Friday, 9 June 2017

IVORY COAST: Animal Trafficers Sentenced To Six Months In Prison

Two men have been sentenced to six months in prison in the first case of wildlife trafficking brought in Ivory Coast.

A government lawyer said the judgement sends a signal that animal trafficking is being taken seriously.
The men were arrested while trying to sell an infant chimp to a BBC reporter posing as the representative of a wealthy Asian buyer.

Chimpanzees are in such sharp decline they are listed as endangered.Those in West Africa are judged to be critically endangered.
Since Ibrahima and Mohamed Traore have remained in prison since their detention last December, they are deemed to have already served their sentences and are therefore free.

Infant chimpanzees are in huge demand as pets in homes and commercial zoos in the Gulf states and China.
The dealers were arrested in a dramatic raid staged by Ivorian detectives working with international police organisation Interpol, acting on information.

During the operation, a baby chimpanzee later named Nemley junior was freed and taken into the care of wildlife officials.
After becoming used to the keepers at the zoo in Abidjan the baby chimpanzee showed signs of recovery.
However he has since become unwell with wildlife experts raising concerns for his future.

According to a local charity, although Nemley junior is feeding, he remains thin.One major concern is that he is too small to join older chimps at the zoo but becomes stressed if kept on his own.

In the wild, baby chimpanzees usually stick close to their mothers for four to five years.

Nemley junior was seized by poachers who would have killed his parents and other members of his family.
During the investigation, Ibrahima Traore sent videos of baby chimpanzees for sale, some were only a few months old.He boasted of his ability to evade international export controls.

One technique, which he demonstrated in a video, was to hide a chimp in a secret compartment in a shipping case with other less rare animals, which can be legally exported, placed above it.

Another smuggling method that he outlined was to obtain forged or fake copies of international export permits.
These are issued under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) and are only supposed to be used for legitimate transfers between registered institutions.

During the BBC investigation, Ibrahima sold to the investigators one of these permits, apparently issued by the National Parks department of Liberia.

We are delighted that the first ever wildlife crime prosecution in Ivory Coast has resulted in a conviction, a custodial sentence and a fine," Cites secretary-general John Scanlon said.

He also commended the authorities in the Ivory Coast for pursuing the prosecution of the criminals, thereby sending an important message to the community that wildlife trafficking was a criminal offence.

Currently under Ivorian law, the maximum penalty for wildlife crime is one year in prison. A new law with tougher penalties is being prepared.

The lawyer acting for the Ivory Coast government, Mohamed Lamine Faye, said:
"Even if we would have liked a harsher sentence, we can only function within the limits of our laws on the protection of endangered animals, which date back to 1965."

He apointed out that chimps were kept as pets by thousands of Ivorians, and the national and international trade is lucrative.
In court the TraorĂ©s admitted they could receive $1,400 (£1,100) for a chimp. If they sell 10 in a year, that is more than enough to have a comfortable life.

In demand as pets in wealthy homes or as performers in commercial zoos, baby chimpanzees command a price tag of $12,500, a little under £10,000, but sometimes more.

Each capture of a live infant like this one exacts a terrible cost on chimp populations.

The usual tactic used by poachers is to shoot as many of the adults in a family as possible. This prevents them from resisting the capture of the baby and their bodies can then be sold as bushmeat. To obtain one infant alive, up to 10 adults are typically slaughtered.

One has to kill the mother, one has to kill the father, explained Colonel Assoumou Assoumou, an expert in wildlife crime with Ivory Coast Police. If our ancestors had killed them, nowadays we wouldn't even know about chimpanzees.

Once captured, these baby chimps then enter a sophisticated chain that stretches from the poachers in the jungles to middlemen, who arrange false export permits and transport, and ultimately to the buyers.

The animals are in high demand in the Gulf states, south-east Asia and China, with buyers prepared to pay high prices and additional fees to help bypass international controls. And while they may be well looked-after while they are young, chimpanzees soon become too strong and potentially violent to be kept in a home.

Karl Ammann, a Swiss wildlife activist who campaigns against chimp trafficking, describes it as a kind of slavery and warns that when chimps cease being cute infants, they face a terrible fate.

They still have 90% of their life ahead of them, he said. They get locked in some cage and maybe even killed in some cases because they have outlived their useful pet stage. That for me is just impossible to accept.

An estimated 3,000 great apes, including orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees, are lost from the wild every year as a result of illegal trade, according to the UN Environment Programme. They are either sold, killed during the hunt or die in captivity.

About two thirds of the apes lost are chimpanzees, an endangered species.

Western chimpanzees are judged to be especially vulnerable, so are categorised as critically endangered. There are no more than 65,000 left and probably far fewer.

Some 1,800 apes were seized by authorities in 23 countries while being trafficked between 2005 and 2011, according to the Great Ape Survival Partnership, an alliance of more than 100 governments and other organisations. A quarter of those apes rescued were chimps.

Although it is unknown how many smuggled apes reach their destinations undetected, investigations suggest the total is almost certain to be higher than previously thought.

The illegal trade in great apes is made possible by the determination of the smugglers and the ease with which international laws on buying and selling endangered species can be evaded.

Trading of endangered wild animals and plants is tightly controlled under the Cites agreement - the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - which aims to protect all wildlife under threat.

Under the convention, chimpanzees, which are awarded the highest level of protection (a listing under what is known as Appendix 1), can only be exported under a very limited number of exemptions. For example, the animals need to have been bred in captivity (which is not known to happen in West Africa) and exporting and importing organisations need to be registered with Cites.

At Interpol, which facilitates international law enforcement cooperation, wildlife smuggling is a priority, but national governments have stipulated that the funding and investigative effort should be focused on the highest-profile threats, such as the slaughter of elephants and rhinos.

David Higgins, manager of Interpol’s Environmental Security Unit, admitted the region of West Africa had not been a priority - and nor had the smuggling of great apes.

Because such crimes did not threaten the economic well-being of a country, or its political stability, they did not compel governments to respond, he said, and the resources were simply not there.

Without the funding, we can’t do anything, he said. So with primates, unfortunately, our information is not as strong as it could be.

He urged states to step up and offer the required financial investment.

Yes, we need the global community’s attention on this and we call upon that level of support.