Asian circus shows surge in great apes, trafficking

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus are closing after 146 years, citing declining ticket sales . Growing antipathy among Americans to circus shows that treat animals inappropriately or inhumanely is contributing to declining sales, says People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Primatologist Julia Galluci said.

However, in certain parts of Asia, where circuses and entertainment that force animals to perform tricks are on the rise, such feelings of pity do not currently exist.

Asia’s growing zoos and safari parks typically have great apes (juvenile chimpanzees and orangutans) dressed up like clowns, posing with tourists, dancing and roller-skating to entertain spectators. , there is an increasing number of large-scale shows that have “monkeys” behave like humans. Ringling, on the other hand, stopped performing great apes in the early 1990s.

For conservationists, the illegal trade of endangered great apes for Asian entertainment should never be allowed. This raises serious animal welfare issues with captivity training and training in zoos and safari parks in Asia.   

Wild individuals, not captive-bred individuals

In theory, Asian zoos and safari parks could legally keep great apes for show or obtain captive-bred animals from abroad. However, as the evidence reported below shows, many animals performing in Asia have been illegally removed from the wild as cubs, and continue to do so.

TRAFFIC, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, recently released a report detailing the demand for monkeys in wildlife attractions in Peninsular Malaysia and Thailand. The report reveals that most of the great apes appearing in attractions are either brought from the wild or are unidentifiable due to spurious records. For example, the authors found that 57 facilities in Thailand had 51 orangutans on the show, but only 21 total orangutans were listed on each studbook.

Additionally, a China-based animal rights group (requiring anonymity due to ongoing undercover investigations) believes that most great apes in Chinese animal shows were originally raised in the wild. In fact, some shows even publicize that the chimpanzees they feature were born and raised in Africa.

Two administrative divisions in China have banned the use of animals in circus shows, but animal rights groups have reported that chimpanzees were used in performances at 11 safari parks or zoos in China. . At least six of them featured wild chimpanzees.

Daniel Stiles, who manages the Great Ape Abolition Program (PEGAS), has been investigating the trade in great apes for four years. Since 2013, he has made numerous trips to the Middle East, China and Southeast Asia, and noticed an increase in circus-style shows featuring chimpanzees and orangutans in those regions.

The largest and most sophisticated Chinese circus shows attract large crowds, Stiles said. During the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) during this time, the Chimelong Group reportedly welcomed 30 million tourists to the safari park a day.

TRAFFIC’s research and undercover investigations in China have certainly led to an increase in animal performance shows, but it is not necessarily the case that zoo and circus owners are aware that they are ignoring international trade laws. It has been proven to be unlimited. It is possible that the Chinese importers are complicit, but in theory they may just be unaware that they are breaking the law, as counterfeit records can only be proven through the final supply chain in Africa. . Officials from China and Thailand did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Damaged “shooting tools” and actors

Juvenile great apes are traumatized when they are first captured in Africa, and then re-traumatized when they are trafficked to Asia (often with insufficient food and care). They are then sent to zoos, circuses, and safari parks, where they are held in horrendous conditions deprived of what social monkeys need to thrive (appropriate care, affection, and monkey-to-monkey interaction). It is said that Rigorous training only makes the trauma worse.

Great apes removed from the wild as juveniles are extremely vulnerable. He also manages the Lester E. Fisher Center for Monkey Research and Conservation at the Chicago Lincoln Park Zoo, knowing that the first year of life is critical for healthy development. explains Stephen Ross.

Asian animal attraction trainers typically train young chimpanzees and orangutans as young as only a few months old as photographic props and charge tourists to have the monkeys appear in front of them, Stiles said. reports. And once the primates are grown, they are trained to perform inhumane performances, from boxing matches to dancing.

Because chimpanzees are social learners, young chimpanzees in captivity often imitate the behavior of their handlers, Galluci explained. But both Galluci and Ross are convinced that the choreographic training required for primate shows will always involve animal cruelty.

“To train an animal to perform, arguably the animal has to be beaten (and should be) to obey, and rewarded with food for good behavior,” said Stiles. The thing is, animals aren’t just traumatized, they can be malnourished.”

Ross has conducted extensive research on the behavior of chimpanzees in captivity, comparing the behavior of chimpanzees that have been kept as pets or performers from an early age, and those that have been exposed to other chimpanzees extensively as juveniles. Consequently, adult chimpanzees raised by humans with limited interaction with other monkeys (even chimpanzees who have spent years happily in improved conditions such as reserves) are less extroverted. he discovered. This introverted personality impairs their ability to socialize properly with other chimpanzees. The resulting loss of wild qualities means that those primates have no chance of being safely returned to the wild.

More importantly, Ross also found that familiarity makes a big difference in how audiences perceive performance animals and wild animals, which undermines the idea that they are in urgent need of protection.

In one study, viewers who often saw chimpanzees in commercials and television unwittingly assumed that “common” animals like chimpanzees were more numerous and less endangered than other great ape species. The researchers found that If Asian show-goers were to make similar leaps of theory, it would be a good idea to ask them to understand the need for conservation of great apes and the harmful effects of animal attractions on captive primates. It will be difficult to notice the effect.

Also, as monkeys get older, they tend to dislike their owners less. Adult primates are more difficult to manage, not to mention more powerful. This further increases the danger to the public and keepers.

Adult chimpanzees are particularly dangerous, as in 2009 a captive chimpanzee in Connecticut attacked a friend of its owner and nearly killed her. (This event caused Americans to change their minds about keeping chimpanzees as pets.)

TRAFFIC has questioned what will happen to Asian performance monkeys once they ‘retire’, stating in its ‘Monkey Demand Report’ that ‘the future of monkeys too old to perform is uncertain’. If it continues to be legal to use animals for filming and performing in Asia, each facility will inform the relevant national authorities of details such as “care and housing” after the animals retire. recommends.

Photojournalist and investigator Karl Ammann argues that Asian performing monkeys are often forced into secluded cramped cages or simply disappear. The lucky monkey spends the rest of its life in an animal sanctuary.

The video, obtained by PEGAS, was shot by a trafficker in Ivory Coast to show potential customers that they were selling baby chimpanzees. Photo courtesy of PEGAS

trade size

Great ape trafficking is rarely reported and is often trafficked, making it difficult to determine the number of occurrences. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), in its 2013 report ” Stolen Apes “, revealed that 1,808 great apes were illegally removed from the wild between 2005 and 2011, but they were never confirmed. Only a few cases were reported. Far more than this has undoubtedly flowed into the black market without leaving a trace, and multiple studies have shown that more great apes are being hunted or transported than have ever been seized. is shown to be dead.

TRAFFIC wrote in its report that “the number of great apes that reach their final destination, the purchaser, is likely to be much lower than the number that die during capture or transport .  ing. Hard data is hard to come by, but TRAFFIC contends that deaths occur anywhere along the supply chain – from capture to transportation to the final buyer.

The UNEP report agrees on this point, stating that “these numbers appear to grossly underestimate the actual number of illicit transactions that occur.” To improve monitoring, UNEP encourages governments and NGOs to work together to keep and share records.

When it comes to wild chimpanzees, their intimate social groups mean that the capture of one juvenile kills a large number of adults. A BBC study found that plucking one cub from the wild essentially killed 10 adults. UNEP has concluded that as many as 15 great apes die for every single illicit trade. Adults are commonly shot and then processed into bushmeat, which is either consumed locally or shipped to cities ( potentially as far afield as Europe ). Adult skulls and parts are also traded and transported through illegal supply chains.

Great ape trafficking is a growing problem in countries such as Cameroon . This is because logging roads are extending human activity into great ape habitat, and more forests are being converted to oil palm plantations or cleared for other uses in Africa and Southeast Asia . With more opportunities to encounter and capture animals in the wild, poor hunters and sophisticated poachers (often heavily armed) can seek out great apes for capture and sell them to trafficking networks. sexuality increases.

UNEP estimates that between 2005 and 2011, 22,218 great apes were pulled from the wild due to trafficking. About 56% of the great apes seized by authorities were thought to be orangutans, but about 64% were actually chimpanzees. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), chimpanzees, which are 98% identical to human DNA, are an “endangered species” with only 150,000 individuals worldwide. Orangutans are even worse, listed as Critically Endangered, with WWF estimating fewer than 120,000 remain in the wild . But the actual number is likely much lower than that estimate, says Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) .

Worryingly, UNEP believes that the trade in great apes continues to increase to such an extent that wild populations are clearly being lost. The reason for the increase is fueled by the high demand for juvenile primates as pets (mostly in the Middle East) and as performance animals in Asia.

circumvent the law

CITES (CITES: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international treaty issued in 1975 to ensure that trade in wild fauna and flora does not threaten the survival of species. . There are currently 183 States parties to the treaty, and each member state is required to establish its own domestic laws for the operation of the treaty.

In a 2014 report , DLA Piper Law Firm noted that even if all parties enacted some legislation to meet CITES requirements, such international law is sometimes far from needed, They said they contained legal loopholes and were not fully implemented.

Arrest rates are very low, with only 27 arrests in Africa and Asia between 2005 and 2011, for example. But UNEP found that over 1,800 great apes had been reported to have been illegally traded during that time. Prosecutions are rare and penalties are mostly light, preventing further criminal activity. As a result, the illegal wildlife trade knows no bounds. According to the DLA Piper report , the wildlife trade is now the fourth most valuable form of trafficking (after drugs, guns and human trafficking).

It should be noted that some trades in great apes are justified, as are various species. Species protected by CITES are classified into three categories, Appendices I, II and III. Appendix I applies to endangered species, and listed species cannot be traded internationally unless imported for non-commercial purposes. Appendix II lists species that are threatened with extinction if trade is not restricted. Although all species of great apes are listed in Appendix I, if they are captive-bred in facilities registered with CITES, they would belong to Appendix II and thus be legal. can be traded effectively.

However, it is common for dealers to cheat the CITES system, sometimes claiming that they are selling captive-bred animals when they are actually wild animals, and forging permits to export great apes. ing. Pervasive fraud makes counterfeiting easy, Ammann said.

Most of the great apes imported by China between 2009 and 2011 came from Guinea, and China used permits stating that all animals traded were captive-bred. But conservationists knew that Guinea didn’t have a single monkey farm, so they asked CITES to intervene. In fact, “CITES does not register chimpanzee and orangutan housing facilities for commercial purposes anywhere in the world,” explains Juan Carlos Vasquez, CITES/legal and compliance chief.

After a thorough investigation, CITES determined that Guinea had forged permits to illegally export wild monkeys. As a result, CITES suspended all commercial trade in CITES-registered species in Guinea in 2013, after which the head of Guinea ‘s CITES management authority was arrested for illegally issuing permits ( he was found guilty). but was later pardoned by the President of Guinea ).

China, a trading partner in Guinea’s supply chain, has denied causation for these violations and claims that Chinese authorities were unaware that the imported chimpanzees were wild. However, both Stiles and Ammann suspect China was complicit. That said, since the importation has already taken place, legal action against China must be taken by China itself in accordance with its own domestic laws.

Thailand, like China, is a member of CITES and has its own laws on conservation, but Thai laws do not protect most alien species. If a person is caught possessing a legally protected plant or animal, the burden of proof to prove that the import was legally recognized rests with the Thai State, not with any individual. According to TRAFFIC, Thailand is currently drafting a new law that, if enacted, could protect alien species. At the CITES Conference of the Parties in January 2016, CITES urged all states to eliminate such legal loopholes.

think of a solution

From individuals to organizations, everyone develops and uses creative tactics to combat wildlife crime. New technologies under development range from citizen reporting apps to DNA testing kits suitable for use in the field, to databases that track wildlife trade in real time.

New York University is working on a revolutionary web crawler that detects postings about the sale of animals and wildlife products on the web . But Stiles warns that the crawler’s uses may be limited, as the live animal trade primarily takes place on social media platforms rather than websites. Social media has recently proved to be the best place for great ape dealers to illicitly communicate with buyers, especially in the Middle East.

In July 2015, the Wildlife Justice Commission (WJC) was secretly launched in The Hague (Netherlands). As a non-profit organization, the WJC helps governments by investigating and prosecuting wildlife crime to “encourage justice”.

If talks with governments fail, the WJC can hold hearings in The Hague to have impartial experts review cases of wildlife crime. However, WJC hearings are not legally binding, unlike judicial bodies such as the International Court of Justice. Nonetheless, their hearings expose wildlife crime and advise on measures to deter crime.

“CITES is just an international treaty, so it has to be a national effort,” explains Executive Director Olivia Swaak-Goldman. “I hope that through coordinated research and open trials, we can end wildlife crime. We just don’t have much time.”

The startling reality is that as long as there is a public demand for boxing and dancing chimpanzees and photo-taking orangutans in Asia, there will be no poachers or traffickers abroad willing to take legal risks to supply great apes. There is no end to importers who forge documents in order to obtain great apes from Japan, and promoters who try to breed (abuse) great apes.

If we want to protect great apes, Asians, like Americans, must first acknowledge that primates belong in the wild, not on roller skates or boxing rings.

Leave a Comment