The 26th January 2012, a meeting, called by our Swedish Minister of Trade, was held in Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania. I was honored to be called to this meeting and it was in aid of trying to get CITES (Convention for International Trade of Endangered Species) Secretariat and other organizations to have a closer cooperation in order to try to stop the illegal trade of Great Apes, both alive and the meat from these apes.
Representatives from GRASP (Great Apes Survival Partnership) that, like CITES, falls under UNEP, were present, as well as representatives from WCO (World Customs Organization), GAPIN (Great Apes Integrity Program), UNODC (United Nations Organization against Drugs and Criminality), PASA (Pan African Sanctuary Alliance), as well as local representatives from Tanzania for WWF, TRAFFIC and Tanzanian National Parks and then me, who was there as myself, but called it “African Apes.”
The meeting was called in order to try to get a closer cooperation in place, between first of all CITES
Secretariat and other organizations, NGO's and others, as well as private people, which CITES has not had in the past. They have sometimes cooperated with the WCO and some of the other organizations represented at this meeting, but more often than not, there has been no cooperation at all with some of them, like PASA, or private individuals. It was a very useful meeting in many respects, and it is always good to meet people face to face that one then can correspond with on email in various issues. It was very clear that CITES has not really taken the issue of bushmeat seriously, which is something that WCO has to look into as well. Today there is a lot of so called bushmeat coming into many western countries. All this is illegal whether it is CITES listed animals or not, as they have no veterinarian certificates at all. All meat is not CITES listed, but a lot is, and there are often parts of gorillas and chimpanzee along with pangolin and parts of elephants among the meat being smuggled into EU countries.
Our Minister said in her opening talk of the meeting, that the latest reports from Paris was that they have discovered that at least five tons of bushmeat came into the Charles de Gaulle airport every week. If one adds that to the figure from Heathrow, which is one ton a day, then the equation is scary, even before we have talked about the other ports of entry, like Brussels, Amsterdam, Zurich, Frankfurt etc. It is a serious matter and the Great Apes and other highly threatened animals are among smuggled meat.
We are all aware that the rhino is on the brink of extinction, and our argument is, do we have to wait until the apes are in the same situation which would only take a year or so, before this problem is started to be dealt with?
Live apes taken out of Africa
The other fact is, that there are so many apes that are also taken out alive from Africa, and we are fully aware of where some of them are held, all illegally, and in countries which are signed members to CITES, and yet, nothing is done about it. These issues were also brought up and we are not trying to get things to be different, and that some of these apes, hopefully all, can be re-patriated to at least proper sanctuaries in Africa, so there is a lesson to be learnt here. One should not be able to take out CITES animals that are on Appendix 1 from the wild, and nothing is done about it at all. That is against all the CITES rules and regulations. If the countries in question are not reprimanded and suspended, as well as the proper regulations are followed and the animals returned to their country of origin, or at least that the country of origin can say in which country, with a proper sanctuary facility, they would like them to be placed, then CITES is not functioning at all as it should do, and as it was intended.
It is high time to start to look into what is happening with CITES and try to get it to function properly. We need CITES, but we need it to be the body it was set up to be – to stop the illegal trade – and not as now, to do nothing, or very little about it.
What is CITES doing?
Another question is whether CITES is a trade organization or a wildlife and plant protection organization. Or both? CITES was set up to regulate the trade of various species of animals and plants, in order to stop them going extinct. But has it worked at all? The answer is, not really. The main reason is that the secretariat has not followed the convention text in respect of countries that have broken against the convention. Countries have not been suspended even in cases where hard evidence exist that they have broken the rules over and over again and for years. If you break against rules that you have signed on to follow, reprimands, suspensions and sanctions must be applied.
Hopefully, if we all help and cooperate, this serious illegal trade can be dealt with before it is too late. Our Minister said this was the first meeting in this matter, but certainly not the last! We all think it is important that we meet at least once a year.
Minister takes the issue seriously
I am so grateful and happy that the Swedish Minister of Trade has taken this issue seriously and has been working very hard in getting some results. She started GAPIN within WCO, and that alone is fantastic, and a great achievement! I am so happy that we can start to work towards the goal, to put an end to all this illegal trade and that the animals can be more protected in their right environment. Today, there are far too many apes that are either killed or taken alive and put into private collections or zoos, mostly in Asian or Arab countries.
The trade is escalating, not slowing down, so it is going the wrong way. Therefore it is so important that there is active cooperation and that we all work together so we can get to grips with it. Today, it is one of the largest illegal markets in the world. The illegal drugs trade is greater, and at times weapon smuggling is larger, otherwise wildlife, dead or alive, is the second largest smuggled commodity globally.
From left to right; Michael Wamithi (PASA), Me (Ann Olivecrona), Swedish Minister of Trade Eva Björling and Doug Cress (GRASP), January 26 2012, in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.
Meeting with Swedish Minister for the Environment
The second Swedish Minister I had a meeting with this winter was our new Minister for the Environment, Lena Ek. It was great to meet her as CITES is really on her table. She had, of course, been informed about the meeting in Dar-es-Salaam, and was happy that the issue had been brought up. She wanted to hear what I had to say about it all and about what one can do in order to understand the fact that the situation for the Great Apes in the world is extremely serious. She had some very good suggestions and we hope they can be implemented in the near future. Lena Ek’s main reason for being in Nairobi was the 40th anniversary of the creation of UNEP, which coincided with the Stockholm Convention in 1972. CITES falls under UNEP as well as GRASP. The Minister had very little time as her program was very tight, but we managed to get half an hour, which was great.
We decided to meet again when I am in Sweden in the autumn. Lena Ek told me she would meet the Minister for Trade to discuss future moves on this issue. I am again so grateful that there is another Minister who wants to try to make a difference and work towards halting the illegal trade and the smuggling of great apes. I hope a platform can be found to get this in motion as soon as possible, so that other countries in the western world and within the EU will wake up to understand that it is an extremely serious issue.
Bushmeat into Sweden?
Do we even know how much bushmeat comes into Sweden per week? I don't think anybody has done a research on that, but I am sure it comes into Sweden when it comes into all the other EU countries. Perhaps a proper research needs to be carried out along with better control by customs officials at our borders – airports, harbors, and not to forget, the Öresund Bridge.
I am convinced that if a serious investigation was made, lots of illegal bushmeat would be found entering Sweden as well. In the USA they didn’t think they had a problem as their security was so strict after the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. They had a surprise when an investigation was done and it was found that even more illegal bushmeat went into airports inside the USA than to any airport in Europe!
The Swedish Minister of Environment Lena Eek (left) and me (Ann) during a meeting in Nairobi on 22 February, 2012.
Cooperation is the key
Cooperation is the key to a solution, but also stricter regulations on the illegal trade and to deal with it like the crime it is. Have we even got the right laws to prosecute a person who either brings in meat from CITES listed animals, or smuggles live CITES listed animals? Are they hard enough to deter anybody from doing it? How many countries that have signed the CITES convention have national laws that allow them to prosecute anybody breaking CITES rules and regulations? If so, what are the penalties? Perhaps Sweden should ask the CITES Secretariat to make a check to find out which of their member countries have added these laws to their national laws, and what are the repercussions today for breaking them?
It will continue to be a problem unless the penalties for committing such illegal acts are hard enough to deter the criminals who are engaged in this very lucrative illegal business. One can never get to terms with it unless there are penalties and that they are implemented, which they of course cannot be, if no national laws are in place in the various CITES member countries.
You realize that there is still a lot to be done, but it must be done fast or it will be too late for the Great Apes’ survival in the wild.
I'll be back with more later!