Renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall visited Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on 14th July, accompanied by the Director General of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Mr. Kitili Mbathi. When asked if she would be cold riding in the back of an open safari vehicle on the chilly morning, with characteristic pragmatism she replied, “I suppose I shall just have to be.”
Dr. Jane Goodall and Mr. Kitili Mbathi, Director General of Kenya Wildlife Service, arrive on Ol Pejeta Conservancy on a plane chartered by PEGAS
In July 1960, at the age of 26, Jane Goodall travelled from England to what is now Tanzania and courageously entered the extraordinary world of wild chimpanzees. She was equipped with nothing more than a notebook and a pair of binoculars. But with her resolute patience and optimism, she won the trust of these initially wary creatures, and she managed to open a window into their mysterious lives, finding surprising similarities with our own. The public was fascinated and remains so to this day. Her 1971 book, In the Shadow of Man, was an international best-seller.
Today, Jane’s work revolves around inspiring action on behalf of endangered species, particularly chimpanzees, and encouraging people to do their part to make the world a better place for people, animals, and the environment we all share.
The Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), founded in 1977, works to protect the famous chimpanzees of Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where she first began her research 56 years ago, but also supports community-based conservation throughout East Africa and the Congo Basin, engaging with communities to win long-term conservation impact.
The Institute’s community-centred conservation programs in Africa include sustainable development projects that engage local people as true partners. These programmes began around Gombe in 1994, but they have since been replicated in other parts of the continent. Likewise, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, which Jane started with a group of Tanzania students in 1991, is today the Institute’s global environmental and humanitarian youth program for young people from preschool through university with nearly 150,000 members in more than 130 countries.
Jane came to Nanyuki, where Ol Pejeta Conservancy is located, to speak at Mount Kenya Safari Club to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Kenya Roots & Shoots programme. PEGAS thought it offered an ideal opportunity for her to return to the Sweetwaters sanctuary, which was created in 1993 largely through her instigation, in cooperation with KWS and Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The aim is to provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees. The first chimpanzees to arrive were individuals that Jane had rescued from horrible conditions of captivity in Burundi.
Jane looks at a photograph of herself and Uruhara, a chimpanzee that she rescued in Burundi more than 20 years ago, as they share a hoot.
After obtaining enthusiastic agreement from Ol Pejeta for Jane’s visit, PEGAS contacted Alpana Patel, JGI’s representative in Kenya (also a PEGAS Steering Committee member) for her views on the visit. Would the 81-year old world traveller have the stamina and desire to combine a day visit to Sweetwaters with an evening talk and fund-raiser at Mount Kenya Safari Club? After checking with Jane’s people in the USA, yes was the resounding answer.
Jane and Kitili Mbathi arrived from Nairobi on the PEGAS charter flight right on time, and off we drove across Ol Pejeta Conservancy to the Sweetwaters sanctuary, where the CEO Richard Vigne and other staff were waiting to welcome them.
Richard Vigne, CEO of Ol Pejeta, welcomes Jane and Kitili to the Sweetwaters sanctuary
Jane poses with the Sweetwaters staff. Stephen Ngulu, veterinarian and Sweetwaters Manager on the left and Joseph Maiyo, head Caretaker, on the far right
Jane advises Annick Mitchell, Ol Pejeta’s Tourism Manager, about how best to explain the mock termite mound. Dr. Goodall first revealed to the world that chimpanzees are also tool-users, using twigs to catch termites to eat
The first order of business was for Jane to open the new Education Centre at Sweetwaters, which provides informative graphics that instruct visitors about the threats to chimpanzee survival, including the capture of infants for the lucrative pet and entertainment industries.
Jane opens the Education Centre with a celebratory chimpanzee hoot
After a presentation on infant capture and trafficking, Jane asked, “How many chimpanzees are killed during these infant captures?”
I replied, “It’s estimated that 9 to 10 are killed for every infant captured.”
With a slight smile Jane remarked, “I always hear that number, but chimps are intelligent. When the shooting starts they just run away.”
She made her point, and I think some actual field research is in order on great ape poaching and capture.
For the next two hours we visited both chimpanzee groups, which live in large, fenced enclosures vegetated by natural savanna bushland on opposite sides of the Uaso Nyiro River. The river acts as a natural barrier to separate the two groups, as chimpanzees cannot swim.
Jane was anxious to see Uruhara, a chimpanzee she had rescued from Burundi more than 20 years ago (see the photograph above). When we found him and Jane offered him a banana she remarked, “I wouldn’t have recognized him, he’s aged so much.” After a moment she turned to me with a twinkle in her eye and added, “I think I’ve done a bit better.” I had to laugh and agree with her – she certainly had.
Jane meets up with Uruhara after more than 20 years. “I wouldn’t have recognized him, he’s aged so much.”
Encouraged by the many media journalists who had been attracted by Jane’s visit, she began expertly tossing bananas through the fence wires. Both to protect the chimpanzees from predators – there are about 70 lions and numerous leopards on Ol Pejeta – and to prevent their escape, the 250 acre sanctuary is enclosed by an electrified fence.
Jane expertly tosses bananas through the fence wires
Jane requested some privacy from the media and other observers because she wanted a moment alone with the Sweetwaters caretakers. Some of these dedicated and professional staff have been with Sweetwaters since the beginning and Jane wanted to hear from them how the chimpanzees had been faring, what problems there might be, to hear stories of the individual chimpanzees that she had known from many years ago and to share her thoughts and observations with them. To take time out to do this demonstrates the thoughtfulness and care for others that this extraordinary woman has.
Jane shares a private moment with the Sweetwaters sanctuary staff to talk about the chimpanzees
Richard Vigne presented Jane with an honorary chimpanzee adoption kit
We then proceeded to visit the last three Northern White Rhinos left on the planet. Kitili Mbathi had yet to see them, so was particularly interested in finding out more about their situation. Attempts are being made to breed new offspring, but the single male, Sudan, is 43 and beyond mating capabilities – his age is equivalent to over 90 years for a human.
Kitili Mbathi meets Sudan, the last male Northern White rhino on Earth
I was astounded to see Jane Goodall appear, she had walked the 300 metres or so from Morani’s restaurant, where we were to have lunch, under the hot sun to meet Sudan. The woman’s curiosity and energy know no bounds.
Jane also meets Sudan, and gives him an affectionate rub
During lunch at Morani’s PEGAS had the opportunity to discuss the project and what we are trying to do and hope to achieve. Jane and Kitili were both very supportive and hopefully we can cooperate closely to achieve results in various planned actions in the near future.
It was an honour and great pleasure to host two such positive, outspoken and yet modest advocates for wildlife conservation at Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Part of the PEGAS mission is to rescue captive great apes held in deplorable conditions and relocate them to a sanctuary. So earlier this year when PEGAS received an email from an expatriate working in Liberia asking if we could help save infant orphan chimpanzees in Monrovia, we arranged to go take a look to assess what the situation was. The expat sent photographs of a hapless 2-year female named Jackson that was tied up to a rusting VW bus wreck. She was being looked after by some policemen, but her situation was quite grim.
Jackson before rescue. (Photos: Phoebe Mckinney)
Phoebe McKinney, the American woman who contacted PEGAS, was working in Liberia to rebuild the primary education system there that was destroyed by the civil war. And now they had to deal with the Ebola outbreak, which closed the schools for a time. But by the time I arrived, Ebola was on the wane and there had not been a new case in weeks. This gave me the hope that Liberia would soon be declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization, which should allow the chimpanzees to be relocated to Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ol Pejeta Conservancy. There is no sanctuary in Liberia. Phoebe had already contacted nearby sanctuaries, Tacugama in Sierra Leone and the Chimpanzee Conservation Centre in Guinea, but they had no space. Sweetwaters was the last hope.
Phoebe, an energetic, enthusiastic woman with a soft spot for primates (she has a pet potto, Frankie) had constructed with her own resources a fledgling sanctuary for monkeys next to the Libassa Ecolodge, about 40 km southeast of Monrovia, the capital. Being also an optimist, she had constructed a large wire mesh enclosure to hold young chimpanzees temporarily, with the expectation that they would be transferred to a more permanent home. She said that there were several captive chimpanzees scattered around Monrovia being held in appalling conditions.
The location of Libassa Ecolodge and the Libassa sanctuary
An aerial photo of the Libassa Ecolodge, located in the lower right. The red circle indicates the location of the sanctuary. (Courtesy Libassa Ecolodge)
A few days before my arrival, Phoebe rescued Jackson from the VW wreck and transported her to Libassa, where she happily played around inside the enclosure, free for the first time in a year of the metal neck collar. The collar had left a nasty friction wound on the back of her neck.
One of the first things I did while there was to visit Libassa and see Jackson, now renamed ‘Guey’, meaning chimpanzee in Kru, the local language. Guey was full of fun and I entered the enclosure and played with her for a while. She ran around tumbling and jumping and enjoyed herself as I flipped her in somersaults.
The chimpanzee enclosure at Libassa, fitted out with greenery, ropes and structures to climb and swing on. Sure beats being tied up to a rusty VW wreck. (Photos: D. Stiles)
Guey enjoying a mango in her new home in Libassa. (Photo: D. Stiles)
The PEGAS manager playing with Guey. (Photo: P. McKinney)
Phoebe and I next went to visit another 2-year old female named Jacksy who was being held behind bars in a squalid chamber that faced onto a littered alley. Jacksy looked stunted and I learned that she was fed mainly with biscuits and left-overs from the food hawkers on the street next to the cage. The Chinese woman who ‘owned’ her ran a beauty salon nearby. We met with Alfa, the caretaker hired by the Chinese woman to look after Jacksy. He seemed agreeable that we come back the next day to pick up Jacksy and take her to Libassa. This seemed too easy.
Jacksy behind bars. (Photos: D. Stiles)
We returned the next day, hoping to take Jacksy with us to Libassa, but now Alfa said that the Chinese owner had told him that she wanted USD 500 as compensation for costs involved in acquiring Jacksy and for upkeep. I told Phoebe that this was completely unacceptable, PEGAS could not be party to what effectively was ape trafficking. If we paid for Jacksy, the woman would be motivated to go out and get another infant chimpanzee. A long negotiating session ensued. While Phoebe went into the beauty salon to talk with the ‘owner’, I sat down to chat with Alfa to try and find out more about why the woman kept the chimpanzee. It did not seem to be a pet.
Alfa said that the woman had brought Jacksy from the forest herself in her car, he did not know from where. She had returned recently from a trip to China where she had attempted to sell the chimpanzee, but was unsuccessful. I imagine the Ebola outbreak had made selling animals from the affected countries quite difficult. So now she was willing to sell Jacksy at a discount because of Ebola. There were stories of villagers killing chimpanzees after they learned that they were Ebola carriers, another incentive to get rid of it.
Phoebe had no success. The woman stuck at USD 300 and refused to budge. Phoebe was willing to pay it, but I said that if she did I would be unable to relocate the chimpanzee to Sweetwaters.
I made arrangements to meet with the head of the Liberia CITES Management Authority and went out of town to the Forestry Development Authority (FDA) offices where Theo Freeman, the head, was located. He seemed very willing to cooperate and introduced me to some Wildlife Officers, who offered to accompany me the following day to confiscate the chimpanzee. Phoebe had already been in contact with the FDA and they had approved her keeping primates at Libassa. They were in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding for the establishment of the Libassa Wildlife Sanctuary involving the FDA, Phoebe’s NGO called ISPARE, and Rudolph Antoune, owner of Libassa Ecolodge, who was generously donating the land.
The following morning the Wildlife Officers informed me by telephone that they unfortunately were unable to come into town to conduct the confiscation and said that Phoebe and I should do it. During Phoebe’s lunch break we returned to the Oriental Beauty Salon to resume our efforts to rescue Jacksy. Finally Phoebe pulled her trump card and told the Chinese woman that she was holding the chimpanzee illegally and that if she did not release it we would return with the authorities to arrest her and seize the chimpanzee.
The woman spoke poor English, so she rang her daughter, who lived in Monrovia and who spoke better English. Phoebe repeated what she had said about the illegality of holding the chimpanzee to the daughter. The daughter translated to her mother in Chinese, which miraculously transformed her attitude. Now she was more than willing to release Jacksy. We told her that she could come any time that she wanted to visit Jacksy at Libassa.
As Alfa was removing Jacksy from the chamber of horrors, she escaped and scampered around in the street. I bought an apple and put it under the beauty salon sign, which attracted Jacksy.
Jacksy came to pick up the apple. (Photo: D. Stiles)
Alfa grabbed Jacksy and placed her in the transport cage that we had brought with us. Some nice sweet bananas were in the cage, so she was quite content to gorge herself. Phoebe had to return to work so I accompanied Jacksy to Libassa in the car with a driver I hired.
Jacksy being rescued and driven to Libassa. She quietly munched bananas on the drive there. (Photos: D. Stiles)
The Libassa Ecolodge has a wonderful Ivoirian pastry chef named Mbama who looks after the primates at the sanctuary. He has a knack with handling them. Mbama helped me carry the cage to the enclosure, where we sat it down outside so that the two chimpanzee girls could get acquainted. Mbama and I hit it off right away, as I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Côte d’Ivoire for three years and I could joke with him using Ivoirian French expressions.
Jacksy, since renamed Sweetpea by Phoebe, looks at Guey in wonder. Guey is no doubt the first chimpanzee that Jacksy has seen since she was snatched from her mother’s dead arms as a baby. (Photo: D. Stiles)
My original intention was to leave Jacksy in the outer entrance enclosure for a few hours so that the chimpanzees could get used to each other, but Mbama said that this was unnecessary and just took Jacksy out of her transport cage and pushed her into the enclosure. Immediately Guey rushed over and began chasing Jacksy around.
Guey, who is bigger and more aggressive than Jacksy, chased Jacksy around when she was released into the enclosure. Mbama acts as referee. (Photo: D. Stiles)
The two 2-year olds eventually settled down to share some mangoes. Jacksy is on the right. (Photo: D. Stiles)
Phoebe and I later went to find another chimpanzee that she had heard about. We found the house, but the owner was not at home. We could see the adult female chimpanzee through an opening in the wall locked up in a cramped cage in the front courtyard of the house. She saw us and reached out an arm imploringly. We banged on the gate and a house servant came out to speak to us. The chimpanzee had lived in the cage for the six years that the house servant had worked there, but she did not know when the chimpanzee had arrived or how old it was. A male was living with it when the servant had first started working there, but it had died a couple of years earlier.
The lonely chimpanzee living in the courtyard of a Liberian senator. (Photo: D. Stiles)
Phoebe subsequently established that the chimpanzee belonged to a senator in the national legislature, a well-known businessman. The senator would have to agree voluntarily to free his pet. The adult was too big to keep in the Libassa enclosure – adults are extremely strong – so I decided that I had better limit our first attempted relocation to the two young orphans. If that succeeded and the procedure was established, a larger group of chimpanzees could be rescued and relocated to Sweetwaters in future.
Last Monday (9 February) a man from Kuwait nervously put his carry-on bag into the security x-ray machine at Cairo International Airport and prayed. His prayers were not answered as the security agents seized the bag and opened it. A frightened baby chimpanzee, hunched up into a ball, stared up at them.
The agents confiscated the chimpanzee and called Dr. George Michelle of the Egyptian Wildlife Services, an arm of the national CITES Management Authority, who is the designated wildlife trade officer at the airport. It is still unclear who made the decision, but the Kuwaiti trafficker was released without charge to continue his journey, and thus we will never know the circumstances of the attempted illegal trade. Where did the chimpanzee originate? Where was it going and for what purpose? Dr. Michelle sent the chimpanzee to the Giza Zoo.
Dr. Dina Zulfikar, an Egyptian animal welfare activist, declared to the Egyptian government on her Facebook page [edited], “As a civil society representative I inquire why an interrogation did not take place with the Kuwaiti passenger, why were national law and the international convention (CITES) not applied? I also inquire why a DNA test was not ordered, why also did this case of violation of laws and international conventions not follow normal procedures in compliance with the CITES Egypt statement to CoP10….? Transparency should be the policy of all Egyptian Governmental entities according to the law and the constitution, thus you are kindly asked in public to provide a statement about the confiscation and procedures taken. We care to follow, so does all the world.”
Will the Egyptian government comply with her plea?
The Giza Zoo is the only legal holding facility for seized, illegally trade wildlife in Egypt. The CoP 10 (10th CITES Conference of the Parties, 2010) document referred to by Dr.Zulfikar, stated that the Egyptian government recognized that it did not have an appropriate rescue centre for confiscated illegally traded wildlife, but that they would build one. They have not done this, so under what conditions is this poor baby chimpanzee being held? The photo below shows the deplorable type of cage that chimpanzees are kept in at the Giza Zoo.
Photo: Dan Stiles
All facilities holding CITES-listed species must be registered and monitored by CITES-Egypt. The CoP 10 document (SC58 Doc. 23 Annex), which can be read here, states that all captive great apes held at these facilities would be DNA-tested and microchipped. If these pledges have indeed been complied with, the identity of the facility and/or African subregion origin of the baby chimpanzee should be able to be established by DNA testing of the baby.
What should happen in a case like this? Both CITES, in Article VIII, and Egyptian law, in Ministerial Decree 1150, call for prosecution of the offenders and either return of the seized animal to its country of origin, or placement of it in an appropriate facility. A cage in the Giza Zoo is not an appropriate facility for a baby orphan chimpanzee.
The management of the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya has written to CITES-Egypt to inform them that it is willing and able to accept up to 30 captive chimpanzees, as long as all Egyptian and Kenyan laws and CITES regulations are respected. PEGAS has offered to pay for their transportation from Egypt to Sweetwaters.
Why does CITES-Egypt not even have the courtesy to reply to our offer? Why won’t they free the captive great apes held in bondage in contravention of CITES regulations? Will CITES-Egypt just return the baby chimpanzee to the breeding facility in Sharm el-Sheikh?
The PEGAS Project Manager visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) on October 12-24, accompanied for the first three days by Jef Dupain, Director of the AWF African Apes Initiative. Jef introduced the Project Manager to the president of Juristrale, a local Congolese NGO that is collaborating with PEGAS in the area of great ape trafficking investigations. Aided by a Juristrale assistant, valuable information was gathered about the source areas of great apes that are trafficked in Kinshasa (the capital of DRC), the trade routes and transport methods (see maps at the bottom of this post), the people involved and sample prices of the different species.
Trafficking location on a main road, where middlemen dealers are protected by soldiers (circled in blue). Monkeys for sale are circled in red.
Accompanied by Jef Dupain, PEGAS also met with Cosma Wilungula, the Director General of the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation), which manages DRC’s protected areas and serves as the CITES Scientific Authority. The Project Manager briefed the DG on the objectives of the PEGAS project and received assurances of full cooperation from ICCN. The DG stated that he was committed to ending the trafficking of great apes and the illicit use of fraudulent CITES export permits.
Boma, a bonobo rescued in 2013 and now living at Lola ya Bonobo
A visit was also made to Lola ya Bonobo where Fanny Minesi, daughter of Lola founder Claudine André, gave the Project Manager a guided tour of the bonobo sanctuary. Lola stands ready to provide long-term care for any bonobos that can be rescued from captive slavery.
The mission to DRC has resulted in a number of follow-up actions that will be announced in future posts.
Lola ya Bonobo’s Fanny Minesi, pictured with Dr. Dan Stiles of PEGAS.
Map 1: Dealers indicated that the two main sources for great apes were the Mayombe Forest in the west and Equateur Province to the northeast, with Mdandaka being the staging point for shipment down the Congo River
Map 2: The apes are offloaded at Maluku before transport to Kinshasa
The PEGAS Project manager attended the 14th Anchor Conference of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP), held in Brazzaville, Congo on October 6-10. The purpose was twofold: to meet people and organizations that could be useful to the PEGAS objectives; and to visit the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Centre, managed by the Jane Goodall Institute, to discuss great ape trafficking, assess the facility as a possible site for relocation of confiscated chimpanzees and learn about sanctuary operations.
The conference was largely a talking shop with many complicated, theoretical presentations of little relevance to what is actually happening on the ground in Central African forests. No one seemed to think it odd that not a single Asian government, NGO or private sector entity was a partner in the CBFP, nor were any Asians amongst the participants (except for one Japanese). Since Asian extractive industries (mining, logging, oil and gas) are causing devastating damage to Central African biodiversity, it calls into question the whole purpose of the CBFP. See Flying under the radar for a case study involving Chinese extractive industries in great ape habitats.
The CBFP, whose objectives include conserving forest habitats and biodiversity, while maintaining an important carbon reservoir, apparently forgot to include any partners from Asia. Asian extractive industries operate largely outside initiatives aimed at conserving biodiversity.
The visit to Tchimpounga was a delightful experience. Rebeca Atencia, the manager, and her husband Fernando Turmo, shared a wealth of information on the admirable work that they and staff are carrying out there. The centre’s 166 chimpanzees and about 20 mandrills are receiving the highest standard of care. Of particular interest are plans and preparations to begin a program of release into the wild of Tchimpounga chimpanzees. Three islands in the Kouilou River, which offer ideal forest habitat, are receiving chimpanzees that will undergo pre-release training to teach them how live off wild resources. Once they are ready, they will be released in groups in an area already selected in the nearby Conkuati National Park. Tchimpounga is also carrying out an effective campaign of creating awareness amongst the public aimed at reducing great ape hunting, bushmeat trade and the trafficking of orphans.
Richard Vigne CEO, Ol Pejeta Conservancy Stephen Ngulu Deputy Manager, Ol Pejeta Conservancy Daniel Stiles Project Manager, PEGAS Tom Butynski Director of Research, Sustainability Centre Eastern Africa Alpana Patel Jane Goodall Institute, Kenya Yvonne de Jong Eastern Africa Primate Diversity and Conservation Program, Kenya