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Gorillas and chimps in the desert – A new report by Karl Ammann into the illegal trade in Egypt, and an open letter to PASA/GRASP/LAGA


29 July 2008 Ape Alliance News

Report on visit to Egypt June 28th to July 2nd


Gorillas in the desertAtt. General Maher, Head of the Environmental Police

From: K. Ammann

cc. Dr Sherbiny The Egyptian Society of Animal Friends

cc; Dina Zulficar Animal Welfare Awareness Research Group
cc; John Sellar CITES Geneva


As per our telephone conversation and the meeting with a number of your officers, I am providing below the additional comments regarding some of the findings and events which occurred during my visit and which I feel require the attention of the corresponding law enforcement authorities.


1. The five chimpanzees originally held at the Hauza Hotel in Sharm el Sheikh

Last year in October I asked an individual to visit the Hauza Hotel to establish how many chimpanzees were in residence. Not unexpectedly, he
reported that the cages were empty and no chimpanzees were in sight (we know from various reports that a few months earlier there were five young
chimpanzees at this facility). I asked Dr. Ragi of the CITES Management authority if he knew where the five chimpanzees had been moved to - just
prior to the arrival of the CITES fact finding mission. He first indicated that he thought some of the chimps which were confiscated and were now at
the Giza Zoo originally came from the Hauza Hotel. After some deliberation with representatives of NGOs it became clear that this could not possibly be
the case and that the confiscated chimps came from other well-known locations. Dr Ragi also mentioned that the CITES inspection team visited the
Hauza Hotel and did not find any chimpanzees (unfortunately this does not appear to have been mentioned in the official CITES report.) It would be
interesting to receive some information as to where these 5 chimpanzees are housed today. What condition are they in? Are they in any kind of approved
facility? One with "rescue center" status? And if indeed these are the only chimps present at this new location?


2. The attempt which was made to establish the possible new location where these chimpanzees are being housed

On a past visit to the Hauza Hotel at Sharm El. Sheikh the chimp keeper informed me that the owner of the hotel kept various apes at his house and farm in or near Cairo. Mr. Ashraf Enab provided me with his business card which lists his Ostrich farm venture. Going into the corresponding website one finds the farm is located at kilometer 68 on the Alexandria road and it offers such services as "providing feasibility studies for new investors" - in ostrich farming. After interviewing Mr. Tarik of African Safari, together with a team from the Associated Press, I asked our drivers to stop at the above ostrich farm on our way back to Cairo. We asked at some other farm gates and were directed to a gate and walled in property some 3 kilometers from the main road. Our driver asked at the gate if we could visit the ostrich farm. We were told to wait while some phone calls were being made. Then the gate which had been opened was closed. The driver then looked through the viewing hole in the gate and suggested that we leave since a man in a blue gallabiah was approaching with a semi automatic weapon. We turned the cars around ready to leave when the person in charge, "the engineer," arrived and there were some heated discussions with the drivers in Arabic which I did not understand. Eventually they got back in the cars and we started driving of when two shots were fired. We did not see the shooter at the time and assumed they were fired over the wall as some kind of a warning. About a kilometer down the road a car came driving at us at high speed in the opposite direction. It came to a screeching halt in front of us blocking our way. It carried four or five young men (the AP car behind us drove up on to the bank on the left side and managed to pass us and the road-blocking vehicle). Another heated exchange ensued in Arabic between our driver and two occupants which got out of the car. After about five minutes of this they jumped back in a swerved past us and took off. Our driver concluded that the level of threats uttered in Arabic, the display of a semi-automatic weapon and the actual shooting of it could not possibly be all because of some ostriches or chimpanzees and that there had to be other reasons. We reported the incident to Dr. Ragi and Dr. George of the CITES Management authority and the driver made a corresponding report in Arabic. We were told to file the same report with the Environmental police. There are no signs on the Cairo-Alexandria road which state that foreigners are not allowed to leave the road and enter the desert.


3. Mrs. Heba's whereabouts

During the same meeting with the CITES authorities we were told that Mrs. Heba had now been officially listed by Interpol and that she had fled the country supposedly back to Nigeria and that the Environmental Police had visited here premises several times and there was no sign of her. I sent two contacts, who had in the past helped me to offer Mrs Heba "the right to respond" to allegations made in the film The Cairo Connection, to visit her premises and find out her present whereabouts. The door man confirmed that she was in residence. They went upstairs while the luncheon meal was delivered and saw her two daughters (both implicated in various ape trafficking incidents) and although they did not see Mrs. Heba they had absolutely no doubt that she was in residence. They provided the corresponding report in Arabic to your officials. In our conversation you stated again that the Egyptian law did not provide for any arrest or prosecution of any traffickers, certainly not for being in possession of protected species. This is also backed up by an E-mail from Dr. Fellali, the former head of the CITES management authority, who stated in 2006: "Before proposed amendments of the Law of Environment (No 4 for the year 1994) come to force here in Egypt these individuals can not be tried by a court of Law in Egypt." This however contradicts some of the statements contained in the recent CITES secretariat report concerning its Enforcement-needs assessment mission.

I quoted article 28 of the 1994 law which makes it illegal "to possess, transport, export, import or trade in these species, alive or dead." Article 84 then stipulates a minimum fine of Pounds 5000 and a max of Pounds 50,000 and imprisonment with hard labour (the law seems to specifically state AND, not OR) for offenders. The 1999 Ministerial decree then updates and refers to the 1994 law and takes into consideration all of the specific CITES compliance requirements. The assumption has to be that this law was then ratified. I would welcome some clarification on this issue and any information concerning any legal proceedings against Mrs. Heba.

4. New chimpanzee arrivals at Africa Safari Park on the Cairo-Alexandria road

This Safari Park is open to the public and, as on previous visits, we stopped by to establish any change in the status of their chimpanzee population. We telephoned the owner prior to our arrival and requested an interview which he granted. We first visited the two adult chimps on the rock island. Then next door to the restaurant we were allowed to play with three babies. It would appear the oldest one is from the previous grouping we filmed in 2006 but based on size the smaller two are new additions (I will have to compare the photographs). We then were shown three new adults on a relatively large island. There were two males and one female in good condition. AP then interviewed Mr. Tarik, the owner, who confirmed that he bought four of them 7 months ago (probably just after the visit of the CITES team). He stated that they had been held in very small cages within Egypt (he also had 23 new baboons crammed in cages which had just arrived from a facility within Egypt) and that they were a lot better off where they were now. He would not divulge any details as to where these three fully adult animals had been kept previously and how many were possibly still there, or if indeed the owner had replaced the ones he sold by buying new baby arrivals.

I do feel strongly that if the Environmental Police Department is to make any real progress in shutting down the trade of apes and other endangered wildlife into and out of Egypt not only will the traders need to be prosecuted and hopefully sentenced but the buyers will also need to be made to understand that the internal trade of illegally imported apes will not be tolerated. The proposed micro-chipping would of course go a long way in establishing which animals are being exchanged within Egypt and which animals are new arrivals, replacing apes which clearly perished regularly.

We only saw one tiger this time at Lion Village, while past video footage shows at least a dozen.


5. Four to five more baby gorillas at Sharm el Sheikh

On June 5th I was copied on an E-mail of a Zoo director (Frank Rietkerk from Appenheul Zoo in Holland) in which he made the following statement:

"I met Dana Holeckova of Dvur Kralove in Frankfurt. She had pictures on her laptop of the 'zoo' in Sharm el Sheikh, on the Sinai Peninsula. Strange place. There is a whole bunch (4 or 5?) young gorillas there in a sandy exhibit with palm trees. They looked OK and the exhibit wasn't too bad, but might be a bit hot during the summer! Obviously this is not a good place for them to stay in the longer term. Dana said they were all confiscated but one wonders. Sharm el Sheikh is a huge tourist development."

I informed Mr Rietkerk that he seems to have good reason to wonder. I had asked Mr. Sellar of the CITES secretariat how many gorillas he had seen during his visit to the Tower Hotel Zoo. He confirmed that he had seen two teenage apes. He did not mention any kind of new confiscations and Dr. Ragi and Dr. George denied any knowledge of any new gorillas having arrived or having been confiscated. This morning I received from Mr. Rietkerk the picture in question which is attached and which seems to show four new small gorillas and possibly one of the two Mr. Sellar had seen. Mr. Rietkerk also confirms that the picture was taken by Dana Holeckova in January 2008.

Clearly these gorillas arrived after the Nov 2007 CITES mission visited this facility (or they were hidden from view the time they were there). This means more gorillas were ordered, delivered, and paid for and then declared as rescued in this "official rescue center." The word which comes to mind in analyzing this interpretation of the stipulations of the convention is: Absurd....

Yesterday I also received further evidence that a range of parties might be aware of the existence of these new gorillas and that the recent visit by the CITES assessment mission is being used to pretend that all these apes had been discussed and dealt with. The corresponding e-mail is from Nick Lindsay of the Zoological Society of London who was recently in Egypt to assist with the Giza Zoo. He writes to a colleague in Czech Republic who informed him of the existence of the photographs and the 4 or 5 small gorillas featured in it:

"I was at the Cairo Zoo recently and heard that the director had been there some weeks ago," referring to the Czech Zoo director who had taken the picture of these gorillas. He continues, "I did hear about the gorillas at Sharm el Sheikh which are there legally, apparently. They were confiscated when they passed through Egypt. This was discussed with the CITES authorities."

In an earlier exchange with Prof Fellali, the former head of the CITES management authority in 2008 I pointed out that we had video footage of the gorillas held near the Tower Hotel dating back to 2003 and that the photographs taken of gorillas at this facility in 2006 could not possibly be the same apes or they would have shrunk in the three years. I also had comments from competing private collection owners stating that some colleagues kept importing gorillas although it was clear they could not keep them alive (the problem seems to be less the summer heat than the winter cold which can be very extreme in these desert settings).

While walking around the Giza Zoo with Ms. Zulficar we identified a large and very tall cage facility which is about five times the size of the outdoor cage the chimps have at their disposition. The cage has some very large tree trunks and is by far the best primate facility on the premises. At the moment it is home to some 12 small vervets. In my assessment it would not be suitable for any fully grown chimp or gorilla any grouping of small apes would be perfectly fine in this cage with the corresponding night housing and as such there is no reason why these gorillas could not be housed at a an official government-owned "rescue center." The confiscation of these apes would also, once and for all, send a clear cut message to the traffickers and buyers of illegal wildlife.

6. Ivory

Dr. Ragi and Dr George suggested that we investigate markets concerning the continued sale of ivory. While my wife did some shopping at Khan el Khalili I decided to visit one shop called "Ivory and Ebony," owned by a Mr. Lamai Abdel Malek. I was offered a wide range of ivory items which were clearly ivory and not camel bones. When asking for plain bangles the owner opened two drawers behind the desk which held a wide variety of these items. Many other pieces were openly on display.

As promised to your officers I will edit down the video material shot on this trip (none with hidden cameras) and present it for their inspection. The objective of this trip was to update the film The Cairo Connection based on the request of various TV networks which have already broadcasted it. I conducted this follow up mission once again with my own resources as an independent journalist and film maker. I strongly feel that the new findings do belong in the public domain and I would very much welcome an invitation to come back to Cairo in a few months to provide your department the right to respond. In the meantime I plan to circulate this report to other interested parties besides the ones on the above CC list.

Dubai, July 3rd 2008

Karl Ammann


OPEN LETTER TO PASA/GRASP/LAGA (with most of the apes in question most likely having originated in Cameroon).

 

I spoke again to my local contact today and he has seen another baby gorilla which is on offer and has also been offered a range of chimps although they will not allow him to take any pictures.

He is convinced, and so am I, that there are at least three farms on the Alexandria to Cairo road and the one from Cairo to Fayoum which hold a large number of chimps. Some adults, with efforts being made to breed them (as is the case with the lions and tigers some of these facilities also hold).

Overall my assessment now is:

  • we are dealing with anything between 50 - 100 illegally held apes in various facilities, some classified as 'rescue centers' some not
  • all the owners of these facilities seem to actively trade chimps among themselves, The Environmental Police and the CITES officials know all these facilities
  • Since they killed two chimps with an anesthesia overdose when they supposedly confiscated them from Sulemaniah there is a clear indicator that the veterinary expertise is not there to manage these apes
  • the changing of apes in various facilities, in the last three years, indicates that there is a considerable die off and replacement from wild imports taking place.


There is absolutely no way any party in Egypt today has the expertise to deal with these apes and law enforcement is not really possible since there are no places to put confiscated animals.

As such this has now become as much of an animal welfare issue as it is a conservation one. While the continued smuggling of wild caught apes is tragic, the suffering by the ones sitting out in the desert, through the extreme hot and cold conditions, is also totally unacceptable.

The loss rate must be high especially for the gorillas. Accepting the status quo means condemning to death a large number of chimps and gorillas on an annual basis. The authorities are now hiding behind the fact that they do not know where the apes came from but also that there is no help from international experts to improve existing facilities or create appropriate 'rescue centers'. Clearly considering the number of apes involved there is now little hope that repatriation is going to be feasible for most of them. That leaves improving their lot on the ground.

I do feel the Egyptians (government and private parties) should be provided with deadlines and guidelines to update existing facilities to a point where some basic standards are met and stipulate repatriation if they do not live up to these expectations. It would be possible to create a facility in Egypt - using electrical fencing which could offer a reasonable setting to give some of these apes a second chance and to confiscate them from places which are not able/willing to make the corresponding investments which would require cooled facilities in the summer and heated ones in the winter.

I do not see any progress being made unless some of the NGOs with leverage start becoming active. I am thinking of GRASP and PASA and a possible joint mission to evaluate existing facilities (requiring the Egyptians to open the doors to all of these facilities). Set targets and standards as well as deadlines and then follow up on a regular basis.

Clearly nobody wants this headache and clearly there is no guarantee that anything will really change as far as the traders are concerned. However trying to improve the lot of the existing apes has to be attempted and I see no other way which could work on short notice. (I left cash for the two chimps at the Alexandria zoo one of which is in her 50s so that some sleeping platforms can be built. At the moment they have a bare cell with a wet concrete floor on which they have to sleep).

Ball in your court.


Karl Ammann

Nanyuki, July 2008

 

 

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