Chimps in Danger – Time to Turn The Tide

Dear Friends.

We’ve done pretty much everything to chimpanzees.

We’ve shot them into space, used them to sell tea, smuggled their babies as exotic ‘pets’, dressed them up as clowns in the circus, experimented on them for dubious medical research – even, in some parts of the world, eaten them.

And yet we have failed to do the one thing that really matters – we have failed to protect them and their natural forest home.

The BBC’s in-depth report on the cynical smuggling of live baby chimps from West Africa to markets in the Middle East and the Far East, broadcast this week, has shocked millions.

The look of helpless despair in the face of ‘Nemley Junior’, the infant chimp recovered in a sting operation, carried out with officers from the Cote d’Ivoire Police and Interpol, touched a million hearts.

And yet, while those concerned with the ravages of wildlife crime focus on elephants and rhino, the criminal syndicates intent on illegally trading our closest living relative remain largely ignored and untouched.

Conservation and law enforcement organisations such as LAGA (Last Great Ape) and the EAGLE network, together with campaigning individuals like world-famous photographer Karl Amman, have, for too long, been lone voices, trying to bring attention to a despicable trade that has probably caused the death of 4,000 chimpanzees in the last 10 years.

Even top Interpol officials such as David Higgins and the Secretary General of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), John Scanlon, lament the low level of attention and meagre funding that has been directed towards finding and bringing to justice those behind the trafficking.

Maybe the BBC’s investigation will start to change that? No one who saw the reports can fail to have been moved – and now it is time for action.

But what will it take?

Well money, for sure. Money to fund intelligence gathering, enforcement, judicial training, assisting prosecutors, and more. For too long, wildlife crime, including the live trade in great apes, has been regarded as a low risk/high reward activity. Laws need to be changed and judges motivated to exponentially increase the risk. Long custodial sentences, together with the sequestration of assets of crime – houses, cars, bank accounts – will make many criminals think again.

How much money I can’t say, but given that the illegal wildlife trade is worth up to $30billion a year, would a few million be too much to ask?

We also need to change attitudes, and that requires political will. While it remains acceptable for wealthy individuals in the Middle East to ‘own’ a status symbol ‘pet’ such as a chimp (or a cheetah), or while audiences in China still regard juvenile chimps (the adults are too dangerous), dressed up in costumes and performing ‘marriage ceremonies’ in circuses and zoos as amusing, then change will be glacially slow.

But we have seen how fast things can change when there is political will. The fact that China is now a leader in terms of addressing the bloody ivory trade (while the UK drags its feet) is clear evidence of that.

We also need to accept our own responsibility. Look for chimps on Instagram (other social media platforms are available) and you’ll finds dozens, hundreds of ‘selfies’ featuring endangered wildlife such as chimps, lion and tiger cubs, and more. People pay to have that ‘once in a lifetime’ photo and that’s also what drives the illegal trade. We all have a responsibility to pledge never to have our photo taken with an exotic ‘pet’. And if we see some activity involving wild animals when we are traveling, we can do something about it by reporting what we see to Born Free. We can all do something!

And if there is anyone out there with the financial resources to help profoundly turn the tide then please do contact me directly.

Otherwise, if you would like to join me in sponsoring the lifetime care of a rescued baby chimp, then please do consider helping care for Sara or Chinoise through Born Free.

David Shukman and the BBC, together with the dedicated wildlife officers of Cote D’Ivoire, have brought this disgusting trade to the attention of the world. Nemley Junior has been rescued from the hands of the traffickers. Maybe, just maybe, the tide has begun to turn.

Blogging off.


Will Travers OBE
Born Free Foundation

5 Responses to “Chimps in Danger – Time to Turn The Tide”

  1. Donna Mackenzie Says:

    Just when you think things can’t get any worse for animals along comes this heartbreaking story. No words are strong enough to describe the lowlife humans involved in this, nor is there any punishment severe enough. Sincerely hope we can get little Nemley Junior to a sanctuary asap. Well done the BBC for exposing this vile trade.

  2. Beth Says:

    I think it is important to remember, that one person can make a tremendous difference in absolutely anything… You might just be the weight required on that scale of justice that one small voice, that one small action, that one small act of kindness
    Equivocal to the momentum of a small butterfly creating a global Sunami if it beats its wings at the correct time

    Letters join together in a wave of global action President Trump has already shown what one man is capable of doing, letters stepped out with equal purpose and direction and change this tragic in moral and historic global culture we are all equally responsible for the inherent cruelty of mankind and the possible change to a better education ethos and moral state of mind and being that stems from love rather than hate surely deep in the heart of everybody in the court of that being there is genuine love of this planet and its inhabitants

  3. Carol gardner Says:

    Please stop abducting baby animals from their mothers for ridiculous sales to people with too much money until they are fed up with them … this is so heartbreaking it had to stop

  4. Gill Gilbey Says:

    Dear Will,
    I agree with you, cynical is the word.Money obviously helps to rescue individuals and give them sanctuary but surely its a much bigger problem. There is a cynical lack of will by those at government level home and abroad to DO anything.The sheer poverty in Africa is exploited by those from abroad with money.
    Today the Daily Mirror on its front page has the face of a Gorilla in the Congo with the headline “Driven to extinction by our mobile phones” .We all need to take individual and collective responsibility for our actions.Reaching large numbers of people is vital.
    Parliament debates stopping the uk ivory trade on 6/2/17 I hope they will do the right thing and instigate a complete ban.

  5. sabrina Says:

    So will you be discussing the illegal trade of chimps in the next CITES meeting in November this year?