An Open Letter to the CITES MANAGEMENT AUTHORITIES
of the DRC, South Africa and the United States of America
I am an independent author/film maker living in Kenya, East Africa. I have produced, or assisted in the production of, five documentaries dealing with primate conservation in the DRC. I have authored a book on the three sub species of gorillas, have co authored two titles on the Great Apes of the world, as well as two titles detailing the bushmeat crisis, one entitled Eating Apes the other Consuming Nature.
I was extremely disturbed to hear about the recent export of some 103 primates from the DRC to South Africa and then the re export of a selected group of 33 on to the United States. I was more than just disturbed when I saw press statements of this transaction having cost the US zoo community some U$ 440 000. Bandying this kind of money around, anywhere in Central Africa, but especially in the DRC, can mean one thing and one thing only - dozens of parties trying to cash in on such a new money source and scheme.
If one then puts this in context with the claims made by the importing zoos, concerning having 'saved these primates from the bush meat trade', one can only shake one's head in disbelief at the naiveté of the parties concerned, or worse the intent to mislead the public.
As far as the CITES management authorities are concerned and the enforcement of the corresponding rules and regulations governing the convention:
There is absolutely no way these primates could have been collected adhering to the national laws (see outline below). This being one of the conditions for allowing the export of Appendix 2 species.
In the context of the DRC it is also very clear that, at present, nobody has the information which would allow the conclusion that this kind of off take is not endangering the wild populations, another condition of the convention.
It would appear there is a range of further irregularities when it comes to the rest of the paperwork concerning the re export of these primates to the US.
The end result is that such transactions are totally counterproductive to any conservation efforts in the DRC or any other country in the region. While they might satisfy zoo needs to increase the genetic pool, the end result will be a drastic decrease in the genetic pool in the wild.
If countries like South Africa and the United States start looking for ways and means to defeat the spirit of such multilateral conventions as CITES, then what can be expected from such poorly governed countries such as the DRC
cc: Secretary General of CITES, Geneva
cc: UN mission to the Congo
cc: Concerned individuals and NGOs
Herewith some facts relating to the hunting and capturing of wildlife in the DRC:
If the animals were the by product of legal hunting the following aspects of the laws would have needed to be adhered to:
- Traditional hunting is only allowed with traditional methods
nets, lianas, etc.)
- Any hunting with weapons requires one of a range of hunting permits
- No party with a criminal record or a record of breaking hunting regulations can be issued with a hunting permit
- They are only issued to parties who have passed an appropriate test in the use of firearms
- A tax has to be paid for such a permit
- There are declared open and closed hunting seasons
- One person can only get one type of hunting permit
- The hunting permit lists the type of species and the number allowed to be taken
- The validity of the permit is for a maximum of one year
As far as capture and export of live animals, the law provides:
- That any such permit issued determines the number and sex of
being captured and it can not include any fully protected species.
- It can only be valid for 12 months.
- In the context of the capture permit FIREARMS CAN ONLY BE USED FOR SELF DEFENSE.
- A capture register has to be maintained at all times.
- The owner of a permit is only allowed to keep such animals in captivity if they have been legally obtained, during the validity of the permit and properly listed in the official capture register.
- The animals are to be in good health and in good hygienic conditions.
- Any party with a capture permit who wants to export partially protected species has to be in the possession of a permit for 'Legal Detention' which can only be issued based on a Certificate of Origin from the regional authorities where the animals were captured.
- The owner of a Capture Permit has to pay all the relevant commercial capture taxes in advance (for the number and sex of the species applied and authorized).
- The certificate for legal detention can only be issued upon showing of the receipt that such taxes have been paid in full.
There is a high probability that not a single aspect of these laws was complied with when these 103 primates were exported to South Africa.
As for such exports not endangering the remaining wild populations:
According to the CITES web page the DRC does not have a quota for the export of any mammal except for five Leopard skins per year
It also has a quota for the African Grey Parrots.
This quota was 1000 live birds in 2003: They exported 11 357 or exceeded their quota by 1135%. They increased their quota to 10 000 parrots in 2004 and with 10 375 they still went over the limit. In 2005 with the same quota of 10 000 parrots they went to 13 270 or 32.7% over their quota. 1720 went to South Africa.
There is every indication that the Scientific Authority of the
DRC is not very
organized or active and in a country where the census of nationals
is a major
issue there clearly are no estimates of how many of the exported
primates/parrots still exist in the wild and how many could be sustainably taken (without the use of any guns!!). (There are estimates that the country lost: 90% of its elephants, 90% of its hippo population, 90% of the Northern
White Rhino, 70% of the Eastern Lowland gorilla and some 75% of the bonobo in the last decade).
Further evidence concerning compliance with the CITES convention by the authorities of the DRC:
On April 20th, 2002, the Ministers of the Environment and Finance signed a new tax code for the capture, hunting and keeping in captivity of all fully and partially protected species.
Indeed, this code includes all the protected species including mountain gorilla, bonobo, chimpanzee, okapi and even the world's most endangered large mammal: northern white rhino. This tax code appears to be still in force.
For the mountain gorilla the capture tax is Fiscal Francs (equal to one U$) 1000.00,the hunting/killing of a mountain gorilla is U$ 500 and the keeping in captivity is U$ 3000.
As for partially protected species such as the Colobus guerza, exported in 2005, the Capture fee should have been U$ 40.00 the hunting fee U$ 25.00 and the detention permit U$ 116.00
Under the CITES rules and regulations the export of Appendix 2 animals would have to be accompanied with an export permit which in turn confirms that the local management authority is satisfied with the fact that these animals have been legally collected and that their off take did not endanger the wild population.
I would doubt that a single one of these primates has actually
been confiscated from a bush meat market. I initiated and took part
confiscation of several chimpanzees and a bonobo. This generally is
possible if it is done as a surprise raid and would require a number of armed ICCN guards which in turn would require a considerable incentive to be put on the table. To the best of my knowledge this has been done for apes but has never been done for lesser primates.
I was also involved in the 'legal export' of some of the above to an approved sanctuary outside the DRC which required spending thousands of dollars on legal representation and 'incentives'. In the end the three chimpanzees in question were exported under a permit classifying them as bonobo (getting this error corrected would probably have taken another six months and cost another few thousand dollars). These were confiscated animals exported with no commercial motives to a recognized chimp sanctuary of which none exists in the DRC.
It is also interesting to know that the official CITES web page for the DRC lists both the chimpanzee and the bonobo not only as Appendix 1 but also as Appendix 2 species.
As signatories of the convention DRC should not have issued export permits and South Africa should not have allowed these primates to enter the country. South Africa should not have allowed the reexport of 33 of these primates and the US should not have allowed the corresponding import (which appears to have been done as 'captive borne').
Importing wildlife from Congo under the present very poor quality
of governance, and based on the above infringement of national and
laws (CITES) clearly amounts to a looting of national resources and
deserves to be investigated by the UN as has been done for other natural resources.
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