The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation’s position on the international trade in Chimpanzees

In the last six years, over 14,000 chimpanzees have been lost to the illegal wildlife trade, with one chimpanzee being poached every four hours to satisfy consumer demand. As a direct result of human demand and encroachment, poaching, forest destruction and disease, our closest living relatives are on a direct trajectory towards extinction.

The need to focus on demand reduction strategies is essential to preserve this iconic species. The education of communities is also key, to reinforce the message that Chimpanzees are not for human entertainment or consumption. Although classified as Appendix I by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), poaching remains rife across the African continent, with populations being driven further into isolated and more vulnerable locations.

The illegal trade in chimps is made possible by the determination of smugglers, who accept that rewards are currently higher than the associated risks. The ease in which international laws on buying and selling endangered species can be manipulated and falsified is also a factor. Although given the greatest level of protection possible under CITES, a BBC investigation recently revealed how easy it is to buy export permits in some source countries, despite restricting regulations and international bans. This emphasises the lack of enforcement of an Appendix I species and the importance of imminent action.

As a result, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation (DSWF) is actively campaigning and working to support:

  • A total ban on the international trade in chimps
  • Greater enforcement and monitoring of import and export licences
  • Greater protection, research and monitoring of chimpanzee populations
  • The rescue, rehabilitation and release of chimps to the wild which have been removed from the illegal trade market

Growing demand for chimpanzees as pets and performers creates a luractive industry for trafficking syndicates where infant chimpanzees can fetch over £10,000. The capture of an infant chimpanzee has huge knock on effects for wild troupes, whose close social structures ensure the survival and strength of many individuals. Poachers typically slaughter ten adult chimps to ease the capturing process of infants, exacerbating the disappearance of this iconic species.

Although law enforcement efforts have increased in recent years in order to tackle the growing trade in chimps, it is still estimated that for every successful seizure, five to ten animals slip through the net and onto the black market. With the species on a dire trajectory towards extinction, it is now more important than ever to ensure that the international ban on trade in these majestic creatures is enforced, implemented and adhered to, before it’s too late.



The Chimpanzee Trade – Question and Answer

What are the current laws surrounding the trade in chimpanzees?

The main laws relating to the trade in chimpanzees are outlined in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES.)

Under CITES regulations and laws, chimpanzees are classified as an Appendix I species, banning the complete trade in chimps and parts, except in rare cases such as scientific research. However, African counties – the majority of which are signed up to the CITES convention and therefore subject to its decisions – suffer from major enforcement issues, so the trade ban is largely ineffective. Due to the unregulated black markets and the illegal trade in chimps we are seeing a decline in remaining wild populations.

What are the other major threats facing chimpanzees?

Disease: Disease is a huge threat to chimpanzee populations and according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) it’s the main cause of death in Gombe, Taï, and Mahale. Chimpanzees share 98% of human’s DNA, making them highly susceptible to human borne diseases such as Ebola – an escalating problem in their native territories, with the growth of human populations.

Habitat degradation: Chimpanzee habitats are quickly shrinking due to human encroachment and human activities, such as logging, mining and urban expansion. Chimpanzees require very specific habitats in order to survive and habitat reduction such as deforestation poses a huge threat to chimp populations.

Where is the demand for chimpanzees coming from?

Consumer demand is primarily driven from China, Russia and the Middle East which fuel the illegal and exotic pet trade, threatening wild chimpanzees. DSWF strongly believes and advocates that no wild animal should be used for human entertainment and should not be held in captivity for the benefit of humans.

Subsistence poaching and the demand for bushmeat at a local level is also a primary motive for the illegal capture of chimps, making rural development and local engagement a key factor in maintaining wild chimp populations and reducing consumptive demand.

Why is the trade primarily only in baby chimpanzees?

Statistically speaking, more chimps are killed for food than to fuel the illegal wildlife trade from Asia and the Middle East. However, because they live in troops and are very protective of their own, killing the adults is often the only way to obtain baby chimps.

Transporting an adult chimp has been compared to “transporting a crate of dynamite” and therefore is not a sustainable solution to supply demand. Furthermore, only the young can be trained to perform, rendering older chimps as useless for this specific industry demand.