How many times must the ape traffic be exposed, before it is forever banned?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2006:
CAIRO, KANO, NAIROBI–Ten years after the World Society for
the Protection of Animals exposed the Cairo connection in the
international live great ape traffic, five years after Egyptian
customs officials refocused attention on the traffic by drowning a
four-month-old gorilla and a baby chimpanzee in a vat of chemicals at
the Cairo airport after seizing the apes from smugglers, the alleged
perpetrators are still in business, charge independent investigator
Jason Mier and wildlife photographer Karl Amman.
Worse, Mier and Amman say, the alleged perpetrators still
appear to be protected by the apparent collusion, corruption,
indifference, and inefficiency of public officials and airline
personnel in Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, and Cameroon.
Some of the same people and ports of entry are apparently
involved in clandestine ivory trafficking exposed by Esmond Martin
and Daniel Stiles in four reports published since 2000.
Mier and Amman recently completed a year-long investigation
of a “group of smugglers I am convinced is the largest operating in
Africa,” Mier told ANIMAL PEOPLE. A zoologist by training, Mier has
worked in Africa since 2000. Amman has investigated African wildlife
trafficking since 1990.
Between June 2005 and mid-March 2006, Mier and Amman shared
documents, photographs, e-mails, and transcripts of interviews
with ANIMAL PEOPLE which cumulatively support Mier’s November 2005
claim that, “These are not a few isolated smuggling cases, but one
very professional racket, responsible for hundreds of apes being
smuggled over the last two decades.
“This group consists of a woman named Heba,” Mier alleged,
“who lives with her daughters Rima and Walaa in Cairo. Heba is the
head of the group and was smuggling chimpanzees from Kano to Cairo
even before the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species came into effect,” according to transcripts of Mier’s
interviews with two Egyptian officials who said they knew her, or
knew of her, as far back as the early 1970s.
“Heba has been known to CITES, the airlines, and the
Egyptian and Nigerian government since at least 1997,” Mier
continued. “There are CITES infraction reports on her dating back to
“Rima,” said Mier, “brought the apes into Egypt in 2001 who
were killed by drowning,” five days after the terrorist attacks on
the U.S. of September 11, 2001 encouraged Egypt to make a show of
strengthening airport surveillance.
“In 1997 WSPA did an investigative report, passed to
airlines and the Nigerian and Egyptian governments, which detailed
how Heba and her husband smuggled dozens of gorillas and close to 100
chimps per year from Kano to Cairo,” Mier said. “In 2005 she was
involved in two cases I know of.”
Mier shared a copy of the 1997 WSPA report with ANIMAL
PEOPLE. As present WSPA director general Peter Davies did not yet
work for WSPA in 1997 and was unaware that the report had ever been
compiled, ANIMAL PEOPLE e-mailed it to Davies for comment.
The lack of awareness of the report at WSPA headquarters
seemed representative of the lack of impact it had on agencies with
the legal authority to halt the animal traffic.
Also involved, Mier said, is “the husband of Heba, Walid
Mohammed, who operates a shipping and supply company in Kano,
Nigeria, with other offices in Cameroon and Cairo.” Walid Mohammed
did not respond to an ANIMAL PEOPLE e-mail requesting comment.
“The phone number for the Cairo office is the home phone
number of his wife and daughters,” continued Mier. “The doorman at
his house in Kano stated on camera that they can get me chimpanzees
from the Cross River area of Cameroon for $360, delivered to their
house in Kano by car within two weeks. He called the supplier by
mobile phone and confirmed it in front of me.”
Another key participant, Mier said, is “Dr. Abdel Shafy, of Cairo.”
Opened the WSPA report, compiled in May 1997 by then-African field
officer Mike Pugh, “In April 1996 I visited Kano, Nigeria, for two
days, having learned of an illegal trade in chimpanzees and
In Kano, a wildlife dealer named Idris Mohammed showed Pugh
two young chimps. Pugh learned that another dealer, Sheikh
Mohammed, “was believed to have exported 12 gorillas out of Kano to
Pakistan,” then “revisited Idris Mohammed, who showed me the empty
basket which had contained the two chimpanzees. He said that he had
now sold them to an Egyptian lady–Mrs. Haiba. He said that she was
a regular customer, and had exported some 50 chimps and a lesser
number of gorillas to Egypt last year.”
Pugh found that “Walli Mohammed, based in Kano, allegedly
acted for Mrs. Haiba in the export of primates.”
Continued Pugh, “Idris Mohammed took me to a carpenter,
where I was shown a wooden crate being made for Mrs. Haiba’s wildlife
consignment. The carpenter said that it would be carrying five
chimps and one gorilla in the lower section, and 250 grey parrots in
the upper section.”
Pugh returned to Kano, posing as a wildlife dealer, in July 1996.
“International trade in endangered species is absolutely prohibited,
yet I was able to obtain the minimum documentation to export African
grey parrots, falcons, and monkey species from Nigeria,” Pugh
“I was able to obtain the permits and health certificates
required to export endangered species to India. On no occasion was I
asked to present animals for inspection,” Pugh said, “yet I
obtained a permit which allowed me to freely dispose of monkeys,
parrots, and falcons. I was told that I could be supplied with 44
chimpanzees and eight gorillas each year from two dealers alone. I
was told that apes were carried on Egypt Air, Middle East Airlines,
and KLM, and that they were sold in Cairo, Karachi, Doha in Qatar,
Concluded Pugh, “I recommend that a strategy be formulated
to bring about international pressure on all those involved,” many
of whom he fully identified.
Affirmed WSPA findings
Jason Mier and Karl Amman did not identify all of the same
traffickers. They found different routes and airlines in use today.
Some of the names appeared to have evolved slightly in spelling. Yet
many of the details closely matched those Pugh reported.
In the first 2005 case that Mier investigated, “Heba and
Shafy traveled from Kano to Cairo on January 27, 2005, Heba
bringing a crate of at least 18 gray parrots without any permits.
Traveling with her, Shafy had six chimpanzees, four monkeys, and
possibly two gorillas. Something went wrong on arrival at the airport
The primates were “put out on the baggage conveyor,” said
Mier, “but when Egyptian customs saw the crate it was not allowed to
The crate “stayed in Terminal 2 of the Cairo Airport until it
was put back on a Kenya Airways flight,” Mier continued. “This
crate does not show up on either the passenger manifest or the cargo
manifest. There is only a listing of one piece of luggage weighing
20 kilograms with the passenger who transported the crate, not the
64 kilograms that it weighed when it was sent out.”
Mier obtained and sent to ANIMAL PEOPLE copies of paperwork
showing that Kenya Airways on January 28 flew the chimps and monkeys
to Lagos, Nigeria. If two gorillas were part of the transaction,
“It is said that the gorillas were taken out,” Mier
reported. “Then for some reason Heba’s daughter Walaa was able to
leave Cairo with the chimpanzees, trying to get them back to
Nigeria. The box of primates was intercepted in Nairobi, but Walaa
was able to get back to Nigeria. Once there, she faxed back to
Kenya Airways fake health certificates in an attempt to get the
“In the second case,” Mier continued, “Heba and Shafy
brought in at least three chimpanzees, again from Kano to Cairo on
Kenya Airways. These were sold to a private zoo in the Sinai
peninsula. I was able to get into this zoo and saw all three of the
chimpanzees on May 31, 2005.”
Mier interviewed officials within several different branches
of the Egyptian government.
Each official insisted that Egypt enforces wildlife laws more
stringently than any of the other nations involved in the traffic,
and asserted that they lack the authority– supposedly required for
membership in CITES–to seize smuggled animals.
As inept or corrupt as the Egyptian bureaucracy may be,
however, Mier and Amman contend that the animals never should get as
far as Cairo in the first place. The biggest problem, they contend,
is that Kenya Airways does not police its own cargo.
“Kenya Airways has repeatedly been involved in animal
smuggling,” Mier charged. “They know about it, and have been
repeatedly warned by the Cairo Airport Authority.” For example, the
Cairo Airport Authority on March 1, 2005 warned all airlines to
avoid transporting wildlife in contravention of Egyptian law.
On April 9, 2005, the general manager of the veterinary
quarantine department asked the Cairo Airport Authority “to inform
airlines of the necessity of obtaining importation approval before
bringing in any wildlife on their flights.” The Cairo Airport
Authority cited their previous warning, and others that preceded it.
“Yet animals continue to arrive in Cairo on their flights
every week,” Mier told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “Kenya Airways is the airline
bringing by far the most illegal animals into Egypt, not following
their own rules, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species, International Air Traffic Authority regulations, or
Another example attracting Mier’s attention came on May 9,
2005, when a carry-on suitcase taken aboard a Khartoum to Cairo
flight “contained eight ‘vervet like’ monkeys , who were drugged on
the airplane on the way to Cairo in an attempt to smuggle them more
easily. On arrival in Cairo the suitcase was searched,” Mier said.
“Three of the monkeys were dead. The suitcase was closed with both
live and dead monkeys inside, put back on the Kenya Airways flight
with the man who brought them into Cairo, and were returned to
Khartoum on May 11. This was done knowingly by Kenya Airways,” Mier
alleged, “and they charged a fee for this ‘extra baggage.’ The
incident made front-page news in the Egyptian Al-Ahram daily
Kenya Airways was reportedly fined $10,000 by the Cairo
Airport Authority. “This fine was never paid,” Mier told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, “but a lesser sum was paid to the Cairo Airport Authority to
avoid paying the full fine.”
Kenya Airways rep
Mier provided transcripts of interviews that he and Amman
conducted with seven well-placed witnesses to various aspects of the
traffic. Their accounts, despite some disagreement over details and
who was to blame, mostly confirmed Mier’s summary.
The five Egyptian witnesses, though they said plenty,
appeared to be relatively reluctant to cooperate.
The two Kenyans were more vocal.
According to the transcripts, George Faltaous, Kenya
Airways area manager for North Africa, insisted that “In the last
five years that I have been here I have only known about two cases
[of primate trafficking],” specifically the two that drew press
Faltaous recalled the January 2005 shipment of parrots and
chimpanzees from Nigeria. “This man [Shafy] bought a ticket for the
woman and she went back,” Faltaous confirmed. “He was threatening
to go to court and file a case against Kenya Airways. He was
screaming. We told him that he can do what he wants, but that he
cannot get the animals back without papers. They never kept the
animals at the airport at all. They sent them back on the same
flight. My opinion is they wanted to pass the responsibility to
“We alerted Kenya airport and wildlife organizations about
everything that happened in Cairo,” Faltaous continued, “and that
these animals were coming back through Nairobi to go to Lagos. Since
there were no documents, they confiscated the animals and prevented
them from passing back to Nigeria. The woman continued to Lagos
without the animals. I don’t understand why they let this woman fly
back,” Faltaous said.
Faltaous opined that “the Sudanese man,” who “put the monkeys
to sleep” should have been caught earlier.
“In Khartoum, there are two x-ray machines,” Faltaous said.
“If they had actually scanned his bag, they would have seen what was
inside for sure. Corruption is responsible for this. He must have
had a deal with customs or bribed the officers there. When the
luggage arrived in Cairo, our guys noticed something moving inside
the bag, so we called the authorities. They opened the bag and
found the monkeys. We reported this to Sudan and they did a very big
investigation and I think the two officers working that shift were
suspended from work.
“They kept the Sudanese man at Cairo airport for a day or
two,” Faltaous added. “I think he was arrested when he went back to
Sudan, but I did not follow up on the situation, so I’m not sure.”
Falthaous argued that Kenya Airways was unfairly singled out.
“There are four African airlines that fly to Cairo.” Falthaous
The others are South African Airlines, Egypt Air, and Sudan Airways.
“Even if they blacklist [suspected smugglers’] names, we
cannot check their bags or stop them from buying a ticket,”
Falthaous said. “We can’t blacklist names on our flight plans. We
don’t even have the system for this. But if your name is on a list
in immigration, the airline is notified and has to report to
authorities. Still, the name does not flash in red on our screens
when they are buying a ticket. We cannot stop them, only the
“Some of the officials who seem to have facilitated this
should be fired,” Mier believes, “as well as some of the Kenya
Airways employees. Egypt and Nigeria should revise their laws to
make them more of a deterrent, and should follow proper procedures
in regards to caring or disposing of animals confiscated when
shipments are found to contravene CITES.”
Said Doug Cress, secretariat of the Pan African Sanctuary
Association, “There is no doubt that this primate black market could
have and should have been shut down more than a decade ago. That it
has not only underscores how very little investigative and
enforcement muscle there really is. CITES, the Lusaka Task Force
and various national wildlife agencies were certainly made aware of
these findings, both [when the WSPA report was published] and more
recently, yet none has seen fit to act.”
That does not explain, however, why WSPA and other
nonprofit organizations have not brought further and much blunter
pressure to bear upon the agencies involved and Kenya Airways, to
encourage them to use the authority they already have to end the
trafficking and bring the perpetrators to at least a semblance of