Letter to the Chinese Forestry Police

Dear Sirs,

I am referring to our meeting at the Yunnan CITES office to discuss the import of elephants into China. Below is the report I sent to various parties last year after some of the initial evidence became available.

I understand that for the forestry police the main issue is not the CITES technicalities and permit documentation but the infringing of national laws in the context of these imports. I believe both national and international law have been infringed on with all these imports (see outline of reasoning below). As per Article VIII of the CITES convention such illegal imports mean:

  • The animals remain the property of the country where they came from, in this case Laos (as it would be the case under a loan/rental agreement)
  • The animals in question should be confiscated
  • The parties which conducted the illegal imports should be prosecuted
  • If possible or requested, the animals should be returned to the country of origin.

I have absolutely no doubt that if any Chinese panda should ever be illegally exported from China, the relevant enforcement authorities would insist on every aspect of this article (VIII) of the convention being implemented.

The Parties to the CITES convention have all agreed to adapt their national legislation to conform with the requirements of the CITES rules and regulations. I am not familiar to what extend these international obligations have been adapted as far as the Chinese laws are concerned. However, there are a wide range of criteria, which make it clear that these exports could not have been legal and should now be dealt with under the stipulation of Article VIII. I believe the relevant enforcement authority in China has to take all this into consideration and cannot consider none compliance and infractions of the CITES convention as an internal matter concerning the department dealing with CITES documentation. In many parts of the world relevant and often falsified and illegal CITES import and export permits change hands for ten thousands of dollars and it cannot be excluded that this happened in the context of these elephant exports and imports. As such, this would also be a matter of Chinese national law requiring enforcement.

In the context of the export and import of 11 elephants in 2014 which are documented in the attached documents:

  • CITES import permits always have to be issued before any export permit is processed. In this case, the import permit was issued on Dec. 2 2014. The corresponding export permit was issued on 13/09/2014.
  • No permits for export or import can be issued if any national law has been infringed on in obtaining and trading the animals in question. The attached letter from the Prime Minister of Laos concerning the propose exports to Dubai make it clear that the sale and export of elephants is not possible under the national laws of Laos
  • The Asian elephant is a CITES I listed species and under CITES rules cannot be exported or imported for commercial purposes. However, the evidence is in place of former owners in Laos going on record explaining the sales transactions, the amounts they received, and the conditions of these sales. The importing institutions in China all use these animals in displays in zoo settings which by any account are highly commercial and profit oriented (information collected at elephant valley indicate that up to 4000 visitors go through the facility spending an average of U$ 50 resulting in a very commercial setting.
  • It would appear a range of zoos then trade these elephants on at a considerable profit (see some of the attached Chinese news releases). While the average price for the elephants bought in Laos was around U$ 25 000, the sales prices quoted were a multiple of that. Talking to a zoo operator in Yunnan we were told that to buy an elephant in China, cleared with all the respective documentation in place and delivery, could bring the price up to 4 million RMB (or some U$ 600 000). While attached documentation shows that Guizhou Forestry Wild Zoo imported 12 elephants in 2016, we visited and only found five of the imported animals.

They have three of the older elephants which can no longer be used for performances and hence the need for fresh youngsters with some basic training. There is little doubt that this zoo bought 12 as part of a speculative transaction reselling the remaining animals at a considerable mark up. These transactions could hardly be more commercial.

  • The attached CITES export permit for the 11 classifies them a ‘C’ meaning captive borne. Laos has no CITES approved captive breeding facility and as such would not be in a position to export any elephants as captive borne. While many live in captive settings, the former owners told us that most elephant owners wanting babies would not want to pay stud fees and so tied their females in forests, which contain wild males. These would then mate with the females – so for most of these elephants even the parent stock would not be known.
  • For such transactions to be legal under the CITES convention the importing Party and the exporting country have to get their CITES Scientific Authorities to do a none detriment finding to establish what impact these exports would have on any wild population, plus the legality of the transaction. If the Chinese CITES Scientific Authority had spent five minutes checking CITES approved breeding facilities in Laos for elephants, they would have found that there are none and as such the export and import should have been stopped at that point. Never mind that other international laws were infringed on and the level of commercialization involved in all these transactions.
  • In the CITES trade data this export and import of the 11 elephants is listed with a purpose code B for breeding by China in the import permit while Laos lists the purpose code for the same group as Z.
YearApp.TaxonImporterExporterImport qExport qTermPurposeSource
2010IElephas maximusCNLA6 liveZC
2010IElephas maximusCNMM 2liveZC
2011IElephas maximusCNLA66liveZC
2011IElephas maximusCNMM 2liveZC
2012IElephas maximusCNMM24liveZC
2014IElephas maximusCNLA11 liveBC
2014IElephas maximusCNLA611liveZC
2015IElephas maximusCNLA66liveZC
2016IElephas maximusCNLA50 liveZC
  • The permits list Xishuangbaan Wild Elephant Valley Resort as the importer (the exporter being a trading company registered in Vientiane). This Wild Elephant Valley is one of the key tourist attractions in Yunnan province offering supposedly the viewing of wild elephants in a valley with all indications that these elephants are indeed not wild but fenced into a large piece of forest. This seems to be where some of these elephants have ended up while some might have been traded on to other facilities. We saw one group of three, which contained no adult, and as such, this would not be a normal wild elephant grouping.
  • In the corresponding show there were about 7 adult elephants performing four times a day. The group included two youngsters of which we were told one came from Laos.
  • Clearly (as with the chimpanzees and orang-utans in the past) there seems to be no stud book database for elephants in Zoos in China and no control via micro chipping (although it would appear most Laotian elephants came with microchips).
  • China in its return for the CITES trade data lists the 11 as having been imported for ‘breeding’. While clearly some of these elephants might one day breed, in the wild valley setting this is once again not part of any kind of CITES registered and approved breeding facility. Plus, of course, the major motive for the import was purely commercial and clearly having young animals are what a lot of visitors want to see. Because of this, breeding is generally encouraged by many such zoo establishments to be able to show babies and youngsters to visitors who do pay large amounts to see them

So the above relates to the ‘legally imported’ 11 elephants, which were sent with defective import and export permits. Elephant owners and mahouts in Laos however spoke of up to one hundred animals having been exported into China between 2015 and 2017. While most went through the Mohan border, some with permits and others without, there is also information concerning a forest trail next to the official border, which allows for trafficking of any commodity – even elephants (we have observed the same pattern at Mong Lah – Daluo).

The e-mail below went out to a range of relevant authorities in August of 2017. Late in 2017 the CITES trade data information was put on the relevant web site listing China as declaring the import of 50 elephants for that year alone. I have little doubt that this was to pre-empt a lot of difficult questions being asked and to attempt to establish some kind of legal background underpinning a wide range of illegal trade activities. I believe that the e-mail blow and the attached document triggered this sudden declaration of an import of 50 animals.

Interestingly however Laos did not declare them as exported as with the case of the 11, so the assumption has to be that none of these animals went with the shady import or export permits which were used for the 11 two years earlier.

We called at the offices of The Mekong Group – which is the parent company for the above importer, and the Golden Peacock Group in Jinghong, which operates the Elephant Valley, set up – and asked relevant questions but there was nobody with the authority to answer them. We were however told we would be called back and somebody would then be made available to answer relevant questions. We never received this call.

During several visits to Xayabouri in Laos in 2017, we met representatives of the Yunnan Mekong Group/ the Gold Peacock Group on three occasions while they were inspecting up to 50 elephants they had under contract. According to the relevant owners, they had signed a lease and first option purchase agreement with this group and were paying U$ 900 a month for the mahout and elephant. Each elephant was meant to be trained to specific criteria, which would be important when using them for performances in China.

When we first informed the central Laos authorities of all this intelligence, the reaction of the Yunnan Mekong Group/The Gold Peacock Group was to announce that they were going to build a U$ 40 million breeding and conservation centre for these elephants in Laos. On this latest visit, it seems they had totally abandoned the plan, with indications that there had been

specific new legislation coming out of Vientiane, which would make this continued illegal trade less feasible. At the time this project was abandoned they owed the owners and mahouts back salary and rental/training fee for two months (some U$ 90 000) and instead of paying it they handed over two elephants they had already purchased outright as part of a compensation package.

So indications are that things are changing on the Laos side with regards to the live export of elephants however there are no indications that the same is happening in China, with zoos and safari parks having become big profit centres for some of these corporations and valuable animals are being acquired to the tune of millions of dollars (a few years ago this involved the illegal import of over 100 chimpanzees from Africa – all declared as captive borne when again none were). The same group has also imported 11 rhinos from South Africa, which were largely legal and are now at the Kunming Wild Animal Park and some at a facility near Puer. While these exports were largely legal according to South African law they are only meant to go to zoos that are accredited as part of a recognized international zoo association and contribute to an in situ rhino conservation project. There is no indication that either of these criteria applies in this context. Again, that would make it illegal under South African national laws which once again should have then meant no CITES export or import permit were issued.

Overall I am convinced that there have been a lot of corrupt and criminal acts involved in these transactions and the Chinese enforcement authorities should accept the obligation to thoroughly investigate and then apply Article VIII of the CITES convention.


Karl Ammann

















动物园2016年进口了12 头大象,我们参观了并且只发现了五头进口动物 。


•所附的CITES出口许可证将其分类为“C”,意思是俘虏。老挝没有CITES批准的圈养养殖设施,因此无法出口任何被捕的大象。虽然许多人生活在囚禁环境中,但前业主告诉我们,大多数想要婴儿的大象老板不愿意支付学费,并将他们的女性绑在含有野生男性的森林中。然后这些将与雌性交配 – 因此,对于大多数这些大象甚至母公司都不知道。



YearApp.TaxonImporterExporterImport q Export qTermPurposeSource
2010IElephas maximusCNLA 6 liveZC
2010IElephas maximusCNMM  2liveZC
2011IElephas maximusCNLA 66liveZC
2011IElephas maximusCNMM  2liveZC
2012IElephas maximusCNMM 24liveZC
2014IElephas maximusCNLA 11 liveBC
2014IElephas maximusCNLA 611liveZC
2015IElephas maximusCNLA 66liveZC
2016IElephas maximusCNLA 50 liveZC





因此,上述问题涉及“合法进口”的11头大象,这些大象的进出口许可证有缺陷。然而,老挝的大象老板和mahouts说2015年到2017年间有多达100只动物出口到中国。虽然大部分经历了莫汉边界,有些还有许可证,有些则没有,但也有关于森林的信息。官方边界允许贩卖任何商品 – 甚至是大象(我们在Mong Lah – Daluo观察到同样的模式)。






因此迹象显示,老挝方面关于大象活出口的事情正在发生变化,但没有迹象表明中国正在出现同样的情况,动物园和野生动物园已成为这些公司和有价值动物的大利润中心正在获得数百万美元的收益(几年前,这涉及非洲从非洲进口超过100只黑猩猩 – 所有人都宣称为俘虏,但又没有一只是被捕的)。同一组织还从南非进口了11头犀牛,这些犀牛基本合法,现在在昆明野生动物园,有的在普尔附近的一个设施。虽然根据南非法律,这些出口基本上是合法的,但它们只是去动物园,这些动物园被认可为国际认可的动物园协会的一部分,并为实地犀牛保护项目做出贡献。没有迹象表明这些标准中的任何一个适用于这种情况。再一次,根据南非国家法律,这将成为非法行为,这再次意味着CITES的出口或进口许可证都没有颁发。




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