Illegal trade of African Great Apes is threatening the endangered animals

Every year, thousands of bonobos (pygmy chimpanzee), chimpanzees, and gorillas are killed to fill the demand for pets and attractions, bushmeat, and ceremonial body parts, generating significant revenue for those who make up the illicit supply chains.

The average annual retail value of the international market for live infants and juveniles may be up to $2.1 million to $8.8 million (for these three species), based on published data, a new report by the Global Financial Integrity (GFI) titled Illicit Financial Flows and the Illegal Trade in Great Apes
says. The paper focused on  focuses on the four species that constitute the world’s “great apes”: chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans. They are all endangered, which means that governments try to tightly control and protect their trade, as per the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This leaves a gap, however, between supply and demand, which illegal trading of great apes is filling.

Experts estimate that an average of around 7 bonobos, 14 gorillas, and 92 chimpanzees enter the live trade annually, suggesting a possible international market value of $147,000 to $301,000 for bonobos, $560,000 to $2.1 million per year for gorillas, and $1.4 million to $6.4 million for chimpanzees.

Apart from protecting endangered species, one other important reason governments and several organisations across the world are fighting wildlife smuggling is its links with terrorism.

British investigator Tim Luffman said of illegal wildlife trade when the UK Border Force nabbed some smugglers in June 2015; “on a global scale we’re talking about a huge amount of money and it goes hand in hand with other criminality.”

The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth $19 billion and it keeps expanding. Efforts in recent years have been heavy on discouraging illegal ivory trade. But elephants and rhinoceros are not the only animal species threatened by the activities of daredevil wildlife traders, every animal that commands a fee on the black market does.

Due to how much smugglers can get from just one animal in high demand on the black market, they go through serious danger trying to move wildlife from one place to the other. Many end up dead in the process but it has not deterred them from continuing in the illicit trade.

Global black market information website, Havocscope lists the prices of some exotic animals, based on publicly available information. Gorillas cost $400,000, Orangutan costs $45,000. The scales of Pangolin, the most hunted and trafficked mammal, cost $3,000 per kilogram, while polar bear skin can cost up to $9,000.

According to the report by GFI, Africa supplies significantly more chimpanzees than bonobos or gorillas for the illegal pet trade— potentially 92 per year.  The average annual international retail value for chimpanzees may range from $1.4 million to $6.4 million. Final foreign consumers have paid $15,000 – $70,000 for an infant or juvenile, and consumers in countries to which the animals are native have paid only $100-$300. Poachers, selling to traders and to local consumers, have earned as little as $5 and as much as $360 but most often $20-$100. Traders for the illegal chimpanzee market operate at the village, domestic, and international levels and have received $50-$400, $500-$7,500, and $12,500-$30,000, respectively.

Those involved in the illegal trade have long-standing, specialized networks to collect and transport the animals until the animals get to their final buyers.

Unlike the widely known illegal ivory trade, the trafficking of live animals is a different ball game as concealment is much more difficult and quite expensive.

GFI explains the trade patterns: “A transaction starts when a buyer and seller connect and agree to a price, half of which the buyer typically pays up front and half of which is paid upon receipt of the animal(s). The buyer pays the seller via wire transfer from a bank, a money service business (MSB) like Western Union, or a social media platform such as WeChat, and in most cases the payment is in US dollars. Some buyers and sellers may also be using the hawala system, but there is not a clear or a strong connection with the illegal great ape trade from Africa. The pattern of the money flow is from a bank account or MSB in Asia or the Middle East to the seller’s account in Africa.”

In 2015, the United Nations resolved that illegal wildlife trade be treated as a serious crime both nationally and across borders. Several countries, especially in Africa, have been paying more attention to the illegal trade. Angola has banned the sale of ivory. In March, 32 African nations called on the European Union to stop its ivory trade. At a conference in Botswana aimed at saving African elephants, the country’s President Ian Khama told European leaders to shut their ivory markets and see poaching reduce. The same message goes to leaders in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and China, where primary buyers of Africa’s great apes, who use them as pets, displays of wealth, and commercial entertainment, reside.