A Tale of Twenty Two Thousand Apes


That is how many great apes the United Nation’s Great Ape Survival Partnership estimates have been lost to illegal trading since 2005 (Stiles et al, 2013). This includes lives lost to bushmeat hunting, the illegal pet trade,  populating unaccredited zoos and wildlife parks, and the entertainment industry (including those used in travelling circuses) (Stiles et al, 2013). All of these activities are horrific in their own right; both cruel to the great apes being transported and sold like cargo, and dangerous to the humans who are being exposed to diseases and are at risk of being seriously injured by these powerful animals (Stiles et al, 2013).


That’s roughly the same number of undergraduate students in the University of Toronto’s faculty of Arts and Science. It’s a huge number, and it is being made worse by an ever increasing rate of habitat destruction, which allows poachers and traders easier access to the apes (Stiles et al, 2013). In fact, it is estimated that by 2030, less than 10% of African great ape habitat – the habitats of chimpanzees and gorillas – will remain  undisturbed by humans (Stiles et al, 2013).

Fourteen thousand chimpanzees, one thousand bonobos, three thousand gorillas, and four thousand orangutans.

An increase in hunting and illegal trading would further devastate great ape populations, and threatens to send some populations spiraling to the brink of extinction. But as the demand for apes increases, forests thin out, and humans get better at smuggling live animals to and from countries, how can we improve these bleak  circumstances?

The Great Ape Survival Partnership, in an action report released this year, suggest that three main areas be targeted to curb the illegal ape trade. Firstly, it is important to curb consumer demand for great apes, which would lower the value of apes being trafficked and reduce motivation to participate in illegal trading (Stiles et al, 2013). Secondly, enforcement of anti-hunting and trading laws has to be stricter, ensuring that less people ‘get away’ with participation in horrific trading schemes (Stiles et al, 2013). Lastly, the most dangerous type of trafficking – large scale, organized trafficking – must be addressed and internationally handled (Stiles et al, 2013).

This large scale trafficking is highly problematic as it not only involves a larger number of apes, but it also crosses political boundaries, and therefore makes the persecution of individuals very difficult (Stiles et al, 2013). By strengthening trans-boundary cooperation, emphasizing frequent border inspections for illegal exports, and creating specialized border customs units equipped to investigate and crack international ape trafficking rings (Stiles et al, 2013), we stand a much better chance of dissolving these large rings and really  addressing the great ape trade worldwide.

Works Cited:

Stiles, D., Redmond, I., Cress, D., Nellemann, C., Formo, R.K. (eds). 2013. Stolen Apes – The Illicit Trade in Chimpan- zees, Gorillas, Bonobos and Orangutans. A Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Environment Programme, GRID-Arendal. http://www.grida.no

Copyright JGI USA/Fernando Tumo

Copyright JGI USA/Fernando Tumo

11 responses to “A Tale of Twenty Two Thousand Apes

  1. Wow, I didn’t realize the number was so tragically high. I think one of the major issues, in North America at least, is the general attitude towards “exotic” pets. There are all of those videos on youtube of cute infant primates that make people think what great pets they are.

    And then there are major pop/media icons like Justin Bieber who irresponsibly glorify owning illegal animals as pets.

    We have to break down these popular conceptions of primates, and make known the ramifications of owning one as a pet.

    • I completely agree, Matthew… Exotic pets are a huge issue, and I worry that the recent media attention that pet monkeys (This year has brought us not only Justin Bieber’s monkey, but also the Ikea Monkey!) have been attracting might worsen the situation!
      Public awareness is a huge step that has to be undertaken to make people more aware of why monkeys don’t make good pets (for both the sake of the monkeys, and the people!). You may want to check out National Geographic’s documentary ‘My Child is A Monkey’ for a closer look at the monkey pet trade specifically, and for an interesting look into why some people are so determined to keep pet monkeys, and the problems that come with that decision.

  2. Great tip to look into that doc Emma! I couldn’t agree more with the issue of exotic pets! My sister was watching the reality show Girls Next Door where they keep monkeys in cages at Hugh Heffner’s mansion, and they are extremely overweight! The monkey looked pregnant. This is once again a problem of lack of education I feel.

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