August 24, 2009

Internet Used To Illegally Sell Primates From Cameroon

Experts say endangered species are being threatened by Internet advertisements asking people adopt "playful primates" from Cameroon, AFP reported.

It is illegal and forbidden to deal primates in the central African country. But one environmental activist in the front line said that over the past three years the Internet has led to a flourishing trade in endangered species.

The Last Great Ape Organization (Laga-Cameroon) is a small non-governmental organization that works in conjunction with the Cameroonian ministry of forestry and wildlife to try to stem the lucrative trade in beasts both dead and alive, according to the organization's director, Ofir Drori.

One of the aforementioned Internet advertisements offered the sale of a chimpanzee from Cameroon: "Kiki is ready for a new family. He has gentle and charming manners. Kiki is handsome and playful."

The advertisement boasts that the chimpanzee comes with "veterinary health documents, a 'permit' from CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and a year's health care guarantee."

However, CITES does not issue such individual "permits".

Laga-Cameroon, which infiltrates black market sales networks and carries out investigations in conjunction with the police, found and partially dismantled eight groups of Internet fraudsters over the last three years.

Drori said they originally thought the Internet sellers were simple swindlers who extorted money without providing the product announced, but some of the traffickers were genuinely dealing in endangered species, including animal heads and hides for use as trophies.

The cyber-dealers use a false sales permit with the forged signature of the wildlife minister to reassure clients of the offer.

"The Internet certainly facilitates illegal trade in wildlife, but it is very difficult to assess the scale," said John Sellar, the enforcement assistance chief at CITES in Geneva.

He said they are aware of some of the work that has been conducted in places like Cameroon with regard to trade in primates and they recognize that the Internet is used to sell live animals.

"But the majority of such offers are simply criminal frauds to scam people out of money, with no intention to supply live animals," he said.

CITES has issued several fraud warnings and are now examining trade that is facilitated by the Internet. Sellar noted that the anonymity of the Internet has helped law enforcement agencies catch some offenders.

The dealers generally place advertisements on specialist websites to initiate contact with clients. Experts say demand for primates like gorillas and chimpanzees is high in the United States, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Belgium and South Africa.

A baby chimpanzee sold locally for $105 dollars can sell for 100 times or even 200 times that much abroad.

Drori said the Internet has a potential that can facilitate connections between the buyers abroad and the local dealers.

"One of the things that up until now has prevented a massacre of animals has been the absence of such a connection," he added.

People trying to prevent the traffic were hindered by corruption and "complicities in the public administrations, the banks, airports and the police," according to a specialist in wildlife crime who asked not to be named.

The source added that the authorities should get more involved for the struggle to make progress.


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