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Newsletter from Ann – March 2013

A meeting with the Swedish Minister of Environment was scheduled for the 20th of February, but it had to be cancelled as she unfortunately was too ill to travel to her meeting in Nairobi.

Instead, I have finalized a long letter, and also received two different reports on how bad the situation is regarding ape smuggling and the illegal trade in the world. One report is from GRASP, called Stolen Apes, and it was presented on 4th March 2013 at the CoP (Conference of Parties) for CITES in Bangkok. The second report is Karl Ammann’s report called Conarkry Connection, and is about the trade of at least 130 chimps and 10 gorillas, from Guinea Conarkry, to China, between 2007 and 2010. They all went on permits stating they were born in captivity in Guinea. Although CITES Secretariat was told in 2008 that there is no place in Africa where apes are bred commercially, they failed to even visit Guinea until 2010!

Even CITES Secretariat found this to be the case at the visit, but up until today nothing has been done about it. The meeting in Bangkok started with Guinea being suspended from trading in CITES animals, as they failed to file a report about the cases of apes that have left their country going to China. The only remaining question is, why not suspend China as well?? Without an order, the trade would not have taken place! Surely China knew that there is no place that breeds apes for their use in substandard zoos and circuses? We realize that they would not get chimps from facilities in Europe since they would not sell to places where baby chimps from the wild are not kept!

The fact that CITES Secretariat have failed to even look at the option to repatriate these apes shows the total lack of ambition to adhere to their own Convention text. It states clearly that they first of all should be repatriated to the country of origin, but as most of them are probably smuggled into Guinea to start with, they do not even originate from there! One wonders whose responsibility it is to do the DNA tests on all these animals? Surely it is up to CITES Secretariat to do it? Furthermore, the Secretariat sits on all the information as to where every individual ape has gone. They made sure nobody was to find out as they brought all the copies left in Guinea to Geneva, and now they refuse to allow anybody to know who imported the apes to China, where they are supposed to be and how many they all are!

Surely one would have thought that we have the right to know where these animals are. After all, who pays for CITES? Taxpayers, which are all of us! We pay for them in our own countries as well as the Secretariat, and Sweden pays more than most countries.

It would be much easier and less costly to track them down if CITES became more transparent, but they are becoming more secretive by the day. They even have secret ballots at the CoP meetings, which shows that even member states do not dare show how they vote! Is there something seriously wrong here? Surely one would have thought that CITES is there to protect the endangered animals from trade, and not fuel the trade.

I am still perplexed how CITES could change from being an Environmental Convention to becoming a Trade Convention, as it was formed during the first ever Environmental Conference held in thr world – in Stockholm 1972. It was agreed that UNEP was to be created and also CITES, which was later formed and signed in Washington the following year, hence why it is referred to as the Washington Convention.

In all the member states it falls under the Ministry of Environment, Agriculture, Wildlife or whichever is responsible for the environment, wildlife and flora in the country. In no single country does it fall under the Ministry of Trade. Why, how and when did it change from being an Environmental Convention to a Trade Convention? That is a valid question!

This is why suddenly all the animal dealers and traders are constantly winning. They know exactly how to play the game, while the rest of the world just stands by watching and nodding and making no effort to change things and to actually try to save the seriously endangered animal species. It is time to stand up against CITES and go back and track down how it all have changed. If it indeed has, or if this is what they claim, because they want to.

Surely if CITES belongs to Trade, all member states should have members from the Ministry of Trade represent them at the meetings. What happened to the Convention that was written to protect the endangered animals and to make sure trade was NOT done with those that are on CITES list Appendix 1? How can a member country say it is our right to carry on with ivory trade because animals have to pay for themselves to live! Maybe we should start the same with people, and start with the people in that country? Do we not have to pay for our existence on this earth? Who makes the rules? With what right can we even say such a thing? What kind of Convention allows people to make statements like that?

I know Mugabe came out with something similar when the CITES CoP was in Harare many years ago, but today, in Bangkok, 2013? Incredible! One would wish that a country could be suspended for saying something like that as it proves they are not serious about trying to save wildlife on this earth. On the contrary, they are as guilty as the hunters and the smugglers and the illegal buyers of all protected wildlife goods and live animals.

Somebody worked out that even if we killed every single elephant alive today, including those in captivity, to take their ivory to the demanding Chinese market, we wouldn’t even come close to meeting that demand! Why not stop the trade all together, as we know fully well that nobody can or is even interested in making a difference between so called legal ivory from stockpiles in southern Africa (if they even have any left) or the illegally shot ivory in the rest of Africa.

Surely the world must start to react, when we in Kenya now have sniffer dogs that sniff for ivory and rhino horns at the airport, and they catch people nearly every night! Kenya does not have any legal ivory, but it is hard to stop any poaching as long as some ivory is called legal, even though it comes from a totally different country.
The same thing happens with apes. It is impossible to track all smuggled apes smuggled, but surely one would have thought that when they are found. CITES Secretariat would repatriate them and help to locate them all, which they have all the paperwork to do!

Instead, nothing at all is done, and probably will not be done unless the private sector and NGO’s start to make a noise again and spend a lot of money, time and effort in doing what the Secretariat is supposed to do! The difference is, the apes are still alive and living under terrible conditions, being beaten to perform tricks for the public, in zoos and circuses, and they have at least 50 years left to live. Ivory is taken from a dead animal and can’t be put back again on the animal, the same goes for the rhino horn.

Surely we should work harder for the live animals to be repatriated to the continent they came from. If there is no space in a sanctuary in their country of origin, there are other sanctuaries that can take them. They then stand a chance of a good life. Furthermore, if and when the time and conditions are right there is nothing to stop some of the individuals that are suitable to be repatriated into the wild in their country and even forest of origin. Like humans, apes are adaptable and they can be kept in good conditions in a non-range country until the time is right. At such a time, agreements between the two countries can be made for a re-release back into the wild.
CITES has become a big disappointment and is gradually becoming a club of people getting together every second year, costing a fortune and talk and talk and there is never any action! The animals are suffering and people in the western world think everything is fine, because CITES works there, at least most of the time. This is not the case in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, South America, and probably not either in former Eastern Europe.
For years, the EU has abstained their votes when it comes to apes or ivory. This is serious, because then they become responsible for the traders winning yet again! Surely by not voting, you agree with the crooks? What is the EU doing and why do they make it easy for the illegal trade to continue, instead of growing a back-bone and standing up for the rights of the endangered animals?

I don’t know how they have voted this year, but if they abstained again, then one has to question what good is CITES really in the form it is today. It is high time an audit is carried out on the entire organization, starting with the Secretariat. The first question should be how the recruitment is done for the jobs. What qualifications are required from of the people working at the Secretariat? Are they relevant to the positions they are holding?
Nairobi in March 2013

Annie Olivecrona

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Mission Statement

The African Apes Foundation's primary target is to provide a safe haven for confiscated and displaced African apes. In addition, the Foundation will help to rescue other wildlife that are in the same precarious situation.