OUR KIN DISCARDED: South Africa’s inhumane and indefensible trade and killing of (nonhuman) primates
EMS & BAT - Investigative Report
February 2023

South Africa is  failing in their oversight of the legal export of non-human primates and their body parts , effectively condoning needless cruelty to these innocent animals.

In only 7 years between January 2016 and December 2022 through just a single port of exit – OR Tambo Airport – there were exports of 3,782 live primates and 5,401 hunting trophies consisting of 3,349 chacma baboons, 1,886 vervet monkeys and 9 bushbabies.

During this period 1,141 live indigenous bushbabies were exported.

Most of the live exports were for commercial trade (not zoos) into countries with highly dubious animal protection histories like Bangladesh, China, UAE and Armenia.

An extensive investigation report by the EMS Foundation and Ban Animal Trading has found South Africa’s primate trade to be poorly managed, ecologically damaging, unsustainable and raises welfare and ecological concerns.

Our Kin Discarded lists a string of systemic official failures:

  • Official data capture includes documentation discrepancies
  • Illegal shipments
  • Untraceable destinations
  • Enforcement negligence
  • Lack of oversight and verification
  • Inadequate safeguards
  • Irrational or arbitrary hunting determinations
  • No national population assessments or Non-Detrimental Findings for indigenous primates, a clear contravention of CITES

These activities involve a relatively small number of wildlife breeders, hunting, taxidermy and legal wildlife trade exporters.

The 40-page report was based on official information obtained by the EMS Foundation from the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE), via the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), about the trade in CITES listed (nonhuman) primates.  The Report includes extensive graphs as well as an analysis of the situation concerning each non-human primate.

10 steps South Africa needs to urgently take to arrest a deplorable situation:

  • Implementation of an effective permitting system to ensure that information is valid, accurate and complete
  • Oversight of the permitting system
  • Ensure the availability of actual trade data for both effective decision-making and for compliance with CITES
  • Review by authorities of how they manage indigenous primates to ensure that biodiversity is protected
  • Comprehensively and transparently assess the impact of the legal trade via a Non-Detrimental Finding
  • Ensure that the trade in non-indigenous primates does not threaten conservation in their country of origin
  • Support in situ conservation and a compassionate approach in relation to nonhuman primates.
  • Adopt a new ethos based on Ubuntu which sees people living in harmony with nature and not simply regarding it as an expendable resource or damage-causing
  • Acknowledge that commercial trade in any primates ignores the complex social structures and cognitive abilities of primates and is ethically wrong
  • Immediately issue a moratorium on the trade, hunting and killing of indigenous primates and the breeding, trading and keeping of exotic primates as pets.

The report only covers the export of live primates and hunting trophies but does not cover the hunting of primates by local hunters which is poorly regulated and for which little information exists.

All (nonhuman) primates are wild animals and they are fundamentally unsuited to captivity. Cognitively, behaviourally, emotionally and socially, they are some of the most complex animal species on earth. Their capture and removal from their natural habitats and social and family groups is extremely cruel and inflicts great suffering and distress, as well as resulting in injuries and even death. 

The illegal trade in great apes, such as chimpanzees, is often supported by wholesalers in China, Bangladesh the UAE and Armenia, who “often act as intermediaries between the traffickers and the final buyers in Asia, the Middle East and Russia. China has at least four known such wholesalers. The primate pet trade, bolstered by social media, continues to grow and impacts the survival of individuals and wild populations globally.

Bangladesh does not allow import of primates yet the Report found evidence of extensive imports to false or non-existent addresses in Bangladesh

A report by the South African Anti-Money Laundering Integrated Task Force (SAMLIT) published in November 2021, corroborates the research by BAT and EMS and noted that the use of the legal wildlife industry masks illegal trade and is prevalent in South Africa.  This occurs when legal exports are either under-declared or prohibited species are exported alongside legal exports.

South Africa is home to six indigenous primate species.  All these species are susceptible to escalating habitat loss as well as removal from the wild and indiscriminate hunting.

Daily Mirror, 1 Septermber 2019 – www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/sick-british-tourists-shoot-monkeys-19120277

For interviews or further information please contact: Michelle@emsfoundation.org.za