Saturday, 16 November

Endangered Bonobo Chimp Imported to Armenia Goes Missing: Preliminary Investigation Drags On

An endangered bonobo primate has disappeared from the Jambo Exotic Park in Armenia’s Tzoraghbyur village.

The park’s founder, Artyom Vardanyan, claims that the animal, listed in the international Red Book of endangered species, died last month.

All such animals can only be imported with special permits and must be kept in special conditions.

The importer of the bonobo and many other endangered animals is a company called Zoo Fauna Art. A criminal case of contraband was launched against company director ArturKhachatryan a year ago and is still on-going.

Hetq asked the ministry of finance to provide information about the criminal investigation and whether it has revealed any wrongdoing.

In reply, the ministry said that inquiries have been made to authorities in Guinea and the Congo in order to finalize the preliminary phase of the case but that it hasn’t received any answers as yet.

ArturAfrikyan, first deputy to the president of the State Revenue Committee, provided us with a list of the animals imported to and exported from Armenia between 2010 and 2013 with CITES permits. According to that list, in addition to two bonobos (Pan panicus) imported to Armenia in 2011, another two were imported in 2012 and not exported. Furthermore, four Common Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) listed as “endangered” and four Diana Monkeys (Cercopithecusdiana) listed as “vulnerable” were also imported to Armenia with the same CITES 2012 permits. None of these animals have been exported.

We asked the finance ministry if the investigation has revealed where the four bonobos, four chimpanzees and the four Diana monkeys are today and under what conditions are they being kept.

We also asked the ministry if the investigation has revealed where the deceased bonobo is buried. We should remind readers that according to the importer the first bonobo died one week after reaching Armenia. We also asked if the animals had been exhumed to see whether it had actually expired.

“As to the questions you raise, the criminal case’s preliminary examination is continuing. Supplemental information regarding the process will be made available,” noted the finance ministry in its reply.

Attorney Ara Ghazaryan explained that Article 197 of Armenia’s Criminal Code defines the preliminary exam duration of a criminal case to be two months but that it can be extended. The law doesn’t specify for how long it can be extended.

“The prosecutor can extend the preliminary examination based on the decision of the investigator. The law doesn’t state how many times. For example, a new draft of the Criminal Procedural Code envisagesup to one year, but the current code doesn’t specify any period. As a result, it can be prolonged indefinitely. Here, the European Convention can play a role. If nothing is being done, if the extensions are merely for show, it can be regarded as contradicting the reasonable deadline stipulation for court proceedings,”Ara Ghazaryan added.

We should note that the Ministry of Nature Protection has complied with a court order to provide Hetq with copies of export, sale or transport permits of rare animals as regulated by the CITES for the period 2010-2013. We received the copies today.

Hetq sought the copies for an investigative series it was working on entitled “Dangerous Monkey Business: Armenia’s Links to the Illegal Trafficking of Endangered Species.”

The ministry initially refused Hetq's request, arguing that such documents contained ‘secretive material’. It merely provided a list of animals imported to and exported from Armenia.

We will discuss what the copies reveal at a later date.

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