Chimpanzee Trafficking: A Growing Threat

Conservationists are well aware of the major threats to chimpanzee survival.  Not surprisingly, all of these threats are anthropogenic in naturehabitat loss, disease transmission, and hunting.  Raising awareness about these issues is important, because it can make people realize that our actions are directing affecting chimpanzee welfare and safety.  As overwhelming and complex as these issues are, chimpanzees now face another growing anthropogenic threat: great ape trafficking.

Great ape trafficking itself is not new, conservationists have known about the trade for decades.  However, in recent years technology and demand for live chimpanzees in zoos has increased the number of chimpanzees exported overseas.  To make matters worse many countries in West and Central Africa do not have effective policies for preventing wildlife trafficking.  This has resulted in chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas becoming the target of animal traffickers in countries like Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea and Senegal.  A live chimpanzee infant is worth $5,000-20,000 from zoos in North America, Europe and Asia.

Illegal Trade In Guinea

Recent developments in Guinea are an example of the grave threat great ape trafficking poses to chimpanzee survival in the wild.  Over the past 3 years it is estimated that over 130 chimpanzees have been smuggled from Guinea by Chinese miners to Chinese zoos.  David Cress of the Pan-African Sanctuary Alliance (PASA) stated that “the Chinese are bringing their own labourers into remote areas and wildlife trafficking is a lucrative illegal trade.  Law enforcement for wildlife is non-existent in Guinea.  It’s likely that permits have been falsified or stolen for shipments to pass through.” (Tanna, 2012).  As China’s industrial presence throughout Africa expands, these trafficking incidents may grow.  At the moment, chimpanzees are being caught in crates and shipped overseas while corrupt and/or incompetent officials turn a blind eye.  If the status quo is maintained chimpanzee trafficking to zoos throughout the developed and developing world will continue to rise.

The severity of this problem cannot be emphasized strongly enough.  When I first read these reports I felt as though 130 trafficked chimpanzees was a relatively small number.  However, it is important to consider the fact that these traffickers target infants because they are the most financially valuable.  As a result, for every infant taken, several group members likely died attempting to protect it from capture.  This can have irreversibly negative affects on chimpanzee populations.  Chimpanzees have very slow reproduction rates and require a high degree of parental investment to survive.  Although hundreds of individual chimpanzees have been ripped from their family troops, thousands have suffered indirectly.

What Can We Do?

Great ape trafficking is a multi-continental global problem, however there are still things we can do on an individual level to prevent it from continuing.  The reason zoos are willing to spend $20,000 for a live chimpanzee is because they know hundreds of thousands of people will pay to see them in captivity.  When you visit zoos that have great apes, whether in North America, Europe or Asia, make sure you know where the great apes came from.  Were they born in captivity?  Or were they smuggled into the country illegally?  If we, as consumers, refused to give zoos that participate in great ape trafficking our money, there would be no sense for them to continue engaging in the destructive trade.  Raise awareness about this issue by sharing and discussing information related to great ape trafficking, and contact your local zoo to make sure you know about the origin of their chimpanzees.  If we allow this to continue, zoos may be the only remaining refuge for our closest relatives.

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About Cadell Last
I am a science educator, freelance science writer, and founder of The Advanced Apes based in Toronto, Ontario. In the past my academic research focused on the evolution, ecology, and behaviour of non-human primates (i.e., chimpanzees, gorillas, ring-tailed lemurs). Currently, my official blog, The Ratchet, can be found via The Advanced Apes and Svbtle. I enjoy exploring recent research in human evolutionary sciences, as well as biology, ecology, astronomy, physics, and computer science. My work has been featured in Scientific American, American Humanist, Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, and Jane Goodall Institute of Canada. I am also exploring science popularization in new mediums in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios with an animated YouTube channel. You can contact me on Twitter (@cadelllast) or via email: cadell.last@gmail.com

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