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‘The legal and illegal trade are inseparable’: The drain of Africa’s chimpanzees for foreign zoos

The legal and illegal trade are so intertwined as to be functionally inseparable. There are gaping loopholes in the global permitting, enforcement and oversight system.

LOUISE BOYLE: Chimpanzees are being illegally shipped out of Africa to foreign zoos under the guise of the legal wildlife trade, according to conservation groups… Chimps are an endangered species with only around 200,000 left in the wild. Their numbers are projected to decline by 80 per cent by 2050, according to the Jane Goodall Institute, due to habitat loss, diseases and poaching, compounded by their slow reproduction rate.

Illegal trafficking also poses a significant threat. While some 3,000 chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans are killed or snatched from the forest each year, the UN Environment Programme says, wildlife organisations also point to the blurred lines of the legal trade, and the seemingly lax oversight of governments, as having an impact on dwindling numbers… The Independent’s Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade campaign, which was launched earlier this year, seeks an international effort to clamp down on poaching and the illegal trade of wild animals.

In May, an investigation by South African conservation groups, Ban Animal Trading (BAT) and EMS Foundation, stated that thousands of endangered animals, including chimps, are being illicitly traded from the country to China… In August 2019, 18 chimps were exported from the Hartbeespoort Snake and Animal Park, outside of Pretoria, to Beijing Wild Animal Park, on the outskirts of the Chinese capital…

The chimps live in a “museum-type”, glass-fronted enclosure with concrete trees and no access to the outdoors, according to Mr Ammann, who has visited the Beijing park. “It’s not a natural setting, there’s no soil, grass or trees,” he told The Independent. “The chimps are set up as entertainment for queues of visitors waiting for vehicles to take them through the safari park. “One of the males seems on his last legs. I don’t know why you would import animals of that age.”

The trade was issued permits by South African and Chinese authorities under CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species… Due to their endangered status, chimpanzees are awarded the highest-level of protection under CITES – Appendix I – meaning they cannot be taken from the wild or commercially traded. However, in so-called “exceptional” circumstances, chimps can be traded internationally if they have been bred in captivity, in a facility registered with CITES, and the trade is for “non-commercial” purposes.

In the paperwork for the 18 chimps flown to China last year, they were listed as “C” on the CITES permit – the status for animals which are captive bred. But the Hartbeespoort park is not a CITES-registered breeding facility for chimpanzees – and nor is any zoo in South Africa, according to the EMS/BAT report…

The report claimed that it was a “myth that the legal trade somehow crowds out the illegal trade, or that because it is legal, the animals involved are somehow treated well”. It added: “To the contrary, the legal and illegal trade are so intertwined as to be functionally inseparable. “South Africa’s live wild animal trade with China is riddled with irregularities that are exploited by traffickers. There are gaping loopholes in the global permitting, enforcement and oversight system”…

The BAT/EMS report found that Beijing Wildlife Park is “part of a profitable, government-owned company, the Beijing Tourism Group”. “The zoos make money by using the chimpanzees, and that’s commercial,” Ms Louw said. “The whole thing about zoos not being commercial institutions is just wrong and that should be challenged with CITES.” Beijing Wildlife Park would not confirm where the chimpanzees came from.  SOURCE…

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