• What is the pet trade?

    Governments bear a great responsibility towards safeguarding the future of apes, and through a range of laws, regulations and membership of Multilateral Environmental Agreements have pledged to try to control illegal trade and to preserve individual species and their habitats. All ape species are classified by the IUCN Red List as Globally Threatened. The international trade in wild animals is regulated through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES). Apes are listed on Appendix 1, which means that it is illegal for signatories to this convention to import or export them, unless there are special circumstances, in which case a license is required. However, most trade is undercover and often associated with other illegal activities such as drug trafficking. Whilst the trade in live orangutans is certainly less open than before there is no indication that it is dissipating (Nijman, 2009).

    Within many range countries live primates are traded as pets (Hicks et al., 2010, Nijman, 2005a, 2005b, 2009; Teleki, 1989). In African sanctuaries resident apes are predominately former pets or confiscated along the trade chain (Farmer, 2002). Most forest-dwelling people know the commercial value of a live infant ape and in the absence of effective law enforcement or any moral obligation not to kill an ape (in some parts of Africa consumption of ape meat is prohibited for cultural reasons) a live infant ape represents money. The ape is usually kept as a pet until it can be sold; they may be transferred from the interior to more developed areas to be sold to wealthier city dwellers as pets, to hoteliers and businesses to attract customers, or professional traders may travel to remote areas to buy or order young apes locally (Nijman, 2005b). Life expectancy of pet apes is short; they may die from disease and neglect, or be killed as they become stronger, more destructive and harder to control. The average age of confiscated African apes is less than 4 years (Farmer, 2002).

    In some regions (e.g., the Middle East, South America, Eastern Europe and parts of Asia) the international demand for great apes (as pets and for unregulated zoos including private collections) remains high. The price tag of $USD 1.6 million for four wild-born infant gorillas (popularly known as the Taiping 4), shipped from Nigeria to a Malaysian Zoo with false papers proclaiming captive birth, highlights the financial incentive of this trade (IPPL News, 2002). The price of an orangutan increases as individuals are exchanged along the trade chain; in Kalimantan orangutans were bought for USD $111±77 and sold for USD $337±241 (Nijman, 2005b).

    Undoubtedly infant apes are appealing; with human like features and behaviour, they are inquisitive and playful. However, they are boisterous, and become increasingly destructive, aggressive and difficult to control as they get older and stronger. There are many good reasons (both legal and ethical) why apes do not make good pets http://www.chimpcare.org/about_chimpanzees. Why not to keep a chimpanzee as a pet is infamously demonstrated by the story of Travis the pet chimpanzee, a former animal actor, who seriously attacked his owners friend. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travis_%28chimpanzee%29

  • How important is this threat compared to others?

  • Why is it a threat to great apes?

  • Is the pet trade dangerous for all species in the same way?

Compiled and edited 2011 by Kay H. Farmer
Reviewed by Hjalmar Kuehl, Josephine Head and Neba Funwi-Gabga

  • References