Finally back at home after three safaris in a row as well as a Swedish TV show, called Animal Hospital. I helped the TV‐team getting all the animals as well as with most of the logistics in order to come and film in Kenya. It will be screened on SVT1 in March or the beginning of April 2012. The veterinarians in the series are Bengt Ole Roken, former Wildlife vet at Kolmarden Zoo in Sweden since 1971, now retired, and young upcoming vet Ismael Thoya from KSPCA in Nairobi, who was seriously good and keen to learn, and was better than Bengt on stitching!
In the meantime, I had dinner with Doug Cress, former Executive Director for PASA, and now head of GRASP (Great Apes Survival Partnership) in the UN. He is an old friend and has always supported me when I have rescued chimps in the past. Doug told me that right at this minute there are 16 chimps sitting in Liberia with nowhere to go. No sanctuary can take them as all sanctuaries are full already. Most likely, at least as many are waiting to be rescued in South Sudan. Of course, not to mention Egypt and the mess there is in that country, with illegal apes in many places.
China has taken chimps from Guinea for many years, and last year alone we know with certainty that at least 69 baby chimps went to zoos, circuses and other places! How they can import a highly endangered animal which is supposed to be protected by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and absolutely nothing is done about it? I know that CITES travelled to Guinea, but... Why has the receiving country never been punished? It is the same story over and over. No law enforcement is working at all, anywhere, including CITES Secretariat. I gather there is not even a law enforcement officer in place right now in CITES, so...
Never give up!
Anyhow, I’ll never give up. There is always another little one out there who desperately needs a home, and I keep fighting! I really hope that another sanctuary can be set up very soon so more chimps can get a home, and that China can actually be forced to repatriate all the chimps they have stolen from Africa! CITES needs to establish a far better system with permits that are not so easy to forge. In addition, all member countries should be forced to have the proper stamp showing clearly on all permits, as well as the signature. Too many people claim they have not signed it, “somebody else has signed it”, or “somebody stole the permit”. The saddest thing is that no proof seems to count anymore. If a country fails to follow the CITES rules, absolutely nothing is done about it, which means that CITES has become completely toothless and I wonder what it really stands for. We need the system that regulates the trade, so why is nobody willing to even try to make it work? Why does everybody pay their tax money to an organisation that has never been audited and that clearly does not do its job? In fact, they are doing the opposite by allowing it to happen, saying: “Oh, well the apes are now in China, so that is that”! If I am a member of a golf club in Sweden and take my clubs and start to smash all the windows on the club house and drive my vehicle in the rain all over the greens, will I still allowed to be a member? Hardly! So what is the problem with CITES? Every single member country has signed the treaty and promised to follow the rules. It is clearly stated that they will be suspended if they do not follow them, so why does that never happen? I hate to say the word which comes to my lips, and which many are so sure is the reason. I don't have to say it, I am sure everybody knows what I mean, and that is in Europe!
We handed in the largest protest name list to the EU in 2001 exactly 11 years ago, against the illegal logging of the rain forest in Africa by European logging companies and the illegal killing of the great apes, which follows with the logging. We collected 1.9 million names on EU’s protest lists, and yet nothing has been done about it to this date. It is clear that everybody’s first priority is their own comfort. People do not for one second consider what where the timber actually comes from that is used in their yachts or garden furniture etc. How many totally innocent animals are killed in order to feed the loggers in the forest, and how many apes and other endangered species are killed and eaten, not just in Africa, but brought into Europe every day in suitcases and sold at restaurants. Very few countries have bothered to find out how much comes in and what it is. In England a study was made a long time ago, not long after our protest, and they discovered that over 1 ton of bush meat comes into Heathrow alone – every day! Nobody knows what comes into other European airports, and nobody is willing to even try to find out, as nobody cares. There are a lot of endangered species included in this meat, and some of it is definitely apes.
It is disgusting that we keep allowing this, it is against all our rules. Apart from CITES listed animals, there are no vet certificates either! What if one piece of meat one day is infected with Ebola? Who is to blame? The CITES people? The customs? It would be all of them as they know very well this is coming in every day, yet nothing is done about it. Nor is anyone prosecuted either for committing a crime, which it is! I am saying all this so that everybody can see what an enormous task this is, and the kind of bureaucracy we have to fight against. All these rules were established by the International Community, but it seems that nobody has to follow the rules if you are a country. If I bring in a CITES listed piece of wood I will get prosecuted, but if a ship brings in a full load for a timber company, although the wood is illegal, nothing happens at all! So, are the two sets of laws in this world, one for ordinary people, of which all the smugglers get away, bribing their way, and another for the large companies that can do what they want, and nothing happens.
Who in their right mind believes the piece of paper that accompanies tropical hardwood purchased in Europe that states it has grown on a plantation in Thailand? First question, how big is Thailand? Next, is the entire country a plantation? I don't have to say any more, everybody will realize that the equation does not match. So, what is the conclusion? Since all the wood that comes from Africa - and all the harbours are going flat out 24 hours a day – does not exist in Europe, so where does it all go? Is it possible it has suddenly grown on a plantation in Thailand? We know for sure that twice, and once just recently, people were caught red-handed putting false stamps on wood from Africa stating it came from Thailand. It is quite possible that this has been going on for the last 20 years with nobody bothering to care and look into it. Africa is that far-away continent with never-ending forests! That seems to be the belief of the normal European and sadly of Government officials in all these countries as they have never been to have a look and do not understand there is hardly anything left! Like all politicians, they sit in their ivory towers and dream that the resources are never ending. Nobody bothers to wake up until it is too late.
When the last tree has been cut and the last ape has been killed, people may wake up, but it will be too late. It is a shitty world we are handing over to the next generation. In the meantime we are not even teaching them what to be careful with, all alternative fuels have not been enough investigated. The major oil countries hold the rest of the world in an iron grip and we do what they say. The result will be a certain death for many people in the near future as well as the destruction of many habitats on other continents, such as Asia, Africa and South America. Mark well that these continents hold all our essential rainforests, which are the only thing that can deal with carbon dioxide! We need trees to live and we have known this for as long as we have existed. Somehow we tend to forget the most elementary truths. It is so sad.
Palm oil is gaining importance and oil palms are now grown everywhere because someone in Europe once thought that we are going to need a lot of it. Even for driving our cars on! Hurrah, people say in the countries with rainforests. They cut down the rain forest and get money for the trees and plant oil palms instead! However, it has recently been discovered that palm oil is not good for you.
How will we get our rainforests back?
So how are we going to get the rainforests back? The population in Africa is growing and the land is getting less and less. The desert is growing thanks to our consumption of rainforest trees and palm oil. Who is going to feed them all? Where are they going to live? People need shade as well as food. The rainforest also has a lot of medicinal plants which we do not even know about yet, and probably never will at the rate we are cutting it down. What if the potential cure for cancer and other diseases is right there? We are not as clever as we claim to be. It is time to get back to basics in order to find out what is out there and what can be used in a sustainable way. A rainforest tree can never be cut in a sustainable way, as it always destroys other trees and plants growing near it, and the machines destroy the growth in order to get into the forest. In other words, there is no sustainable logging in a rainforest. We all still are waiting for somebody to explain exactly how sustainable logging is done in a rainforest, as that has been claimed for years, but nobody has had the guts to come forward and tell us – probably as it is not possible.
Why save apes?
Why save the apes, people sometimes ask. Because if we do not, we can’t show people how important they are. Also, there will be no animals to put back into the forests the day people become sensible and stop this nonsense. If we eradicate them all, there is nothing to do afterwards.
It all sound very gloomy doesn't it? Yes, in many ways it is, but there are a few lights in the tunnel! There are a few people who, like me, are trying their best in various ways to get things right and do their work properly. I must lift up two people in particular. They are General Alfred Acwoch and Khamis Deng, but from South Sudan. I have known Alfred since the war when he was in charge of Wildlife for John Garang, the then rebel leader in South Sudan. Khamis was at the time seconded to Khartoum as the CITES officer, so he actually issued the CITES permits and Alfred wrote his letters so I would not have problems getting chimpanzees out from South Sudan according to his own people there, who did not recognise a CITES permit from Khartoum. My luck was, and is, that Alfred and Khamis come from the same town and the same tribe. Both of them have over the years helped me enormously to find and confiscate chimps and hand them over to me for care. They have been instrumental to make sure all permits have been issued correctly and that the chimps could be taken to proper sanctuaries on other countries in Africa.
More sanctuaries needed
Quite a few chimps came to Kenya and some went to South Africa. This year, four females have gone to Uganda. More chimps are there needing a home and, as long as there is a market, more are shot in DRC and the babies are brought across the border and sold to various people. This trade needs to be stopped as well, but as the border is long and the people are uneducated – most of them do not even know they are breaking the law when they sell a baby chimp. The law enforcement needs to be put into place. Easier said than done, in a country that was only created in July this year! One can only have great hopes since these good people are still there. Khamis is now in Juba teaching people about CITES, he is the CITES officer there. Alfred is a senior adviser to the Wildlife Ministry today, and the now Under Secretary of Wildlife is a very well educated man who is very willing to do the right thing. Of course, money is needed for all these things, and hopefully it will come one day from various sources.
In the meantime, we are desperate to set up more sanctuaries in Africa in order to repatriate all the chimps taken out of Africa illegally to China, so we can demonstrate that what they are doing is illegal. Apart from China, also Turkey, Egypt and other Arab countries should be investigated for this illegal trade by the body set up to do so, namely CITES. They have however failed to do so for many years.
GAPIN, WCO, CITES
GAPIN (Great APes and INtegrity ) was set up by Sweden, and I hope is something we can make work. At least it may do something and maybe put CITES to shame so they start to do their job. We can hope that they all realise that the money that are given for specific needs must be accounted for and that the purpose for the money needs to be addressed, and not spend on other things, which was the case the first year. Maybe they are not used to that a country actually checks up on how funds are spent, but they got wise this time around. I hope they have realised that more controls and checks in the future will be carried out by the donor countries. CITES, WCO (World Customs Organization) and GAPIN need to cooperate and GRASP's recommendations to CITES need to be followed, and not just swept under a carpet which has been done in the past.
I am sure that all will come right in the end, but the fight is on before it is too late. I am concentrating on setting up more sanctuaries and rescuing more apes that need homes and we need all the support we can get. Most apes are sitting in areas which are impossible to reach by road due to mines from the war, getting there by air is the only way, Of course there are no regular flights so charter is the only solution – and that does not come free! Also the caring for the apes while one is waiting for all the permits to be completed, a logistical problem in itself. If people see what we go through to do it legally, one wonders why it is so easy to do it illegally.
Blood tests must be done and checked, quarantine on each side, various vet permits and certificates, all that apart from the CITES permits. And it takes forever here in Africa, nothing happens fast anyway.
Minni, Medina and their lucky friends
Our reward is that we save at least some babies. This year we could take four out of Sudan. Two of them had smashed teeth so they were sort of prepped for the arab market so they could not bite anybody. Sadly one in particular, Minni, her teeth had gone septic from the inside, so she was suffering a lot when she ate her food and drank her water and milk. Since then, she has treated by a specialist American dentist who has removed her teeth. He also treated the broken teeth of the other female, Medina, that had suffered the same fate. They are both fine now. Luckily the teeth will grow again as they are both young. The others are fine. Chocolate, always the diplomat in the group is so clever. I have hardly ever come across a more clever chimp! The smallest one, Sara, is now fine, although she arrived near deaths door to Carry in Juba. She was immediately started on Nan milk and she took it like she had never seen food before, which was near the truth. She was so small so milk was her main diet, but she had only been given solid food which most likely her little stomach could not digest. She had a swollen stomach and puffy eyes, but soon she lost her stomach and her eyes became bright and sparkly and she is a really little nice and playful girl these days. Minni eventually adopted her, but not until she had checked out what it was all about. So, Cocoa took her in first, and when Minni decided it was all right, she indicated that she wanted to take over as adopted Mum, and they have never looked back. They are happily in Uganda now but I am still waiting to hear that they have finally been taken to Ngamba Island in Lake Victoria where they are to stay. They had to spend three months in quarantine in Uganda in the Entebbe zoo, close to the island. The quarantine is not too bad, they were allowed a lot of freedom mainly because they were easy to deal with and they came when you called them.
I will be back when I have some more news of various events.
Lots of regards from a cold and rainy Kenya