2018-06-06 09:13:32

It’s a cunning case of simian smuggling: A court in central Hunan province has convicted 27 people of trafficking over a hundred protected macaques from Vietnam and reselling them all over China, Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper reported Wednesday.

The Hunan High People’s Court announced Tuesday that the 27 defendants would receive punishments ranging from suspended sentences to 11 years in jail. The court also said the 114 monkeys involved in the case were endangered wild animals under state protection.

The monkeys had been purchased by one of the defendants, surnamed Wu, who owned a pet store selling birds and other animals in Changsha, the provincial capital. Wu ran the monkey trade with a Vietnamese man not identified in the police report. This accomplice would smuggle the monkeys from Vietnam across the border into Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region for a price of 2,500 yuan ($390) per primate. Wu then sold the monkeys at his pet store, mostly to middlemen who resold them to other intermediaries. By the time the monkeys reached their final buyers, some were fetching prices of up to 20,000 yuan.

To evade Chinese customs and border patrol, Wu hired villagers to hide the monkeys in bamboo baskets and carry them across the border. Wu and his friends would then load the monkeys into their vehicles in China, drive through Guangxi along a remote mountain highway, cross into Hunan, and unload the live cargo at the pet store in Changsha’s Furong District.

In the 1970s, the State Forestry Administration and the Ministry of Agriculture added around 20 primate species to China’s list of endangered and protected animals. Police determined that nearly all of the 114 monkeys were either crab-eating or stump-tailed macaques.

Another defendant, surnamed Li, owned a pet relocation business in Changsha that had helped the other suspects ship the monkeys as cargo on China Southern Airlines flights. Li did not have the permits or documentation needed to transport wild animals, so he purchased fake quarantine certificates from the Ruijin Animal Health Inspection Institute — a government body in eastern China’s Jiangxi province.

Most of the monkeys smuggled from Vietnam were sold to private households and raised as pets — a practice prohibited under China’s Wildlife Protection Law. At least one of the macaques ended up performing for tourists at a folk village in the arid northwestern city of Xi’an, and at least three died in the care of their new owners.

Since the bust, the rescued monkeys have been distributed among several animal care organizations, including the Hunan wildlife rescue and breeding center, the Beifang Forest Zoo in Harbin, and the Hongshan Forest Zoo in Nanjing.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: Smuggled macaques seized by local police in Changsha, Hunan province, Jan. 8, 2015. Xie Changgui/VCG)