With all aspects of exploitative trade, it is supply and demand fuel the market. Cut the supply, and the product will evaporate. It is alarming that considering the extent of environmental devastation, that animals like Chimpanzees have not become more protected. However, the illegal trade of wildlife is just one aspect of the multi-billion dollar industry that is exploitative environmental crime.
The ravages of this crime reach far beyond the exploitation of animals, impacting the great chain of interconnected nature in ways that even humans cannot escape. It is up to humans to curb their desire to exploit nature and honor the right to exist inherent in nature. This sample criminology essay explores the crimes and enforcement efforts of the illegal trade.
Chimpanzee and environmental crime
A 2013 United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) Great Apes Survival Partnership (GASP) report has highlighted that on average 3,000 chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans are stolen from the wild or illegal killed each year (Platt). While this statistic is alarming in of itself, it is even more alarming considering that all these animal populations are already nearing extinction. Chimpanzees are more closely related to humans DNA-wise that to gorillas and are heavily familial.
When considering the plight of chimpanzees being stolen from the wild and abuse, it must be considered that they are:
“Profoundly social beings, they spend every day together exploring, crafting and using tools to solve problems, foraging, playing, grooming each other, and making soft nests for sleeping each night. They care deeply for their families and forge lifelong friendships” (Peta).
Currently, there are 1,700 chimpanzees whose rights are violated for scientific experimentation just because they are so closely related to humans. This is one of the many tragic aspects of the case of chimpanzees today.
It is all the more imperative that vulnerable aspects of nature such as these be further protected and not exposed to further exploitation. However, it is corruption and greed which keeps this market flush. For the alarming fact is:
Many countries in West and Central Africa do not have effective policies for preventing wildlife trafficking. As sad as this is, most African countries simply don’t have the infrastructure and resources to make this a top priority.
This has resulted in chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas becoming the target of animal traffickers in countries like Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, and Senegal. A live chimpanzee infant can fetch between $5,000-20,000 from zoos in North America, Europe, and Asia. (Last)
Ringling Bros and animal rights
It is a positive development that Ringling Bros. Circus has promised to remove elephants from their circus by 2018, but much more must be done to raise awareness about the real costs of habitat devastation (Neuman). This is not simply an American issue, but a global issue. For instance:
Over “the past 3 years it is estimated that over 130 chimpanzees have been smuggled from Guinea by Chinese miners to Chinese zoos. I believe that we should expect these trafficking incidents to grow, as China’s industrial presence throughout Africa expands” (Last).
Expanding on the number of 130 chimpanzees to a full context it is important to realize poachers target babies because they make the most money from them, which means usually at least one if not more adults are killed to get the baby. According to educational material from the Wisconsin Primate Research Center, chimpanzees have a slow reproduction rate and require a very high level of parental investment to survive. Thus, the suffering to the parents to have their child stolen is an incalculable injustice. Also, removing this baby from the wild cuts down on the amount of chimpanzees in the wild to reproduce, further weakening an already devastated population (Last).
Chimpanzee and the great ape family exploitation is a rampant problem, running around the world. Many corrupt aspects of government around the world allow this practice, which would be significantly cut down if customs agents were more circumspect. The fact is,
Great apes are trafficked in various ways. In many cases wild capture is opportunistic: farmers capture infant apes after having killed the mother during a crop-raid, or bushmeat hunters shoot or trap adults for food, and then collect the babies to sell. However, organized illicit dealers increasingly target great apes as part of a far more sophisticated and systematic trade.
They use trans-national criminal networks to supply a range of markets, including the tourist entertainment industry, disreputable zoos, and wealthy individuals who want exotic pets as status symbols. Great apes are used to attract tourists to entertainment facilities such as amusement parks and circuses. They are even used in tourist photo sessions on Mediterranean beaches and clumsy boxing matches in Asian safari parks. (Stiles, Redmond, Cress, Nellemann and Formo 8)
Consumers and animal crimes
Consumers around the world have the power to stop this terrible trade. Without consumer support these practices could not occur, and in this and many other cases, willful ignorance is the best friend of international criminals. Consumers routinely disempower themselves that their actions and beliefs do not matter, but that is not true. Activists insist:
The reason zoos are willing to spend $20,000 for a live chimpanzee is because they know hundreds of thousands of people will pay to see them in captivity. When you visit zoos that have great apes, whether in Canada or overseas, make sure you know where the great apes came from. Were they born in captivity?
Or were they smuggled into the country illegally? If we, as consumers, choose to only support zoos that do not participate in great ape trafficking, there would be no sense for zoos to obtain their chimpanzees illegally via trafficking.
You can raise awareness about this issue by sharing and discussing it with friends and family, and you can contact your local zoo to make sure you know about the origin of their chimpanzees. You can also become a guardian for orphaned chimpanzees with the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada. (Last)
While some consumers may choose ignorance, or think that this is an isolated incident, it is important to understand how supporting exploitation of any kind enables vaster networks of exploitation to flourish. For instance:
The illegal trade in great apes mirrors the recent spike in elephant and rhino poaching, as well as the rise in illegal logging. UNEP and INTERPOL recently launched a report showing that between 50 and 90 per cent of the logging taking place in key tropical countries of the Amazon Basin, Central Africa and Southeast Asia is being carried out by organized crime, threatening not only local species – including many great apes where they occur – but also jeopardizing efforts to combat climate change. (Stiles, Redmond, Cress, Nellemann and Formo 5)
Thus, awareness about the interconnected nature of animal rights and ecological justice is key to knowing how to disempower it, which is in the hands of the consumers.
Consumers must hold their governments, policy makers, and law enforcement personnel accountable for protecting their rights and environments. This requires awareness of where the shortcomings are, and a willingness to confront indifference. In this case:
“Sadly, law enforcement efforts lag far behind the rates of illegal trade. Only 27 arrests were made in Africa and Asia in connection with great ape trade between 2005 and 2011, and one-fourth of the arrests were never prosecuted” (Stiles, Redmond, Cress, Nellemann and Formo 8).
When many locations do not even have laws to protect endangered species, the fact that the ones that do are not even enforcing those laws makes them complicit in the human versus animal conflict and crimes.
When criminals know they are likely not to be persecuted for their crime the rates of abuse go way up, and cracking down on poachers, smugglers, and environmental criminals is essential to protect the fragile biosphere. As the habitat for chimpanzees and great apes are despoiled through illegal logging, the animals are exposed to further threat from poachers. This perfect storm of exploitation may make a few people a lot of money, but the costs to sustainability, species diversity, and the continuing life of humanity on the planet are insurmountable (Stiles, Redmond, Cress, Nellemann and Formo 8).
United States policy on chimpanzees rights
Recognizing the need to protect these animals, the biosphere, and international justice, the United States Congress has been analyzing how they can positively influence global policy protecting chimpanzees. Legislation is proposed to give civil and criminal courts the ability to punish those who harm these animals. Potentially, Congress may be:
- Determining funding levels for U.S. wildlife trade inspection and investigation;
- Evaluating the effectiveness of U.S. foreign aid to combat wildlife trafficking;
- Developing ways to encourage private sector involvement in regulating the wildlife trade;
- Using trade sanctions to penalize foreign countries with weak enforcement of wildlife laws;
- Incorporating wildlife trade provisions into free trade agreements; and
- Addressing the domestic and international demand for illegal wildlife through public awareness campaigns and non-governmental organization partnerships. (Wyler and Sheikh 1)
Congress has recognized that wild chimpanzees numbered more than one million 50 years ago, but now their number has shrunk to between 172,700 and 299,700 (Fleeks). Such unsustainable harvesting practices threaten the stability of the species and their valuable impact on the longevity of a biosphere necessary for human habitation.
There is a portion of humanity who are trying to profit of the decimation of the environment which sustains human life on this planet to the tune of perhaps 20 billion dollars a year. The cruelty and injustice of exploiting the environment, endangered species, and weakening the possibilities for a sustainable future for humanity on the planet must be stopped. A concerted effort in consumer awareness, governmental policy, and the enforcing of laws is needed to protect life on this planet in all its forms. The delusional drive of unlimited expansion capitalism could undermine the viability of life on this planet if left unchecked. Working together citizens, governments, and activists can make a difference in the lives of chimpanzees. This difference could make or break the capacity for sustainable life on this planet for humans as well as their closest relatives.
Last, Cadell. “Trafficking: A major threat to all wild chimpanzees.” JaneGoodall.com, 5 Dec. 2012. Retrieved from: http://janegoodall.ca/get-involved/trafficking-a-major-threat-to-all-wild-chimpanzees/.
Fleeks, Brandi M. “Chimpanzees: How They Have Become an Endangered Species.” Guardian Liberty Voice, 13 June 2014. Retrieved from: http://guardianlv.com/2014/06/chimpanzees-how-they-have-become-an-endangered-species/.
Neuman, Scott. “Ringling Bros. Says No More Circus Elephants By 2018.” NPR, 5 Mar. 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/03/05/390951839/ringling-bros-says-no-more-circus-elephants-by-2018.
Peta. “Chimpanzees in Laboratories.” Peta.org, n.d. Retrieved from: http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-experimentation/chimpanzees-laboratories/.
Platt, John R. “Great Apes in Crisis: Thousands Poached and Stolen from the Wild Annually.” Scientific American, 7 Mar. 2013. Retrieved from: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/great-apes-thousdands-poached-stolen/.
Stiles, D., Redmond, I., Cress, D., Nellemann, C., Formo, R.K. (eds). Stolen Apes – The Illicit Trade in Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Bonobos and Orangutans. A Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Environment Programme, GRID-Arendal, 2013. Retrieved from: https://www.occrp.org/images/stories/food/RRAapes_screen.pdf.
Wyler, Liana Sun, and Pervaze A. Sheikh. International Illegal Trade in Wildlife: Threats and U.S. Policy. Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 22 Aug. 2008. Retrieved from: http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/110404.pdf.