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UNODC, The Globalization of Crime, 2010; Karl Ammann & Pax Animalis, The Cairo Connection, Part 2, 2011; The Guardian, Flora and Fauna International, WWF, press reviews; personal communication with Dr. Daniel Stiles.
Uploaded on Monday 11 Mar 2013
Main international routes for the illegal trafficking of great apes
Riccardo Pravettoni, GRID-Arendal
In principle, wildlife smuggling is done in the following ways:
• Transport over land by foot, horse, donkey, motorbike and
• Transport by river by boats;
• Transport by sea by vessels;
• Transport by air from fields or airstrips, including helicopters, small fixed-wing bush planes and larger transport airplanes; and
• Transport by individuals in luggage or through diplomatic posts.
In some instances, wildlife products are smuggled using combinations of these options.
Organized traffickers seeking high profits minimize the number
of cargo transfers along the smuggling route, as each handling
increases the ape’s stress levels. A fixed feeding setup also
helps to minimize stress and reduces the risk of exposure to
disease. Most important, traffickers aim to minimize the time
that the ape spends in transit. This is not so much due to risk
of compromise, as would be the case with other forms of smuggling, as it is to ensure the survival of the smuggled ape.
For this reason organized live ape smugglers prefer to transport
apes by cargo airplane directly to the destination country utilizing small local air strips. Due to the increase in infrastructure development and resource extraction projects in ape range areas, significant numbers of cargo planes associated with these projects are able to leave from small air strips near or on-site and travel directly to the Gulf, the Middle East and Southeast Asia virtually uninspected. Widespread local corruption makes the bribing or threatening of local customs officers possible and such incidents have been reported by criminal intelligence, as well as by the media.
Apes may also be transported by ships and large boats, as the
vessels often go uninspected and cages with food and water are
easily accommodated. Such vessels may visit small ports or improvise landings in West Africa and Southeast Asia. On board,
the great apes will remain in the same cage for a long period
of time, thereby reducing stress levels. As of yet, there is little documentation of this mode of transportation in the modern trafficking of great apes. However it was the primary method of transporting live wildlife for centuries.
Transporting apes in trucks over long distances is risky, not
only because border crossings and vehicle check-points increase
the risk of interception, seizure and arrest, but also because they increase the risk that the ape will suffer from dehydration and stress. Although some such cases have been intercepted and reported, it is unclear what proportion of trade they represent. This is also true of the smuggling of infant apes in luggage on commercial flights. Often these are the methods used by amateur smugglers, operating in the low-profit end of the trafficking chain.