Baby Chimp Rescued from Arrested Guinea Traffickers

The baby chimp was curled in the corner in a dark wooden box, not knowing what was happening. The traffickers, who killed her mother two weeks before, had kept her in a small dark place, feeding her mangoes and bananas, while they were trying to find a buyer. Now they were driving her on motorbike to a remote place, where they hoped to fetch money. But things went wrong. Wrong for them, but better for the little chimp.

Along the bank of Niger River in Guinea Conakry near the border of Sierra Leone they hit into a military check point, and within a few minutes both men had handcuffs around their wrists. When the box was opened, the light brown eyes of the chimp were full of sadness and lethargy.

The traffickers were caught red handed during a joint operation of the Ministry of Environment, the Gendarmerie and the GALF project. The prosecutor of Faranah town could accuse them right on the spot of three separate crimes – detention, trafficking and sale of an endangered species. Now, they are held in prison in Faranah, waiting for the trial.

"Since we have launched GALF (Guinée-Application de la Loi Faunique), many traffickers have already been arrested and sentenced in Guinea," Charlotte Houpline, the director of the WARA, a French wildlife protection organization, mentioned. "Slowly the change that is needed is happening. We have been supporting the Government of Guinea for four years now to strengthen law enforcement. Facilitating the arrest and conviction of wildlife traffickers is the main part of our work. And we want to target mainly the major traffickers to tackle head-on its major obstacle - corruption." she added. Guinea, as well as all the other central-African countries, which are home to great apes, has a sufficient low, protecting wildlife, in place. But the crucial point is enforcement of the law, which often does not happen. Sometimes due to lack of knowledge, sometimes due to negligence, but in most cases it is corruption, which is the biggest barrier for law enforcement. This model of the law-enforcement NGO is now operating in nine countries as the EAGLE Network.

In the face of massive corruption and failure of justice, Guinea is a hub of wildlife trafficking internationally. Apes, ivory, skins, reptiles, parrots, shark fins and manatees are illegally exported by organized crime syndicates. The country has a relatively long history of illegal trade of protected species. But even the CITES Convention is often abused. Since 2007, over 130 chimpanzees and 10 gorillas were exported from Guinea to China with valid CITES permits, which classified these animals as having been bred in captivity. But there is no breeding facility in Guinea! All these chimpanzees and gorillas were captured illegally in the wild. According to UN Great Apes Survival Partnership (GRASP) the poachers have to kill approximately 10 chimpanzees to get one baby. So for 130 chimps, exported out of the country, 1,300 of their family members were slaughtered.

One year ago GALF, the Guinea Conakry branch of WARA provided an information, which led to an arrest of one of the most notorious ape traffickers in Guinea, Ousmane Diallo. He was sentenced to a year in prison in July 2013 following an 18 month meticulous investigation by GALF. During the investigations, he boasted on video that he had trafficked more than 500 chimpanzees, a live lion and panthers. And yet, this is still only a fraction of all the chimpanzees, smuggled illegally out of the country.

The three-year old female who was saved last Saturday was the lucky one. She could very easily have ended in the house of some wealthy Chinese guy or even in an official zoo, travelling out of the country with false documents. But even more probably she might not even survive, as the estimations are that for one young ape, smuggled out of Africa, 10 others die on the way, as the traffickers are not able to provide them with proper care. Other horrific numbers are unknown – the babies, which are detected and in best case seized, like this our one, present only a minority of all poached and sold ape babies. By easy calculation, we can estimate the number of chimpanzees lost only in Guinea during last years to reach tens of thousands. And hundreds of thousands in the all sub-Saharan Africa. This crime will drive the chimpanzees in wild to the extinction within few decades, if it is not stopped.

Little apes are a little like human children. To survive, they not only need food but also love and care. The traumatic experience they sustain when their mother and family are killed is not easy to overcome. When their family is poached and their mother killed, they cannot do anything else than to cling to her still warm body from which they are torned away. Most of them cling desperatly to the poacher that killed their own mother but others fall into depression and wants to die . Yet the future of this particular female looks brighter. She was not seriously injured but although she was traumatized and is shining away from human interactions, she has some fight left into her. Immediately after her confiscation, she was put into the care of the Chimpanzee Conservation Center. The CCC manager is the one who contacted GALF and provided necessary information about her location. The CCC is a chimpanzee sanctuary located in Haut Niger National Park that rescue orphan chimpanzees victims of the pet trade. At the CCC she will have a second chance, a new life with other chimpanzees where she'll be loved and cared for.