BEIRUT: An animal rights group confiscated Lebanon’s last imprisoned chimpanzee from a zoo over the weekend, nine years after it was smuggled into the country.
Accompanied by seven police officers and a court clerk, Animals Lebanon entered a zoo along the Nahr al-Kalb river Saturday and took Charlie the chimp into their care in a court-approved operation supported by the Agriculture Ministry that took around 30 minutes.
“Charlie, a 9-year-old chimpanzee, was smuggled to Lebanon in 2005 and sold from a pet shop before ending up in Animal City zoo,” said a press release from Animals Lebanon. “The Ministry of Agriculture declared in 2006 that Charlie was smuggled into Lebanon and that no permits have been issued for his importation. An attempted confiscation in early 2006 failed after the zoo removed Charlie the day before the confiscation was to take place.”
Animals Lebanon Executive Director Jason Mier expressed relief at securing safekeeping of Charlie.
“My first reason for coming to Lebanon eight and a half years ago was this chimpanzee,” he told The Daily Star Monday. Mier said the failed visit to the zoo in February 2006 simply led to the owners hiding the animal and putting him back on display a few weeks later. Charlie was housed on his own, which animal experts say is bad for apes.
“Chimpanzees are extremely social and intelligent animals that require mental and physical stimulation to thrive. If Charlie continues to live alone, he will undoubtedly suffer,” Doug Cress, coordinator of the United Nations Great Ape Survival Program, was quoted as saying in Animals Lebanon’s press release.
“According to international guidelines, chimpanzees should never be housed alone for any extended period of time unless it is deemed to be necessary for the physical or psychological well-being of that individual,” added the press release separately. “Dr. Rosa Garriga, the vet who sedated Charlie, reported he was small for his age, that his right leg has marked muscle atrophy and is unable to stretch fully, and that the toes are bent and with limited movement.”
Animals Lebanon restarted the court case in October 2013 and on March 27 the court ruled in their favor, finding the chimpanzee’s smuggler and owner equally liable to pay penalties and ordering them to forfeit ownership of the animal.
After flying in a European veterinarian and constructing a temporary cage overnight, Animals Lebanon entered the zoo Saturday morning.
Charlie was the last known chimpanzee imprisoned in Lebanon following the rescue of three others in recent years, Mier said.
While Charlie is now in the custody of Animals Lebanon, Mier said it would still take months before he could be placed in a sanctuary: “Charlie is now being moved into a purpose-built enclosure where he will be given a proper diet and schedule of daily enrichment, and able to enjoy as natural of a setting as possible until he can be transferred to the sanctuary and get the medical care he needs.”
An employee at Animal City declined to comment.
Separately, two lions and a tiger were also taken into custody by Animals Lebanon Tuesday. The animals were being held at a privately owned zoo in the Chouf region.
Lebanon is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement to ensure that trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. It went into effect in Lebanon on May 26, 2013.