The BBC recently exposed a secret network of wildlife traffickers passing on baby chimpanzees in Western and Central Africa. Their 12-month investigation managed to save one tiny individual.
They discovered that for every one baby that’s taken, around ten adult animals are killed to make the baby-snatching easier. The apes, who are the closest relatives we have to humans, are then shipped in tiny boxes to become playthings or entertainers for people around the world.
But who actually buys the babies?
The trafficking is one thing. You have to imagine these people are struggling for work, living in some of the poorest, most war-torn countries we have. One chimp will cost about £10,000. I have to believe these people are desperate; otherwise I can’t really understand it.
What I can’t comprehend is who buys them at the other end. These are wealthy people. They have to be to afford them.
The BBC journalists pretended to be an Indonesian pet trader, posing to buy the baby for a wealthy boss. The babies are then sent all over the world. According to the BBC trade is worse in China, South East Asia and the Gulf states. These are the countries that have most demand and really stimulate the trade.
Of course, this involves even more people than just the initial thieves and the buyers. There are layers up on layers of middle men along the way, making this a global network of crime.
Then there’s the question of what happens when the chimp has grown. The animals can grow to nine stone. That’s a large, strong, clever animal to have as a pet. I can only imagine the kind of restraints that must be used to keep animal of that size and intelligence subdued and controlled.