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.

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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.