8 Charged in Scheme to Smuggle Endangered Monkeys From Asia, U.S. Says
The U.S. government is charging more than 200 people in a scheme to smuggle endangered monkeys from Asia into the United States, officials said Wednesday.
The new charges, unveiled by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. attorney’s office in San Diego, include conspiracy, importation and smuggling in violation of U.S. law, said Paul Delacourt, the U.S. attorney prosecuting the case on behalf of the Justice Department.
The smugglers used the African gray howler monkey as a way to smuggle the animal into the U.S.
“They were using the animal for its intelligence and learning curve to get into a very secretive organization,” Delacourt said.
He said the smugglers traveled between Asia, the Pacific and Europe with the monkey and smuggled it into the United States.
The monkey faces an uncertain future because of threats of extinction. The United States banned the export of the animal in 1979, but it is not included on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which allows some trade.
“The monkey faces extinction in many parts of the world, and a complete ban on their export would only cause them to disappear from the world’s markets,” Delacourt said.
The people charged were suspected of trying to smuggle the animals across the Mexican border into the United States, where they were transferred to the monkey-handling program in San Diego and San Francisco, Delacourt said.
Authorities have seized at least three shipments of howler monkeys from Asia, where the animals were being kept in captivity in zoo collections until the ban on animal exports took effect, he said.
The smugglers have also been charged in a separate investigation where they tried to sell howler monkeys for profit, he said.
The charges come as howler monkey numbers have been increasing in captivity since the ban, Delacourt said. His office sent an undercover agent to San Francisco to visit a zoo that had recently bought a collection of howler monkeys, and he saw a healthy stock of the animals.
Howler monkeys are among the only species in the world that has not been protected under the international ban.
“But they’ve been in existence for over 50 years, and they’re very intelligent and very intelligent