CITES protection of animals no longer fit for purpose, says wildlife filmmaker

September 21, 2020 By Don Pinnock

One of the world’s worst wildlife scams is being permitted by the United Nations organisation formed to protect wild animals from over-exploitation and regulate trade. It all hinges on the letter Z on an export and import permit.

Is forcing an elephant to sit on its haunches while twirling a hula hoop on its trunk or teaching a chimp to ride a bicycle in a tailcoat science, conservation or cruelty? 

This is a question that has vexed filmmaker and wildlife investigator Karl Ammann for many years because they are activities permitted, by implication, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Read the full story here.

‘The legal and illegal trade are inseparable’: The drain of Africa’s chimpanzees for foreign zoos

Chimpanzees in a glass-fronted enclosure after being exported from South Africa to a wildlife park in Beijing, China
Photo Courtesy of Karl Ammann, 2019

September 17, 2020 By Louise Boyle

Chimps in South Africa due to be shipped to China under questionable circumstances, conservationists believe.

We are working with conservation charity Space for Giants to protect wildlife at risk from poachers due to the conservation funding crisis caused by Covid-19. Help is desperately needed to support wildlife rangers, local communities and law enforcement personnel to prevent wildlife crime.

Chimpanzees are being illegally shipped out of Africa to foreign zoos under the guise of the legal wildlife trade, conservation groups have told The Independent.

Chimps are an endangered species with only around 200,000 left in the wild. Their numbers are projected to decline by 80 per cent by 2050, according to the Jane Goodall Institute, due to habitat loss, diseases and poaching, compounded by their slow reproduction rate. 

Illegal trafficking also poses a significant threat. While some 3,000 chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans are killed or snatched from the forest each year, the UN Environment Programme says, wildlife organisations also point to the blurred lines of the legal trade, and the seemingly lax oversight of governments, as having an impact on dwindling numbers.

Read the full story here.

How We Can Use the CITES Wildlife Trade Agreement to Help Prevent Pandemics

August 24, 2020 By Bruce J. Weissgold, Peter Knights, Susan Lieberman, Russell Mittermeier

At the moment, we can’t—so let’s adapt it

In reaction to the global COVID-19 pandemic, attention has focused on the potential role of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to further regulate—or ban—various form of the wildlife trade. Banning the wild animal trade, particularly for human consumption, means stopping the movement of some zoonotic diseases—infections that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

There have also been suggestions that the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), or the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) could be instructed by governments to collaborate to prevent future zoonotic epidemics and pandemics. Other options include a protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity (an umbrella treaty, adhered to by all but one party to CITES) or a protocol under the U.N. General Assembly. But with little experience dealing with transport of terrestrial wild animals, these bodies simply lack the expertise and infrastructure needed to regulate the international trade of wild animals.

Read the full story here.

How China’s Expanding Fishing Fleet Is Depleting the World’s Oceans

August 17, 2020 By Ian Urbina

After exhausting areas close to home, China’s vast fishing fleet has moved into the waters of other nations, depleting fish stocks. More than seafood is at stake, as China looks to assert itself on the seas and further its geo-political ambitions, from East Asia to Latin America.

For years, no one knew why dozens of battered wooden “ghost boats” — often along with corpses of North Korean fishermen whose starved bodies were reduced to skeletons — were routinely washing ashore along the coast of Japan.

A recent investigation I did for NBC News, based on new satellite data, has revealed, however, what marine researchers now say is the most likely explanation: China is sending a previously invisible armada of industrial boats to illegally fish in North Korean waters, forcing out smaller North Korean boats and leading to a decline in once-abundant squid stocks of more than 70 percent. The North Korean fishermen washing up in Japan apparently ventured too far from shore in a vain search for squid and perished.

Read the full story here.

African forest plunder condemns chimpanzees to miserable lives in zoos

August 14, 2020 By Don Pinnock

(Photo: EMS Foundation)

Chimpanzees are our nearest genetic relatives on the tree of life. At this rate, eaten or forced to entertain zoo visitors or wealthy sheikhs, they’re heading for extinction. CITES seems unable to stop the slide and African governments don’t appear to consider it a problem.

If a wild animal has monetary value it’s a prelude to extinction. That’s because the cheapest way to acquire that animal is to poach it. Across Africa, control of poaching is dismal, haphazard, often corrupt and the increase in the value chain from the forest floor to the foreign consumer is eye-watering. As a result, the scale of wildlife extraction is best compared to a vacuum cleaner. 

Read the full story here.

Nature documentaries increasingly talk about threats to nature, but still don’t show them

September 17, 2019 By BES Press Office

Researchers analysing recent BBC and Netflix nature documentaries found that although they increasingly mention threats to nature, visual depictions of these threats remain scarce, potentially misleading audiences on the state of the natural world.
The findings are discussed in a Perspective published in the British Ecological Society journal People and Nature.

Researchers from Bangor University, University of Kent, Newcastle University and University of Oxford coded the scripts from the four most recent David Attenborough narrated series. They found the Netflix series Our Planet dedicated 15% of the script to environmental threats and conservation, far exceeding the BBC series Planet Earth II and Dynasties, with only Blue Planet II coming close to this figure.

Read the full story here.

More tigers now live in cages than in the wild.

May 19, 2019 By Terrence McCoyWashington Post Special Report

The animal has become a commodity: farmed, butchered, sold. We joined one man on his dangerous quest to expose the truth.

THA BAK, Laos —He was up there somewhere, at the top of the hill, the man Karl Ammann had come to see. It would soon be night. The forest was all shadows and sounds. Ammann had driven across the country to reach this remote river village, and now he was finally here, looking to the top of the hill, ready to confront the person he believed had murdered more tigers than anyone in Laos. In the distance, he could hear them: dozens of tigers roaring.

For nearly five years, Ammann, 70, a Swiss counter-trafficking conservationist, had tracked the tiger butcher, a man named Nikhom Keovised. He had placed hidden cameras inside what had once been the largest tiger farm in Southeast Asia, an illegal operation where tigers had been raised to one end — slaughter — and where the man doing the slaughtering had been Nikhom. And he had listened to Nikhom describe it all in his own words: “Use the anesthetic,” he had said. “Then just cut the neck.” Then “peel its skin.”

Read the full story here.

Calls for CITES to address the corruption fueling the illegal wildlife trade

September 23, 2016 Mike Gaworecki

  • The European Union and Senegal have put forward a resolution at CoP17 proposing measures to tackle corruption in wildlife trafficking.
  • Late last year, Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, joined with John Scanlon, secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to call for increased anti-corruption efforts in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.
  • A new report by independent conservationist and researcher Karl Ammann, who has been studying the issue for decades, paints a sobering portrait of the extent of the corruption enabling the illegal wildlife trade.
Critically endangered Eastern Mountain gorilla
(Gorilla beringei beringei) in the Bwindi jungle.
Photo by Rhett Butler.

Late last year, Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, joined with John Scanlon, secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to call for increased anti-corruption
efforts ( in the
fight against the illegal wildlife trade. In a joint statement, Fedotov and Scanlon said that “corruption feeds and sustains wildlife and forest crime, as well as many other crimes including terrorism and extremism.”

The two did not mince words when it came to diagnosing the problem and prescribing a solution: “For the criminals to succeed, customs officials must be bribed to look away; logging and hunting licenses forged; and poachers set free due to obstructed prosecutions. Thanks to corruption’s deadly touch, the natural wealth of countries is being stolen, efforts to eradicate poverty paralysed and development efforts greatly hindered. We are united in the belief that, by addressing corruption and bribery, we can deal a significant blow to all those involved in this transnational organized crime.” CITES’ seventeenth major Conference of the Parties (CoP17) begins in Johannesburg, South Africa tomorrow, and it represents a key opportunity to address the corruption fueling the illegal wildlife trade, experts say. In an attempt to seize this opportunity, the European Union and Senegal have put forward a resolution proposing measures to tackle corruption in wildlife trafficking.

“[I]t is an important development that for the first time, the issue of corruption will be formally debated at the world’s most important wildlife trade meeting,” Rob Parry- Jones, head of international policy for the WWF / TRAFFIC Wildlife Crime Initiative, and Aled Williams, a senior advisor at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, wrote in an op-ed for Business Daily.

China and Guinea: A case study in the illegal wildlife trade

A new report ( standards-2016.pdf) by independent conservationist and researcher Karl Ammann, who has been studying the issue for decades, paints a sobering portrait of the extent of the corruption enabling the illegal wildlife trade — the report is essentially a case study of the illicit trade of primates between Guinea and China and the opportunities to tackle the problem that have been missed by the CITES Secretariat in the past. “Between 2007 and 2011 a great deal of illegal ape trade took place between Guinea and China when at least 104 endangered chimpanzees and 10 endangered gorillas were officially reported as having been exported from Guinea to China only for it to later come to light that these were wild animals exported illegally by way of fraudulent CITES permits stating they were bred in captivity,” according to the report.  

The CITES Secretariat went on record confirming that “exports have occurred from Guinea in relation to specimens declared as having been bred in captivity… in violation of the Convention” in 2011, Ammann notes. But even though Article VIII of CITES states that “Parties shall take appropriate measures to enforce the provisions of the present Convention and to prohibit trade in specimens in violation thereof,” China has not taken any of the recommended actions to address the problem.

“The CITES Secretariat, apparently content with this failure by China to do what is required under the convention has, similarly, taken no action whatsoever to compel China to do what the convention requires,” Ammann writes in the report. The recommended actions include penalizing trade in or possession of illegal wildlife as well as the confiscation of the animal and its return to the state of export.

As a decentralized system, CITES leaves enforcement to member countries and has no enforcement body with the power to seize assets or arrest criminals involved in illegal trade. Each country that is a party to CITES has a management authority that issues export permits for animals that are legally exportable, but, as Ammann has demonstrated, corrupt authorities in African countries that are home to wild apes are facilitating the export of these animals with improper and even fraudulent permits. This has created a situation in which apes are being traded more or less in the open on social media.

One of the only enforcement actions that did take place after the revelations of the fraudulent CITES permits used to export apes from Guinea to China came in September 2015 when the former wildlife director and head of the CITES Management Authority of Guinea was arrested for his role in the corrupt and fraudulent issuance of CITES export permits. “Concerns regarding illegal trade in CITES-listed species involving Guinea have been dealt with in a thorough manner by the [CITES] Standing Committee and the Secretariat,” a briefing for CoP17 by the CITES Secretariat states, per the report.

But the ensuing court case was actually initiated by an NGO and never joined by the government, Ammann reports. None of the fake and falsified permits were ever presented in court, which could be another symptom of the corruption allowing the illegal trade to flourish, he suggests: “In some parts of Africa the bribe income officials are collecting through selling fake or falsified permits is now such that they encourage the illegal trade (standard quote for a fake ape permit is $5,000),” Ammann told Mongabay. The only other action taken was in March 2013, when the 63rd meeting of the CITES Standing Committee recommended the suspension of any commercial trade in CITES-listed species from Guinea.

Import and export permits are the “backbone of the CITES convention,” Ammann said, and if countries are able to be non-compliant with CITES provisions and there are no actions taken by the CITES Secretariat to compel their compliance, “there is a danger that the convention is becoming part of the problem.”

It works like this, Ammann explained: “Dealers buy falsified permits from the [CITES management authority] representatives of their country. In some cases blank and signed and stamped documents. They are then used for the export and import.” In the case of the imported apes from Guinea, Ammann found that Chinese officials had issued the necessary import permits that declared the apes as captive-born before Guinea had even issued the corresponding export permit declaring them captive-born. “So the scam started in China,” Ammann concluded. “We have the evidence of one such case for 7 chimps.”

Yet there was no action at the importing end, as the report documents, and “suspending Guinea for the commercial trade — while all these transactions were declared as non-commercial mostly with the purpose code Z for Zoo which makes it scientific and educational, never mind how much money changed hands — was once again avoiding dealing with the issue,” Ammann said.

The CITES Secretariat does have punitive powers that Secretary-General John Scanlon could use to rein in countries like China that are flouting the law, but according to Amman, they are not being put to use often enough: “The CITES Secretariat has the unique enforcement tool of recommending trade suspension of any party in constant non-compliance of convention rules and regulations. The Guinea-China case involved some 150 chimps and 10 gorillas and was the largest such scenario ever with no attempt of any kind to enforce Article VIII of the Convention. If no action is possible on such a pronounced noncompliance issue then is there a point in spending more money on CITES? To what extend does the lack of enforcement now encourage the trade?”


Report for the Interpol Environmental Crime Directorate
November 22, 2015 By Richard Hargreaves


Trade secrets: Karl Ammann

Southeast Asia Globe Interview – June 18, 2014

Swiss-born photojournalist and wildlife activist Karl Ammann has been investigating the illegal trade in wildlife products for more than three decades. On the phone from Kenya, Ammann spoke to Southeast Asia Globe about staying out of trouble and his disillusionment with the authorities’ efforts to clamp down on the illicit wildlife trade.

Illustration by Natalie Phillips

When did you visit Southeast Asia for the first time?

My brother-in-law has lived in Singapore and Bangkok and other places in the region for the past 30 years, so I’ve been visiting the region regularly throughout this time. I travelled extensively in Myanmar 20 or 30 years ago when it was still a pretty adventurous place.

When did you begin investigating wildlife crime in Southeast Asia?

It started around the same time. I remember when there was still cannabis for sale in the Sunday markets in Bangkok. People would open a bag up while you were having lunch to sell you stuff. One time there was a little gibbon inside a bag. I wondered how common these sales were. When I was in Jakarta I would go to the bird market to see what was going on.

What was the scariest moment you have had while doing an investigation?

In West and Central Africa you always get accosted by people and you never really know if it’s related to your work or if they’re checking out if you’re doing anything investigative. So my method is usually to arrive unannounced, stay around a day or two and then, when you start to get the impression people are wondering why you are there, why are you asking these questions, then move on. That has served me well. I think I’ve been close to confrontational situations many times, but if you move away fast, they don’t know what you’ve got, how much harm you might be able to do. You’re gone and you just hope that takes care of any future problems.

How successful have your campaigns against the trade in rhino horn and tiger bones been?

I got involved in it kind of by accident by following tiger stories and we ended up with dealers who, on the way out, would offer rhino horn to see if you were interested. So then we wondered if these dealers were concerned about selling and the next stage was, of course, realising it was too easily available, that it couldn’t be all real, and that probably 90% of what is being sold is fake, on the retail level anyway.

Vietnam’s prime minister recently issued a top-level directive to his line ministries prioritising enforcement at all levels, and across ministries, to combat the poaching and trafficking of African elephant ivory and rhino horn. How effective do you think this will be?

At the moment, I’m convinced that 90% of what’s being done in Southeast Asia is window dressing and lip service. Making pronouncements, signing MOUs [Memoranda of Understanding], that’s the easy part. I have identified dealers, particularly a major dealership outside of Hanoi, that sell kilos and kilos of real rhino horn on a daily basis. The information has been in the hands of Interpol and Traffic [a wildlife trade monitoring network] and Cites [Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] for more than a year now and there has been no enforcement action and the dealer’s shop is still as active as before. And it turns out there are more shops in the same village doing the same thing. In my opinion, they are some of the biggest dealers in Southeast Asia and they go on operating despite the fact I have passed on information to a range of enforcement authorities and nothing has changed. Once something changes on that front, then I will believe that something is really happening.

What do you think organisations and affected countries need to do to combat the trade?

I think they need to go after the top end, the big guys, the ones with the connections. We need to send a message that they are not immune. Just going after one or two guys with a small amount of rhino horn at the airport, who were probably just couriers, those are the easy guys to hammer and sort out. The top-end guys are well connected, they stay behind the scenes. It’s easy to link them with evidence because they finance and arrange it all. They are the key players and as far as I can see, none of them are ever arrested or prosecuted.

Are there other people or organisations working towards combating the illegal wildlife trade that you believe deserve more credit?

There are people out there that pass on information, who do it on the quiet, which is the only way to be really effective. In my travels I have to worry about being recognised and in some ways I have been too high profile and I can no longer do what I used to do. Now I work with local guys with hidden cameras. We review the material then make transcripts of what was said and get the story that way. There are players out there who go unrecognised and want to remain unrecognised.

What message do you have for the leaders of Southeast Asian countries?

I think China and Vietnam are the key places. So for China and Vietnam, my message is that I want them to become serious. Don’t think you are going to get away with window dressing and lip service. Sooner or later the world will catch up to what is really going on – and I hope that more people will be doing more investigative work – so don’t expect the issues to go away. Become serious now and deal with it.

Bilder einer sterbenden Welt

(Images of a dying world)

September 17, 2009 Von Thilo Thielke

Karl Amman, Schweizer Naturfotograf und TierschŸtzer in Borneo

Die Kamera ist seine Waffe gegen Wilderer: Der Schweizer Naturfotograf Karl Ammann dokumentiert mit seinen Aufnahmen die gnadenlose Jagd auf aussterbende Tierarten. Er führt einen fast aussichtslosen Kampf – auch weil Verlage lieber heile Welt als drastische Bilder zeigen.

Der Mann ist ständig auf Achse. Steht unter Strom. Gerade kommt er aus Laos zurück, wo er das finstere Treiben chinesischer Glücksritter dokumentiert hat. Jetzt sitzt er in Bangkok, spricht mit einem Kontaktmann, der den illegalen Handel mit Elefanten untersucht. Morgen wird er in Singapur sein, danach auf den Seychellen, drei Tage darauf endlich zu Hause in Kenia. In drei Wochen dann aber schon wieder: Zürich, Hamburg, London.

Der Schweizer Karl Ammann, 61 Jahre alt, ist Naturfotograf. Er hat wunderbare Bildbände veröffentlicht: über Geparden zum Beispiel, über Gorillas und Orang-Utans. Bilder aus der Massai Mara oder Borneo. Doch schöne Fotos sind längst nicht mehr das, was Karl Ammann an- und umtreibt. Amman will nicht mehr länger nur abbilden. Er will gestalten. Will retten, was noch zu retten ist.

“Die Tiere sterben”, sagt er, “und wir schauen teilnahmslos zu.” Die Welt sehe düster aus, wenn sich nicht bald etwas ändere. All die Tiere, denen er einen Großteil seiner Lebens- und Arbeitszeit gewidmet hat, gebe es dann nur noch ausgestopft oder bestenfalls als domestizierte Zoo- und Zirkustiere zu sehen: die Löwen und Tiger, die Schimpansen und die Bonobos, die Waldelefanten und die Okapis.

Read the full story here.

%d bloggers like this: