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Monkey World News

Chimp Poachers Find Market in Turkey

Los Angeles Times


Despite international ban, lucrative primate trade is flourishing. It deals a blow to efforts to rescue the endangered African species.

ISTANBUL, Turkey- His tiny hands clenched into balls his frail body trembling with fear, 9-month-old Lucky awaits prospective buyers at a market in Istanbul. He's not easy to spot. Lucky spends the day confined in a dark, musty attic at the Istanbul Animal Emporium "We're not really supposed to be selling chimps," the owner says with a conspiratorial wink, "but I'll let you have this one for 58,000 ." Lucky is one of a growing number of wild baby chimpanzees being smuggled into Turkey, the newest market for Nigerian poachers specializing in the lucrative ape trade. "Many of our customers are rich mafia types," a shop assisstant boasted. "They buy the chimps to cheer up their mistresses." Wad chimpanzees are an endangered species, protected by an international convention that bans the chimp trade. But animal rights activists say chimps are sold widely in Thailand, Japan, Russia and Mexico. And now Turkey's emergence as a market has set back their efforts to drive the trade out of Europe Prominent in those efforts are Alison Cronin, a Cambridge trained primatologist from San Diego, and her husband, Jim, who runs the Monkey World ape sanctuary in Dorset, England. Over the past decade, they have teamed up with governments to rescue chimps in Greece, Israel and Spain, where the animals were used mainly by beach photographers to lure tourists "We have 45 orphaned chimps now living with us here in what is pretty close to their natural habitat," Alison Cronin said in a telephone interview from Dorset, "we're now working with the Turkish authorities to do the same" for chimps rescued in Turkey. The demand for baby chimps encourages poachers to hunt them in the jungles of West Africa. "In order to capture the babies the poachers slaughter their mothers and other dominant chimpanzees," Cronin said. "Usually they are crammed into wooden crates and brought to Europe by ships. For every baby chimp that gets here, at least 10 others die." Once the chimps mature, around age 5, they become aggressive and often dangerous, so their owners have them killed or put on tranquilizers. "Valium is the favored choice," she said. Because Turkey is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the Cronins at first were hopeful of shutting down the illegal market here. The couple recently made four trips to Istanbul and the Turkish coast. They toured pet stores, including the Istanbul Animal Emporium, posing as potential buyers. "We found 15 baby chimps, and I'm sure there must be more ' Cronin said. "Many were malnourished and had swollen bellies. One called Charlie had been severely beaten, burned by cigarettes and had a broken toe." The Cronins alerted Turkish authorities and accompanied them on raids of the pet stores. But word of their plan had spread. They were able to rescue only two chimps Garip, whose Turkish name means "poor one," and Romeo. Charlie and the other 12 are missing. The couple are trying to bring Garip and Romeo to their sanctuary in England. But they are stymied by Turkish bureaucracy. Officials at the Turkish Forestry Ministry. which is supposed to enforce laws against poachers, say court cases they filed against the pet shop owners must be concluded before they can let the chimps go. Until then the pair are being held outdoors at a private zoo near Istanbul. "Maybe years, maybe months. I have no idea how long these trials will take," said Nejat Ozkan, a forestry official familiar with the case. With winter approaching in Turkey, Jim Cronin said Garip and Romeo run the risk of exposure. "Chimpanzees don't understand bureaucracy," he said, "They just die."

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