By Tafline Laylin
In 2007, Karl Ammann appeared on Time Magazine’s Heroes of the Environment List, and for good reason. Since discovering 2,004 smoked primates and 1,000 fresh carcasses on board Zaire river boats in1988, he has devoted his life to exposing both the bushmeat and illegal wildlife trafficking. His photography and writings have appeared in several outlets including the New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Stern Magazine, and the National Geographic Almanac, and he has recently co-authored two books namely Conserving Nature with Tony Rose and others, and Eating Apes with Dale Peterson. For his work, he has received a slew of accolades.
We met him this past weekend in Nairobi, Kenya, where we discussed private reserves throughout the Middle East that show off illegal wildlife without any retribution from the authorities. Even CITES, the international organization tasked with regulating wildlife trafficking, has been notoriously lackadaisical about bringing offenders to task.
Karl, you first became interested in bushmeat trade before switching your focus to wildlife trafficking. Can you talk about this? “I’ve kind of moved away from Bushmeat. It’s a mess in Central Africa with no answers in sight. What’s the point of banging your head against the wall. You’ve done everything you can to expose the situation – policymakers, NGOs, and everyone else can no longer say they didn’t know what’s going on.”
So what you are you working on at the moment?
“Right now I’m making a film about the reptile skin trade – about over-exploitation, CITES export licensing for the Guccis of the world – all essentially illegal.”
Where do you market your films?
“It’s definitely not a moneymaker but I seem to have good luck in South Africa, Scandinavia and Germany. The American market is very difficult because they want happy endings, and my stories don’t have happy endings.”
Africa Geographic did a piece on wildlife trafficking in the Middle East – can we focus on that for a bit?
“I didn’t really do any work there. I mean, I went to Dubai and visited the zoo director there, asked him about his chimps and where they came from and went to Qatar and asked where those chimps came from. It’s a mess – Kuwait, the whole region.
One journalist with Gulf News has been good about picking up stories and running with them, to some extent, but the expat community doesn’t want to confront the issue. They’re afraid to even send emails. If they’re afraid to send emails, that’s a pretty good indication that it’s not safe. People who have helped me have been harassed, they’ve been threatened, and it’s still going on.” More....