Sellout of Great Apes


The illegal trade in endangered species is a billion dollar business. The biggest driving force: the increasing demand in China and the Far East. Even apes sell like hotcakes there. The environmental activist Karl Ammann pursues the trail of the “stolen apes”.


The Washington Convention on Biodiversity regulates international trade in endangered animal and plant species worldwide.  That is, on paper. But poverty, corruption and lax controls on the part of those responsible provide an enormous scope for illegal business. Animal traders from Guinea in West Africa openly offer young chimpanzees and even gorillas for sale. For each baby ape 10 of its fellow species die. The price for an orphan chimpanzee: 7,000 US$. And government officials are in on the deal. The main customers of the live freight are in China. Since 2006 approx. 130 chimpanzees have, in this way, ended up in the Far East – and the demand continues to increase.

  • ©Julian Rademeyer

The Swiss environmental activist Karl Ammann sets off in search of the stolen apes. In Conakry, the capital of Guinea, he collects evidence about a middleman disguised as an animal trader. He discovers that apes are still on offer today despite all the embargoes. Export papers are forged or the animals are falsely declared. Bribery is commonplace.  The network of animal traders works smoothly across all borders. Karl Ammann’s investigations are equally uncomfortable for both the exporting and importing countries – and for the Washington Convention on Biodiversity. He emphatically demands punishment of the culprits, confiscation of the illegally traded apes and their eventual return to Africa.

This is even written in the charter of CITES. But the reality is quite different. The Convention on Biodiversity refers to the decision-making authority of the countries; the countries refer back to the Convention. Ultimately, nature conservation only exists on paper. Meanwhile in China the chimpanzees eke out a wretched existence. Karl Ammann rediscovers dozens of the West-African chimpanzees. Using DNA analyses he is able to prove their origin.

Almost all of them appear in grandiose animal shows. For zoos and safari parks they generate a lot of money – even though commercial performances with strictly protected Red List species are actually forbidden. The adults, who are too old for this, while away the rest of their life in a twilight state – often in solitary confinement – in enclosures which are far too small for them.

  • ©perentie productions


Karl Ammann is afraid that for many species it is already far too late. The criminal energy behind the trade in these maltreated creatures is too strong and the existing monitoring powers too weak. But at the meeting of the Washington Convention in Bangkok, he at least learns that Guinea has been prohibited from trading with immediate effect. A partial success which is due to his unrelenting efforts. But the preservation of diversity seems to him more and more like a doomed patient who just gets new bandages – a cosmetic touch for the sake of appearance. And so, like Don Quixote, he continues fighting windmills. At least at the end nobody should be able to say that they didn’t know anything about what was going on.

(Kopie 9)

Submitted to.            


                                                                        2013 Festival: September 23-27



More information on the illegal trade in animals:








or write directly to:


Karl Ammann ( Environmentalist  –
                                   Juan Carlos Vasquez ( Press officer CITES




Additional broadcast dates:

Wednesday 26/06/2013, 10:45 - 11:15 a.m.

VPS 26/06/2013, 10:45 a.m.

Length: 30 min.

Documentary, 2013