Tag Archives: Egypt

Great Ape trafficking — an expanding extractive industry

This article was published in Mongabay.com on 10th May 2016. https://news.mongabay.com/2016/05/great-ape-trafficking-expanding-extractive-industry/

  • There are two main uses to which trafficked young apes are put: as pets or as attractions in commercial wildlife facilities (such as disreputable zoos, safari parks, circuses, hotels and use as photo-props).
  • The trade is facilitated by celebrities who pose with great ape pets in the press or in social media posts, which act as advertisements that say that owning an ape is “cool.”
  • Stiles has been investigating great ape trafficking for the past three years, since being invited to be a co-author of the United Nations report Stolen Apes, released in March 2013 at the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties in Bangkok.

Today his name is Manno and we believe he recently turned four years old, though he is small for his age. Manno has bright, inquisitive eyes, has a penchant for pumpkin seeds and loves to run and play. He has been living alone as the solitary chimpanzee in a small, private zoo in Duhok, Kurdistan, in northern Iraq for about three years.

“Manno turned up in 2013 with wildlife dealers in Damascus, Syria, as a traumatized baby orphan,” Spencer Sekyer told me. Spencer, a teacher in Canada, volunteered to help animals kept in the Duhok Zoo in Kurdistan in late 2014. He fell in love with Manno. “His mother was no doubt killed for bushmeat somewhere in Central Africa and the poachers sold him off to animal traffickers.”

Spencer has been trying to get Manno freed for over a year now.

Spencer showed me a colored piece of paper with prices written on it. “The owner of the Duhok Zoo paid US$15,000 for Manno, and the little chimpanzee has repaid the investment by becoming a very popular attraction. People come from all over the Duhok area to play and have their photographs taken with Manno… spending money.”

The zoo owner dresses the little chimpanzee up in children’s clothes and visitors shower him with food and drink that kids like — junk food. This probably explains why Manno is small for his age.

Manno eating pumpkin seeds bought for him by adoring zoo visitors. (Photo: Spencer Sekyer)

Manno eating pumpkin seeds bought for him by adoring zoo visitors. (Photo: Spencer Sekyer)

Two chimpanzees captured in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Manno very likely endured this before being smuggled to Syria. (Photo courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute)

Two chimpanzees captured in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Manno very likely endured this before being smuggled to Syria. (Photo courtesy of the Jane Goodall Institute)

If Manno stays in the zoo, the day will come when he stops being cuddly and playful. He will grow in strength and in aggressiveness, as is normal with chimpanzees. If he is not caged up permanently first, he will attack and no doubt seriously injure someone. His future is not bright.

No bright future

In fact, the future is not bright for any great ape that is trafficked. There are two main uses to which young apes are put: as pets or as attractions in commercial wildlife facilities (such as disreputable zoos, safari parks, circuses, hotels and use as photo-props).

The trade is facilitated by celebrities who pose with great ape pets in the press or in social media posts, which act as advertisements that say that owning an ape is “cool”. The coordinator of the United Nations Great Ape Survival Partnership, Doug Cress, warned that celebrities do not realize that many of the apes were obtained illegally.

“These pictures are seen by hundreds of millions of fans, and it sends the message that posing with great apes — all of which are obtained through illegal means, and face miserable lives once they grow too big and strong to hold — is okay as long as it’s cute. But it’s not. It’s illegal, and it contributes to the destruction of already endangered species,” Cress told The Guardian newspaper.

Paris Hilton holding an infant orangutan in Dubai, a known wildlife smuggling center. Photos like this on social media create the impression that it is trendy to keep ape pets. Photo via Instagram.

I have been investigating great ape trafficking for the past three years, since being invited to be a co-author of the United Nations report “Stolen Apes,” released in March 2013 at the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties in Bangkok. The report documents an alarming situation in which more than 1,800 cases were registered of trafficked chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans being lost to the forests of Africa and Asia between 2005 and early 2012.

This is only a fraction of the real number, as documented cases are those involving seizures by the authorities, and the vast majority of incidents go undetected. More tragically, for every live ape that enters the trade, at least one — the mother — and more than ten can be killed as collateral damage. The number lost is multiplied again because many infants die before reaching the intended destination.

I’ve traveled to West and Central Africa, the Middle East, and most recently made a trip to Thailand, Vietnam, and China, gathering information on this 21st century slave trade. I have also been discovering and monitoring a growing network of online wildlife traffickers, who post photos of their prized wildlife acquisitions and those for sale on social media sites. Unfortunately, recent publicity naming those involved in the illegal trade has resulted in them closing Instagram and Facebook accounts and going underground.

4. naming
Publishing the names of online traffickers simply drives them underground where they can no longer be easily monitored. Composite of images found on Instagram.

Great apes are becoming increasingly expensive. Of a trade in December last year, Patricia Trichorache from the Cheetah Conservation Fund told me, “Right now there are two baby chimps about to be shipped to Dubai … $40,000 each.” An owner flaunting a $40,000 pet on Facebook or Instagram gains instant prestige. It is common to see friends’ posts saying, “I want one sooo bad,” followed by a string of heart emojis.

Dealers also use social media sites to market their wares. The usual routine is to move to the encrypted WhatsApp or Snapchat to conduct the negotiations after the initial contact is made on a photo post.

5. For sale
Traffickers commonly post apes for sale online to solicit buyers. Image via Instagram.

In the Gulf countries, infant chimpanzees and orangutans are commonly dressed up in designer clothes, made to wear sunglasses and baseball caps to look cool, and are fed junk food and taught to smoke. I’ve even seen chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons, and lion cubs all playing together in videos posted on Instagram. Sometimes the play goes too far and the little apes are terrorized, which only elicits laughter from the owner and his friends who gather in carpeted livingrooms to watch the “fun.”

The typical road a slave-ape takes in a commercial zoo or safari park starts with being used as a photo prop. When they get older they are usually trained to perform in some kind of entertainment show and after they reach puberty they are caged up to become a zoo attraction and to breed. Increasingly, dealers and zoos are breeding their own animals.

7b. cage
In Thailand, a large crocodile farm and zoo uses infant chimpanzees and orangutans as photo props, then cages them up for life when they get too old. Photos by Daniel Stiles.

The Egypt excess

Traffickers in Egypt were amongst the first to see the financial advantages in breeding great apes. A woman with dual Egyptian and Nigerian nationality had been trafficking chimpanzees and gorillas out of Kano, in Nigeria, and Guinea since at least the early 1990s, assisted by family members and an Egyptian pediatrician. Two of her clients run holidaymaker hotels in Sharm el Sheikh that used young chimpanzees as photo props with tourists.

Both hotel owners have since the early 2000s established wildlife breeding facilities for great apes and other animals. Chimpanzees and even gorillas are now being smuggled from these breeding centers to other countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. They often go to Damascus first to pick up a CITES re-export permit, which corrupt officials issue for a price, so that they can arrive in the destination country with documentation that makes it look like a legal trade.

A baby chimpanzee from one of the Egyptian breeding facilities was seized in the Cairo airport last year during the security check, being smuggled to Kuwait, where infant great apes are in high demand.

Dina Zulfikar, a well known Egyptian animal welfare activist, followed the case of little Doodoo, as they named him. Dina told me, “The authorities did not follow procedure. They let the trafficker go and did not file a case with the police, as the law requires.” This is an all too typical story in countries with lax law enforcement.

Poor Doodoo now languishes in the Giza Zoo in precarious conditions. Dina recently informed me that his cellmate Bobo died of unknown causes, after another chimpanzee Mouza died some months earlier. The Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya offered to rescue the little chimpanzee and provide him with lifelong care, but the Egyptian CITES authorities thus far have not responded to the offer. Little Doodoo could join five other chimpanzees at Sweetwaters that were seized in Kenya in 2005 after being refused entry into Egypt, trafficked by the Egyptian-Nigerian woman.

9. Doodoo in Giza
Today Doodoo languishes in a rusting cage because the Egyptian CITES authorities refuse to allow him to go to a proper sanctuary. Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya has offered to pay all expenses to relocate him there, to join five other chimpanzees that were rescued from Egyptian traffickers in 2005. Photo by Dina Zulfikar.
8. Doodoo
Doodoo with a zoo veterinarian shortly after he was brought to the Giza Zoo. He was found in the carry-on luggage of a trafficker smuggling him to Kuwait. Photo by Dina Zulfikar.

Ian Redmond, head of the U.K.-based Ape Alliance, worked with Dian Fossey and mountain gorillas in the 1980s, before Fossey’s untimely murder, recounted in the film Gorillas in the Mist. I work closely with Ian on the problem of great ape trafficking and he has tried, without success, to rescue the chimpanzees and gorillas held illegally by the Egyptian breeding facilities.

After a visit in 2015 to meet with the great ape breeders in Egypt, Ian told me, “Recent shipments out of Egypt seem likely to be infants bred at G. O.’s [name withheld] facility – if so we are faced with a different problem: essentially, a chimpanzee baby farm where infants are pulled from their mother and bottle-fed to be sold.”

10. Safaga
The wildlife breeding facility in Sharm el Sheikh is on the grounds of this hotel. When the author visited it in November 2014 he witnessed the purchase of three addax, loaded in the crate in the back of the pickup truck. Addax are listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN and are CITES Appendix I. No addax are reported exported from Egypt in 2014 or 2015, although 12 are from other countries. Photo by Daniel Stiles.

The situation has been reported to the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), based in Geneva, but they reply that “it is up to the national CITES Management Authority to take action.”

Overlooked Fact

The number of great apes trafficked internationally every year is not large compared to some other species, but when the collateral damage is factored in we are talking about up to 3,000 lives lost from the wild each year, which is close to one percent of the great ape global population.

One important fact is overlooked when simply numbers are used to assess the significance of this extractive industry. Great apes are unlike any other species group. We humans share millions of years of evolutionary history with them and our genetic makeup is surprisingly similar — about 97% with orangutans, 98% with gorillas, and almost 99% with chimpanzees and bonobos. We all belong to the same biological family called Hominidae.

Increasingly, as more behavioral and genetic research is conducted, we are accepting more easily the fact that great apes are very much like humans in so many ways. Just recently, Jane Goodall was quoted as saying, “Chimpanzees taught me how to be a better mother,” indicating just how much great apes are similar to us.

Ian Redmond, who studies ape behavior, says that “Great ape mothers are incredibly protective of their children, which is why they are always killed when poachers go out hunting for infants to sell.”

11. mothers
All hominid mothers are incredibly protective of their children. Photos by GRASP and Daniel Stiles.

Beginning in the 1960s, the National Geographic Society was instrumental in funding the research of the Trimates — Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas. These three exceptional women carried out long-term research respectively of chimpanzees, mountain gorillas, and orangutans. They made known to the world the surprising fact that characteristics previously thought of as exclusively human are shared by these intelligent, emotionally sensitive great apes.

The Nonhuman Rights Project, led by attorney Steven Wise, has been leading a mission in the United States “to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere ‘things,’ which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to ‘persons,’ who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.”

The project is focusing on freeing captive chimpanzees, because a chimpanzee (and other great apes), as Wise argues, “is a cognitively complex, autonomous being who should be recognized as having the legal right to bodily liberty.”

A documentary film about Wise’s work, Unlocking the Cage, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January to a packed house and a standing ovation. It will be shown around the world on HBO in July. This film could very well be the hominid version of Blackfish, the film that brought the suffering of captive killer whales in marine parks to the world’s attention, and which has launched a campaign to halt this appalling practice. Sea World announced recently that it would halt killer whale breeding and phase out its theatrical shows using them.

Wise and his colleagues have been battling in court to free the chimpanzees Tommy, Kiko, Hercules, and Leo from inhumane captivity, and recently they gained a huge victorywhen it was announced that not only Leo and Hercules, but all of the 220 chimpanzees at the University of Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center, will be freed and sent to a sanctuary. Argentine courts have already ruled that an orangutan named Sandra deserved the basic rights of a “non-human person” and can be freed from a Buenos Aires zoo and transferred to a sanctuary. Likewise, New Zealand and Spain have extended personhood rights to great apes.

Legal systems are increasingly recognizing that it is immoral for nonhuman hominids to be bought and sold, put into captivity and suffer abuse for any reason. Currently, CITES treats great apes like any other animal or plant species. Although classified in Appendix I, which means that commercial trade is prohibited, great apes can be traded for “non-commercial” purposes if they satisfy certain criteria.

Creating exceptions to the prohibition on international trade in great apes tacitly accepts that it is appropriate for humans to own and imprison them. Once in captivity, it is very difficult to monitor whether they are being used for commercial purposes or are being abused in other ways.

Already, hundreds of great apes are being freed in Europe and the U.S. from biomedical research laboratories, and very soon chimpanzees from private commercial zoos in the U.S. will be liberated, due to changes in laws and understanding of the uniqueness of great apes. This is creating a huge problem of where to put them, once liberated. If all commercial wildlife facilities stretching from the Middle East to the Far East are included, it quickly becomes apparent that all great apes cannot be immediately emancipated after changes in law might come into effect.

12. Sweetwaters
Chimpanzees are free to roam and socialize as they wish in Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Although Sweetwaters can take 30 or more additional chimpanzees, this is not sufficient to handle all those currently held as a result of illegal trade. Photo by Daniel Stiles.

CITES must act

So what is the answer? Change should be planned, gradual, and move in stepped phases. The first step is stopping the illegal trade, which adds every year to the number that eventually will have to be freed. CITES could be instrumental in achieving this, but it is not implementing what needs to be done. Other organizations concerned with great apes also are not doing all that they could be doing. Attempts to strengthen CITES actions to crack down on great ape trafficking at the last CITES Standing Committee meeting in January 2016 were actually undermined by organizations that profess to be helping great apes.

CITES needs to put teeth into the resolution that deals with great apes. There should be a system of registration and monitoring of institutions and individuals that possess great apes, so that new arrivals and movements can be detected. Currently, great apes arrive illegally in countries and are internally transferred and re-exported with little monitoring. Zoo studbooks are often out of date and inaccurate, as my research has found. The CITES Trade Database records only a small fraction of great apes that are traded internationally.


The Orangutan Show at a safari park in the suburbs of Bangkok, Thailand, has been making use of trafficked great apes from Indonesia for years. Thai law prohibits these performances, which include boxing matches, and dozens of orangutans have even been seized and returned to Indonesia, but the safari park replaces them and carries on. There is no system of registration and monitoring in place, which would prevent such abuses. Photos by Daniel Stiles.

Will Manno and others like him ever be freed to live with others of his kind in a sanctuary, enjoying social life, natural vegetation, and security? Will the day ever come when unthinking people will realize that chimpanzees and orangutans are not playthings and objects of entertainment? They are our family members.

As Dame Jane Goodall says, “In what terms should we think of these beings, nonhuman yet possessing so very many human-like characteristics? How should we treat them? Surely we should treat them with the same consideration and kindness as we show to other humans; and as we recognize human rights, so too should we recognize the rights of the great apes.”

Author’s note: All social media photographs in this article are screen shots from accounts open to the public. In May of 2014 I began working with a project funded by the Arcus Foundation called the Project to End Great Ape Slavery — PEGAS for short. The project is sponsored by the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya and it works in association with the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. See FreeTheApes.org. I am also Coordinator of the Ape Alliance Great Ape Trade Working Group. I invite readers to visit our page and sign the pledge to never use a great ape as a pet.

Jane Goodall Institute prepares architectural plans for Egypt

Great apes and monkeys have been seized – or not seized – on many occasions when detected at the Cairo International Airport in Egypt in illegal trade incidents. There has been a long-standing problem of what to do with primates that are caught being trafficked through the airport. This problem has been discussed within CITES, by the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance and by GRASP. They all recommend that a new facility be constructed to hold seized great apes, and Egypt has pledged to do this.

Currently the Giza Zoo is designated as the only rescue centre in Egypt for seized apes and monkeys. But the Giza Zoo was built in Victorian times (1891 to be exact) and is not an appropriate place to hold trafficked primates, particularly if they are to be returned to their country of origin as Egyptian national law and CITES regulations call for.

PEGAS has been working with Egyptian government authorities, the Jane Goodall Institute, and Egyptian animal welfare activist Dina Zulfikar to establish the new rescue centre. JGI has kindly prepared a very professional set of architectural plans for the facility. We hope that the Egyptian government will use these plans to construct this much needed facility.

Architectural plans for a great ape and monkey rescue center in Egypt prepared by the Jane Goodall Instutute

Architectural plans for a great ape and monkey rescue center in Egypt prepared by the Jane Goodall Institute (click to download, file is more than 50 mb)





Further efforts to free trafficked great apes in Egypt

Ian Redmond, chairman of both Ape Alliance and The Gorilla Organization, visited Egypt 3-6 March with funds provided by PEGAS. The purpose was to follow up on matters arising from the visit made in November last year by PEGAS.

One of the priority matters is the freeing of the approximately 25 chimpanzees held at the Safaga Breeding Center, owned by Gamal Omar, a wealthy Egyptian businessman with close links to deposed President Hosni Mubarak, and friends with Tony Blair, former UK prime minister. Mr. Blair owns two properties in Sharm el Sheikh not far from the breeding centre and he is a visitor to Mr. Omar’s Tower Hotel & Country Club, where the breeding facility is located. All of these chimpanzees were either imported illegally, or are offspring of the trafficked apes.

The entrance to the Safaga Breeding Center, located on the grounds of the Tower Hotel & Country Club

The entrance to the Safaga Breeding Center, located on the grounds of the Tower Country Club

Ian gathered some very useful information during his necessarily brief visit. He first went to the Giza Zoo where the Egyptian CITES Management Authority is located. He met with Dr. Fatma Tammamm Mahmoud, Head of the Egyptian CITES Management Authority (MA), and Dr. Ragy Fakhry Toma, General Director of the Egyptian Wildlife Service and Deputy Head of the CITES MA.

In a meeting in Dr. Toma’s office, Ian was shown the microchip registration document that lists all of the “legally” held great apes in the country. Dr. Toma only showed the details of the chimpanzees held in the Giza Zoo and those held by Ashraf Enab, owner of the breeding facility formerly known as Utopia and now named the Egyptian Agricultural Farm, according to what Enab told PEGAS last November.

Ian Redmond, on right, in discussions with Dr. Ragy Toma of CITES-Egypt

Ian Redmond, on right, in discussions with Dr. Ragy Toma of CITES-Egypt

The Giza Zoo lists 7 chimpanzees, although one female, Mouza, died the day before Ian arrived from a longstanding medical condition. There is supposedly a new resident of the zoo, a baby chimpanzee seized at the Cairo airport on 8th February this year. More will be said about this baby below.

A visit to the Giza Zoo by PASA in 2009 noted that there were 8 chimpanzees there, while other visits by anonymous investigators reported by Karl Ammann stated that in early 2010 there were 3 young chimpanzees and in early 2011 there were 4 young chimpanzees, plus Mouza, who arrived in April 2010 from Safaga Breeding Center, as she could no longer breed due to her illness. Unfortunately, the Ammann reports are not complete enough to know whether the three and then four young chimpanzees (plus Mouza) observed were the total number. Dina Zulfikar reported that some chimpanzees were moved temporarily to Alexandria Zoo in 2010 and returned to Giza Zoo in 2011.  Hilda Tresz reported in October 2011 that there were 7 chimpanzees at Giza Zoo, including 3 infants with a pair of surrogate ‘parents’, plus 3 males at the Alexandria Zoo. PEGAS reported 7 chimpanzees in Giza Zoo in November 2014, which was confirmed as the total from knowledgeable informants. There were none in Alexandria Zoo, one was said to have died. That still leaves 2 chimpanzees unaccounted for from October 2011 (7 at Giza, 3 at Alexandria, 1 died).

Koko, said to be a long-standing inhabitant of Giza Zoo, but was not mentioned as being present in Ammann's 'Cairo Connection II' report.

Koko, said to be a long-standing inhabitant of Giza Zoo.










The microchip list indicates the 7 long-term residents are:

  1. Prince – Adult M, born February 2000
  2. Enjy – Adult F, born February 2000
  3. Loza – F, born June 2005
  4. Bobbo – M, April 2004
  5. Mesh Mesh – M, born June 2006
  6. Koko – Adult M, born October 1996
  7. Mouza – Adult F, born November 2003 (deceased March 2015)
Sign in the Giza Zoo explaining Mouza's illness (photo: Hilda Tresz)

Sign in the Giza Zoo explaining Mouza’s illness (photo: Hilda Tresz)









Ashraf Enab’s chimpanzees, which until 2010 were at his Hauza Hotel in Sharm el Sheikh, were listed as being:

  1. Frisca – F – 4.5 years (now 10)
  2. Naema – F – 5 years (now 10.5)
  3. Beauty – F – 4.5 years (now 10)
  4. Memo – M – 7-8 years (now 12.5-13.5)
  5. Simba – M – 3.5 years (now 9)
  6. Sonchi – M – 1.5 years (now 7)

Mr. Enab told PEGAS in November 2014 that two chimpanzees had been born at his breeding facility recently and that now he had 8. Given the ages of the females, producing offspring would be highly unlikely. Chimpanzees normally have their first offspring at 13-14 years of age. No female had even reached 11 years of age by last year when the births supposedly took place. This suggests two baby chimpanzees were added in 2014 illegally to Enab’s breeding facility.

Dr. Ragy said that the Africa Safari Park had 4 chimpanzees, which if true means that one has been added since PEGAS visited last year. Where did it come from?

Safaga Breeding Centre was reported to have 17 chimpanzees, but Dr. Ragy declined to show the details (the official permit list is shown in the News report of the PEGAS Egypt visit). PEGAS confirmed that Gamal Omar had 25 chimpanzees at Safaga in November 2014.

Ian attempted to see the seized baby chimpanzee that was supposed to be in the Giza Zoo, but was told that the baby was ‘settling in’ and was being kept in the indoors quarters of a cage that was empty (PEGAS also observed an empty cage in the chimpanzee section of the zoo). Is the seized chimpanzee still in Giza Zoo?

There have been various versions of the circumstances surrounding the seizure of the baby chimpanzee. Dina Zulfikar, a well known animal welfare activist in Egypt, questioned publicly the government’s handling of the seizure case, which elicited official responses from different government offices. Dr. Ragy gave Ian his version, which differed somewhat from the official written responses.

The seizure actually occurred at about 9 p.m. on 8th February during the passenger departures security screening, not on 9th February as reported in the press. A Kuwaiti man was carrying a baby chimpanzee in a pet transport carrier, intending to fly to Kuwait on Egyptair. Security considered it a potential risk to passengers and apparently airport police and a wildlife veterinarian were summoned. The written documents stated that the Kuwaiti man was unaware that it was illegal to export the chimpanzee without CITES and health documents so “the police dismissed the passenger”, according to Dina Zulfikar’s translation provided to PEGAS. Zulfikar insists that no proper police report was filed with a tracking case number, though the government reply stated that a memo report was made by the airport police.

Dr. Ragy stated that the trafficker was fined according to Article 84 of Law No. 9 of 2009, therefore proper procedures were followed. The written replies make no mention of this and state that the airport police applied Law No. 4 of 1994 and Law 1150 of 1999 to justify seizure of the chimpanzee and its transfer to Giza Zoo. Ms. Zulfikar continues to call for prosecution of the Kuwaiti trafficker and repatriation of the baby chimpanzee to its country of origin, as determined by DNA testing, in conformance with Article VIII of the CITES convention. Dr Ragy agreed that a DNA test should be taken to determine which sub-species of chimpanzee it was and its likely area of origin, and that repatriation to a suitable sanctuary would be the best outcome.

The seized baby chimpanzee with a veterinarian at the Giza Zoo at the time it was deposited. Is it still there?

The seized baby chimpanzee with a veterinarian at the Giza Zoo at the time it was deposited. Is it still there?

The chimpanzee’s country of origin is being treated by the authorities as Egypt, however. They are using this to explain why no quarantine was carried out. Dr. Ragy told Ian that the Kuwaiti man had obtained the chimpanzee from a Saudi resident in Egypt. If Dr. Ragy knows this, why isn’t the Saudi being investigated for illegal CITES Appendix I species trading? There are many inconsistencies in the Egyptian government accounts.

After Giza Zoo, Ian attended the 15th African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, which was taking place in Cairo. He had the opportunity to inform a CITES officer who was attending of the chimpanzee seizure, and brief Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, and Bradnee Chambers, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Migratory Species, on the purpose of his visit. PEGAS hopes that CITES will investigate further the continuing illegal movement of great apes into and out of Egypt.

Ian then travelled to Sharm el Sheikh where he held two meetings with Ashraf Enab and a joint meeting with Enab and Gamal Omar. These two men are arguably the most active dealers in great apes in Egypt. Important points to emerge from these meetings are:

  • The Safaga Breeding Center has 25 chimpanzees and 3 gorillas. This means that two gorillas have been disposed of since late last year. Enab confirmed that Omar had sold one male that he was aware of. Where did they go?
  • Enab believes that the baby chimpanzee seized at the Cairo Airport originated in the Safaga Breeding Center. DNA testing could provide proof that the baby was bred at Safaga.
  • Omar sells chimpanzees for USD 10,000 each.
  • Omar promised that Ian could visit Safaga, but in the end the visit did not materialize.
  • Ashraf Enab repeated his willingness to acquire the chimpanzees and relocate them to a sanctuary, subject to Gamal Omar being willing to allow it. Gamal Omar seemed open to collaborating, but did not commit to anything and said he needed to check with his Minister (the Minister of Agriculture, under which CITES is located and Safaga’s holding permit emanates).
  • No chimps have been imported to Egypt in recent years because of the revolution in Libya; they used to come from Nigeria, Niger or Sierra Leone, on Afriqiyah Airlines flights from Tripoli, but the civil war put a stop to that (flights have been suspended).
  • Only three private facilities are licensed to keep great apes in Egypt, those of Enab, Omar and the Africa Safari Park.
PASA Egypt gorillas

Two of the five gorillas listed in the Safaga Breeding Center’s holding permit have apparently been illegally sold. (Photo: PASA)

It is clear that in spite of two visits by the CITES Secretariat to Egypt (2007 and 2010) and numerous promises by the Egyptian government to halt great ape trafficking and to take action when it occurred, that it is business as usual. The Safaga Breeding Center is producing great apes for sale with the blessing of CITES-Egypt.

It is well past time that the great apes acquired illegally and held captive at Safaga be freed. They should be sent to appropriate sanctuaries, preferably in their countries of origin. DNA tests should be carried out immediately, as CITES-Egypt promised to do at the 15th CITES Conference of the Parties. They have so far reneged on their promise.

CITES-Egypt has been written to recently requesting DNA testing and repatriation of the seized baby chimpanzee, copied to the CITES Secretariat and GRASP. We await a reply.

Conflicting reports in Cairo seized chimpanzee case

In a further development of the baby chimpanzee that was seized at the Cairo International Airport on 8th February, the CITES-Egypt Scientific Authority has announced that quarantine procedures and DNA testing were not carried out because the chimpanzee originated in Egypt. The infant would not have come from a public zoo. The Kuwaiti trafficker was said by CITES-Egypt to be carrying the infant in a pet carrier and he was heading for Kuwait on Egyptair. Supposedly he was fined and allowed to continue his travels because he was unaware of Egyptian laws. The truth, according to an investigation carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture reported by Dina Zulfikar, is that the chimpanzee was concealed in a closed bag and the trafficker was let go with no penalty, and not even a proper police report.

The investigation report that indicated that the Kuwaiti trafficker was concealing the chimpanzee, indicating that he knew trying to export it without CITES and health papers was illegal (Photo: Dina Zulfikar)

The investigation report that indicated that the Kuwaiti trafficker was concealing the chimpanzee, indicating that he knew trying to export it without CITES and health papers was illegal (Photo: Dina Zulfikar)

There are three facilities licensed by CITES-Egypt to hold chimpanzees: the Safaga Breeding Center in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian Farm for Agriculture (aka Utopia Farm) about 65 km from Cairo on the Alexandria road, and the African Safari Park further along that road. Did it come from one of those? PEGAS gained information in Egypt last November that Safaga had several baby chimps and that the owner was planning to sell some.

Will CITES-Egypt try to enforce its own laws and investigate the origin of the chimpanzee? Or will it do as it has done in the past and simply cover it up?

Update on Cairo Airport chimpanzee seizure

The veterinarian at the Giza Zoo said that the baby chimpanzee seized at the Cairo Airport last week was smuggled in from a third country. PEGAS is attempting to find out which country it was and the transport mode of entry.

From at least the early 1990s until recently, a well-known Egyptian-Nigerian dual nationality woman trafficker was known to smuggle chimpanzees and gorillas sourced from many African countries to Cairo. Conakry, Guinea and Kano, Nigeria were two of her primary dispatch cities. She was aided by an Egyptian veterinarian and her daughters. See “Africa’s Lost Apes” on our Publications page for more details. Is one or both of these trafficking routes still operating?

The baby chimpanzee seized in the Cairo Airport was put into a cold, hard cell in the Giza Zoo. (Photo: Mohammed And Elhammid)

The baby chimpanzee seized in the Cairo Airport was put into a cold, hard cell in the Giza Zoo. (Photo: Mohammed And Elhammid)

Both Ethiopian Airlines and Egyptair fly Kano-Cairo via a neighboring country, and both airlines have been implicated in illegal wildlife transport in the past.