- TRAFFIC surveyed 59 zoos and wildlife attractions in Thailand between November 2013 and March 2014, and found 88 great apes and 162 gibbons in captivity.
- The numbers of apes in captivity seem to be much higher than those recorded as legally imported, TRAFFIC found.
- Researchers say that since Thailand’s domestic wildlife law does not include most non-native CITES-listed species under its protection, the country is unable to curb the trade in such animals.
Thailand is failing to control illegal trade in apes because of inadequate legislation, according to two new reports by TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network.
The numbers of apes in Thailand’s zoos and wildlife attractions seem to be much higher than those recorded as legally imported, TRAFFIC’s investigation found. This suggests that at least some of these animals have been illegally traded, the team says, most likely due to loopholes in existing domestic wildlife laws.
‘’Illegal wildlife traffickers are fully aware that Thailand provides a safe haven for their activities,” TRAFFIC’s Claire Beastall, co-author of the reports, said in a statement. “Until these loopholes are slammed shut, this situation is unlikely to change.”
TRAFFIC surveyed 59 zoos and wildlife attractions in Thailand between November 2013 and March 2014, and found 88 great apes and 162 gibbons in captivity. These included four species of great apes: Bornean Orangutan, Sumatran Orangutan, Chimpanzee, and Western Gorilla, and seven species of gibbon: Agile Gibbon, White-handed Gibbon, Pileated Gibbon, Javan Gibbon, Müller’s Bornean Gibbon, Siamang, and crested gibbons.
Of these, only four apes — White-handed Gibbon, Agile Gibbon, Pileated Gibbon and Siamang — are native to Thailand, all of which are listed as protected under the country’s Wild Animal Reservation and Protection Act (WARPA), the report notes. The remaining non-native ape species recorded in Thailand’s wildlife attractions are not listed under WARPA, and so do not enjoy any protection in the country.
However, all species of ape are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Appendix I, which means that international trade in these species is prohibited.
During the surveys, TRAFFIC found 51 orangutans across wildlife attractions in Thailand, but found records of only 21 in the 2014 International Studbook of the Orangutan. The Studbook records the source, births, transfers and deaths of individual orangutans in zoos and attractions worldwide.
Similarly, the team found only five CITES records of orangutan imports into Thailand since 1975, and no records for the single Western Gorilla or 14 crested gibbons encountered during the survey.
A major cause of this inconsistency is Thailand’s inadequate legislation, according to TRAFFIC. Since WARPA does not include most non-native CITES-listed species, the country is unable to curb the trade in such animals, the team notes.
For CITES-listed species, WARPA requires that licences be obtained for the import, export and transit through Thailand, irrespective of whether they are included in the Act. But the Act provides no regulations to control the possession of species that are not protected under the Act.
“This omission seriously hampers Thailand’s ability to impose any control on domestic trade in illegally imported, non-native, CITES-listed wildlife,” researchers write in the second report. “Anyone found in possession of such wildlife does not currently have to show how they acquired it; rather the State must prove that the animals were illegally imported in order to be able to take any subsequent enforcement action.”
A similar loophole in Peninsular Malaysia was closed some years ago, the authors add. The team recommends that Thailand should work towards closing this loophole too, by extending legal protection to cover all CITES-listed species that are currently omitted under WARPA.
The researchers also call for a more transparent system of monitoring the births, transfers and deaths of apes in zoos and wildlife attractions, which can help in tracking the legality of the animals.
“TRAFFIC recommends that the origins of all apes in captivity in Thailand should be ascertained and facilities found to be in violation of laws relating to the sourcing of apes should have their permits and licences revoked,” Beastall said.