News / Africa

Report: Widespread Trafficking of Great Apes

At least 3,000 great apes believed trafficked every year. Credit: GRASP
At least 3,000 great apes believed trafficked every year. Credit: GRASP


Joe DeCapua
It’s estimated at least 3,000 great apes are illegally seized and sold every year. For every ape that is captured alive, many others are slaughtered. A new report Tuesday says law enforcement is undermanned and too poorly equipped to stop it.

The report, "Stolen Apes," was released in Thailand at the 16th meeting of CITES -- formally known as the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Doug Cress, coordinator of the Great Apes Survival Partnership, or GRASP, said the report is, what’s called, a rapid response assessment.

“We were aware that there were a great number of chimpanzees, for instance, going out of Guinea into China -- that there were a great number of orangutans moving out of Indonesia into Thailand. And yet we had no baseline data to really tell us how bad this problem was. And everybody who works in conservation of great apes had this sense of something terrible was happening, but we didn’t have any numbers to tell the story.”

The report said that over the past decade great apes have become a very lucrative commodity. For example, an illegally seized chimpanzee is worth about $25,000 in China.
International trafficking of great apes is on the rise. Credit: GRASPInternational trafficking of great apes is on the rise. Credit: GRASP
International trafficking of great apes is on the rise. Credit: GRASP
International trafficking of great apes is on the rise. Credit: GRASP

“We’re talking about live great apes here. This is the issue that they have become such a commodity, for instance, in Asia and the Middle East. They’re prized as pets. They’re used in breeding centers. They’re used in bio-medical research. They’re used in tourist attractions. There’s such a demand for them that it’s worth the risk of trafficking in live great apes. When you talk of ivory you’re talking about a dead animal at that point. With great apes we’re talking about a living, breathing animal that is very much like a human being in what it needs to survive,” said Cress.

Cress said there is massive loss of life when a great ape is captured.

“He represents probably at least 10 others that died to get him that far because hunters can’t walk into a forest and pick up a chimpanzee. You have to kill every other chimpanzee in the group to get one – one baby – and take it away. Because chimpanzees, just like a human being, will fight to protect their groups,” he said.

The days of individual poachers are over. Cress says poaching of great apes is mostly done by sophisticated organized crime.

“It’s clearly driven by criminal networks that are far better armed, far better sourced, far better funded and far more creative, frankly, than law enforcement is. And in terms of great apes for sure they are winning that war right now. Between 2005 and 2007, we tracked 22,000 thousand great apes that were moved illegally around the world. Only 27 arrests occurred,” said Cress.

Traffickers often transport the apes from country to country in Africa before getting them off of the continent. Cress said it’s usually inhumane.

“They are stuffed into crates and labeled as dogs. They’re put into hidden compartments. They’re wrapped up inside bags full of drugs. They stuffed into cardboard cartons. We’ve had two that were end-to-end in a cardboard poster tube. And the only reason they were discovered is the tube began to move on a conveyer belt in an odd fashion in an airport in the Middle East. The guy opened the tube and two chimpanzee babies popped out.”

The report, "Stolen Apes," says it’s not enough to crackdown in countries where poaching occurs. The demand for great apes in Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere must be stopped. It recommends poachers be arrested and prosecuted and given long prison terms if convicted.

It also recommends countries confiscate trafficked great apes and return them to their home countries within eight weeks. Home can be determined by DNA tests. Once returned they can be brought to sanctuaries and rehabilitation centers.

Cress said the great ape most likely to die from being trafficked is the seemingly fierce and powerful gorilla.

“Gorillas are actually the most fragile ape of all. And we find the numbers abnormally high in terms of gorillas that die as a result of illegal trade because they’re so stressed. They don’t handle the trauma of capture at all well. Gorillas tend to give up and it used to be said that they died of broken hearts. They just seem to give up hope and they just collapse,” he said.

Cress said that trafficking in great apes is morally wrong. But he also says it’s bad for the environment. For example, he says when chimpanzees disappear from a forest, the health of the forest declines.

The trafficking of great apes is nothing new. Apes are found in Egyptian hieroglyphics and they were valued even in the days of King Solomon.

You May Like

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs