CONGO - APES

 

 

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BEGINNING OF FILM

 

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I took Monkeys to South Africa.

 

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I got De Brazza, Wolf Monkeys, er, Red ............

 

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These were all sold the first day, Wolf Monkeys ...............

 

 

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Until recently, these Swamp monkeys were living in the forests of the Congo in Central Africa. Now they are in captivity in American zoos, described by the zoos as  "animals rescued from the ‘bush-meat' trade".  Some species are indeed endangered by the bush meat trade, in which anything that lives in the bush is considered food by the local people. But the real story of these monkeys is far less romantic. The monkeys were probably caught in the wild to order, after a naïve conservationist at San Diego Zoo was put in contact with a South African zoo owner who is also dealer in wild animals.   

 

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Are you interested in primates?

 

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Yes. I have the biggest shipment of primates that has ever come out of the Congo.

 

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Swiss nature photographer Karl Amman has become concerned with this very negative aspect of the trade in endangered animal species. He sees most monkey exports as purely commercial transactions, not related to conservation, and creating unnecessary pressure on populations in the wild.

 

AMMAN

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The issue of exporting primates from Congo to the United States is a serious one in the context of how those animals were collected in the Congo. There is no way that under the Congo law they could have been legally collected. The only way to get your hands on baby primates of these numbers is by shooting the mothers, exporting the babies and that is illegal, even for Cites 2 animals. So they shouldn't have been exported to South Africa, they shouldn't have been imported into South Africa, they shouldn't have been exported  from South Africa to the US.

 

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In the Congo, it is common to find monkeys being kept as pets. You can see them sitting by the roadside or near houses, often on a very short rope. Animals are also caught in the wild and brought to cities and villages to be sold. This always begins with the parents being killed to make capturing the young animals easier. As a result, there is tremendous pressure on the wild monkey populations, causing some species to be threatened with extinction.

In the Congo capital Kinshasa you can find dealers everywhere. Literally everything is for sale.

 

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FRENCH SPEAKING DEALER

How much is a chimpanzee?

 

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A chimpanzee costs 300 dollars.

 

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Can I take a chimpanzee tomorrow?

No, that's too quick.

 

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To get some answers, we went to Pretoria in South Africa to meet with animal dealer Mike Bester. We talked to Bester with a hidden camera. To get the ball rolling, we tell Bester that we own a small zoo in Western Europe, and that we are interested in his animals.

 

BESTER

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Do you know the AZA, the African Organisation of Zoos?

 

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Yes

I sit on the board

 

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Ok

 

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I'm on the board, we have 7 board members, I'm one of them.

 

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OK, so that's very, er, highly responsible

 

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Well exactly.

And the authorities if they have any zoo problems they actually come to us.

 

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 OK. It's a good combination, so you're a zoo and a broker at the same time.

 

Correct

 

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This is the primates

 

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What a good quality eh?

Red tailed Spotnose

 

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Also sold already?

 

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Yeah. What I'm showing you now is all going to San Diego zoo in America.

 

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These are sold but I have some of others as well.

 

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These were 80,000 Rand a pair.

 

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That's how many euro's?

That's 1,000?

 

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10,000.

10,000 Euros

 

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People bought them very, very quickly.

Because it's a new bloodline. 

 

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All out of the wild.  Every one.

Every one is out the wild, from the bushmeat markets.

 

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We had to build a quarantine station in the Congo, and that's not easy, you have to get the land, we have to get all the materials, you have to build a quarantine station.

 

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So now we go looking for the Congolese seller who sold the monkeys to Mike Bester. Kinshasa is a heavily populated city with millions of inhabitants. The center looks very Western, with skyscrapers and office complexes. But those who leave the center and go to the outskirts of the city see a totally different picture.

It's not safe to hang around with a hidden camera in a country like Congo. If you are discovered in an area like this, you will be in deep trouble, and that's an understatement.  Everywhere in the local markets, you can see smoked monkey meat.  Every animal is eaten, but monkey meat is the most prized in the Congolese kitchen. A smoked monkey costs about 9 dollars, here at the market, but a bit further along we are offered a live monkey for 150 dollars.

 

FRENCH SPEAKING DEALER

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150 dollars. Yes, 150 dollars.

 

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150 dollar.

150.

 

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By asking around, we soon find Alex Bajangi, the animal trader who deals with Mike Bester. Once again, we act as interested buyers, and very quickly we hear the story about the large monkey sale to Mike Bester.

 

CONGO DEALER ALEX BAJANGI

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I export to South Africa.

 

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How much?

 

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100. 50 pairs.........

 

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 My customers are from South Africa.........

 

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This monkey to the USA.........

 

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This monkey for 400,000.

How much?

 

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400,000 for ten. 

 

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Black Mangabey I sell for 3500. My price. OK?

 

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Er, De Brazza monkey I sell for 3,000. My price. OK?

 

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And from South Africa?

 

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I, er find the buyers from the USA

 

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Only ten, not all the stock. I send it out discretely.

 

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Only sell 10 for 400,000.

 

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We are going to an ape holding facility, owned by a Madame Rifi. In about twenty cages, different sorts of primates are waiting for buyers. Madame Rifi endeavours to persuade us that the export of monkeys from the Congo is forbidden.

 

FRENCH SPEAKING MADAME RIFI

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Papers?

For the parrots?

 

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No, for the monkeys.

 

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Apes may not be exported. That is forbidden.

 

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That's completely different.

 

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An export license is not that easy to get. Later on we are introduced to Martin Beyart, one of the trading partners of Mike Bester in South Africa.

 

NEXT DEALER MARTIN BEYART

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You also sell monkeys?

 

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Yes I export the monkeys

 

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Did you also export before?

Yeah I exported before, I exported the monkeys to South Africa last year

 

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What did you export? What monkeys did you export?

 

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I exporedt De Brazza, Wolf Monkeys,

 

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Red K...........

 

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100,000 dollar for 53 monkeys

 

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100,000? That's a lot of money

 

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They write on the paper......

 

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That monkeys make a lot of noise, because ...

 

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I send that monkey I send to America

400,000. 400,000

 

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Ok see you tomorrow

 

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Nice car

 

AMMAN

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We have a situation where over 100 primates were exported from Congo to South Africa. Some 34 of them went to the United States.  A selected group of pretty selected primates.  To me that is a clear indicator that this was an order: a very specific order from a very specific zoo facility who needed certain animals; to a specific dealer who they knew could get these animals; who then went to a dealer in Kinshasa; who then got people to go out and get these primates with, um, based on a very specific order.

 

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The monkeys were firstly transported from Kinshasa to Mike Bester in Pretoria in South Africa.  In January 2006 Bester sent a price list around to his business contacts where he offered the same kind of monkeys to the highest bidder. For example, De Brazza monkeys and Allen's Swamp Monkeys were listed. Mike Bester is a registered animal dealer, and sells exotic animals all over the world.

 

BESTER

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Seven elephants, four white rhino,... 

 

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... cheetahs and those birds going to America.

 

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This is 4 animals for Taiwan.

 

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Here's the permits for primates to go to Czechoslovakia.

 

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This is all the monkeys going to America.

 

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Six American zoos bought 33 of Mike Bester's wild apes for 440,000 dollars to strengthen the genetic population in their zoos. The Congolese and South-African authorities assisted with these transactions by saying that these monkeys were saved from the bush meat market. At that time, the zoos' story was supported by the American press. But in fact, although on the South African export documents the monkeys are still described using the letter W for ‘caught in the wild', on the American import documents animals were ‘accidentally' shown with a totally different status: C for ‘born in Captivity'.

 

AMMAN

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In this case, the US Fish and Wildlife declares them as the source ‘C ‘being captive bred, which they clearly were not, and everybody admits to that. Of course there is a huge difference if exporting captive bred versus wild caught animals. Then the country of origin is listed as ZA which is South Africa.  The country of origin is clearly DRC and they were clearly imported into South Africa with the intent to re-export.

 

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So the supporting import and export documentation is not entirely consistent. But it seems that the South African and the US authorities didn't worry about the differing status of the monkeys, they were still transported.  Karl Amman wanted to know whether Martin Beyart, the animal dealer in Kinshasa, really had got all the necessary permits from the Congolese government.

 

AMMAN PHONE CALL

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I got it. I've everything I own

What about the capture permits and the permit d'origin?

Everything I've got. Don't give us trouble! Please! ....................

I write the paper to ‘Ngoi Taki' and then ‘Ngoi Taki' sends the paper to madam Bashiki

Bashiki gave me  ......... the permit  to export this monkey.

 

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Amman travels to Kinshasa to find a Ms Bashiki. According to the trader Martin Beyart, she is the person who signed the export documents the previous year, when she was the head of the scientific committee of the Congolese ministry responsible for nature conservation.

 

MADAME BASHIKI SPEAKING FRENCH

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I am sure that the institute has a record of everything, and it seems that there was no export permit given.

 

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Amman is none the wiser about who signed the paperwork. Now he wants to speak to the current director of the institute of nature conservation.

The ICCN is part of the Congolese ministry for bush matters and is the only government department that can make decisions about animal export.

 

PASTEUR COSMOS WILUNGULA SPEAKING FRENCH

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There were different numbers mentioned. There was talk of 30, but also over 300 and other numbers. I'm certain that I didn't give any permits for the export of monkeys or primates, either without my knowledge or being completely informed.

 

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It is not easy to find truth in this enormous land. The traders try to convince us that they have all the licenses. But those who are said to have officially signed the papers deny their involvement. Who is not telling the truth? It is difficult to find that out in the Congo. The government exists only on paper.

People have to fend for themselves, to make sure they have money and food. And often the food and therefore the money are to be found in the bush. That's the way it works here.

Amman decides to ask Mike Bester for an official reaction. Was the monkey export to the American zoos a commercial transaction, or a noble deed to save the animals?

 

BESTER

00:15:21:03 - 00:16:02:15

The way I understand it and you must remember I've spoken to the guys who bought them in, probably 40 or 50 times, because when I started wanting the stuff for San Diego I always have to check out everything from one side to the other; and they told me that they were buying African Greys in the market  place; and then collecting them up at one guy's house; and they saw a  lot of those beautiful coloured monkeys in the market place; and they started by buying up some of the monkeys; taking them to the dealer's place; and then trying to find out what were the possibilities of importing them into here; and I believe it they were literally bought the most colourful ones they could find at the market; not knowing a thing when they started. That's how they explained it to me

 

AMMAN

00:16:03:13 - 00:16:36:19

It's of course nice to hide behind the bushmeat trade and it's distressing to me because if everybody starts hiding behind the bushmeat trade to so-call save animals and put them in captivity that's not the answer to the bushmeat problem either. It was just a good PR gimmick to use the bushmeat trade. But I guess American zoos were running out of certain species of primates in their collection. There was not enough captive breeding going on to maintain their population, they needed new blood and they ordered it as zoos generally do

 

BESTER

00:16:37:04 - 00:17:07:17

To me what is interesting is if, I mean, I got Karen's correspondence here, was species they did not have a sufficient gene pool in the States, they didn't take.  Although they said they would love to have them because they don't,  they decided it was absolutely pointless  to take two or three of a species cause they had no genetic group in the USA, they only took ones where there were clearly genetically stable groups in the states,  as new bloodlines. And that was clearly explained right at the beginning. I can show you correspondence on that as well.

 

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It seems that the American zoos had specific interest in particular species of monkey. This is something totally different to saving a whole group of homeless orphan monkeys from being killed for the Congolese meat market. Mike Bester's monkey shipment is first flown from Johannesburg to Amsterdam on a KLM freight airplane.  Here, the animals have 2 days rest in a holding station, then they are flown again on board KLM to San Francisco, with San Diego Zoo as the final destination. But since 1999 KLM officially no longer transports wild animals, because of earlier incidents involving animal transportation. This is how they saw their options then:

 

H. VAN BERCKEL

00:17:18:00 - 00:17:34:20

We have actually three options: to start again with the transport of animals; to completely stop with the transport of animals; and another option is how we might have a middle ground, where we work only with certain parties who are known to be trustworthy.

 

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The last option, trustworthy partners, is the back door through which the Congolese monkeys  can be transported to America. KLM does transport wild animals when they go from zoo to zoo. The dealer Mike Bester in South Africa is legally the owner of a dealership and sits on the board of a zoo. 

KLM declined to respond on camera, but sent a written explanation of the transportation of monkeys: "KLM accepts animals which are caught in the wild for transportation to and between accredited zoos." Mike Bester is an accredited zoo. KLM goes on to say: "In recent years we have accepted increased numbers of animals from Bester Birds & Animals and other accredited zoos."

Bart Staes, a Member of the European Parliament, has been active for months with this so called "bush meat affair" and has asked critical questions of the European Commission.

 

BART STAES

00:18:49:00 - 00:18:51:18

I think that KLM is playing a very dubious role. I have myself sought clarification, and  I wrote them a letter and in each case KLM says that they work with Mike Bester. I'll read a bit of their reply, they say literally in their reply to me:  "in recent years we have accepted increased numbers of animals from Bester Birds and Animal Zoo Park, from the zoo park ‘de Wild', and from other PAAZAB, WAZA, AZA (African Zoo Association), EAZA and other related zoos."  

 

KARL AMMAN

00:19:21:21 - 00:19:45:22

KLM shouldn't be out there advertising themselves to be different from the rest, different from the bad guys by saying we don't do this kind of thing, and then do it and get listed as it. So it's hypocrisy and they should be exposed for it, so they hopefully don't do it again, either they take this sign down and say OK we are part of the lot of people who are exporting wild caught wildlife, or they should not do it.

 

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Besides the confusion about the licences and the documents of origin, there is also the matter of the necessary CITES documents. CITES regulates the trade in endangered flora and fauna in 171 countries, and the Congo is a signatory to this conservation agreement. The exported Congolese monkeys therefore fall under the protection of the CITES agreement and cannot be exported without relevant permission. However, it seems that there's something going wrong with the export of monkeys, because this program's written request for an interview with CITES was refused for the reason that CITES is in discussion with the Congolese authorities. But in a letter to the member of the European parliament, Bart Staes, CITES writes that: "We are told that the relevant Congolese scientific committee sees no problem with the export of these monkeys."

However, the former director and the current director of the scientific committee apparently knew nothing about these monkeys. The question of who, exactly, gave permission in the Congo, remains unanswered.

 

BART STAES

 

BART STAES

00:20:31:10 - 00:20:36:13

We've got our hands on documents which prove what "CITES" is. And that even the CITES people themselves in Congo have their doubts about how it all works in Congo. There must always be scientific advice for example, before removal is possible. Something happened in this case. We know of statements from people who say ..... look ..... we can't really check the Congo situation either because there's a war going on, there are uprisings, there's no democracy, it's a massive country. So it's not all that simple. 

 

BESTER

00:21:21:08:22 - 00:21:23:15

I do have some animals here.......

 

:21:25:02 - 00:21:28:01

Where is the weak link in this story? It is clear that there is something awry with the way government permission has been obtained in the Congo.

And it is also rather strange, ethically speaking, that a dealer with a zoo licence can at the same time do business the whole world over.

Because you never know what's going to happen to animals if they disappear into the hands of dealers or private individuals.

 

STAES

00:21:28:05 - 00:21:34:19

It is, as we say here, ‘putting the cat next to the milk'. It's asking for trouble. Someone who is both a dealer and a zoo owner, they can cheat. So as a member of the European Parliament, I decided it was my job to put a parliamentary question down and then to see how we can approach this matter from a legal perspective. Against abuse of this sort of, let's be honest; this is a scandal.

 

ENDS

 

 

 

 

 

 

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