karl ammann
bushmeat activist, wildlife photographer, author;

why this site karl's CV karl's Career photo credits awards search site
main gallery reptiles elephants tigers great apes african predators signature images asian conservation bushmeat african conservation bili ape project how to order
open letters articles printed reports web reports
ape smuggling bonobo/Lomako China wildlife trade Sudan chimp orphans Egypt cheetahs
Cairo Connection Mong Lah Connection Kinshasa Connection Bangui Connection Gombe Connection Bear Bile Farm Other video/podcasts how to order
All Apes Great & Small Cheetah Consuming Nature Die Grossen Menschenaffen Eating Apes East African Wildlife Elephant Reflections Gorillas Great Ape Odyssey Great Apes & Humans Hunters & Hunted Little Bull Masai Mara Orangutan Odyssey
the early days correspondence project reports scientific articles karl's notes photographs dna evidence bili coffee project 2010 bili update
contact us:
email: photo inquiries
email: karl directly
in USA: 301-854-0388

present features:

As CITES annual conf.
nears Karl expounds on
CITES double standards.

Karl's exposition of the
real Ivory price
in China.

Christopher Hasslet's
incredible report on the
illicit online ape trade.

An open letter regarding
developments in Guinea

concerning the illegal
export of great apes.

karl's recent Report on
, its permitting
system, with clear
evidence of its
failure to police
the trade in live animals
of endangered species

karl discusses how
disappearing wildlife,
worldwild, reappears
in Chinese Zoo and
Safari Park facilities

karl interviewed by
Southeast Asia Globe
reveals his trade secrets;
staying out of trouble,
disillusion w/progress
on illicit animal trade

CITES 2011 Guinea
Mission Report

karl comments on
Apparent drop in
rhino horn demand

karl wins another
SAB environmental
media award

Commercial Exploitation
and Cites

karl ammannn

Overwhelmed U.S. port
inspectors unable to keep up
with illegal wildlife trade
Darryl Fears (in Wash Post)

African fraud, local market
exacerbate illegal primate

Global Times

Media Report (in Chinese)
Southern China Weekly

the Conakry Connection
very detailed report on
great ape smuggling in Guinea
provides insight into the
worldwide animal trade.
karl ammann and others

latest (9-14)Conakry
Connection update

karl ammann and others

latest (1-14)Conakry
Connection update

karl ammann and others

Cites and the Shanghai 8
exporting illegal wild apes
claiming them captive bred
karl ammann

Cites and the Taiping4
more on the export
of illegal wild apes
claimed as captive bred
karl ammann

Karl's blogs for
National Geographic
tiger Trade, china's chimp
smuggling, ivory tracking,
rhino poaching and more.

Tiger farming in
SE Asia

karl ammann

more on the China-
Gorilla story

karl ammann

Cites and the illegal
trade in wildlife

karl ammann

emails/letters/issues ignored
bonobos to Armenia

GRASP correspondence on
illegal animal trade

allegations of a coverup at the
CITES secretariat

karl ammann

a fairy tale of ivory:
the ongoing tragedy of
incompetence, slaughter,
and lawlessness.
karl ammann and others

for details see this
transcript with NBouke.
karl ammann and others

the Rhino & the Bling - the
inside mechanics of the
rhino horn trade.
karl ammann

karl's latest elephant
poaching video

Millions spent on ape
conservation and where
are the results?

karl ammann

an interview with Karl
on the state of conservation,
poaching, trafficking
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Where Did All
the Tigers Go?

karl ammann

the detailed report on
The Cairo Connection:
Ape Trafficking

karl ammann

the updated report on
The Cairo Connection:
Ape Trafficking in Egypt

karl ammann

Tiger, Lion bones
and rhino horn

another piece in Swara

karl ammann

Tiger cake & rhino horn
from Swara, a magazine of the
East African Wildlife Society

karl ammann

Into the Asian Underworld
in Africa Geograpic's
Rhino Watch
(page 3)
karl ammann

karl speaks at Foreign
Correspondents' Club of
Thailand - International
Trade in Reptile Skins

rhino versus ape

karl ammann

the rhino horn story
at consumer end
karl ammann

the latest horrors of
Poaching in
karl ammann

addendums to
elephants and elephant
conservation in the DRC

karl ammann

Our reptile skin trade
is now online.

Rhino Files: 333 rhinos
killed by poachers in
barbaric fashion

karl ammann
bernadette cook

Cites and the diplomatic
approach: these videos
say it does not work

karl ammann

Karl wins another
Genesis award

notes on Orang conservation
in Kalimantan - a sad story

errol pietersen

despite illegally held apes
CITES action minimal

karl ammann

asia geographic on
illegal wildlife trade

dale peterson
karl amman

africa geographic
reports on karl's
smuggling studies

karl ammann

Karl's German site

of interest

karl nominated for
zoological society medal

'Canned hunting': the
lions bred for slaughter

The Guardian

Seven rhinos killed ...
Kenya's bloodiest week

The Guardian

Forestry Education info
chase g

Not on Animal Planet
karl ammann

2010 Bili-Uere Update
karl ammann

more on wildlife
trafficking from Boten -
bears, leopard, tiger cubs

karl ammann

"horrific slaughter of
elephants ... butchered
in the Central African
Republic ... "

from BBC Newsnight

HIV ignored in Natl
Geographic article on
disease transmission

karl ammann

The Protein Gap
A misleading article

karl ammann

Mass Gorilla Execution
Can we learn from it?

karl ammann

Hundreds of Elephants
killed in DRC Park

from radio Okapi

Hunting Report take
on Chimp escape

karl ammann

US Wildlife Agency
provides a bandaid

karl ammann

open letter to CITES
re: wildlife export

karl ammann

important books

elephant reflections
dale peterson
karl ammann

eating apes
dale peterson
karl ammann

consuming nature
anthony rose
karl ammann

The Rhino Horn Story at the Consumer End

Two years ago I was filming with a German TV team in a new casino town on the Laos/China border. These new enclaves are built on leased territory like Macau and then all the laws of the respective country, on either side of the border, go out the window. Gambling, prostitution, drugs and illegal wildlife consumption become the main economic activities and as such these new towns become hubs for all kinds of wildlife related activities including the establishment of bear bile farms. While we walked the streets we found two baby clouded leopards hidden in a carton box. I took them out and played with them while the camera was running, before the owner started protesting and put an end to it.

In the meantime our translator was approached by a lorry driver, who had his truck parked nearby and had witnessed the commotion. He told our guide that if we were interested in these cats there were two tiger cubs a few hours away that were for sale. He gave us the address in case we were interested and we went off to find the place towards the center of Laos. We got there and were told that the two cubs had been sold to a Vietnamese buyer two days earlier for US$ 4000.

I decided to follow up on the story on a later visit and hired the hunters which had killed the mother tiger with a landmine after using a cow as a bait and then caught the cubs and sold them via family members living near the main road. We also hired a Vietnamese translator who was going to try to help us with the tracking down of these cubs. We travelled to the area where the mother tiger was killed and then crossed into Northern Vietnam moving on to the location that the players involved thought might have been the most likely final destination. It turned out that our new translator/ guide had fled from Vietnam and settled in Laos a few years earlier, after his brother was arrested for trafficking heroin and sent for 20 years to a high security prison near Hanoi and the authorities had started looking for our translator. This was the first time he returned to his home country and he got an enthusiastic welcome from some of his family members. At this stage it became already very clear that wildlife and drug trafficking were in a totally different league when it came to national law enforcement priorities borne out by the sentence his brother got and that when it came to discussing tiger and tiger bone trafficking nobody seemed worried about any kind of law enforcement being an issue. Our translator who had also trafficked wildlife and tiger bones in the past, introduced us to some of the well-known dealers in a nearby town. We were offered tiger cake (boiled down from tiger bone), tiger claws and teeth and also a slab of rhino horn marked as weighing 89 grams.

It was then when I realized that wildlife traders in these parts were not just dealing in one product line but any wildlife items which would offer a good return. Clearly this was a given, with the high profit margins and little risk of there ever being any enforcement of prosecution (tiger bone cake pieces and tiger claws and teeth were in a special sales display case in the lobby of the hotel we stayed in and the menu was full of ‘forest food’ items) The next morning we sent our translator back to the dealer who had the slab of horn material to buy U$ 100 of what he said was and what looked like rhino horn. The sales transaction was documented with a hidden camera and then he also invited our man to come to the kitchen where a tiger skeleton was in the process of being boiled down into tiger bone/cake.

It also became clear that irrespective of tigers, ivory or rhino horn products, the traders we would meet were all potential sources of information for ALL of these items. So while trying to track down the tiger cubs we also started looking into rhino horn and its prices, availability, usage, etc.

We then decided to a do a survey of the Traditional Chinese Medicine shops in the old town of Hanoi. When it came to rhino horn we were clearly told that it did not have any kind of aphrodisiac qualities (we were offered alternatives) and that it did not really cure cancer, which was a rumor which had been going around, but that it did reduce fever and cleansed the body, especially after bouts of overconsumption of alcohol, food and drugs. Since this was just at the start of the national new year’s festivities, one dealer invited us to his family quarters above the shop for a glass of rice wine and then freely showed us tiger bone cake, claws, a rhino horn, elephant skin etc. After drinking some of the rice wine and again buying a very small sample of what he presented as rhino horn (the top part of it) the lady of the house came with a brown plastic bag which she pulled from a top step of a stair case and then offered us all a sampling of powdered horn which she instructed us to sprinkle into our rice wine and explained that, irrespective of our alcohol consumption during the holidays, we would never have a hangover.

The man of the house explained that rhino horn was only for the very rich and our guide backed it up with some anecdotes of his own illustrating that the demand on the Vietnam side was already high and increasing in line with the increasing affluence of some of the elite and that handing out rhino horn had become one way to illustrate that the individual in question ‘had arrived”. Our hosts also then sold us the ceramic plate with its rough inner surface and with a rhino drawing on the rim, as the tool to grind down our piece of horn into powder.

We later confirmed this demand characteristic over and over when talking to dealers who did not want to discuss the sale of small samples but were only interested to negotiate big piece items in the thousands of dollars making it clear that they were used to negotiate with the people of means and not tourists/end consumers looking for a few grams. The possession of rhino horn is now considered a status symbols like the Mercedes or diamond ring. Wall mounted trophies, including many African ungulate horns, set on an artificial cow skulls also belong to this category.

We were told that rhino horn pieces were also used to bribe officials and were offered generally as a present to people in power (When we returned in 2012 to the same family for the same new year’s celebrations, the wife was on her own, the husband had died of liver cancer – too much drinking she pointed out – and clearly the rhino horn cure had not done the trick.)

Since the original trip in 2010 I have been back three more times to Laos and Vietnam convinced that Vietnam is today one of the key end consumer countries for rhino horn, tiger bone and bear bile products (including farms where South Korean tourists go shopping by the bus load). With each trip it became more and more evident that rhino horn on sale appear to be mostly fake (the samples from the first trip when exposed to DNA analysis all turned out to be pieces of a water buffalo horn, but meant to have similar medicinal qualities as the real product). So on subsequent trips I and my translators started to become more discriminating and telling dealers that we had been taken for a ride with buffalo horn in the past and we wanted to see and discuss prices for the real stuff. Our local translator got on the internet and found 35 players advertising horn via the web. We fixed appointments and met with some of them. However it had also become clear at this point that, as a foreigner, I was looked at with suspicion. While nobody was worried about enforcement being triggered by offering us a product illegal under national and international laws, they figured out that we were not big players, willing to spend tens or hundreds thousands of dollars for a whole horn or a big piece. At this stage I was joined by a German print media journalist, and we sent off our local investigator on his own with a hidden camera to do some negotiations to buy horn. We then reviewed the material with him and wrote down a transcript of what was discussed and recorded.

We had now refined the story. Our local investigator explained that he was looking for horn for a friend in Yunnan province who had been cheated with fake horn and he only wanted very small samples at this point to have it checked out to then come back for more if it turned out to be the real thing.

On the last trip we also extended this survey to some of the main towns in Laos and found that some of the key dealers used the even more relaxed enforcement regime in Laos to channel through their imports and then distribute, without any problems, to neighboring China and Vietnam. Again we found rhino horn in a range of outlets. It all was said to be from Asian animals , except for one horn, with many of the sellers insisting there were still Java and Sumatran rhinos in the hill tribe areas of Laos.

We were shown one complete African horn. However, while generally a good imitation , it incorporated features of what we also saw in the Asian horns on offer and as such it was evident that whoever produced it had not seen many real African horns. What was now also clear was that a majority of the horns on sale in retail settings were fake and that 90% of the end consumers were likely to end up with a water buffalo horn products (we filmed in a factory where they prepared the tips of water buffalo horn to make them look more polished and more like the tops of rhino horns. We saw and filmed dozens of such pieces in the production stage.) If it was impossible to film openly with small cameras we employed some hidden equipment and where the conversations were in Vietnamese had our translator then prepare full transcripts from these records.

We got a lot of very interesting information from these recorded conversations, which included what appeared to be some of the key dealers. Some of the basic facts which came out via this kind of more informal approach to researching demand and supply characteristics included:

During a recent tiger conservation meeting in Bangkok, sponsored by the World Bank, and with Interpol, CITES, and the World Customs Union in attendance, I asked the chair why the Laotian delegate could not be confronted with some of the above evidence and facts (including the open display of ivory in many stores in his country) demonstrating the absence of any kind of political will to enforce international conventions such as CITES. The answer was: “Some of these officials attending here are as frustrated as you and I are”. The question I did not ask but should have is: Why do we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on such meetings in five star hotels if the attendees are not decision makers and have no way to help create real political will to mount some real enforcement campaigns? If at this level it is not possible to get “the real decision makers” to attend - then what is the point?

In discussions with western diplomats and conservation establishment players based in Vietnam, approaches to modifying the demand characteristics were discussed. The feeling was and is that attacking the validity and effectiveness of the TCM industry and products would most likely backfire and that the viewpoint of the West on such issues was no longer considered as relevant. We discussed a PSA (Public Service Announcement) campaign on local TV stations illustrating the technics used by dealers to present horn as real when indeed most are just pieces of a water buffalo horn or some other imitations and then suggesting that there is a real possibility (further DNA results are outstanding on a range of new samples) that a large percentage of the rhino horn trade involves fake products and that the consumer might have been better off having spent his or her money on a Gucci bag or a diamond ring (of course there are also a range of rings on offer with the very tip consisting of Asian Rhino horn where normally the diamond would go) or maybe a Gucci bag or Rolex watch.

The feeling was that the name and shame and embarrassment component of such a message might be a lot more powerful and effective then another study questioning the medicinal properties and value of rhino horn.

One diplomat suggested that the reaction to such a campaign would most likely come from the very top and be indicative if Polite Bureau members were consumers of rhino horn or not and the reaction would be accordingly. At least it would be a good indication if there is any hope to effect any change at the consumer level in a timely fashion. More conversations about conservation do not seem to do the trick.

Karl Ammann

gorilla head and bananas Copyright © 2016 KarlAmmann.Com     All Rights Reserved
All photographs © 2016 Karl Ammann
website by the Goldray Consulting Group