Investigator has a history of conflict with nonprofit organizations
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2006:
Undercover investigations are rarely disclosed to the world
by the sponsors while still underway–at least not on purpose.
Findings, however, are typically intensively publicized,
especially when produced on behalf of major international nonprofit
The publicity blitz usually starts after all undercover
personnel are out of harm’s way, often after a brief embargo while
findings are shared with law enforcement.
Standard operating procedure may have been inverted by some
of the sponsors of the Jason Mier/Karl Amman probe of alleged Kenya
Airways involvement in wildlife trafficking–depending on whose
version of what happened one accepts.
“An investigation into the black market routes of primate
smugglers from West Africa through Nairobi and out to the Middle East
has been undertaken by Jason Mier of the United States, with support
from PASA,” the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance web site disclosed in
April 2005, just as the probe began.
“Mier, who works closely with bushmeat expert Karl Amman,
is seeking to close down the Nigeria/Kenya/Egypt pipeline that has
produced almost a dozen orphans in the past year,” PASA continued.
“Mier’s work is also supported by the Great Ape Survival
Project of the United Nations Environmental Program, the Wasmoeth
Wildlife Foundation, the Lusaka Task Force, and the Convention on
International Trade in Endangered Species,” PASA added, thereby
disclosing the identities of both the investigators and their funders.
Almost a year later, PASA has yet to publish an update. So
far as ANIMAL PEOPLE can determine, none of the named sponsors have
published or acknowledged any of the Mier/Amman findings.
Mier in November 2005 told ANIMAL PEOPLE that the Wasmoeth
Wildlife Foundation had also withdrawn a funding commitment before
“The Pan African Sanctuary Alliance supports all efforts to
end the illegal trade in primates, and is increasingly focused on the
Middle East,” e-mailed PASA secretariat representative Doug Cress
from Tanzania, when asked for comment in November 2005. “That is
why PASA financially supported Jason Miers’ investigation into the
West African/Egyptian smuggling ring, advised and consulted as it
developed, and worked hard to prepare the findings.”
Cress, a former reporter for the Washington Post and Atlanta
Constitution, declined to say anything further.
In March 2006, however, after returning from Tanzania to
his original headquarters in Portland, Oregon, Cress added, “To my
knowledge, there was never any real undercover aspect to Jason’s
investigation, nor any formal sting operation that required secrecy.
It was just a guy willing to do the hard and thankless work that is
the backbone of any thorough investigation. PASA’s financial and
logistical support–and those of Jason’s other supporters, I
think–was always given with the notion that somebody needed to track
down all these leads and see if they were separate incidents or
perhaps part of a larger operation.”
Yet as late as January 2006, Mier and Amman asked ANIMAL
PEOPLE to delay publishing material which might reveal their
identities while they were undercover.
Continued Cress in March 2006, “Jason made a presentation on
his work at the PASA 2005 Management Workshop in Kenya [June 4-8,
2005], some of which is included in the PASA 2005 Workshop Report,
but given that his investigation has been a work in progress all
along, I don’t think he has come to a natural point at which
he would publish his findings.
“Much of what Jason has documented actually confirms the same
personalities, the same routes, and the same level of illegal trade
as was uncovered [earlier] by the World Society for the Protection of
Animals,” Cress continued. “While that is compelling, it is not an
easy sell in today’s media markets.”
Amman, however, first alleged to ANIMAL PEOPLE that the
Miers findings were being ignored or suppressed in June 2005,
beginning only days after the PASA Management Workshop.
“This case of a family trafficking in apes for decades and
nobody having been able to take real action to curtail it, amounts
to an indictment of conservation efforts on the bush meat front and
every other front in Cameroon, where most of these apes originate
from, and clearly Nigeria as well,” Amman fumed.
“It is an indictment of CITES when Egyptian officials, 20
years after Egypt joined, still state that they lack the legal
framework to take real action,” Amman added.
“It is an indictment of Interpol, which is meant to come in
on such well known cases and get such individuals listed on various
immigration computers,” Amman said, “and an indictment of the
nonprofit community, which seems to have as a foremost credo being
politically correct, not rocking the boat, not trampling on
anybody’s feet and generally going the way of least resistance.”
Agreed Mier, by e-mail, “Dealing with the Pan African
Sanctuary Alliance, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation,
International Fund for Animal Welfare, and WSPA, it became clear
that every organization had an agenda, whether to keep some of this
covered up, turning it into a success story before anything had ever
been accomplished, only allowing parts of the information to come
out, giving some parties further chances to rectify the situation in
exchange for not making any of this information public, not getting
involved at all due to alliances with other groups, or hoping for
certain benefits or favors in the future. As soon as there might
have been some risk involved,” Mier claimed, “such as having to
take the chance of offending someone, they backed out.”
But people at the named organizations who replied to ANIMAL
PEOPLE requests for comment hinted that Amman, especially, might
have his own agenda.
Said WSPA director general Peter Davies, “I’m interested in
why so many other NGOs are accused of having not reacted to Miers’s
evidence. I wonder why there have been such uncoordinated but
individual decisions to not do what he wanted or expected.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE found that Mier’s critical comments seemed to
be generally viewed as actually coming from Amman.
Amman, a wildlife photographer, was among the first people
to draw global attention to the explosion of bushmeat hunting that
hit interior Africa in the early 1990s, along with roadbuilding and
“I have investigated aspects of the bush meat trade in Africa
for the past six years,” Amman wrote in the March 1996 edition of
ANIMAL PEOPLE. “I no longer have any doubt that the increasing
commercialization of this trade is today the biggest threat to the
survival of many species in West and Central Africa. The great apes
are no exception. Logging roads have allowed the bush meat trade to
go commercial. In consequence, entire gorilla and chimp populations
are eaten into extinction, at a rate of thousands of animals a year.”
Amman went on to detail his frustration with print and
electronic media that he claimed ignored the story, conservation
societies that he said ignored the issue, and governments which in
the west were apparently unconcerned due to the lack of public
outcry, while in Africa some officials were and are actively
involved in expediting the traffic– stashing the returns in unmarked
Three more years passed before an April 1999 seizure of
chimpanzee meat from 12 meat markets and restaurants run by Congolese
immigrants to Belgium brought a burst of mass media investigations
that confirmed many of Amman’s claims.
The Great Ape Conservation Act made U.S. funding available
for some African ape conservation programs.
But Amman remained frustrated.
“Can we hope to be taken seriously by the governments concerned,
when loggers are bragging about their economic clout of $800 million,
while we are running around selling $30,000 pilot projects?”, Amman
asked in a 2001 web posting.
Taking up arms
James Astill of the British newspaper The Guardian in
November 2002 identified Amman as coordinator of a paramilitary
operation in which, “An anti-poaching unit led by a former South
African army officer and funded by two foreign conservation groups
recently attacked two gangs of poachers in the Central African
Republic, killing one man. The unit,” jointly funded according to
Astill by the U.S.-based African Rainforest and Rivers Conservation
Organization and the Wilmoeth Wildlife Foundation, “consists of
three Central African presidential guards, commanded by ‘David
Bryant,’ an alias used by a 50-year-old former officer of the South
Africa and Rhodesian armies.”
Amman told Astill that the private team acted after the
poachers killed as many as 400 elephants along the Central African
Republic border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, then took
to raiding villages, killing, raping, and looting the local people.
“After Bryant attacked their village base in Adama, in the
southern Central African Republic, four of the poachers fled into
the Congo,” wrote Astill. “As prearranged by Amman, they were
arrested there by the rebel force of Jean-Pierre Bamba, which
controls northern Congo. Two were arrested by the anti-poaching
unit, and one man escaped.”
Western nonprofit organizations funded similar paramilitary
actions on behalf of wildlife, especially elephants, all over
Africa during the 1980s and 1990s, but by the late 1990s
paramilitary tactics had fallen out of favor. Some of the
paramilitary units turned out to be covertly engaged in the very
poaching and wildlife trafficking operations they were supposed to
interdict. Some were seen as threats to governmental authority.
Even nonprofit support of governmental anti-poaching units was viewed
in some instances as arming potential instigators of coups-de-etat.
In addition, some of the most heavily armed and best
organized elephant ivory and rhino horn poaching gangs were and are
believed to be working on behalf of al Qaida, Hamas, and other
militant Islamist factions. Taking an active role in fighting them
could lead to wildlife groups becoming targets for terrorism–as the
humanitarian relief branches of some religious charities already are.
But Amman is still impatient.
“Concerned individuals and bodies in the industrialized world
should stop relying on conventions like Interpol or CITES to be in
any way effective in curtailing wildlife trafficking when it comes to
badly governed third world countries,” Amman told ANIMAL PEOPLE in
summarizing Mier’s story, “and they should stop expecting the NGO
community to blow the whistle and play bad cop.”