Orangutans Pongo spp. held at a Thai government-run rescue centre prior to repatriation to Indonesia .

Orangutans Pongo spp. held at a Thai government-run rescue centre prior to repatriation to Indonesia © Claire Beastall TRAFFIC

Glass Eels

Strictly speaking the mass of 320,000 glass eels wasn’t declared, they were smuggled and busted in Japan en route to Hong Kong recently according to Japan’s NHK News this evening, proof that vigilance shouldn’t let up and the war on wildlife crime continues to bear strange fruit. Is this a world record for the greatest number of illegally trafficked animals in one attempt? It is certainly a contender!

Spotlight on Ape related commerce in Thailand from TRAFFIC 

Far more serious news in two reports released by TRAFFIC today which find that inadequate Thai laws are failing to prevent the trafficking of non-native apes in the Kingdom.

Bangkok, Thailand, 28th November 2016–Two new reports have raised concerns over the numbers and sources of apes in Thailand’s wildlife attractions and argue that the country’s ability to stop illegal trade in orangutans and other non-native apes is hampered by inadequate laws.

A report based on a survey of 57 facilities across Thailand recorded 51 orangutans on display, but found records for only 21 in the 2014 International Studbook of the Orangutan1, which records the source, births, transfers and deaths of individual animals in zoos and attractions worldwide.

The numbers of non-native apes seen during the survey in Thailand were also much higher than those recorded as legally imported.  Records from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) databaseshowed the import of just five orangutans into Thailand since 1975 and none that could explain the presence of the single Western Gorilla or 14 crested gibbons seen during the survey.

Orangutans awaiting repatriation to indonesia. TRAFFIC image and copyright.

Orangutans awaiting repatriation to indonesia. TRAFFIC image and copyright.

According to the study, Apes in Demand for zoos and wildlife attractions in Peninsular Malaysia and Thailand (PDF, 6 MB), this suggests “that at least some of these animals arrived in captivity illegally”, and in breach of CITES’s strict rules governing the trade in Appendix I listed species.

View the video on Apes in Demand in Thailand from TRAFFIC on Vimeo.

The report considers thatThailand’s laws which fail to protect wildlife from outside the country are largely to blame.

For example, the Wild Animal Preservation and Protection Act, B. E. 2535 (1992) (WARPA) provides no legal protection for the six species of great ape and 11 non-native gibbon species which are listed in CITES.

Gibbons are CITES1-listed apes. Trade in them is restricted by The Washington Treaty. TRAFFIC image and copyright.

Gibbons are CITES1-listed apes. Trade in them is restricted by The Washington Treaty. TRAFFIC image and copyright.

According to a separate analysis of Thai legislation A review of the legal regime governing the trade in great apes and gibbons and other CITES-listed species(PDF, 6 MB) “Anyone found in possession of such wildlife does not currently have to show how they acquired it; rather the State must prove that the animals were illegally imported in order to be able to take any subsequent enforcement action.”

The loopholes leave enforcement agencies largely powerless to act against those in possession of non-native apes such as orangutans and chimpanzees or control domestic trade in these species after they have been illegally imported. 

The same loophole also hinders enforcement against illegal trade in all non-native species in Thailand and discussions on how to remedy the situation have been ongoing for some time. A similar inability to act against illegal trade in African Elephant ivory was addressed in December 2014 with an amendment to include this non-native species in WARPA.  The law is still undergoing a comprehensive review.

“Illegal wildlife traffickers are fully aware that Thailand provides a safe haven for their activities.  Until these loopholes are slammed shut, this situation is unlikely to change.” said TRAFFIC’s Claire Beastall, an author of both studies, which were funded by the Arcus Foundation.

The study and legislative review recommend a host of steps to fortify Thai wildlife laws, including an increase in penalties and the amendment of procedures which currently require the government to hold onto seized wildlife for five years if no owner is found.

However, the main recommendation of both reports is on extending legal protection to cover species currently omitted for a more comprehensive protection of all apes, as well as comprehensive coverage for non-native CITES-listed species.

Also critical is the establishment of a reliable and transparent system for tracking the births, transfers and deaths of apes in zoos and wildlife attractions: without such a system there are ample opportunities to conceal the acquisition of animals that have been illegally sourced.

“TRAFFIC recommends that the origins of all apes in captivity in Thailand should be ascertained and facilities found to be in violation of laws relating to the sourcing of apes should have their permits and licences revoked,” said Beastall.

Reports available from:

Apes in Demand (English): http://www.traffic.org/storage/Apes-in-demand.pdf

Apes in Demand (Thai): http://www.traffic.org/storage/Apes-in-demand-Thai.pdf

CITES Implementation (English): http://www.traffic.org/storage/CITES-implementation-in-Thailand-Apes.pdf

CITES Implementation (Thai): http://www.traffic.org/storage/CITES-implementation-in-Thailand-Apes-Thai.pdf

Further information

Elizabeth John, TRAFFIC +60 3 7880 3940 / +60 1 2207 9790, email: elizabeth.john@traffic.org

Richard Thomas, TRAFFIC +44 (0)7921309176 (m), email: richard.thomas@traffic.org

TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a strategic alliance of IUCN and WWF. More information at http://www.traffic.org

About Arcus Foundation
The Arcus Foundation is a private grant-making foundation that advances social justice and conservation goals. The Foundation works globally and has offices in New York City, USA and Cambridge, UK. For more information and to connect with Arcus visit: Arcusfoundation.org Twitter.com/ArcusGreatApes; and Facebook.com/ArcusGreatApes

* Records from the CITES Trade Database which is managed by the United Nations Environment Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) on behalf of the CITES Secretariat.