08/10/2015. One of the two chimps from Jerusalem that have now found home at the national zoological gardens of South African sits behind bars in quarantine. Picture: Masi Losi

The organisation's job is to regulate trade in wild and captive species. But ‘leakage’ of permits by bent officials could be declawing the world body. By Don Pinnock

Africa’s wild apes are being illegally exported to China using fraudulent permits from the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), according to conservationist and researcher Karl Ammann.

In a report – the Cites Secretariat and the Epitome of Double Standards – released to coincide with the Cites conference in Gauteng last month, Ammann says the exports from Guinea included 10 endangered eastern mountain gorillas and 104 chimpanzees.

The apes concerned are listed as Appendix 1, which makes it illegal to export wild-caught specimens. Guinea has no captive breeding facilities.

The exports which Ammann investigated took place between 2007 and 2011.

The only enforcement action in this case was as a result of an NGO investigation into illicit permits and, in 2015, the head of Cites in Guinea, Ansoumane Doumbouya, was arrested. But none of the many forged Cites permits in the possession of the NGO were permitted as evidence in court.

Doumbouya was instead charged, bizarrely, of “assuming an official government position without relevant authority” and given an 18-month sentence. But he has yet to serve it, having in the meantime been promoted. The man who “authenticated” the false permits, Namori Keita, was appointed as head of Guinea’s Cites Management Authority in his place.

Cites Article VIII (1) says members should take appropriate measures to enforce the provisions of the Convention and to prohibit illegal trade in specimens. These should include measures to:

* penalise trade in, or possession of, such specimens, or both; and

* provide for the confiscation or return to the State of export of such specimens.

In 2011 the Cites Secretariat confirmed that “exports have occurred from Guinea in relation to specimens declared as having been bred in captivity. This trade has been in violation of the Convention”.

In 2013 it recommended the suspension of commercial trade in listed species from Guinea, but took no further action. Chinese complicity in ratifying false permits was ignored.

Despite being required to do so by Cites law, says Ammann, “China has not taken a single action in connection with the numerous illegally imported chimpanzees currently being exploited daily in tacky commercial shows in its zoos.

“The Cites Secretariat – apparently content with this failure by China to do what is required under the convention – has taken no action whatsoever to compel China to do what the convention requires.”

According to the report, Chinese officials, who ratify Cites import permits declaring the apes to be captive bred, are aware there are no such facilities in Guinea. Even if chimps were captive bred – Appendix 11 – they would not be permitted to be trained for shows. But everyone – even Chinese Cites officials whose job it is to ensure the permit conditions are enforced – is aware this is their fate.

The ease with which falsified permits can be obtained, says Ammann, and the failure of Cites to actively police the problem is encouraging illegal trade.

In an interview with Mongabay ahead of the Gauteng summit, Ammann said he was unconvinced of Cites’ ability or willingness to tackle the permit problem.

“The Cites Secretariat has the unique enforcement tool of recommending trade suspension of any party in constant non-compliance of convention rules and regulations. The Guinea-China case involved some 150 chimps and 10 gorillas and was the largest such scenario ever with no attempt of any kind to enforce Article VIII of the Convention.

“If no action is possible on such a pronounced non-compliance issue, then is there a point in spending more money on Cites? To what extent does the lack of enforcement now encourage the trade?”

Conservation Action Trust