be few times with Arab peoples.
Tom: I am a good Muslims

[Two more facts learned about Tom, he was not Arab and he was Muslim. This pointed more strongly than ever to him being Indonesian or Malaysian. He also admitted that ‘this kind of business’ was so shady that no veterinarian would get involved in it.]

Nick: I want to be fair of course. I’ve been arguing with my ex friend and Jeffrey about it. We won’t reject if kids are healthy. Even if they have small health problem we can still take if it’s treatable. Are you with kids?

Tom: No , Sir . I don’t have them with me . should I have my agent to call you thai friend and work out somethings ?

Nick: I thought you were coming with them and would meet us in vets office in Bangkok? No?

Tom: Yes ,we will meet .
Tom: But I want to solve the deposit issue at first cuz they are already on the way.
Tom: Otherwise I have to return them back first until things are set .

Nick: My friend said he can talk to your agent but he’d prefer doing tomorrow is that alright? Maybe he can give deposit to him

Tom: Ok

[I received an email from Freeland informing me that they had prepared a confidential report for me containing ‘closed-source and open-source information’ to help me decide on the best course of action. They would give it to me at a meeting we had scheduled in the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in a couple of days. Freeland also wanted a screenshot of my communications with Tom to pass on to the Natural Resources Environmental Crime Suppression Division of the Royal Thai Police that they could use to open a case file. I sent a few which showed Tom giving the prices and asking for a 50% deposit.]

[Next day]

Nick: Good morning. What number should my friend call? He has agreed to pay the deposit for me. I’m coming to bkk tomorrow

Tom: Ok. Let me get his number for you .
Tom: It’s +66 651xxxxxx.
Tom: His name is Ton

Nick: Ok wonderful. My friend is Kuhn Lee, I’ll pass on number

Tom: Ok
Tom: Jelly fish

Nick: What?
[What did jelly fish mean? Was it some sort of code word, or just a typo? I sent Ton’s number to Freeland’s Thai undercover staff, whom we’re calling Kuhn Lee (Mr. Lee). Lee called Ton’s number and was told that now the ‘kids’ were arriving Sunday, not Friday as previously agreed.]

Nick: Lee said kids arriving Sunday now what happened?

Tom: It’s always five working days after receiving the deposit .
Tom: And we don’t have transport connection everyday .
Tom: Today is Tuesday afternoon and I am still waiting for your deposit .
Tom: Kids were send off Sunday evening but last night I let them stop before crossing border

Nick: I don’t know why Lee didn’t make arrangements to pay deposit with Ton I asked him to do that. Lee is a bit difficult sometimes. Lee says he will give 100,000 cash to Ton after work tomorrow. Could they meet in bkk somewhere? Because kids not coming until Sunday I won’t come until Friday now

Tom: You got the bank account , Sir.

Nick: Ah ok he puts in bank. Ok I’ll tell him

Tom: Thank you

[Now, what to do? I had come to Phuket to establish my cover, but hadn’t had to prove it yet, Tom did not seem concerned where I was. I decided that if a bank deposit had to be made, I might as well do it here in Phuket.]

[Next day]

Nick: Good morning Tom I hope you are doing fine. I decided to deposit the 100,000 baht myself here in Phuket. What day will the kids arrive? I hope soon. You said they were already almost here. I don’t want the kids to suffer too much in a car or whatever. Is someone feeding them properly and giving them water? Can you send a photo so I can see they are alright. Jeffrey wants to see. Thank you

Tom: Hi Nicolas . if receiving your deposit today they should be in bkk on Monday at latest and don’t worry they are all well treated.they stop over near Malaysian border at my courier farm .please notify me once you paid in so I can continue the trip .

Nick: Why does it take so long if they are so close?

Tom: Malaysia Indonesia border

[I looked at a map to reconfirm what I thought – there is no land border between Malaysia and Indonesia, except on Borneo island.]

Nick: There isn’t one what do you mean?
Nick: You mean on Borneo?

Tom: No

Nick: Where else is there a border?

Tom: You are asking typical snooper question .

Nick: Tom I’m not a snooper but you’re saying strange things. I’m not stupid
[I was beginning to worry that this was a deposit scam, not unusual in the nefarious world of wildlife trafficking. Many animal photo ads on e-commerce or social media sites were simply just downloaded from the Internet, the person posting the photo did not actually have the animal. After receiving the deposit, the ‘seller’ was never heard from again.]

Nick: I’m in front of the Patong Bangkok bank right now I can even send you photo. It doesn’t open until 10

Tom: No problem
Tom: It’s just few minutes
Tom: Call me
Tom: Bad signal

Nick: Yes

Tom: There are no land border
Tom: But by boat

Nick: Except in Borneo I know my geography

Tom: Johor baru
[This was at the tip of the Malaysian peninsula opposite Singapore island. The otans must be coming from Borneo or Java, if they were actually passing through Johor Baru.]

Nick: You promise on the Prophet (peace be upon him) that you send kids? You said you’re a good Muslim

Tom: Yes , Sir
Tom: I promise

Nick: Ok thank you Tom I’ll deposit now. I’ll have $17,150 for you in cash in Bangkok. Give me address when you can of where we meet. We will take kids there I’ve arranged transport
Nick: You want cash right?

[I hoped the offer of this much cash would be enough to lure Tom to Bangkok.]

Tom: Ok

Nick: Can we use your cage or we buy one to bring?

Tom: No cage
Tom: They go in basket
Tom: I will arrange for u

Nick: Ok am in bank waiting for person

Tom: Ok

Nick: Here is deposit receipts


 
Tom: Ok. Thank you .
Tom: No need to worry , Sir . see you on Monday .

Nick: Thank you my friend
[I felt terrible depositing that money for the use of wildlife traffickers, but the thought of putting them out of business gave me the motivation to do it and carry on. The Exoticpet88 gang had captured and sold thousands of endangered animals and birds from at least 2012 up to now, and Tom’s IG account was posting animals for sale again, such as the pair of orangutan infants below. Were these the two ‘kids’ now on their way to Bangkok?]


 
[I returned to Bangkok and that night met with Freeland people at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club. They did not give me the report as promised, which apparently contained useful information, because of reservations held by Khun Lee. I was told they would give me the report when the case was closed. What good would it do me then? This was the first of several seemingly counter-productive and illogical acts by Khun Lee.
The Royal Thai Police were on board and we would hold a strategy session in a couple of days to lay out the detailed roles of each person. Jeffrey had made arrangements to fly to Bangkok on Friday.]

[Next day]

Tom: Expect your kids to be in bkk on Sunday at latest .
Tom: Will update .
Tom: Be prepared so sleepless night ….

Nick: Thank you thank you I was going to contact you tomorrow I didn’t want to hound you. We still meet Monday?

Tom: I think yes
Tom: Let me keep you up to date every evening
Tom: Should be OK

Nick: I’m so excited! I can’t wait. Thank you so much

Tom: Did you bought milk and etc.
Tom: Hot water boiler
Tom: Pampers
Tom: Three or four milk bottles
Tom: They will need the bottles every three or four hours

Nick: Not yet but now you reassured me so we will. I looked at pampers (we call them diapers) but not sure which ones to get

Tom: I will get for you
Tom: They are about 3-4 KGs
Tom: So it new born size

Nick: There are also different formulas for different ages, will buy the ones for 1 year old. Ok for pampers small ones

Tom: Welcome sleepless night …. For the next few months …
Tom: Yes
Tom: I think it’s fine

Nick: Oh dear I hope they don’t cry like human babies

Tom: Not like that…..
Tom: Worse…. Hahaha….
Tom: Just kidding

[I was bonding well with Tom, building trust, he seemed as excited as I was pretending to be about the imminent ‘adoption’ of my new kids.]

Nick: Whew good. NO oh good kidding.

Tom: I always enjoy watching them sleeping

Nick: We can’t wait.

Tom: Yah ….

Nick: Should they sleep in a baby crib or what?

Tom: I know that feeling
Tom: No need
Tom: Mine always use to sleep with me n my wife has n the same bed

[More information about Tom, he owned otans himself and he was married.]

Nick: Really? Ok we’ll try that

Tom: My wife will buy some nice baby dress for your kids .
Tom: They will bond to you and jeffey for the next couple of years

Nick: Oh thank you Tom that’s so kind of you. Jeffrey and I have been talking about what to get you
Nick: We’ll spend lots of time with them and hug them a lot

Tom: No need Sir . me n my wife will come to visit your kids in phuket from time to time .
Tom: Speak you tomorrow .
Tom: Yah ….
Tom: Happy happy

Nick: Ok sleep well
[I had to remind myself that this character was responsible for the capture of innumerable orangutan and gibbon babies in the forests of Southeast Asia and selling them into slavery, not to mention all of the other animals and birds from all over the world that showed up on their IG pages. I wanted to see him behind bars.
Freeland emailed me, they found the Facebook account of the person who owned the bank account I’d deposited the down payment into. They had his address as well.]


 
[The police had obtained the bank records of the ATM use of the bank account owner and it showed that within 24 hours the entire 100,000 baht had been withdrawn.]


 
[Next day]

Nick: Hello Tom any news?
Tom: On the way , Sir
Nick: Ok thanks

[Next day]

Tom: Your kids are now at Malaysia/Thailand border waiting for transfer courier
Tom: If lucky then tonight ID not tmr

Nick: Oh my!! Can’t wait!! Thank you Tom!!

Tom: Please book your flight after my confirmation . no need to book in advance , Sir

Nick: ok

Tom: Also you told me you want to take back your kids by yourself ?

Nick: Yes we’ve hired a car and driver in bkk

Tom: Are they any control on the way back to phuket ?
Tom: How many hours drive ?

Nick: Not that I know of but even if there is we can put a blanket over kids. I heard 12 hours

Tom: Ok

[Next day]

Nick: Hello Tom how are things going?

Tom: If my courier can cross border in to Thailand tonight it will arrive Bangkok tomorrow . he is checking if his border officer he work with has got his shift today , Sir . if he can cross he will call me and I will inform you ASAP.

[Aha! Another key bit of info, they had a corrupt Thai border officer working with them, this was common practice with wildlife and other illegal product smugglers.]

Nick: Ok good luck but come soon! Jeffrey is going crazy
[As was I, I had to leave Thailand soon as I had another operation underway on another continent that absolutely required my presence on 30th November. It was now the 27th. Jeffrey and I went to Bangkok Safari World this morning and I introduced him to the orangutan show, in which thin, bedraggled orangutans simulated a rock band, with a bikini-clad go-go dancer, and a boxing show. On the taxi drive out Jeffrey was on the phone with a Congolese army general he was interviewing for a story on Joseph Kabila, the DRC president. The general knew that Kabila kept a pet chimpanzee at his farm outside of Kinshasa, in answer to a question Jeffrey threw in at my prompting.]


 
[That night we held a strategy session in my hotel room with three Freeland staff – R. and two former senior Thai Royal Police officers (E. and Khun Lee) – a current member of the Natural Resources Environmental Crime Suppression Division (whom Jeffrey dubbed Inspector X), a cameraman to record everything, Jeffrey and myself.]

“Khun Lee” had drawn up an organizational chart of the actors and locations for the strategy meeting, but it made no sense to me and had nothing to do with what we needed to do when the exchange meeting would be held in the vet’s office.

Inspector X, designated to make the arrest, the cameraman and “Khun Lee” in my hotel room.


 
[Next day]

Nick: Good morning Tom hope you are well. Jeffrey and I are In Bangkok now did it go well at the border?

Tom: Hi . tonight I will arrive thai side . may be my agent can let you video chat with you boy and girl .
Tom: Do you have Skype ID ?

Nick: I don’t have Skype but maybe I could create an account. We can meet tomorrow then?

Tom: Yes , pls create one . tentative arrival is tomorrow morning in bkk .

Nick: So excited can’t wait. So we meet tomorrow we don’t want to stay in Bangkok. What time?

Tom: Tonight my courier will inform when they start departure . where do you stay in bkk ?

Nick: We’re in sukhumvit

Tom: Ok

Nick: Nana area

Tom: You can send me your address and location my courier will come to see you there and bring the kids .

Nick: You said we meet to get health check

Tom: Yes , he will take you to see the vet together .

Nick: So he doesn’t bring kids here? Don’t think we can bring into hotel

Tom: No problem . can go in with baskets . which hotel is it ?

Nick: [name of hotel]

Tom: Oh …they got nice congee.
Tom: It’s next to soi nana .

Nick: Haha! Yes I tried it. This morning I had nasi goreng

Tom: Great . so late late tonight I will update , Sir .

Nick: Wonderful we await your call with baited breath

Tom: Waiting for courier

Nick: Oh where are they?

Tom: Hatyai
[This was disappointing as Hat Yai was only just across the Malaysian border in southern Thailand.]

Nick: So far! So we meet tomorrow

[Tom sent this photo now. The date and time were correct]:


 
Tom: Hi . my local courier just tried to contact you on your mobile .
Tom: What’s your room number , Sir . he wanted to stop by and explain you how to meet and how to take care of your kids .

Nick: Am out to dinner with Jeffrey will be back at hotel in about an hour

Tom: Ok, let know when you are back . what’s your room number ?
[I couldn’t give him my room number as then he could check the name of the occupant and discover my real identity.]

Nick: We meet in lobby not room

Tom: Ok
Tom: Is it possible to have noi coordinate with my man because his English is not good .
Tom: My agent
[Tom sent a photo of his agent. He didn’t look Thai, more Central Asian or Middle Easterner.]

Nick: Noi is not here we’ll just meet him now in Hxxxxxxx bar we’re there
Nick: He goes into lobby and take elevator to B level

Tom: Let contact him again , Sir . he said he went to front desk and asking for Mr. Nicolas Shies but they couldn’t find you on the check in database so he left .

Nick: Well we are here. My name is not Schies
Nick: Or shies
[I had scribbled a fake name on the bank deposit slip.]

Tom: Ok. It was shown on the paying slip so I told him to ask for you sir .
Tom: Your kids will leave tonight around midnight and will probably get in late afternoon , Sir .
Tom: You brought milk and other stuffs or should he buy for you ?

Nick: Is the courier coming?
Nick: He doesn’t need to do anything
[Tom was trying to establish what we looked like and if we were real before making the delivery meet.]

Tom: I am trying to call him now
Tom: I couldn’t get through his number so I think he is on the way back home .if you don’t see him at the lobby waiting then tomorrow.
Tom: When kids arrive I will notify you , Sir .

Nick: Ok we wanted to buy him a beer

Tom: Haha very kind . I will have some beers in phuket soon with you two . havent been there for so long .
Tom: In fact hatyai is on your way back to phuket , isn’t ?

[Tom called now at 10;30 p.m. by normal mobile phone service and asked me if I wanted the kids delivered to Phuket. I said that Jeffrey and I were in Bangkok now and we had a car and driver already booked, plus we wanted the kids’ health cleared by a vet before paying the balance and taking delivery. I asked if Tom was going to meet us in the morning at the vet’s office with the kids. He said Ton his agent would get hold of us in the morning with instructions.
It was after 11 p.m. on 28th November, I had to leave the next night to go where I needed to be on the 30th. Jeffrey and I discussed it in the hotel bar, wondering if Tom’s agent wasn’t still around. I went to Thailand thinking that the exchange meet could be made on the 18th. Ten days later it looked like I would not be part of the sting. Jeffrey had to leave the night of 1st December to be at a Bar Mitzvah in Chicago, his home town, on 3rd December. I sent Tom another WhatsApp message.]

Nick: Tom I’ve been talking this over with Jeffrey and we decided you’re playing games with us. You keep changing the story. We have to meet tomorrow and take the kids. We have the money so let’s just do this
[No reply. At 11;30 p.m. I sent another message.]
Nick: Tom can we talk?
[No reply]

[Next day, 29 November]

[I called Tom’s number in the morning, no reply. I had to leave that night so decided that it was too late for me to take any active part. I informed Freeland that they should try to conclude the sting either today or on the 30th with Jeffrey in the vet’s office, as originally agreed. I turned over my Thailand SIM card to Freeland for them to continue using it for communications with Tom, which of course could only be text messages. That afternoon I received an email from R. my contact at Freeland:

Hi Xxxx,

Just wanted to let you know they we will actively pursue the case through Mr. Lee. We hope the fish will take the bait and we have a successful resolution to this case.

Will keep you updated with all ongoings.

Kind regards,

R.

I replied that I was still keenly interested in the case and would be willing to help out any way that I could, and for them to keep me updated.

A few hours later I was in a plane flying to Africa, hoping that Freeland could pull off the sting with Jeffrey present.]

End of Part II

Anatomy of a Sting – Part I

by

Nick

 

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

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

PART I – David and Joe

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Exoticpet88

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

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

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

An IG account owned by a Kuwaiti animal trafficker.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 


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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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


 

 

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

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

My exchange with Tom ceased for the time being.

End of Part I

Indonesian traffickers’ transaction method of selling illegal wildlife: Rekber

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

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

Here are many examples of both adverts and transaction instructions:

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

 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

A schematic diagram showing how RekBer works

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

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

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

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

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

Intrepid Saudi mountain climber and humanitarian visits Sweetwaters sanctuary: makes plea to stop chimpanzee trade

Raha Moharrak is not only a unique person in the Arab world, she is unique anywhere. She is the first Arab and youngest woman to have conquered the summits of the highest mountains in all seven continents – the Seven Summits – including Mt. Everest and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world, Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Speaking about her impressive success, she said: “I really don’t care about being the first, so long as it inspires someone else to be second.”

“I really don’t care about being the first, so long as it inspires someone else to be second.”

Raha was bitten by the adventure bug at an early age growing up in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. Her father, a successful entrepreneur originating in the poor south of the country on the Yemen border, allowed the headstrong young girl to pursue her interests and gain a good education. She has a degree in Visual Communication from the American University in Sharjah and is now pursuing an MBA at the Synergy University in Dubai, where she works as a graphic artist.

“I am an adventurer first and a graphic artist second,” she told PEGAS. But after learning of her travel schedule how she finds time to work is a mystery.

But adventure is not Raha’s only pursuit – she also seeks worthy projects to support. She picks each project carefully, ensuring that the cause she supports is a worthy one.

As part of her many interests, a concern for animal welfare led her to join the Middle East Animal Foundation in Dubai. A partner and friend of PEGAS, Debbie Lawson, also a MEAF member, introduced Raha to PEGAS’s work, which immediately raised her interest and curiosity. She decided to visit Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary to learn more about the plight of great apes and the illegal exotic pet trade that threatened their survival in the wild. She thought that perhaps she could help in raising awareness about the issue, which was little understood by the world.

My coincidence, a documentary filmmaker that PEGAS was working with from the U.S. was planning to visit Ol Pejeta at about the same time. PEGAS thought bringing the two together could result in producing an effective public service announcement (PSA). It worked out, and Colin Sytsma, the filmmaker, and Raha came together at Ol Pejeta in March 2018.

As many visitors do, Raha fell in love with Manno, the adorable young chimpanzee that PEGAS helped rescue and relocate from a private zoo in Iraqi Kurdistan to Sweetwaters in late 2016. Manno seemed intrigued with Raha and in an instantaneous meeting of the eyes a bond was forged between the two.

“He has these beautiful amber eyes. I can’t fathom how somebody could see that, shoot the mother, … and send the baby off to someone to purchase….”.

“He has these beautiful amber eyes,” Raha said. “I can’t fathom how somebody could see that, shoot the mother, … and send the baby off to someone to purchase….”.

PEGAS hopes that Raha’s message is listened to and heeded, especially in her part of the world where great apes are such popular pets.

Bo and Bella arrive from Guinea Bissau

It all started on 18th January, 2016, over two years ago, when PEGAS received an email from Gregg Tully, Executive Director of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance.

Gregg asked, “Can you help with this case?”

Attached was an email from Maria Joana Ferreira da Silva that began:

“My name is Maria Silva. I am a post-doctoral researcher working in Guinea-Bissau.

 There is a huge crisis in Guinea Bissau of captive chimps … that live in horrible conditions and need to be rescued.”

PEGAS received confirmation from Richard Vigne, CEO of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, and Dr. Stephen Ngulu, manager of Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, that they would be happy to receive chimps from Guinea Bissau.

Maria Joana informed us that there was one particular chimpanzee, named Bo, who was ready to go. Bo had been seized by the authorities from a man who was trying to sell her after killing her mother for bushmeat. She was being kept at Cufada Lagoon National Park. They thought she was about three years old.

Bo, now around four or five years old, has spent the last two years at the Cufada Lagoon National Park waiting for relocation to Sweetwaters.

Bo has received many visitors and likes humans, but now she will have to learn how to be a chimpanzee.

Following on that initial email some hundreds of them ensued, along with Facebook and WhatsApp messaging and Skype calls, involving dozens of people – Maria Joana, Guinea Bissau national parks and CITES people, the Guinea Bissau European Union delegation (they had generously offered to cover transport costs), Kenya Wildlife Service and Kenya Department of Veterinary Service staff, Portuguese volunteer veterinarian Pedro Melo who took bio-samples from Bo, Hank Nephuis of the Biomedical Primate Research Centre in the Netherlands which analyzed the samples and issued a health report, and many other supporters who helped out in various ways.

PEGAS was at the center of this maelstrom of communications, which was hampered by the fact that Internet service in Guinea Bissau was spotty and the country was experiencing considerable political instability during this period, not to mention language difficulties (Guinea Bissau is Portuguese-speaking).

Later on another young chimp was added, Bella, a shy and sensitive female who found herself in the same painful situation as Bo – orphaned victim of bushmeat hunting and target of the exotic pet trade.

Bella, perhaps three years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Due to various causes it took ages to obtain the CITES import permit, the
veterinary import permit, then the CITES export permit and finally the veterinary certificate of good health two days before shipping. PEGAS would like to thank in particular:

Maria Joana Silva, who pushed the rescue and relocation from day one to the successful conclusion.

Ms Aissa Regalla, Coordinator of Species and Habitats in the Instituto da Biodiversidade e das Áreas Protegidas (IBAP) (Institute of Biodiversity and Protected Areas), the Guinea Bissau wildlife service, who helped obtain the necessary paperwork.

Aissa Regalla of IBAP came to care a lot for Bo.

Pedro Melo, wildlife veterinarian, who flew to Guinea Bissau from Lisbon to take the samples needed for the veterinary tests, and who supervised the shipping from Bissau to Dakar and then ensure that the crates got onto the Kenya Airways flight from Dakar to Nairobi.

Helena Foito and Carla Da Silva-Sorneta, European Union Delegation.

Fai Djedjo, Guinea Bissau CITES Focal Point.

Richard Vigne, Stephen Ngulu and Samuel Mutisya of Ol Pejeta Conservancy, who were kept busy writing letters and emails for all of the permits and shipping documents required, and who carried out the transport from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Ol Pejeta.

Ramat Hamoud of Airfreight & Logistics Worldwide, who handled the complicated clearing of the chimps at the Nairobi airport.

After more than two years of work, Bo and Bella finally touched down on Kenyan soil at 5:13 a.m. on 26th April, 2018. Karibuni Kenya!

Here are a few photos of the arrival and transport to Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

KQ 513 landed at 05:13 carrying Bo and Bella across the African continent.

The entire trip, with transit in Dakar, took 18 hours.

I arrived at 06:15 at Kenya Airways cargo to find no one there, except two sleepy staff, who knew nothing about any cargo arriving from Guinea Bissau. Luckily I had the Airway Bill scan on my phone to show.

While the staff were checking their computer for information on the chimp crates, I walked out into the cargo area and found the crates right there a few meters from the office door.

Some time later Stephen Ngulu, Sweetwaters manager, arrived with Dr. Rashid, the airport veterinarian. KQ Cargo would not allow Dr. Ngulu to take possession of the crates without a letter from Ol Pejeta authorizing it. Richard Vigne, CEO, was in New York, so his deputy Samuel Mutisya rushed a letter to KQ Cargo by email.

Ramat Hamoud, the clearing agent, arrived later and began the laborious clearing process. We took the chimps to the airport animal holding facility for the veterinary formalities.

The doors were opened so we could see how they were doing (I actually peeked earlier in the cargo shed).

Bo offered me his finger, first touch!

Bo looked in remarkably good spirits after what must have been a tiring and confusing experience. And it wasn’t over yet.

Bella was a bit more subdued, but she came around later and became quite friendly. Her face had the clear color of a Central African chimp.

Bo had a mango to celebrate her arrival.

Bella had no food left in her cage, so I went to a nearby cantine and found the last three bananas. Bella scoffed two in no time, I gave the other to Bo.

After more than seven hours in the airport we left for Ol Pejeta. Ramat was still doing paperwork, but they let us leave.

The chimps didn’t arrive at the Ol Pejeta chimpanzee quarantine house until 5:30 p.m.

Unloading at the quarantine house, directed by Joseph Maiyo, caretaker supervisor (man in hat).

In the upper left hand corner of the crate tops you can see ‘Bo’ and ‘Bella’ marked

Clean straw for sleeping nests had been put in the rooms.

Bo checks out his new home.

While Bella munches bananas, Bo watches from the window. We hope they will get to know each other through the window.

The team, very happy to have new guests at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

Bo and Bella will now enjoy five-star accommodation for the next three months in quarantine. Once out, we hope that they will be introduced easily to the New Group. They will join Manno, the young chimp rescued from a private zoo in Iraqi Kurdistan and brought to Sweetwaters on 30th November 2016.

Facial Recognition: a new tool in great ape illegal trade investigations

PEGAS has identified and was until recently monitoring over 125 social media sites that have posted 315 individual great apes (a minimum number) either for sale or already purchased. In addition, PEGAS has visited zoos and safari parks in several Middle Eastern and eastern Asian countries that are exploiting hundreds of great apes commercially, ranging in age from infants to old adults. They act as fee-paying photo props with visitors, entertainment performers or as simple zoo attractions when they get older.

From sale online great apes are exploited for many commercial purposes

Photo props when young

Entertainer when a juvenile

Caged up when older, which can last 40 years

All of the great apes online and a high proportion of those seen in the zoos and safari parks were obtained illegally, many stolen from the wild. All of them have been moved from point A to point B, and many have been moved to point C and D and beyond, as they are bought and sold for various money-making purposes. These apes suffer tremendously in these callous moves, which are done in part to cover up the fact that they were imported illegally into the destination country by the first buyer. The second or third buyer can show sales records to the authorities, but when asked for CITES, Customs or veterinary import documents, they just say, “Go talk to the importer”. That’s where it usually stops, as the authorities do not have the time or resources to go find the importers.

If these great apes could be positively identified by some simple, non-invasive technology, that could be the breakthrough that wildlife trade investigators have been dreaming of. Identification using DNA or microchips has proven too difficult and expensive to carry out on a large scale. An ape facial photograph, akin to a police mug shot, could be the solution.

Wildlife dealers and owners post thousands of photos of great apes, most of them recurrences of the same ape. They are seen on multiple accounts as they are shared. It is not easy to determine if the same individual ape is posted on multiple accounts, unless the photos are identical duplicates. A facial recognition tool would enable the positive identification of each individual, as long as the face was showing at a good angle.

Are these the same or different chimps?

 

If we can positively identify an individual ape from its photo, it will be possible to track apes from seller to buyer online, and even from seller to buyer in zoos and safari parks, if the seller posted online the photo of that individual. It will also be possible to track movements of apes in zoos and safari parks, which may signal illegal arrivals, departures and replacements. This technology could even be used for prosecutions, depending on its accuracy.

Dr. Anil Jain, distinguished biometrics professor at Michigan State University, and his team modified their human facial recognition system to create LemurFaceID, the first computer facial recognition system that correctly identified more than 100 individual lemurs with 98.7 percent accuracy.

“Like humans, lemurs have unique facial characteristics that can be recognized by this system,” Jain said. “Once optimized, LemurFaceID can assist with long-term research of endangered species by providing a rapid, cost-effective and accurate method for identification.”

Dr. Jain and postgraduate student Debayan Deb have volunteered to adapt the LemurFaceID methodology to chimpanzee faces. If that proves successful, PEGAS hopes that they can repeat it with an orangutan face ID application in future.

PEGAS is now working with dedicated wildlife conservationist Alexandra Russo, who has generously volunteered to lead the development of the ChimpFaceID initiative. Using a more advanced method than was used with the lemurs, titled PrimNet, based on Convolution Neural Network (CNN) architecture, the Michigan State team will analyze and test their technology on hundreds of chimp face photos that we are now collecting in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute, members of the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance and others.

“I have brought together volunteers working at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya, at Tchimpounga in the Congo, Tacugama in Sierra Leone and in the USA at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest in Washington State and Save the Chimps in Florida to provide the photos,” said Alexandra Russo, nicknamed Allie.

Allie went on to say, “The Max Planck Institute provided photos for an initial test of the PrimNet system, but it needs to be further tested and perfected to achieve a higher rate of correct identifications.”

Although still in its initial stages, several organizations have shown interest in PrimNet for use in illegal wildlife trade investigations and for monitoring of great ape population numbers and distribution in the wild. We hope to be able to present an exposition of the application’s potential as part of Bio-Bridge Initiative at the 14th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Egypt in November 2018.

If the PrimNet technology works to the high 90s percent accuracy, investigators might one day be able to track an infant ape captured in the forests of Africa or Asia to a dealer selling it online in the home country to a dealer in the destination country and even on to the buyer. The photos, along with other evidence gathered in the course of investigations, could be used to arrest and prosecute the dealers, facilitators and even the buyer.

One day we may be able to positively identify chimp faces at point of origin, to dealer, to buyer.

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.

Report on Manno’s Integration

 

This is an edited, fascinating report prepared by Dr. Stephen Ngulu, Head – Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary/Ol Pejeta Conservancy Wildlife Veterinarian, recounting how Manno was integrated with the New Group. Chimpanzees are very territorial in the wild and each troop, or community, defends its home range against other chimpanzees to the death. A community does not easily accept a new unknown member, and in the wild strangers are more likely to be chased off or killed. The two communities of chimpanzees at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary (SCS) were formed artificially from rescued individuals or small groups, but today they simulate closely troops in the wild.

Manno is a four-year old male chimpanzee rescued from a private zoo in Iraqi Kurdistan. He lived there alone for about three years with no companionship except for humans, therefore he learned nothing about chimpanzee social behaviour. When Manno arrived at SCS the night of 30th November, 2016, staff knew from previous experience that it was going to be difficult to introduce him to the New Group, especially as there was a transition of alpha males going on, where two adult males were fighting one another for dominance and leadership of the community.

Manno adjusting to his new sleeping quarters after arrival from quarantine

Manno was moved from the quarantine facility on 31st March and was put into the new chimpanzee house to begin integration. The first few days were a nightmare as he was nervous, restless and terrified. His fear subsided over the months that followed. He was gradually introduced to foster mothers. Progress was initially slow but we witnessed amazing success after we switched foster mothers [Akela to Jane]. Manno has since been completely accepted by all 14 chimpanzees in this particular group. Below is a brief week by week account of the integration process. [Some uneventful weeks have been omitted – Ed.]

31st March-6th April, 2016
Manno was transferred from the quarantine and kept separately. Akela was brought into a cage diagonally adjacent to Manno`s. He was observed to be curious albeit afraid to get close to touching distance of the separating half wall and grills. Lots of interest from Akela. No aggressive behaviour from this female was observed.

7th-13th April
Akela was moved to a cage immediately adjacent to Manno’s, interest was shown from both parties. Eye contact was established through the window grills but no physical contact.

14th-20th April.
Manno was moved to the main sleeping cages where the partition between the two was complete grill. Immense interest expressed by the foster mother Akela. Manno observed to be fearful.

21st- 27th April
Akela and Manno were put into same room. Akela made countless attempts to initiate friendship with Manno, spreading out both her arms and legs being a gesture to invite him to come closer, but Manno ignored her and would always run away whenever she tried to approach.

28th April-4th May
Akela continued trying all possible ways to attract Manno but no contact was observed. However, during feeding Manno would get closer to her with the gap between them being less than a meter.

5th-11th May
Akela succeeded to groom Manno’s foot briefly as he was feeding but he pulled away when he realized she was doing it.

12th-18th May
Akela was separated from Manno and Jane was brought in the adjacent cage, Manno avoided her, keeping a safe distance from the partition grill. Manno was put through an electric fence awareness training. This was done by fitting a mesh in the exit tunnel with a voltage of 4.2 kv. After close to ten minutes he came through the door and accidently touched the mesh getting a mild shock, he went back in the room for 5 minutes, came back through the tunnel but this time avoided touching any wires. [A grilled passageway connects the sleeping quarters with an outdoor fenced area. The fence is electrified to discourage escape. – ed.]

Jane was on the opposite side of the mesh and was clapping and doing some raspberries sounds to attract Manno`s attention but he avoided her, although at times he came closer but didn’t allow any contact at all.

On the 17th, both were put in the same room with an access to the tunnel, Jane positioned herself on the doors touching Manno anytime he came through the door, after close to four hours Manno got closer to Jane and remained when she touched him. Jane hugged him and engaged in active play/grooming for one straight hour; Manno observed to be extremely happy during this interaction.

The first touch between Jane and Manno.

19th-25th May                                                                                               Jane slept in the same cage with Manno for the first time. Bahati was moved in the adjacent cage to Manno, after a couple of minutes she groomed him as he sat close to the bars separating them. Jane was separated from Manno since she exhibited jealous behaviour when Bahati was interacting with him; this was meant to avoid the two fighting over him leading to a redirected aggression towards him from either of the females.

Bahati was introduced to Manno and immediately they engaged in active play for two hours taking breaks in between to groom him, after two hours together Jane was allowed to join but did not show any signs of aggression towards Bahati or Manno.

26th-30th May-                                                                                            Both females (Bahati&Jane) continued taking turns to play and groom Manno. He always ran to Jane for comfort when other chimpanzees were displaying and would be cuddled and groomed. The second electric fence training for Manno began this time in the tunnel that lead to the small enclosure, this was also meant to prepare him to be out in the small enclosure as well as seeing other chimps more with just an electric fence between them.

Akela joined them; she continued her efforts to befriend Manno and finally managed to touch and groom him briefly, this being a big step for Manno to trust her at last. The three females continued to interact with Manno. The next course of action was to allow the four Chimpanzees to have access to the exit tunnels that lead to the small enclosure.

The females took turns grooming Manno, here is Akela, the foster mother Manno initially rejected.

7th-  13th June                                                                                         Manno, Akela, Bahati and Jane remained in the tunnel while the access to the small enclosure was prevented by an improvised electrified mesh, which he (Manno) didn’t touch.

They spent a lot of time playing in the tunnel.

14th – 20th June                                                                                       Manno was for the first time allowed to access the small enclosure after the electrified mesh was removed. For the first day he completely refused to join the females into the enclosure, until Jane carried him on her back. They engaged in active play chasing each other around bushes. Tess was put in a cage adjacent to Manno’s, she tried to touch him through the bars but he avoided her.

21st – 27th June                                                                                               Tess (female) was introduced to Manno and in the beginning he avoided getting close. Whenever Tess made a move to approach him he ran away, but with time he gained courage and got closer to her, but no contact was observed.

28th – 3rd July                                                                                        Physical contact was established between Tess and Manno. She carried and groomed Manno a lot. Joy (female) was put in a cage adjacent to Manno’s and she tried to initiate play with him, but to no avail.

4th  – 10th July                                                                                                     Joy was introduced to Manno’s cage, she showed no signs of aggression, and after a couple of minutes she approached him touching him gently. They hugged and kissed each other. They sat on the sleeping platform where she groomed him for some decent time.

18th – 31st July                                                                                                   A lot of interaction was observed between Manno and the females (Tess, Joy, Jane, Bahati and Akela) all taking turns to play with him.

Manno has bonded with Jane and prefers to sleep with her.

1st  – 7th Aug                                                                                                    Chipie (female) was put into a cage adjacent to Manno’s, he was displaying aggressively towards her due to her small size, but she was so friendly putting her arms through the bars to touch him and was introduced to him on the fourth day when they both hugged each other with, Chipie grooming and carrying him a lot.

8th  – 21st Aug                                                                                                      Dufa (female) was put in a cage close to Manno, he displayed towards her, but she was very calm putting her arm through the bars patting his back gently, both played through the bars. Dufa was put in same room as Manno, they both engaged in active play immediately but Bahati was very protective pulling Manno away from Dufa.

21st Aug – 3rd Sep                                                                                     Amisero (female) was put in a cage next to Manno, she showed no interest in him in the beginning. She was physically introduced to him on the seventh day in his cage. Manno kept a distance and avoided her every time she approached. After some time Manno gained courage and approached Amisero, who tickled, groomed and carried him around the small enclosure.

Manno has become a favourite for grooming.

4th  – 10th Sept                                                                                             Niyonkuru (recently dethroned Alpha male) was put in a cage next to Manno, he was a bit aggressive towards the females but was calm after some time. He put his arms through the bars to touch Manno but Dufa went in between and tried biting Niyonkuru in what looked like protecting Manno from Niyonkuru’s unpredictable aggression.  

5th  – 11th Sept                                                                                             Niyonkuru was reintroduced to all the females before physically introducing him to Manno. This was done to calm him down after a spell of separation. He was a bit aggressive towards some, but after time he calmed down.

12th –  18th Sept                                                                                       Niyonkuru was introduced to Manno while he was in the company of all the females. This took place with the exit to the small enclosure opened to enable Manno to have an escape route in case he was attacked. Food was scattered in the small enclosure to distract Niyonkuru. Manno at first avoided him, but as Niyonkuru was foraging he approached Manno while stamping the ground with his foot and chased him in a playful way, but he (Manno) ran away.

25th Sep – 1st Oct                                                                                          Niyonkuru was playing a lot with Manno and was seen carrying him a few times. Roy (male) was put in a cage adjacent to Manno; he (Roy) started tickling him through the bars. We Introduced Roy to Manno while he was in the company of all the females, they immediately engaged into an active play that lasted close to ten minutes.

2nd  – 8th Oct                                                                                                  Romeo (male) was put in a cage close to Manno’s. Romeo was afraid of the females and avoided getting nearer, but was introduced to Manno while in the company of Akela, Jane and Bahati. Manno and Romeo immediately started chasing each other around the cage. Uruhara (male) was put in a cage next to Manno, and although he put his arms through the bars in attempt to touch and groom, Manno stayed away.

9th  – 14th Oct                                                                                                       We introduced Uruhara to Manno in the cage, but the door to the small enclosure was left open. Manno was in the company of all the other chimps except Kisa and William, the last two who had not yet met Manno. Manno stayed away from Uruhara, but a few minutes later he (Manno) approached Uruhara and started to play with his legs. They both went out in the tunnel where they played continuously for ten minutes.

William (the new alpha male) was put in a cage next to Manno. During this period Manno was for the first time released in the big enclosure with all the other chimps, except Kisa and William. He was very excited, all the females followed him all the way carrying him when he was exhausted.

Manno was finally released into the big enclosure (Manno circled in red) where he could interact with the whole community.

15th – 21st Oct                                                                                                    William (alpha male) was introduced to Manno while he was together with all the other chimps, except Kisa. All was calm and Manno was in the tunnel being groomed by Joy, when William tried walking towards Manno. Joy called an alert and all the females ganged up and attacked the alpha (William). [This is why the females were introduced first to Manno, in the hope that they would form a protection sisterhood from aggressive males. It worked. – Ed.] William was later seen to interact positively with Manno.

Kisa was put in a cage next to Manno, he initiated a play with him through the bars, and in the beginning Manno stayed away only to join him later where they tickled a lot. Kisa was finally physically introduced to Manno in the house with the door leading to the small enclosure wide open; this was meant to give room for Manno to escape when necessary. They started playing, immediately chasing each other through the tunnel and resting for a grooming session.

Manno is a normal part of the troop now after a year of integration.

Conclusion 

Manno’s Integration can be described as a process that was devoid of negative drama, aggression and rejection. This kind of positive integration can be largely attributed to Manno’s tender age and the valuable experience of the sanctuary staff in terms of their understanding of resident chimpanzee behaviour, group dynamics and social structure.

We expect that as Manno continues to grow and bond with his new family, he will sooner or later be exposed to group confrontations and dominance fights between the other males. Such scenes will obviously be a new thing to him and he may choose to get involved without suitable prudence. It is in such circumstances that he may occasionally get injured/bitten, but this is expected in any chimpanzee troop.

Manno enjoying a banana, so much better for him than the sweets and cigarettes given to him in the Duhok Zoo.

CITES again ignores Great Apes

The 69th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee just wrapped up and again nothing was done to address the lax trade regulations that currently allow live great apes to be illegally traded for the exotic pet and commercial zoo industries.

In fact, the CITES Secretariat itself ignored an instruction addressed to it in CITES Resolution Conf. 13.4 ‘Great Apes’, which states in part, “2. DIRECTS the Secretariat to: (d) report to the Standing Committee on the implementation of this Resolution at each of its regular meetings.”

The Secretariat did not prepare a report on Great Apes for this meeting, the only species ignored in this way. If the CITES Secretariat does not follow its own resolutions how can we expect governments to do so?

No report for Great Apes, unlike other species. Why this neglect by CITES?

The Great Apes resolution is desperately in need of wording that would require governments to register all great apes immediately upon importation. Some form of identification should also be employed, such as a DNA profile or inserted microchip. In addition, all individuals and facilities possessing great apes should be required to register each one, with identification, age and sex. Any changes in number should be reported to the government agency responsible for maintaining the registry. Updates on the registries should be reported to CITES, or to an approved entity such as UN-GRASP, at agreed intervals (e.g. annually or at each Conference of the Parties).

If these simple steps were carried out it would be impossible for traffickers to smuggle in apes to a country and claim that they were bred domestically in captivity, which is a common ploy used by traffickers.

One bright spot in an otherwise dim meeting for apes was the creation of a working group for review of the report on the status of and trade in great apes mandated in Decision 17.232. This long-delayed report is now scheduled to be submitted to the CITES Animals Committee (AC30) in July 2018 for initial review.

If the will is there, the members could use this working group to widen the mandate to include the revision of the Resolution 13.4 on Great Apes. Their report from the Animals Committee could then be submitted to the 70th Standing Committee meeting and a draft resolution could be agreed for review at the CITES 18th Conference of the Parties in Sri Lanka in 2019.

While the Standing Committee was busy ignoring great apes, PEGAS found more of the suffering creatures for sale online.

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.

Smuggled, Beaten and Drugged: The Illicit Global Ape Trade

This will be the last post for this year, maybe forever. The PEGAS project has run its course, in fact it has run beyond its initial 3-year time frame. If additional funding is secured the project will continue.

This article on great ape trafficking and the project’s work just appeared in The New York Times .

The New York Times tracked international ape smugglers from Congolese rain forests to the back streets of Bangkok. Here is what unfolded.

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN NOV. 4, 2017

MBANDAKA, Democratic Republic of Congo — The sting began, as so many things do these days, on social media.

Daniel Stiles, a self-styled ape trafficking detective in Kenya, had been scouring Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp for weeks, looking for pictures of gorillas, chimps or orangutans. He was hoping to chip away at an illicit global trade that has captured or killed tens of thousands of apes and pushed some endangered species to the brink of extinction.

“The way they do business,” he said of ape traffickers, “makes the Mafia look like amateurs.”

After hundreds of searches, Mr. Stiles found an Instagram account offering dozens of rare animals for sale, including baby chimpanzees and orangutans dressed in children’s clothes. He sent an email to an address on the account — “looking for young otans” (the industry standard slang for orangutans) — and several days later received a reply.

“2 babies, 7.5k each. Special introductory price.”

The trafficker identified himself only as Tom and said he was based in Southeast Asia. Mr. Stiles knew what Tom was hoping for: to sell the infant orangutans to a private collector or unscrupulous zoo, where they are often beaten or drugged into submission and used for entertainment like mindlessly banging on drums or boxing one another. Such ape shows are a growing business in Southeast Asia, despite international regulations that prohibit trafficking in endangered apes.

Several weeks later, after a few more rounds of text messages with Tom to firm up the details, Mr. Stiles decided to fly to Bangkok.

“I was way out on a limb,” Mr. Stiles admitted later. But he was eager to bring down Tom, who indicated that he could find orangutans and chimps with only a few days’ notice, the mark of a major dealer.

Employees of the reserve, Lola Ya Bonobo, with young rescued bonobos in its nursery.
Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

‘Endgame Conservation’

Ape trafficking is a little-known corner of the illicit wildlife trade, a global criminal enterprise that hauls in billions of dollars. But unlike the thriving business in elephant ivory, rhino horns, tiger bone wine or pangolin scales, ape smuggling involves live animals — some of the most endangered, intelligent and sensitive animals on Earth.

Mr. Stiles, 72, grew intrigued by apes decades ago as a graduate student in anthropology. Since then, he has plunged deeper and deeper into the ape world, becoming the lead author of “Stolen Apes,” a report published by the United Nations in 2013 that was considered one of the first comprehensive attempts to document the underground ape trade. He and the other researchers estimated that the smuggling had claimed more than 22,000 apes — either trafficked or killed.

Malnourished and terrified apes have been seized across the world, in undercover busts or at border checkpoints, in countries as varied as France, Nepal, Thailand, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kuwait. Two years ago, at Cairo’s international airport, the Egyptian authorities discovered a baby chimp curled up into a ball and stashed in a piece of hand luggage. Just this summer, the authorities in Cameroon stopped a smuggler at a roadblock who was trying to move 100 pounds of pangolin scales and a tiny chimp, not even a month old, hidden in a plastic sack.

But for every successful bust, wildlife specialists say, five to 10 other animals slip through. And for every smuggled ape, several more may have been killed in the process. Most species of apes are social and live in large groups, and poachers often wipe out entire families to get their hands on a single infant, which is far easier to smuggle.

“Transporting an adult chimp is like transporting a crate of dynamite,” said Doug Cress, who until recently was the head of the Great Apes Survival Partnership, a United Nations program to help great apes. “The adults are extremely aggressive and dangerous. That’s why everyone wants a baby.”

Wildlife researchers say that a secret ape pipeline runs from the lush forests of central Africa and Southeast Asia, through loosely policed ports in the developing world, terminating in wealthy homes and unscrupulous zoos thousands of miles away. The pipeline, documents show, is lubricated by corrupt officials (several have been arrested for falsifying export permits) and run by transnational criminal gangs that have recently drawn the attention of Interpol, the international law enforcement network.

Apes are big business — a gorilla baby can cost as much as $250,000 — but who exactly is buying these animals is often as opaque as the traffickers’ identity. Many times, researchers say, they can only begin to track where the apes have ended up by stumbling across the Facebook posts and YouTube videos of rich pet collectors.

A bushmeat market along the Congo River. Many endangered apes disappear each year into the trade of bushmeat, a source of protein. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

Wildlife officials said that a handful of Western businessmen had also been arrested. But the majority of recent busts, they added, have been in Africa or Southeast Asia, usually of low-level traffickers or poorly paid underlings, not the bosses who control underground exports and travel abroad to make deals.

For years wildlife officials suspected that a mysterious American known simply as “Joe” was running a large trafficking ring out of Thailand, one of the world hubs for smuggled apes. According to “Tom,” the trafficker Mr. Stiles discovered, “Joe” had recently retired.

And it’s not as if smuggling is the only threat apes face. The world’s hunger for biofuels and palm oil — a cheap food product used in things like lipstick, instant noodles and Oreos — is leveling tropical rain forests and turning them into farms.

According to the Arcus Foundation, a nonprofit group that studies apes, Indonesia and Malaysia have tripled their palm oil production in the past 15 years, wiping out the habitats of thousands of orangutans. In Africa, it’s the same, with new rubber plantations, new roads and new farms cutting deeply into gorilla areas. One species, the Cross River gorilla, is now so endangered that scientists think there are only 200 or 300 left.

“In living memory, there were millions of apes,” said Ian Redmond, a well-known primatologist. “Now, there’s just a few hundred thousand and falling.”

“What we’re looking at,” he added, “is endgame conservation.”

The Apes’ World

Most apes, which include gorillas, gibbons, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos, live deep in the rain forest. The Basankusu region of Congo, lying along a tributary of the legendary Congo River, is one of the last bonobo refuges and a source of many trafficked apes.

It’s not easy getting here. We flew from Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, to Mbandaka, a river town where 50-foot dugout canoes arrive every morning, edging into shore crammed with products of the forest: onions, eggplants, buckets of red-skinned peanuts, dead pangolins, dead turtles, dead monkeys and, occasionally, live apes.

From Mbandaka, we hired a canoe and motored upriver, our long, narrow boat slicing through the tannin-rich water like a pencil. We made it to the bonobo habitat, amazed to see wild bonobos quietly staring down at us from the highest branches of the trees.

“They have consciousness, empathy and understanding,” said Jef Dupain, an ape specialist for the African Wildlife Foundation. “One day we will wonder how did we ever come up with the idea to keep them in cages.”

In central African towns (as elsewhere in the world), many chimpanzees are kept as pets. Congo’s president, Joseph Kabila, who lives in a riverside mansion in Kinshasa, the capital, has a large chimp locked up in a cage. At the Hotel Benghazi in Mbandaka, the owner had kept a muscular mascot for years: Antoine, a large male chimp who scraped an empty soda bottle against the iron bars of his garbage-strewn cage, like an inmate. (Antoine escaped in January and, after sowing disorder in Mbandaka, was hunted down by police officers, shot 10 times and left dead on a city street.)

Antoine, a captive chimpanzee at a hotel in Mbandaka, Congo. He escaped in January and was shot by the police.
Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

As one leaves the towns and travels into the thick forests, the use of apes changes. Out here, as in remote parts of Southeast Asia, where many people are poor and desperate for protein, apes are also food.

Jonas Mange, who now works on education projects for the African Wildlife Foundation, used to hunt bonobos in Congo, venturing into the shadowy recesses of the forest and laying snares made from loops of twisted wire. If he discovered an adult bonobo in one of his traps, he would quickly shoot it with a shotgun and sell the meat, usually for a few dollars per carcass, if that.

But a baby was different, he said. There was a specific market for infant apes, so he would sell them alive, for at least $10 each, to local traders who would then smuggle them to Kinshasa and sell them to foreigners for many times that amount.

“Bonobos are clever,” Mr. Mange said. If they get their feet stuck in a trap, they don’t screech wildly in panic, like pigs or other animals, which would reveal their location to the hunters. Instead, he said, bonobos quietly try to untangle the snare without being detected.

In Boende, a small town up another tributary of the Congo River, three hunters were recently caught with bonobo carcasses and sentenced to several years in a stifling colonial-era prison. The men said they were simply trying to feed their families by selling bonobo meat. But poaching an ape is a serious crime in Congo, and nonprofit wildlife groups have been assisting the Congolese authorities in prosecuting offenders.

“There is a culture here to eat meat, meat from the forest,” said the town’s prosecutor, Willy Ndjoko Kesidi. “Me, I like fish.”

Mr. Kesidi expressed some sympathy for the hunters he had just jailed, saying that the prison where they were housed was a horrible place where many prisoners had died.

“If you spend a lot of time in there,” Mr. Kesidi said, “the color of your skin changes.”

Men suspected of poaching bonobos, handcuffed together at a prison in Boende, Congo. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times

The Sting

For years, Mr. Stiles has performed undercover research on wildlife trafficking across Africa, but recently his work has taken him off the continent. A big, freckled, gregarious man, he favors wearing baggy shorts and wrinkled safari shirts. He has also invented several false online identities, with webpages that depict him as an active buyer of rare animals.

Many illegal wildlife transactions start online, specifically through Instagram or WhatsApp. Mr. Stiles has made several trips to the United Arab Emirates, which he considers a new hub for the illegal online wildlife business. Dealers in the Middle East have posted many pictures of apes for sale, sometimes advertising them as friendly pets for children.

Disturbing stories often lie behind those pictures. Many chimps have been drugged with muscle relaxers or alcohol to make them easier to handle. Some are trained to smoke cigarettes and guzzle beer.

Orangutans are gentler than chimps, but still, they are not always gentle, and investigators say zoo trainers sometimes beat them with lead pipes wrapped in rolled-up newspapers to force them to perform tricks. Several years ago, the Indonesian police rescued a female orangutan who had been shaved and was being used as a prostitute at a brothel.

“Even if we can rescue them, it’s very difficult reintroducing them to the wild,” said Mr. Cress, the former head of the United Nations Great Apes program. “They’re all goofed up. They need serious rehab. The ones who have been given alcohol, their hands shake. They have the same withdrawal symptoms we do.”

International wildlife regulations prohibit the trade of endangered apes for commercial purposes. While zoos and other educational institutions are allowed to acquire apes, they need permits showing, among other things, that the apes were bred in captivity, not captured in the wild. (All great ape species are endangered; most gibbons species are as well.)

It’s relatively easy to falsify permits, though, and wildlife investigators have tracked illegally sold apes to Iraq, China, Dubai and Bangkok’s Safari World zoo, where orangutans have been trained to wear boxing gloves and spar with each other to howls of laughter.

Safari World was outed more than 10 years ago for using orangutans that had been smuggled from Indonesian jungles. Dozens of animals were seized from the park and flown home, where the wife of Indonesia’s president welcomed them.

But the boxing shows continue, with a new set of animals, despite an outcry from wildlife groups. Safari World executives said that none of their animals were abused and that the orangutans were fed “human-grade fruits” and lived in air-conditioned rooms.

They also said it wasn’t their fault that the authorities had discovered that some of their orangutans had been improperly acquired from Indonesia. Safari World said it relied on third-party suppliers, and the zoo insisted that most of its apes had been born in Thailand.

“When you come to our park,” said Litti Kewkacha, its executive vice president, “you will only see smiles on our orangutans.”

Constantly on the lookout for mistreated apes, wildlife activists have been frustrated with some celebrities as well. Last year, the United Nations program, Grasp, publicly chastised Paris Hilton for circulating pictures of herself cuddling an infant orangutan dressed in baby clothes. Saying that “apes are neither playthings nor pets,” it called Ms. Hilton’s behavior “appalling.”

To arrange his orangutan sting, Mr. Stiles checked into the Landmark hotel in Bangkok. From a quiet room overlooking clogged arteries of traffic, he began sending the wildlife trafficker Tom messages on WhatsApp.

Daniel Stiles, a self-styled ape detective who lives in Kenya.
Credit Georgina Goodwin for The New York Times

Mr. Stiles knew it was dangerous to flirt with a known smuggler. So he brought his investigation to Freeland, a nonprofit group that combats wildlife and human trafficking from a large office in central Bangkok. Freeland works in secrecy, with undercover agents based in a sealed room that other employees are not allowed to enter. It also works closely with the Thai police services, including one cheerful undercover officer who goes by the name Inspector X.

Over the next few days, with Inspector X and other agents lurking in his high-rise hotel room, Mr. Stiles exchanged more WhatsApp messages with Tom, trying to arrange a meet-up. A couple of times, they even talked on the phone. Tom’s real identity remained a mystery. He had a Malaysian or Indonesian accent, spoke English fluently and was never at a loss for words.

“Oh man, you’re going to have some fun,” Tom said about the orangutan babies. “Getting ready for some sleepless nights?”

In late December, the day of the meet-up, Inspector X and the other Thai agents staked out the appointed location — a supermarket parking lot in central Bangkok. A taxi pulled up.

Inspector X and the agents pounced, arresting the driver and discovering two baby orangutans in the back seat, clutching each other. They appeared scared but healthy, and have since been sent to a Thai wildlife sanctuary. But Tom was nowhere to be found.

Mr. Stiles was overjoyed that the orangutans were rescued, but he was frustrated, too. “We got to get to the dealers,” he said.

Since the sting, he has been back on Instagram, looking for more apes. And more Toms.

Update on Manno

Manno, the chimpanzee rescued from a private zoo in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing extremely well at Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. The last update was on 1st June, which saw Manno integrated with three females, Jane, Akela and Bahati. The integration is being conducted in a small enclosure next to the sleeping quarters. A barred corridor connects the sleeping quarters with the outdoor enclosure.

Greeting Manno in the barred corridor that connects the sleeping quarters to the integration enclosure, Bahati looking on.

Since then Manno has made friends with all of the other females in the New Group, eight in all. More importantly, three adult males have now accepted Manno – the former alpha of the group, Niyonkuru, Romeo and Roy. Roy and Romeo are good friends and now they are trying to include Manno in their bromance alliance. Manno is still afraid of Niyonkuru, a rather imposing chimpanzee whose name means ‘God is the highest’ in Kirundi, but Niyon, as he is called, has accepted Manno. Niyon was confiscated in Burundi when a trafficker tried to sell him to the Jane Goodall Institute! Not a smart move by the trafficker, but it saved Niyon from the pet trade.

Akela even lets Manno ride on her back, like a good foster mum should

The next male to be introduced will probably be Kisazose, or Kiza for short, who also came to Sweetwaters from Burundi. He was confiscated from a Congolese trafficker and arrived at Sweetwaters in 1994 as an infant, ill and undernourished. After him will come Uruhara, a favourite of Jane Goodall’s, seen with her in a well-known photograph of them hooting together.

Jane Goodall with the photograph of her and Uruhara hooting.

Uruhara today, living up to his Kirundi name, which means ‘bald’.

Last but not least will be William, the current alpha male of the New Group. He is aggressive and strong. If William accepts Manno then the little guy from Kurdistan will be home free and he can be released into the main area, which includes a lovely spot on the banks of the Uaso Nyiro river with towering acacia trees. It will be wonderful to watch Manno mix freely with the whole group in natural interaction. There could still be moments of danger for him, however, from the large males, so hopefully Akela and other large females can protect him.

Manno has gone from living with people in Iraq…

… to living with his own kind in Africa.

New Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Liberia

Jenny and Jim Desmond arrived in Liberia in 2015 with a big job to do – overseeing the care of the 66 chimpanzees abandoned on six Marshall Islands by the New York Blood Center. They had come from Kenya where they had been assisting in looking after monkeys at Diani Beach’s Colobus Conservation, where the PEGAS project manager first met them. Within weeks of their arrival in Liberia, the government would be adding to their workload by bringing them orphaned baby chimpanzees who needed sanctuary, amongst them Guey and Sweetpea, which PEGAS had helped rescue from appalling circumstances of captivity.

Guey, found in appalling circumstances

Sweetpea was caged up by a Chinese woman who had tried to sell her

Liberia has a maximum of 2,000 wild chimpanzees remaining in its forests, made up of the critically endangered Pan troglodytes vera, the highest level of threat of extinction on IUCN’s Red List. The fact that these great apes are critically endangered doesn’t stop poachers from illegally hunting them for their meat.  The baby chimps, orphaned when their mothers are killed for their meat, are then sold as exotic pets.

Chimps rescued from the illegal exotic pet trade in Liberia are brought to Jenny and Jim Desmond with Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCRP).

Before the Desmonds arrived in Liberia, the government turned a blind eye to the illegal chimp trade because authorities had no place to put chimps confiscated from their captors or new “owners.” Because the Desmonds have experience rescuing and rehabilitating great apes, authorities began to bring them babies – some just weeks old.

Jenny Desmond shows care and affection for orphaned chimps

Jim Desmond, a qualified veterinarian, looks after their health care

Baby chimps rescued by LCRP are raised by surrogate mothers until they are old enough to be integrated with a group of juveniles who no longer need around-the-clock attention.

The Desmond’s use the Liberia Institute of Biomedical Research grounds for their temporary sanctuary, not ideal for raising orphaned chimps. Ironically, LIBR was the institute that conducted research on the Marshall Island chimps for so many years. Jenny and Jim are therefore now looking for land in a nearby forest to build a proper sanctuary with all of the facilities needed to care for the chimps, including an infirmary, overnight housing for the babies, a kitchen, offices and housing for caregivers and volunteers. Now, they need to raise money for the LCRP in order to build the sanctuary.

PEGAS has adopted Sweetpea as a small contribution towards her upkeep.

People wishing to help LCRP can adopt a chimpanzee on their website

Jenny Desmond points out that providing sanctuary for rescued chimps is only part of their mission. One of their biggest priorities is using the sanctuary as a platform to educate the public about the importance of conserving chimpanzees in their natural habitat. “We’ll know that our efforts are having an impact when we stop receiving chimps,” said Desmond. “Our ultimate goal is to not need to exist at all.”

Please follow Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection (LCR) on Facebook and Twitter.

Research on lab chimps is over. Why have so few been retired to sanctuaries?

On 12th June, 2015, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service classified chimpanzees as Endangered, effectively ending biomedical studies on them. Two years later only 73 chimps have been moved to sanctuaries, leaving almost 600 still caged up in research facilities. They say there is a problem with finding space to house them all. Ol Pejeta Conservancy can help, the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary can take 30 right now, if anyone is interested. There is potential to accept many more.

This article published in Science , authored by David Grimm, explains the issue.

A chimpanzee waits for lunch at the National Center for Chimpanzee Care in Bastrop, Texas. (Photo: Shelby Knowles)

Hercules and Leo are only 11 years old, but they’ve already come close to retiring twice. The two chimpanzees, born and raised at Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center, became lab animals at the State University of New York in Stony Brook in 2011. There they shared a three-room enclosure, where scientists inserted small electrodes into their muscles to study the evolution of bipedalism. In 2013, they were the subject of an unusual legal gambit. An animal rights group sued to declare the pair legal persons and retire them to a Florida sanctuary, but the effort failed.

Two years later, Hercules and Leo returned to New Iberia, where they mingled with other chimps in outdoor domes with ladders and ropes. But retirement to a sanctuary, where they could climb real trees and have more room to roam, again seemed imminent: The U.S. government had just effectively ended invasive work on chimpanzees, and many observers expected all lab chimps to move to sanctuaries in short order. Yet today, Hercules and Leo, along with nearly 600 of their kind across the country, remain at research facilities. It’s unclear when—or whether—they’ll leave.

In the past 2 years, only 73 chimps have entered sanctuaries, and the slow pace has heightened tensions between the laboratory and sanctuary communities. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Labs have dragged their feet, sanctuaries haven’t expanded quickly enough, and the government itself didn’t have a concrete plan for retirement, despite setting the process in motion in the first place.

Chimps freely roam around an artificial termite mound at Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana. (BRANDON WADE/AP IMAGES FOR THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE UNITED STATES)

The biomedical community has spent years defending the use of chimpanzees in research … instead of figuring out how to retire them,” says Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who has studied chimpanzee behavior at sanctuaries around the world. “Now we’re scrambling to do something about it.”

Some labs have argued that their animals would be better off staying where they are. Retirement to a sanctuary is a “silly decision,” says William Hopkins, a neuroscientist at Georgia State University in Atlanta who has studied chimp cognition at research facilities for decades. “I don’t think that’s really helping the chimps, and I think it’s going to take a really long time.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, acknowledges the delay. “We share others’ frustration,” says Deputy Director James Anderson, whose division of strategic initiatives oversees the NIH Chimpanzee Management Program. “But we’re moving as quickly as we can for the safety of the chimps.”

For advocates of Hercules and Leo, and hundreds of other chimps stuck in limbo, that may not be quick enough.

Ambling into retirement

Movement from lab facilities to sanctuaries has been slow. (G. GRULLÓN/SCIENCE; (DATA) CHIMPCARE.ORG,OTHER SOURCES)

What to do with all the chimps?

The U.S. government has been in the chimpanzee business since 1960. That year, Congress created a national network of primate centers to conduct research on these animals—some bred in captivity, most taken from Africa. The country stopped importing wild chimps in 1973, but 13 years later, when the AIDS epidemic created a demand for humanlike models of infection, NIH launched a chimp breeding boom. By 1996, 1500 of the apes lived in research labs, an all-time high. Some were owned outright by NIH, whereas others belonged to universities, foundations, and companies.

Just 4 years later, the government began talking about retirement. A law passed in 2000 created a national chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven in Keithville, Louisiana. The nonprofit sanctuary’s founders, who had worked with chimps in laboratories, felt that the highly intelligent animals—who, like humans, use tools, have some form of culture, and live in complex social groups—deserved to live out their lives in a setting designed wholly around their needs.

NIH got on board, pledging up to 75% of the cost of lifetime care for its chimpanzees that entered the refuge. (Other sanctuaries take privately owned research chimps.) But labs themselves decided whether the apes were ready for retirement.

That changed in 2013, when—in response to an Institute of Medicine report that concluded most invasive studies on chimpanzees were unnecessary—NIH announced it would phase out support for this type of research and retire most of its chimpanzees. Then in 2015—2 years ago today—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classified all U.S. chimps as endangered, effectively ending biomedical studies on them. NIH followed by declaring that all of its approximately 300 chimpanzees would be retired, though it gave no time frame. Experts assumed that the remaining 340 or so in private hands would follow suit.

Since then, however, only 51 government chimps and 22 privately owned chimps have entered sanctuaries—a pace far slower than anyone had anticipated. “Large numbers are still languishing in laboratories,” Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D–CA) complained to NIH head Francis Collins last month at a congressional hearing. Collins said his agency was committed to chimpanzee retirement, but that the process had been “challenging.” “Realistically,” he said, “it’s going to take us several more years.”

The reasons are complex—and contentious.

Where are all the research chimps?

Fewer than half of all former research chimps now live in sanctuaries. The rest are still in scientific facilities.

G. GRULLÓN/SCIENCE; (DATA) CHIMPCARE.ORG, OTHER SOURCES

Sanctuary struggles

On a sweltering day in mid-June, a group of about 20 chimpanzees emerges from a small forest and crowds around an artificial termite mound filled with applesauce and Kool-Aid. They seem to be negotiating over the food: Some scream, some wave their hands, and some climb 20-meter-tall pine trees to avoid the ruckus. When everyone has had their fill, a few disappear back into the forest, while the rest take refuge from the heat in nearby cooling rooms.

Such a scene, which took place at Chimp Haven last summer, buoys the sanctuary community: It’s a picture of what life can be like when chimpanzees are free to roam and interact with each other on their own terms. Not every sanctuary can offer what Chimp Haven does, but many are trying.

One is Project Chimps, a new 95-hectare sanctuary among the wooded hills of Morgantown, Georgia. The nonprofit organization made headlines last year when it announced it would take all 220 of New Iberia’s chimpanzees—including Hercules and Leo—within 5 years, in the most ambitious chimp retirement ever attempted.

Perhaps too ambitious. Construction has gone more slowly than expected, and Project Chimps has taken only 22 of New Iberia’s apes so far, rather than the 60 it agreed to accept by now. And although the sanctuary hopes to eventually give its animals access to the surrounding forest, they now live in enclosures that aren’t much different from the domes at New Iberia: three “villas” with indoor-outdoor areas for climbing and swinging.

Some say the slow pace and exclusive contract blocked other sanctuaries that could have taken some of New Iberia’s apes. Project Chimps Co-Founder and President Sarah Baeckler Davis left the organization last month, although the sanctuary would not comment on the reasons.

Funding also has been a challenge. Like other sanctuaries, Project Chimps relies on a mix of grants and public donations. Interim President Ben Callison says it will cost about $6.4 million to build new facilities, not to mention the expense of providing food, toys, and veterinary care for the apes; other sanctuaries spend $16,000 to $20,000 per chimp per year on those costs. That could mean more than $3 million in annual expenses for Project Chimps once all New Iberia’s animals are in residence. But New Iberia has only agreed to contribute a one-time payment of $19,000 per chimp, with no funding for lifetime care.

Other sanctuaries are scrambling to raise cash as well. Even Chimp Haven, which has an agreement to take all NIH chimps and so has some guaranteed funding during their lifetimes, pays for all construction out of its own pocket. Accommodating the 250-odd NIH chimpanzees still in research facilities could cost $17 million, says the sanctuary’s president, Cathy Spraetz.

Transportation is another bottleneck. Only four to 10 chimps are typically moved at a time because they can be aggressive and must be housed in individual cages; sanctuaries also prefer to keep them in the same social groups they lived in while at the labs. Once at a sanctuary, chimps are typically quarantined for a couple weeks to make sure they have no transmissible diseases. Keepers then sometimes carefully ease them into larger groups, but reintegration isn’t always easy. (When Hercules and Leo first returned to New Iberia, they didn’t get along with the females they were housed with and had to be resocialized with a group of young males.)

Transporters also have to be mindful of the health of the apes, many of whom are geriatric and have been injected with hepatitis and HIV. “They’re very social and sensitive animals,” says NIH’s Anderson, who notes that many suffer from diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease. “Retirement has to be done in a safe way, because we owe a lot to these chimps.”

All this slows transfers. The largest one on record—when Save the Chimps, a nonprofit sanctuary based in Fort Pierce, Florida, accepted nearly 260 chimpanzees from a private New Mexico lab—took almost a decade and cost $5 million.

“Primadomes” housing chimps at New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. (FRANCOIS VILLINGER/NEW IBERIA RESEARCH CENTER)

Retire in place?

But retirement has been a long time coming, and critics say lab facilities should have prepared for it. Duke University’s Hare notes that a 1997 National Research Council report recommended a breeding moratorium, concluding that chimps had not proved as useful as expected for biomedical research. “The writing has been on the wall for 20 years.” Yet, Hare says, labs continued to insist the animals were needed, preventing sanctuaries from launching fundraising and construction. “It’s created a huge challenge for the sanctuary community,” agrees Save the Chimps Executive Director Molly Polidoroff.

Now, after the government has concluded the animals are not necessary for research, some labs still insist chimps are better off staying put. Neither the National Center for Chimpanzee Care (NCCC) at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Bastrop, Texas, nor the Alamogordo Primate Facility in New Mexico—which together house the 257 government-owned chimps not in sanctuaries—would speak to Science for this story. But NCCC Director Christian Abee told the Houston Chronicle in 2015 that half of his chimps were geriatric and not up to the stress of transport. He has advocated for retiring the animals at NCCC, citing their bond with the facility’s experienced care staff (and vice versa), as well as NCCC’s outdoor treehouses and playgrounds, which aren’t much different than those at some sanctuaries.

Some labs housing privately owned chimps agree. “[Our researchers] strongly believe the chimpanzees currently in our care are in the best possible environment,” Lisa Cruz, a spokesperson for the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, which houses 81 chimps, told the Chronicle in the same story. “Just because it’s a sanctuary, doesn’t mean it’s better for the chimp,” says Georgia State’s Hopkins. “Prove to me you’re making their lives happier.”

Proving happiness is a tall order. Renowned primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta says the small group housing found at many research facilities, with closely spaced geodesic dome habitats, “is a stress-causing design” because it forces chimps to hang out with, or at least see, animals they may want to avoid. De Waal says NCCC is as good as it gets for research chimps, but still doesn’t compare to facilities like Chimp Haven. “Whether the chimps are happier [at Chimp Haven] than elsewhere is another question,” he says. “They certainly look less agitated.”

NIH’s Anderson says his agency remains committed to transferring its animals. “They’re receiving great care at [NCCC], but we’ve made a commitment to move them to a federal sanctuary, and that’s a path they’re taking.”

Still, some say NIH, too, has lagged. A 2016 Government Accountability Office report found that the agency had not developed a clear plan for the transfer or effectively communicated its plans to lab facilities. Anderson says his agency needed time but now has a concrete plan. It will begin with the Alamogordo center, which now houses 126 chimps, before moving on to the 131 at NCCC. “We think a 10-year time frame for retiring all of these animals is realistic.”

A “villa” at the Project Chimps sanctuary in Morgantown, Georgia. The sanctuary hopes to eventually allow forest access. (PROJECT CHIMPS)

The waiting game

For the chimps in private hands, money rather than a government commitment may shape the future. With research funding no longer available and overhead payments from NIH dwindling, private facilities like Texas Biomed and Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta, which houses 47 chimps, will have less and less financial incentive to keep their animals. Perhaps they’ll even help pay for sanctuary retirement. Or so people in the sanctuary movement hope.

Financial pressures were certainly at work in New Iberia’s decision. The research center’s director, Francois Villinger, says he sees the appeal of retiring his chimpanzees where they are, noting his facility’s large outdoor play areas and social groups of apes that have been stable for years. “When the Project Chimps staff came down here, they were surprised by how good the conditions were.” Yet New Iberia could no longer afford to pay for hundreds of chimps not being studied, he says, and did not want the public relations headache of keeping the animals.

He says New Iberia will do whatever it can to ease the transfer to Project Chimps. “It’s a beautiful and ideal property,” he says. “We just want to make sure they succeed.”

Project Chimps remains optimistic about the agreement, too. Financially, the sanctuary is now “solidly in the black,” says interim president Callison, and should have room for up to 100 chimpanzees within a year. The final phase of construction, slated for next year, should be able to accommodate the rest, he says. “It’s a balancing act between getting them out as quickly as possible and giving them the best environment,” he says. “We want to grow smart.”

He hopes the arrangement will serve as a model for other lab-sanctuary partnerships. It took many years to build trust with New Iberia, he says. “After decades of being on opposite sides of the issue, we’re finally working together.”

In the end, not all research chimpanzees will make it to a sanctuary. Dozens die every year from old age and illness. But, if all goes according to plan, youngsters like Hercules and Leo should live to move to Project Chimps. Indeed, says Villinger, they should be on their way in a few months.

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.

Akela

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

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.

Great apes in Asian circus-style shows on rise — so is trafficking

Millie Kerr recently published this article in Mongabay.com dealing with the problem of Great Ape commercial entertainment in safari parks and zoos in Asia. PEGAS provided information for the article.

  • Asian zoos, circuses and safari parks are mounting large-scale productions with costumed, dancing, roller-skating great apes. Investigations show that nearly all of these trained primates were not bred in captivity, but illegally traded out of Africa and Indonesia, with destinations in China, Thailand and other Asian countries.
  • The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that the illegal trade may have removed as many as 22,218 great apes from the wild between 2005-2011. An estimated 64 percent were chimpanzees, whereas 56 percent of great apes seized by authorities were thought to be orangutans.
  • Wild young apes are traumatized by their capture, and many die along the supply chain, or with their final “owners” by whom they are frequently poorly treated. Young great apes trained in captivity become increasingly unmanageable as they age, and many are “retired” to tiny, solitary cages, or simply disappear.
  • Trafficking arrests are rare. UNEP recorded just 27 arrests in Africa and Asia between 2005-2011, over which time more than 1,800 cases of illegally trafficked great apes were documented, with many more undetected. Solutions are in the works, but time is running out for the world’s great apes if they are to be conserved.
Boxing orangutans at Safari World in Bangkok, Thailand. Video courtesy of PEGAS

 

After 146 years of operation, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is closing its circus, citing dwindling ticket sales. That decline in business reflects a growing sentiment among Americans that circus-style shows involve inappropriate, if not inhumane, treatment of animals, says Julia Galluci, a primatologist who works with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

That sentiment is not, however, current in many parts of Asia, where certain countries are seeing a rise in circuses and other forms of animal-focused entertainment.

A growing number of Asian zoos and safari parks are mounting large-scale productions that feature great apes — with young chimpanzees and orangutans commonly forced to pose with visitors in clownish costumes, or to “ape” human behaviors, dancing and roller skating to entertain audiences. By contrast, Ringling halted its great ape performances in the early 1990s.

Training techniques and conditions in captivity at these Asian zoos and parks are raising serious animal welfare concerns, while the illegal trade used to procure endangered great apes for Asian entertainment is a red flag for wildlife conservationists.

China’s Shanghai Wild Animal Park. Photo by China-based NGO that asked to remain anonymous

Wild, not captive-bred

In theory, Asian zoos and wildlife parks should be able to breed great apes in captivity or legally acquire captive-bred animals from abroad for their shows. But, as evidence reported below suggests, many of the animals appearing in Asian performances have been, and continue to be, illegally snatched from the wild as infants.

TRAFFIC, the international wildlife trade monitoring network, recently published a report detailing the demand for apes in wildlife attractions in Peninsular Malaysia and Thailand. It shows that a significant proportion of great apes in these attractions come from the wild or are of unknown origin due to sketchy recordkeeping. The authors found, for instance, that while 57 Thai facilities exhibited 51 orangutans, their studbooks only showed records for 21 of the animals.

Likewise, a China-based animal welfare group — that prefers anonymity for the sake of ongoing undercover investigations — believes that the majority of great apes in Chinese animal shows originated in the wild; in fact, some shows even publicize that the chimpanzees they feature began their lives in Africa.

Although two Chinese ministries ban the use of animals in circus shows, the animal welfare group has recorded 11 Chinese safari parks or zoos using chimpanzees in performances. Of these, at least six have featured wild-caught chimpanzees.

Daniel Stiles manages the Project to End Great Ape Slavery (PEGAS), and has been investigating the great ape trade for four years. He’s made several trips to the Middle East, China and Southeast Asia since 2013, where he’s observed an increase in circus-style shows featuring chimpanzees and orangutans.

International Circus in Zhuhai, China. Photo by anonymous source

China’s circus shows are the most sophisticated and large-scale, says Stiles, and they attract massive crowds. Over the recent Chinese New Year, the Chimelong Group reportedly welcomed 30 million visitors to its parks in a single day.

The TRAFFIC study and other undercover investigations in China demonstrate that shows featuring animal performances are indeed widespread, but not necessarily that zoo and circus owners are acting in knowing disregard of international trafficking laws. Chinese importers are probably complicit, but even they could, theoretically, be ignorant of breaking the law because falsification of records has only been proven on the African end of the supply chain. Chinese and Thai officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Traumatized “photo props” and performers

Young great apes are initially traumatized when captured in Africa, then again by being trafficked (often without adequate food or care) to Asia. They are subsequently housed at zoos, circuses and animal parks in reportedly appalling conditions — deprived of proper attention, affection, and the company of other apes, something that is required for healthy development among these social species. Severe training regimens only compound the trauma.

Great apes taken from the wild as infants are exceptionally vulnerable. And their first year of life is critical to their healthy development, explains Stephen Ross, Director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Asian animal attraction trainers typically break-in young chimpanzees and orangutans at just several months of age as photo props, reports Stiles. The animals are made to appear with visitors for a fee. Then, as the primates age, they’re trained to perform in shows that feature unnatural tricks ranging from faux-boxing matches to dance circles.

Chimpanzees are social learners, explains Galluci, so young chimps in captivity often mimic their keepers’ behaviors. However, Galluci and Ross both believe that the training required for choreographed primate shows almost always requires animal abuse.

Stiles agrees: “To train these animals to perform, keepers would almost certainly [need to] beat the animals into submission, rewarding good behavior with food, which means they’re not only traumatized: they’re also likely underfed.”

A skating chimp at Yangcheng Safari Park just outside of Changzhou, China. Photo by China-based NGO that asked to remain anonymous

Ross has extensively studied captive chimpanzee behavior, comparing that of chimps kept as pets or performers in early years against behaviors exhibited by animals that have had greater exposure to other chimpanzees while young. He found that adult chimps reared by people, and with limited exposure to other apes, are less extroverted as adults — even after years of enjoying improved conditions, like those offered by sanctuaries. This tendency toward introversion disrupts the animal’s ability to properly socialize with other chimpanzees. The resulting loss of wild tendencies means there is zero chance of these primates ever being safely returned to the wild.

As importantly, Ross also discovered a major difference between how audiences perceive performance animals and their wild counterparts — with familiarity leading to a diminished belief in the urgency for conservation.

In one study, researchers found that audiences who often saw chimps in commercials and on TV automatically assumed that these “common” animals were more numerous and less endangered than other great ape species. It seems likely that if Asian show-goers make the same leap in logic, they will struggle to understand the need for great ape conservation or to perceive the detrimental effects animal attractions have on captive primates.

As apes grow older, they become less desirable to their masters. Adult primates are more difficult to control, not to mention stronger, which makes them more dangerous to the public and keepers.

Adult chimpanzees are particularly hazardous: in 2009, a pet chimpanzee living in Connecticut attacked a friend of its owner, nearly killing her. (The event helped shift American attitudes away from the desirability of keeping pet chimps).

TRAFFIC wonders what happens to Asia’s performing apes once they enter “retirement,” stating in its Apes in Demand Report, “It [is] unclear what happens to animals once they are too old for these activities.” If animal photo opportunities and performances continue to be legal across Asia, TRAFFIC recommends that facilities notify a country’s relevant authority once the animal is being retired, detailing future “care and housing.”

Photojournalist and investigator Karl Ammann contends that Asia’s performing apes are often “retired” to tiny, solitary cages; others, he says, simply disappear. The lucky ones spend the remainder of their lives in animal sanctuaries.

Traffickers in the Ivory Coast took this video to show potential buyers they had infant chimpanzees for sale, a video which PEGAS secured. Photo courtesy of PEGAS

The scale of the trade

Great ape trafficking is believed to be vastly underreported, and its usually illegal nature makes it difficult to quantify. In a 2013 report, Stolen Apes, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) identified 1,808 great apes taken from the wild illegally between 2005-2011, but those were only documented cases. Far more surely entered the black market without a trace; likewise, multiple studies show that more animals die during the hunt or in transit than are ever confiscated.

In its report, TRAFFIC notes that, “the number of apes that appear in trade is thought to be far smaller than the quantity that die in the process of capture and transit and with the final consumer.” Hard data is difficult to come by, but TRAFFIC asserts that deaths occur at every stage of the chain, from capture to transit to arrival with the ultimate buyer.

The UNEP report echoes these points, stating, “It is likely that these numbers are in fact a gross underestimation of the real impact of the illegal trade.” To improve monitoring, UNEP urges governments and NGOs to work together to keep and share records.

When it comes to wild-caught chimpanzees, their intimate social organization means that a large number of adults are killed for every infant that is captured. A BBC investigation discovered that 10 adult chimpanzees are typically killed when one infant is snatched from the wild. UNEP concluded that up to 15 great apes die for every individual that enters the illegal trade. Adults are typically shot and processed as bushmeat for local consumption, or their meat is shipped to urban cities, and possibly as far away as Europe. Adult skulls and body parts are also sold and transported via the illicit supply chain.

Great ape trafficking is a worsening problem in countries like Cameroon, as human activity expands into great ape habitats via logging roads, and as more forests are converted to oil palm plantations and clear cut for other uses in Africa and Southeast Asia. As opportunities for encountering and taking animals from the wild rise, so does the likelihood that impoverished hunters as well as sophisticated, often heavily armed, poachers will seek out great apes for capture and sale to criminal trafficking networks.

A source who elected to remain anonymous for fear of disrupting ongoing covert investigations took this photo of two costume-clad chimpanzees forced to dance for guests at China’s Heifei Wildlife Park

UNEP estimates that the illegal trade may have removed as many as 22,218 great apes from the wild between 2005-2011. An estimated 64 percent were chimpanzees, whereas 56 percent of great apes seized by authorities were orangutans. Chimpanzees, with whom we share 98 percent of our DNA, are Endangered, with a global population as low as 150,000 animals, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Orangutans are faring worse: they are Critically Endangered, and WWF estimates that just under 120,000 remain in the wild. However, Orangutan Foundation International points out that actual numbers could be considerably lower.

Worryingly, UNEP believes that the great ape trade is continuing to grow, to the obvious detriment of wild populations. Some of that growth is fueled by the high demand for young primates as pets (often in the Middle East) or as performing animals in Asia.

Traversing the legal landscape

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international treaty that came into effect in 1975 to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals doesn’t negatively impact their survival. Currently, 183 countries are signatories; all are required to enact domestic laws to bring the treaty into effect.

In a 2014 report, law firm DLA Piper noted that, although all signatories have passed some type of legislation to meet CITES requirements, these national laws sometimes fall far short of what’s needed, contain legal loopholes, or are poorly enforced.

Too often, arrests are few and far between. UNEP found, for example, that only 27 arrests were made in Africa and Asia between 2005-2011, over which time more than 1,800 great apes were documented as being illegally trafficked. Prosecutions are uncommon, and sentences are often insignificant, so fail to deter future criminal activity. As a result, the illegal wildlife trade is flourishing. It is now considered the fourth most valuable form of illicit trade (behind drugs, guns, and human trafficking), per DLA Piper’s report.

Keeper and infants in China’s Chimelong Safari Park. Photo by anonymous source
Great ape as “photo prop”: A visitor and baby chimp at Bangkok’s Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm and Zoo. Photo by PEGAS

As with a range of species, it is important to note that some of the great ape trade occurs legally. Species protected by CITES are listed on three appendices — I, II, and II. Appendix I covers species threatened with extinction, specimens which can’t be traded internationally unless imported for non-commercial purposes. Species that could become extinct in the absence of closely controlled trade are listed on Appendix II. Although all great ape species are listed on Appendix I, they can be legally traded as if they were on Appendix II if they were bred in captivity at facilities registered with CITES.

But traders often game the CITES system, sometimes exporting great apes by falsifying permits — claiming the animals they’re selling were captive-bred when they were in fact wild caught. According to Ammann, widespread corruption makes falsification easy.

Between 2009-2011, China imported most of its great apes from Guinea, using permits stating that all traded animals were captive-bred. Conservationists knew, however, that Guinea didn’t have any ape breeding facilities, so they asked CITES to intervene. In fact, “CITES has not registered any chimpanzee or orangutan breeding facilities for commercial purposes,” anywhere in the world explains Juan Carlos Vasquez, the chief of the organization’s legal and compliance unit.

After conducting an investigation, CITES concluded that Guinea was falsifying permits to illegally export wild-caught apes. As a result, CITES suspended all commercial trade in CITES-listed species with Guinea in 2013, and the head of Guinea’s CITES Management Authority was subsequently arrested for fraudulently issuing permits (he was convicted but subsequently pardoned by the country’s President).

China, at the other end of the Guinea chimpanzee supply chain, suffered no consequences for these violations, and authorities there insisted they were unaware that the imported animals were wild-caught. However, both Stiles and Ammann suspect China was complicit. Regardless, any legal action against China could only have been initiated by the Chinese themselves under their domestic laws, since the importation had already occurred.

Like China, Thailand is a CITES signatory that has passed domestic conservation legislation, but Thai law doesn’t protect the great majority of non-native species. And when someone is caught possessing a legally protected animal or plant, the burden of proof is on the Thai state rather than the individual to show legal importation. According to TRAFFIC, Thailand is currently drafting new legislation that would, if passed, protect non-native species. During a January 2016 CITES Standing Committee meeting, the international organization encouraged all countries to eliminate loopholes of this kind.

Creative solutions

A range of individuals and organizations are developing and utilizing creative tactics to fight wildlife crime. There are new technologies under development — ranging from citizen reporting apps, to DNA testing kits for use in the field, as well as databases that track wildlife trafficking in real-time.

New York University is working on an innovative web crawler that mines online web postings for animal and wildlife product sales. Stiles warns, however, that the crawler’s application may be limited since transactions involving live animals typically occur on social media platforms rather than websites. Social media has lately proven to be a prime way of connecting illegal great ape sellers with buyers, especially in the Middle East.

In July 2015, the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) was quietly launched in The Hague. This non-profit seeks to “activate justice” by supporting national governments as they investigate and prosecute wildlife crime.

Keeper and infant great ape at China’s Chimelong Safari Park. Photo courtesy of PEGAS

When dialogue with national governments fails, the WJC can hold hearings in The Hague in which independent, impartial experts review cases of wildlife crime. Unlike other judicial bodies, however, such as the International Courts of Justice, Commission hearings are not legally binding. They do, however, shine a light on wildlife crime and provide recommendations for actions to curb it.

“CITES is merely an international treaty, so we must work on the country level,” explains Executive Director Olivia Swaak-Goldman. “Through collaborative investigations and public tribunals, we hope to put an end to wildlife crime. After all, time is running out.”

The sobering reality: so long as there is public demand for boxing and dancing chimps, or photo ops available with orangutans in Asia, there will be poachers and traffickers willing to bear the legal risk of providing those animals, importers willing to forge documents to get great apes from abroad, and showmen willing to keep (and mistreat) them.

If great apes are to be conserved, then the Asian public will need to come to the same conclusion as Americans — that these primates don’t belong on roller skates or in boxing rings; they belong in the wild.

The Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou is one of China’s biggest animal attractions. On its website — the source of this photo — the park claims to be the “largest wild animal theme park in the world” with a collection of more than 20,000 “rare animals.”

Do Apes Deserve ‘Personhood’ Rights? Lawyer Heads to N.Y. Supreme Court to Make Case

Reprinted from NBC News

When Steve Wise first started out as an animal rights lawyer, people used to bark at him when he entered a courtroom.

For more than 25 years, Wise has been arguing that animals who have cognitive complexities similar to humans should be legally endowed with basic rights of autonomy.

Now when he enters a courtroom, no one is barking.

On Thursday [9 March], Wise — who founded the Nonhuman Rights Project on behalf of the great apes, cetaceans and elephants — will go before the appellate division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Manhattan and argue that two of his clients, chimpanzees Kiko and Tommy, should be afforded the rights of “personhood.”

“‘Personhood’ is not synonymous with ‘humans.’ It is not now and never has been,” Wise told NBC News. “A ‘person’ is the law’s way of saying that entity has the capacity for rights. A ‘thing,’ which chimpanzees are now, don’t have capacity for any kind of rights.”

Wise is hoping to prove in the eyes of the court that chimpanzees and other great apes aren’t “things” but rather are autonomous beings that possess consciousness and deserve to live their lives to the fullest possible extent of that autonomy.

Tommy and Kiko

Wise has been fighting on behalf of Tommy and Kiko since 2013.

Since then, Wise has been running to and from court with habeas corpus cases for both chimpanzees, and while judges often sympathize with their cause, they’ve ultimately reject their pleas.

Despite representing the primates for the better part of four years, checking on their condition is a frustrating subject for the staff at Nonhuman Rights Project.

“We see them as clients of ours, but we can’t get a jail house visit or help them exercise a Sixth Amendment right,” said Kevin Schneider, executive director of Nonhuman Right Project. “They’re things, so we can’t barge in and see what’s going on.”

Image: Tommy, a chimpanzee in his late 30s, was kept in a cage behind the Circle L Trailer Sales in Gloversville, New York
Tommy, a chimpanzee in his late 30s, was kept in a cage behind the Circle L Trailer Sales in Gloversville, New York. Pennebaker Hegedus Films

Tommy, believed to be in his late 30s, is owned by Patrick Lavery. The chimpanzee lives in a cage of cement and green-painted steel behind Circle L Trailer Sales in Gloversville, New York, according to the Albany Times Union.

In 2013, Lavery told the Times Union that Tommy, although he was living without companionship, had enrichment in the form of television, cable and radio.

“To treat them as things destroys them,” Wise said. “The same way we would be destroyed in solitary confinement.”

In the 2016 HBO documentary “Unlocking the Cage,” which documents Wise’s fight to file habeas corpus petitions on behalf of chimpanzees in New York, Lavery is seen telling Wise he wants Tommy to be sent to a Florida farm because the ape is “lonely.” Wise later argues that the Florida farm is not a suitable environment for Tommy.

Kiko, believed to be in his early 30s, is a former animal actor, who was beaten so badly by his trainers, he’s partially deaf, according to Nonhuman Rights Project.

The chimpanzee now lives in the Primate Sanctuary in Niagara Falls, New York, which is operated by Carmen and Christie Presti. Nonhuman Rights Project alleges the sanctuary is run out of the Presti’s home, and the animals aren’t in a natural environment.

The Prestis and Lavery did not immediately respond to a request for comment made by NBC News.

A case about rights, not welfare

Although Wise and Schneider said the chimpanzees aren’t being kept in ideal conditions, they’re not alleging their owners have done anything wrong.

In fact, they said everything the Prestis and Lavery have done is entirely legal.

“We specifically say we are not alleging [the Prestis or Lavery] have violated any local, state or federal law,” Wise said. “What we’re saying is those laws are grossly insufficient and [the chimpanzees] should have right to bodily liberty. We’re not trying to protect their welfare, we’re trying to protect rights.”

Image: Steve Wise argues a case that chimpanzees deserve non-human rights in a New York Court
Steve Wise argues a case that chimpanzees deserve non-human rights in a New York Court. Unlocking The Cage / HBO

Wise said the only reason chimpanzees and other great apes are able to be kept in cages is because they are legally deemed “things.” The last time Wise was in court in 2015 — arguing on behalf of chimpanzees Hercules and Leo, who were kept at Stony Brook University on Long Island for research — the state argued the animal’s classification should remain just that.

“The reality is these are fundamentally different species. I worry about the diminishment of these rights in some way if we expand them beyond human beings,” Christopher Coulston, an assistant New York state attorney general said.

Coulston told New York State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe, that even though “personhood” is sometimes attributed to corporations and ships, those entities are “in some way related to human interests.”

“Whether it’s a corporation, whether it’s a ship that is treated as a legal person, we think that is the principle that has governed the assignment of legal personhood,” Coulston argued.

But Wise said society has come a long way since the apes were first deemed “things” and more than half a decade of studying great apes has revealed a wealth of knowledge about their intelligence and awareness.

“The reason we chose [great apes, elephants and cetaceans] is there’s an extraordinary amount of scientific observation— more than half a century — that’s been done,” Wise said. “Articles reveal they are extremely cognitively complex, similarly to the way we’re complex. ”

Scientists on their side

Although Wise is facing an uphill battle in the courtroom on Thursday, he has some of the foremost experts behind him as he heads to Manhattan.

This includes Jane Goodall, considered the premier expert on chimpanzees after more than five decades studying them in Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania.

Goodall, who sits on the board of Nonhuman Rights Project, filed a 27-page affidavit on behalf of the chimpanzees along with several other experts. Wise said the case currently has 160 pages of expert affidavits filed on behalf of the chimpanzees.

Jaffe ruled against Wise’s case for Hercules and Leo, saying that, while she sympathized with their cause, she was bound by a decision made by a different New York judge. An appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court known as the Third Department had concluded that the chimpanzees did not meet the requirement for “personhood” because the apes did not carry out duties and responsibilities in society.

Wise then enlisted Goodall to write an affidavit that would challenge that decision.

She said that in her 50 years of observation, chimpanzees demonstrated “well-defined” duties and responsibilities, listing how communities care for each other and are responsible to one another through a host of examples.

But Wise is also arguing that while chimpanzees do exhibit responsibilities, they also don’t need to have responsibilities to deserve rights.

“What we’re doing is arguing that the Third Department was wrong in at least six different ways and that you don’t need to have duties in society in order to be a person and have legal rights,” he said.

Small steps forward

The last time Wise went before a judge to argue the case of Kiko and Tommy, no chimpanzee in the world had ever been granted nonhuman rights.

But that won’t be the case on Thursday.

In November 2016, Judge María Alejandra Maurico of Argentina ruled that a chimpanzee named Cecilia was a “nonhuman legal person” and agreed that the ape had “inherent rights.”

Two years earlier, the same judge deemed an orangutan named Sandra also deserved “personhood.”

Both apes were transferred to a sanctuary in Brazil to live as autonomously as possible with other animals in their species for the rest of their lives.

Wise and Schneider said they will be using Cecilia’s case as a tool to argue theirs and are hoping for a similar outcome.

“Assuming the court agrees [with us], we suggest [Kiko and Tommy] should be sent to Save the Chimps in Fort Pierce, Florida,” Wise said.

He said it’s at this 150-acre sanctuary the chimpanzees will be able to live out their lives to the maximum amount of autonomy possible for animals raised in captivity.

“We think [the court] is going to say, ‘You don’t need to have duties and responsibilities to not be enslaved,’ and remand that case to Justice Jaffe and say ‘Don’t look at Third Department’s decision; hold a hearing and decide the case,'” Wise said. “That’s what we think is more likely than other two extremes, but the court surprises us all the time. We’ve been wrong every time.”

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

New interest in illegal Great Ape trade

The BBC recently released the results of a 12-month investigation entitled ‘The secret trade in baby chimps’. It was on World Service radio and television repeatedly all day the 30th of January and was accompanied by an excellent story by David Shukman and Sam Piranty on the BBC News website. Shukman has followed up with a thoughtful, more analytic story on how humans treat great apes in general and a 30-minute documentary ‘The Chimp Smugglers’.

The public reacted viscerally and vociferously to the story and to the heart-rending video of little Nemley Junior, an infant chimpanzee rescued during the sting. My Facebook pages were full of comments expressing outrage, anger, shock, sadness. Born Free’s president Will Travers blogged on National Geographic’s Voice for Wildlife about it.

Little Nemley Junior, seized during the sting. (BBC)

Little Nemley Junior, seized during the sting. (BBC)

 
But why did BBC call it ‘the secret trade’? It’s not a secret. Apparently to them it was, but the UN report Stolen Apes was released almost four years ago and it revealed in detail the trafficking in little ape babies for use as pets and money-makers in zoos and safari parks. PEGAS has published several articles on it in Africa Geographic, Mongabay.com and elsewhere, and Agence France-Presse, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Paris-Match the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and others have reported on it, with The Dodo even publishing many of PEGAS’s disturbing photographs of the stolen ape babies.

PEGAS was even involved in a sting very similar to the one that the BBC pulled off, which so far has netted three people involved in trying to sell two orangutan babies that were smuggled from Indonesia to Thailand. AP posted a brief video story on it and the Bangkok Post reported it, but most of the large news outlets like the New York Times, CNN and Sky ignored it, even though technically it was a bigger story than BBC catching two traffickers and one baby ape. The BBC actually posted the AP video, but made nothing of the story.

The two orangutan babies offered to PEGAS for sale using WhatsApp

The two orangutan babies offered to PEGAS for sale using WhatsApp

The infants after rescue by the Thai police

The infants after rescue by the Thai police

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The way the BBC covered the Abidjan sting story, which involved repeated headline news announcements all day 30th January, a long news video clip, two comprehensive written stories and a 30-minute documentary, not to mention discussion of the story on other BBC programmes, resulted in the massive public reaction.

A huge thank you to BBC and to the Ivory Coast authorities. But we need more of this if we are to get CITES and governments to take meaningful action. Great apes have been ignored by CITES for several years now. The CITES Secretariat has prevented a Great Apes working group from being formed, which is the only forum in CITES where detailed evidence can be produced and discussed and where a meaningful revision to the Great Apes resolution could be made. At the 17th CITES Conference of the Parties last year, CITES even reneged on its own Decision to devise a special reporting system for illegal great ape trade. They effectively killed it.

In the BBC documentary film Scanlon tried to convince viewers that traffickers forge the permits. This happens in some cases, but more commonly national CITES offices issue them in return for bribes.

To put a huge damper on the illegal trade CITES needs to revise the Great Ape resolution to recommend that Parties (which are countries that have ratified the Convention) require that any facility or individual that possesses great apes shall obtain a government permit to do so, fill out a registration form reporting details of the ages and sexes, and update the registration annually. Each Party will submit an annual report summarizing the total registered great apes to CITES to be included in the reporting on the Great Ape resolution (Res. Conf. 13.4 Rev) at Standing Committees and Conferences of the Parties.

Currently, ape babies are shipped illegally and once in a country the traffickers move them from facility to facility to lose the paper trail (or the fact that one does not exist). Documents can be fabricated or bought through bribery that bestow legal possession of the ape victims. If permitting and registration are required upon arrival in a country, it makes it much more difficult to fiddle the paperwork – and where are the CITES permits on arrival? They should be produced upon registration.

There is also a well-developed practice of corrupt CITES officials selling fraudulent permits, indicating that the ape babies were bred in captivity and are to be used for educational or scientific purposes. If importers were required to obtain a domestic permit and register the infants on arrival these fraudulent permits could be spotted immediately. Please sign our petition requesting CITES to control the use of these fraudulent permits.

These control actions are not unreasonable. CITES has already required even more sweeping actions and reporting than proposed above under Res. Conf. 10.10 concerning elephants and ivory. Several countries have even been compelled to formulate and report on national action plans to address poaching and ivory trafficking. Don’t Great Apes deserve something similar? 

Two infant orangutans turned up recently at the Phuket Zoo in Thailand.

Two infant orangutans turned up recently at the Phuket Zoo in Thailand.

 

 

 

 

 

The enclosure where they are being exploited as photo props has posted documents claiming that they were born in Bangkok’s notorious Safari World, which twice has had its illegal entertainer orangutans seized and returned to Indonesia. Being born there makes them legal? How the Thai authorities can allow this is inexplicable.

The enclosure where the orangutans are being exploited as photo props has posted documents claiming that they were born in Bangkok’s notorious Safari World, which twice has had its illegal entertainer orangutans seized and returned to Indonesia. Being born there makes them legal? How the Thai authorities can allow this is inexplicable.

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s hope that this new found interest in our closest biological relatives does not fade away.

Both Mr. Shukman and Will Travers of Born Free offered to help find Nemley Junior a sanctuary. He is currently in the Abidjan Zoo, an unpleasant place for a chimp to spend the rest of its life. If the Ivoirian authorities are agreeable, PEGAS offers to bring Nemley Junior to Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ol Pejeta Conservancy, a paradise for abused chimpanzees.

The Abidjan Zoo is an unpleasant environment for a chimp. Will Nemley Junior spend the rest of his life here?

The Abidjan Zoo is an unpleasant environment for a chimp. Will Nemley Junior spend the rest of his life here?

 

 

 

 

Or here at Sweetwaters, living in the African bush with other chimps?

Or here at Sweetwaters, living in the African bush with other chimps?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presidential pardon: Former head of Guinea CITES office pardoned before his case was finalized

Ansoumane Doumbouya is known for stating, “There is no dirtier convention than CITES.”

He should know, he’s one of the corrupt government officials that made it that way. Doumbouya, an affable and smiling man, made huge sums of money while engaged as the head of the Guinea CITES office between 2008 and 2013. How? By selling fraudulent CITES export permits that indicated that wild-caught Appendix I live specimens were supposedly bred in captivity and met the CITES criteria that allowed trade. A chimpanzee permit could earn him up to USD 3,000 and a gorilla USD 5,000. China made use of the Guinea “C-scam” between 2007 and 2012 to import over 130 chimpanzees and possibly 10 gorillas to supply commercial zoos and safari parks.

‘C’ is the Source Code put on permits indicating captive bred in conformance with CITES regulations.

Ansoumane Doumbouya seems like a nice guy, until you learn that he has helped send thousands of birds, reptiles and mammals illegally out of Africa

Ansoumane Doumbouya seems like a nice guy, until you learn that he has helped send thousands of birds, reptiles and mammals illegally out of Africa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the scheme was exposed, Doumbouya was finally removed from the post, but remained in the ministry. In 2013 at the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties Guinea was sanctioned with a commercial trade suspension. Not as bad as it sounds, since a C code is used with supposedly non-commercial trade.

Even after 2013 Doumbouya carried on signing old blank export permits he had kept, even though he had no authority to do so. Finally in August 2015 he was arrested by the local INTERPOL bureau in possession of the illegal permits and prosecuted. He was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Doumbouya appealed the conviction and was awaiting a ruling on his appeal when President Alpha Condé granted him a pardon. Guinean law states that a pardon can be given only after the conclusion of a court case.

The president’s action signals clearly to the world that corruption reaches to the highest office in Guinea and that the country will continue to export illegally thousands of wild-caught exotic specimens, destroying Guinea’s biodiversity.

A baby chimpanzee seized recently in Guinea destined for the pet market. With no support from President Condé this will continue. (Photo/GALF)

A baby chimpanzee seized recently in Guinea destined for the pet market. With no support from President Condé this will continue. (Photo/GALF)