Monkey deaths prompt call for review of wildlife export laws

Local animal rights activists are calling for a re-examination of the procedures regarding the export of wildlife even as traders maintain that guidelines are already stringent.

Recently a Guyanese man and a Miami-based broker were placed before the courts in the United States to answer to charges relating to the deaths of 15 monkeys that originated here. The animals were to be shipped to Thailand via the United States and China in February 2008 but died while en route at an airport in Los Angeles.

Subsequently, an official attached to the Guyana Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (GSPCA) said that the incident was a wake-up call for the persons engaged in the trade, while noting that the incident resulted from a lack of proper procedural arrangements. He added that while the exporter would have completed all the required procedures, such as health reports and international requirements governing animal exports, the logistics involved in the process were incomplete and he noted that this could have been corrected here “before the sad results which the animals were exposed to.”

Syeada Manbodh, a vocal animal rights activist, told Stabroek News that while it is too late to help “those unfortunate monkeys,” a golden opportunity exists to review Guyana’s regulations on live animal exports. She said that a few questions needed to be answered, including who planned the exports, whether the monkeys were being exported legally following Guyana’s guidelines, and who would have benefitted financially from the exports. As regards the latter, she said that such individuals were “morally responsible” for the animals’ welfare.

“I truly hope the relevant authorities in Los Angeles prosecute the culprits to the limit of the law and I hope this experience is a wake-up call for local authorities who want to make Guyana a showcase for eco-tourism,” Manbodh said.

Meantime, Chairman of the Guyana Fauna Exports Association Clayton Hall, when contacted recently, blamed logistical arrangements for the monkeys’ deaths. He added that the trade is governed by strict laws, though he noted that there may be persons who would attempt to beat the system.

Hall said that the local body—an affiliate of international organizations which govern the trade of endangered species—and its members have been working along with the authorities to ensure that local traders comply with the laws governing the wildlife trade. The local association is made up of a more than a dozen members, all of whom are private operators in the local wildlife trade.

Hall said that the procedures regarding the export of animals were detailed. “It’s a two-part issue; one is that you have to comply with local laws and secondly, regulations surrounding the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).” Hall said that the latter were more stringent, saying that with them “you cannot beat the system.”

He explained that the animals would have to be tested locally by health professionals as recommended by the Guyana Wildlife Management Authority. He noted that the tests, which are detailed, include blood tests for diseases and infections. According to him, such tests are sent overseas for analysis, since there is no existing animal test laboratory here. He added that that test results would then by conveyed to the local operator and would determine whether he would be allowed to export the animal.

Hall noted too that while the animals are en route to their destination, they undergo stopovers at several locations, mainly in the United States before they are taken on additional flights to their final destinations. He noted that the “important” aspect of the trade was the care being given to the animals by the broker, who is responsible for providing food and water to them while they are in transit to their final destination.

“Most times they have to undergo stops in the US, the UK and even Canada, so if you as an exporter beat one system you have to beat two others,” Hall noted. He said that the wildlife trade is as “big as the drug trade but in this case if you get catch illegally exporting animals you get a heavy fine and prison sentences.”

He does not believe that the illegal exporting of animals is prevalent here, but noted that it exists, with cross border trade, in particular, facilitating such activities.

Last week, Guyana supplier Akhtar Hussain, and Florida-based wild animal broker Robert Matson Conyers, 44, were each charged with 10 counts of animal cruelty, in connection with the deaths of the monkeys.

Conyers appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court while Hussain is thought to be in Guyana.

Los Angeles City Attorney’s spokesman Frank Mateljan said Hussain sold around two dozen primates to a buyer in Bangkok in February of 2008 and hired Conyers to deliver them. Conyers attempted to ship 14 Marmosets, five white-fronted Capuchins and six Squirrel Monkeys from Guyana to Bangkok through Miami, Los Angeles and then China, but the animals were refused transit in China because of an irregularity with shipping documents, Mateljan said.

Fourteen of the monkeys died of neglect, starvation and hypothermia in transit back to Los Angeles, he said, and another had to be euthanized. The surviving animals were taken to the San Diego Wild Animal Park for further care. The case was investigated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and ultimately handed over to Los Angeles prosecutors.

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