Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Great apes losing ground

This post now on Google News on BasilandSpice, a syndicated website

Text and photos (except gibbon photo) by Sally Kneidel

  Myself (Sally Kneidel) with a young orang in grad school at OU, while a student of Roger Fouts'

Southeast Asia a center for illegal wildlife trade
I'm going to Indonesia soon, to write about the current plight of orangutans who are losing their habitat. And to learn more about the illegal trade in wildlife, especially endangered primates.

If you regularly read the website of "Traffic: The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, you know that southeast Asia is the epicenter of the illegal trade in protected wildlife. The Chatuchak weekend market in Bangkok is said to be the single largest market on the planet where wildlife is traded illegally. That's one place I'm going.

New study finds endangered gibbons threatened by pet trade
I do read Traffic regularly and spotted on their website this morning a link to a recent article from the journal  Endangered Species Research, a study of the trade in seven species of gibbons native to Indonesia. All seven of these gibbon species are listed as Endangered by the IUCN, meaning that all are at very high risk of going extinct in the wild. All are protected by Indonesian law and can't legally be kept as pets.

Gibbons, courtesy of
The researchers for the ESR article I mentioned above reported on 600 gibbons found in 22 zoos and 9 wildlife rescue centers and reintroduction centers from 2003 to 2008. About 2/3 of these animals had been confiscated by Indonesian authorities from persons keeping or trading them illegally. About 1/3 were animals donated by pet owners who grew tired of the gibbons as they aged and were no longer cute pets. The article reported that prosecution of offenders is rare, and so the trade in gibbons and other endangered primates such as orangutans remains rampant.
Traffic published an excellent overview of the ESR gibbon article on Dec 7, 2010, on the Traffic website.

Both gibbons and orangutans (also highly endangered) are Great Apes, the animals most closely related to humans. (Other Great Apes include chimpanzees and gorillas.) What animals could be more deserving of our protection, or more interesting?

The illegal pet trade grows more significant as species dwindle
The main threats to most primates are loss of habitat and hunting, but as their numbers decline, the illegal trade in primates is having an increasing impact on the surviving populations. This trade is driven not only by pet owners, but also by demand from biomedical companies and zoos. I recently wrote a post in which I reported that the country importing the most primates is the United States, largely for medical, pharmaceutical, and other research. Many or most of these are wild-caught primates, because wild-caught are much cheaper than those bred and raised in captivity. And most research is paid for by grants, so researchers shop frugally for their experimental subjects.

But the primate pet trade is thriving in the United States too.  If you doubt it, take out a subscription to Animal Finders' Guide, or attend one of the many exotic animal auctions held across the U.S. every year, such as the infamous "Woods and Waters." Animal Finders' Guide advertises these auctions, but the weekly publication is mostly pages of ads selling wildlife, from lions to camels to primates, including chimpanzees. Selling them to anyone who'll pay. Stunned when I read my first copy, I called a man selling a young chimp from his "backyard compound" in Texas. He assured me I needed no papers, offered to drive the chimp halfway to deliver it to me. I don't remember exactly how much he was asking, but I think it was $25,000.

Many of the animals for sale in the United States arrive the same way drugs do: by boat, by private plane, in the trunks of cars. I went to an animal market in Peru that offered baby tamarins, marmosets, night saki monkeys, sloths, baby spider monkeys for sale to anyone who would buy.

A baby spider monkey for sale illegally in a market along the Amazon, photo by Sally Kneidel

An indifferent policeman plays with a baby sloth for sale illegally, photo by Sally Kneidel

The price of these endangered and threatened wildlife in that market by the Amazon?  The equivalent of $2 each. Many were sold as pets; keeping primates as companion animals is still quite popular in the villages of remote Amazonia. Some families had a baby marmoset for every child in the family, as well as turtles and iguanas that they dragged around on rope leashes.

A teenage girl in an Amazonian village with a pet marmoset, photo by Sally Kneidel

Check out my previous post about the Amazonian wildlife market, and my previous post about the popularity of wildlife and primates as pets in Amazonia - both posts with lots of pics.

What can you do?
Support organizations such as the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS), which manages a 1 million acre reserve that is home to 3500 wild orangutans. BOS is committed to rescuing orangutans displaced by the ongoing destruction of their remaining habitat for palm oil plantations.
Support Orangutan Land Trust, an organization affiliated with BOS. I know the people who manage BOS and OLT, and I know they're making a difference.

Support  SOS, the Sumatran Orangutan Society, an organization working to protect the Sumatran Orangutan.

Support TRAFFIC, an organization committed to informing the public about all species threatened by loss of habitat, hunting, and illegal trade. TRAFFIC has been around for a long time, and is associated with WWF.

I don't know much about Kalaweit, but just looking at their website, they appear to be an organization working to protect and rescue gibbons in Indonesia.

Vincent Nijman et al. October 13, 2009. "Saved from trade: donated and confiscated gibbons in zoos and rescue centers in Indonesia." Endangered Species Research (

See also:
Traffic. "Study highlights gibbon trade in Indonesia" Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.  12/7/2009.

David Adam. "Monkeys, butterflies, turtles... how the pet trade's greed is emptying south-east Asia's forests." The Observer Feb 21, 2010.

Some of my previous posts on these topics:
Monkeys and parrots pouring from the jungle..

U.S. imports 20,000 primates per year

From the Amazon to the Andes, Peru knocked me silly

Keywords: gibbons orangutans red apes Orangutan Outreach endangered animals southeast Asia BOS Borneo great apes


redapes said...

Thanks for this highly informative post!

Orangutans are critically endangered in the wild because of rapid deforestation and the expansion of palm oil plantations. If nothing is done to protect them, they will be extinct in just a few years. I'd like to invite your readers to visit the Orangutan Outreach website to learn more! Orangutan Outreach fundraises directly for BOS Nyaru Menteng in the US.

Orangutan Outreach
Reach out and save the orangutans!
Join our Facebook Cause

Kyoko said...

Very recently I saw a BBC programme on Orangutans and their vanishing habitats due to palm oil production:
You might find it interesting.
Thank you for another informative post.