The Shady World of People Who Offer to Illegally Sell Chimps Online
A recent report suggested there were 33,000 protected animals—or animal parts—for sale on the internet, so I set off to find out if that was true.
This post originally appeared in VICE UK
Humans are endlessly fascinated with animals. Have you been on the internet? Do you know of Vine? Are you aware that there are currently 225,000 videos of baby deer on YouTube? All this is proof that an animal's unknowable otherness will forever keep us interested—and keep us asking questions like, "Can we really communicate with dolphins?" or, "Why do rams always seem so uptight and negative?"
But there's a darker side to our interest in wildlife. Darker, still, than the time that woman put a cat in a wheelie bin. It's a side that mostly revolves a small amount of people longing to decorate their homes with bits of dead endangered animals.
In fact, a recent study by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found 33,000 protected animals or animal bits for sale on the internet, with the UK having the fourth highest number of adverts for endangered creatures.
Ivory was the most advertised item in the UK, which is obviously abhorrent, but also kind of boring. An elephant tusk isn't going to greet you with a hug when you come back from work; it's not going to give you any kind of real, tangible experience once you've bought it, bar people coming round and judging you for actively taking part in one of the many cruel, disgusting things that makes the human race the worst thing about Earth.
On other sites, however, you could supposedly buy live chimpanzees, tigers, orangutans, bears and "toilet-trained" gorillas, all of which are illegal to own as pets in the UK. Why you'd want a pet chimp in the first place, I have no idea. Those PG Tips adverts were terrifying, and literally every documentary I've ever seen about people keeping primates in their homes has ended exactly how they told the presenter it wouldn't end: with blood, tears, and a call to animal services.
Mind you, I still wanted to find out how easy it is to get hold of one. The study specified that these animals were on sale on "openly accessible websites," so I discounted the deep net and set off into the world wide web.
The first promising result I came across was babieschimpanzee.webs.com, a site that looks a bit like a PETA activist's Myspace page, except for the whole "monkeys for sale" thing (I'm not sure where PETA stands on that). Here, I learned some handy tips about owning a chimp, such as: "Build a relationship with your pet monkey by talking to them softly. Speak its name often, like Sandra, Sandra, SANDRA haha."
I picture that exchange going something like this: "Good morning, Sandra. Why are you scowling at me like that, Sandra? Hey, let go of daddy's head—get your thumbs out of my eyes. Jesus, let go of my face, SANDRA haha."
Sadly, this would not be the site to help me test that theory. Although the owner lists their contact details no less than six times, none of my many emails elicited a response. It was also worrying that this apparently reputable source identified chimps—a member of the ape family—as a monkey multiple times. Onto the next one.
Mercattel is a Spanish-language classified ads website that somehow manages to look even less legit than babieschimpanzee.webs.com. However, in the context of what I was trying to do, this was actually quite a promising sign.
The site displays adverts for all manner of things, including lots of "legal abortion" clinics, someone who can cast a spell that helps you win the "lottory," and whatever the fuck a "super power magic ring of wonders" is. So, I figured, if I was going to stumble across an illegal primate ready for import anywhere, it would be here.
The website's animal section lists critters ranging from African snails (the type that eat houses and can give people meningitis) to golden eagles. But I was looking for something a little more hairy, so clicked on the monkey section and found this:
This ad ticked all the boxes for me. Who wouldn't want an "almost human" pet that, judging by the sales pitch, requires very little care? If I were to go on holiday, say, my new flatmate would apparently be totally fine, surviving off foraged lollipops and all the other food I regularly eat. If that hadn't already cinched it, the vendor also promised a free cage, a free leather collar, and instructions on how to use my new pet.
Unfortunately, despite the guaranteed "live delivery," when I contacted the seller I was told I'd have to travel to Kuwait to get my hands on the ape. This struck me as a bit of raw deal; not only would I have to fork out on both the flights and my "amusing companion," but also assume all the risk while trying to smuggle a very alive chimpanzee through airport security. Somehow, I decided that hiding wraps in my socks was not adequate preparation for this task, so I had to turn the offer down.
By this point, I was getting desperate and angry. If a man in an ugly shirt can land a rocket on a flying space rock, how hard can it be for a man in an egg-stained dressing gown to get a primate sent to his flat?
I began to cast a wider net. Under the pseudonym Dr. Zaius I started emailing every monkey advert on global-free-classified-ads.com, including whoever posted this quite distressing listing:
Soon enough I was contacted by someone calling herself Rose, who claimed she could deliver two baby marmoset monkeys. This wasn't exactly what I was looking for—marmosets are legal to own in the UK, which sort of takes the fun out of it—but I was getting tired of trawling through endless GeoCities sites, so decided to settle on her offer.
The good news for me: It turned out Rose didn't even want any money for her monkeys. All she required was a promise that my family and I would provide a decent home for her "babies." Weirdly, she didn't seem to mind all that much when I told her I had no family and wanted the monkeys for "entertainment and home security purposes."
After telling me their names (Danny and Melly), Rose quickly got down to brass tacks. All she needed—aside from my already unfulfilled promise—was for me to pay a £415 ($650) relocation fee, via Western Union, to her priest son Leroy McGahee. Everything seemed perfectly above board, so I pressed on.
All I required now was some proof that Danny and Melly were cute, safe, and, most importantly, real. I may be stupid enough to seek out two marmosets on the internet, but I'm not going to hand over a month's rent to a stranger without some kind of visible assurance, even if they are a priest.
My request was for a photo of the two monkeys standing in front of a sign that read "Dr Zaius." However, Rose was strangely reluctant to do this for me and began to entangle herself in all sorts of excuses. First, she said Reverend Leroy had Danny and Melly, and that he wasn't able to take the picture. Then she said she was too busy at work at the intensive care unit to satisfy my one request.
Rose even went as far as to say she didn't have time to feed her baby monkeys. This had me worried: If she couldn't even feed her pets, what state would they be in when they arrived on my doorstep? As a last ditch attempt to spur Rose into action, I threatened to report her to animal services.
Pretty soon, I received this:
I didn't know whether to be amused, insulted, or proud. Clearly this was an affront to my intelligence. But the thought of "Rose" sitting in an internet cafe, slaving over MS Paint with dollar signs rolling in her eyes, was reward enough. I thanked Rose for the picture, but told her I'd gone off the idea of owning marmosets. I haven't heard from her since.
So what did I learn during my foray into the online animal trade?
First, there's a huge gap in the market for unscrupulous web designers.
Second, I suppose it's kind of a good sign that someone tried to con me, because if one advert out of those 33,000 was bullshit, I'd wager quite a few more were too—meaning there are hopefully less people trying to flog off endangered animals than I'd originally believed.
Last, keep your wits about you when you're shopping for monkeys; it's a jungle out there.
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