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

Multimedia

Audio
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
x
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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs