The wild trade in new and used animals

Here are the trade secrets of the animal dealers: why okapis cost $10,000 each but $25,000 a pair; why lions are a dime a dozen while orangutans are cheap at $8,000; and, why used monkeys cost more than imports straight from the jungle

Robert Thomas Allen September 7 1963

The wild trade in new and used animals

Here are the trade secrets of the animal dealers: why okapis cost $10,000 each but $25,000 a pair; why lions are a dime a dozen while orangutans are cheap at $8,000; and, why used monkeys cost more than imports straight from the jungle

Robert Thomas Allen September 7 1963

The wild trade in new and used animals

Here are the trade secrets of the animal dealers: why okapis cost $10,000 each but $25,000 a pair; why lions are a dime a dozen while orangutans are cheap at $8,000; and, why used monkeys cost more than imports straight from the jungle

Robert Thomas Allen

MOST PEOPLE watching an animal at the zoo — an orangutan, say — have a vague idea that he was always there, like a parks commissioner. Either that or he was picked up somewhere for peanuts. He wasn't. The going price for an orangutan is $3,250, or slightly more than a 1964 Chev with auto-

matic transmission, and even he is a bargain compared to some animals. An okapi, a peculiar animal with a long neck and striped legs, will get you ten thousand dollars — or twentyfive thousand dollars for a pair; but first you have to know how to catch a pair of okapis. A hippopotamus costs around three thousand dollars, if it doesn't go through a dealer; a black rhinoceros six thousand; a pair of black leopards twenty-two hundred; a Rothschild giraffe five thousand. Zoos and dealers publish price lists of these things. Right now', for instance, if they haven't already sold it, you can pick up a Nubian ibex from the Cleveland Zoo for seven hundred dollars.

The world trade in animals is a business, but a special kind of business. The product has no brand name. It has to be tricked onto the assembly line. It can cut the dealer’s profits by escaping, and increase his inventory by simply taking a fancy to another

item in stock. It resists being shipped or packaged, and sometimes ricochets around the showroom trying to put the buyer, seller and middleman out of business. But just as in the tooth paste, used-car or cornflakes business, the merchandise is bought for as little as possible, sold for as much as the market will bear, and the price, subject to seasonal and regional market conditions, depends on the law of supply and demand.

Some animals breed so easily in captivity that the market is flooded with them. Lions, for instance, take to domestic life like newlyweds in Aurora Heights and they’re a dime a dozen, fin fact, cheaper — right now you couldn’t give a lion aw'ay.) The black bear is another animal that goes in for production and rarely dies short of ripe old age. All zoos are up to their knees in them. In the spring, though, black bear and lion cubs are w'orth $125 to $150. They’re in big demand

for children’s zoos where no parents are allowed and the kids can pat the animals.

Black leopards, tigers and cheetahs, on the other hand, rarely breed in captivity, so they're hard to get and carry a high price tag. Gorillas, which cost about four thousand dollars each, wouldn't breed in captivity until a few' years ago, and imported young ones w'ere next to impossible to raise. They’ve just recently accepted zoo life to the extent that there are about four breeding pairs in the world, and that was only after zoo people discovered the technique of raising them: give them plenty of affection. They’re kept with humans from the time they're captured, and zoo keepers take them to their homes and raise them on specially processed milk, Pablum and canned baby foods, with frequent pats on the head.

In one respect the animal business is unique in the world of commerce.

If you want another model you can often make a trade, but you trade even. Both parties end up satisfied without either spending money. Zoo animals are acquired largely on trades, and usually by verbal agreement. A zoo is one of the few places today where people behave like gentlemen. It may take a year or so to complete the trade, with nothing in writing, but when a zoo man says, ''I'll send you a wallaby next time we get one," he means it.

Sometimes these trades are threeor four-way deals. Not long ago. Riverdale Zoo in Toronto had a young female tiger, the first born in Canada. The mother had died giving birth, but the baby had come along nicely on a bottle and the zoo was on the lookout for a mate for her. Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago had an orphaned male tiger and just sent it along, saying they could use a couple of moose calves. Riverdale didn't have any moose

calves just then, but they had one next spring and sent it to Chicago. They also had a surplus pair of mouflons. a wild sheep from Corsica. They sent these to Calgary Zoo, which had an extra moose calf which Calgary sent to Chicago. Everybody ended up with just what they wanted.

But when it comes to importing new stock, trading can be sharp and markups staggering. The big supplier in the animal trade is the dealer. He may be a trapper who travels to the source of supply; he may be an importer, with holding compounds and established customers. He may be a hustler who never sees the animals he sells, works from an office in some place like Brooklyn, and tracks all his wild game by cable and telephone.

Until recently, when BOAC stopped it, some dealers operated by having BOAC cable their agents in various parts of the world asking for the names of people with animals for sale.

If a reply came back. "Man near New Delhi has pair of southern spotted hyenas for seventy dollars each," the dealer would try to hustle up someone who wanted a pair of southern spotted hyenas, with everything to win and nothing to lose, not even the cost of the cables. Peter Rvhiner, author of The Wildest Game, who made his own start as a collector by buying llamas from the zoo in Basle and selling them to the zoo in Zurich at seven hundred percent profit, tells of South American villagers catching onto the spirit of the animal trade. He was collecting hyacinthine macaws from village to village — six here, six there, leaving them to be picked up later and shoving on — until he discovered that the villagers were running from place to place ahead of him. selling him the same six birds.

As in all fields today, the animal business tends more and more to specialization. There are dealers who

specialize not only in monkeys, but in monkeys who won't bite scientists. There's a big commerce in these animals now for research in medicine, aeronautics and space flight, and dealers send out sales letters about the quality of their stock and the dependability of their delivery. Rider Animal Co., an established dealer in Warrenton. Virginia, offers the extra service of acclimating monkeys for research purposes. A monkey needs time to get used to looking at scientists in white coats instead of leaves and other monkeys, and at the rate monkeys are getting into the space race the thirty to forty-five days required for acclimatization has become a big factor in costs. Sales letters point out that it's cheaper for a physicist to pay a bit more for an acclimated monkey, than for a physicist to take time out from physics to acclimate one himself.

About 140 monkeys arrive by jet from India in the belly of a BOAC

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Boeing 707 every Tuesday at Toronto’s Malton airport on a scheduled passenger flight, having stopped for brief inspection by a vet in London airport, a great clearing point which sometimes has more monkeys in it than people, and where a kindly lady member of the British Humane Society provides some of the animals with bamboo shoots from her greenhouse. The monkeys have their own air-conditioning system, a must in the monkey trade: if the air from 150 monkeys was ever blown over the passengers above them it would offset all the Nina Ricci perfume brought from France in a season. The capture and transportation of lab monkeys is such a specialized business now that a monkey can wake up on a country road in India on Tuesday at dawn, yawn, scratch himself, decide to get a bite to eat, get caught in a rope spring net, and on Wednesday afternoon be trying to distinguish a plus symbol from a square in the Canadian Department of National Defense research laboratories in suburban Toronto. The cost of a monkey is sixty to ninety dollars guaranteed live delivery. The monkey mostly used is the rhesus monkey, a ferocious little bully who comes at you with his face out like a bouncer in a Yonge Street bar, and is so hard to handle that scientists are trying a new breed, the stump-tailed monkey, a gentle redfaced, barrel-chested little fellow with an expression which suggests he’s already pondering the problems of outer space. Three days after being caught in the jungle, he comes up to the bars of his cage and sticks his chest out to have it scratched.

Like any other merchandise, animals have to be crated and shipped, but they have the unique attribute of being able to deliver themselves FOB wherever they can work themselves loose. The director of Avifauna Zoo at Wasaga Beach, a man named Cas VanEysinga, was at ldlewild airport one time when he happened to notice eight inches of black paw, which he recognized as that of a black leopard, protruding between some loose boards of a crate and rapidly working the boards out of place. The ramp man was very interested, and decided to put some metal strapping around the loose boards.

Even customs clearance is occasionally made simpler by the nature of the goods delivered in the animal business. One time VanEysinga was bringing a good-sized lion cub in a station wagon from Seneca Park Zoo at Rochester to Wasaga Beach, where it was to take part in a big Lions Club night. At Buffalo a customs man said, "What've you got in there?" and VanEysinga, knowing pretty well what was going to happen, looked him in

the eye and said, “A lion.” The customs man said, “A wise guy, eh?” and stuck his head in the station wagon, looked into two green eyes, pulled his head out and motioned VanEysinga to get going — all in one action.

Live animals have become so much a part of today's economy that they're even being given an image in the advertising trade. Humboldt penguins, as distinguished from the almost unobtainable emperor and king penguins, cost up to $150 each and are particularly adapted to window displays and arc great for use in poster designs and newspaper tie-ins for cold weather promotions. They're strong and adaptable to captivity, require a pool only six by six and a couple of feet deep, need no air conditioning and feel secure as long as there are five other Humboldt penguins around. The T. Eaton Company has had flamingos (which are worth about $250 a pair) in their windows, and Indian elephants in the hardware departments of their Toronto and Montreal stores. Beecham Products Ltd., makers of Brylcreem Hair Tonic, gave away a Bengal tiger which they imported from India for twenty-five hundred dollars through VanEysinga, as the grand prize (along with a sports car) for the most stirring fifteen words added to "Brylcreem makes me feel like a tiger because ...” A chemical analyst in Edmonton was the winner, but he took five hundred dollars instead. Beecham donated the tiger to Riverdale Zoo but won't divulge what the winning words were.

By and large, the Humane Society tolerates these promotions if they are conducted properly hut they lower the boom on those that aren't — such as

the store that wanted to paint an elephant pink for a pink elephant sale. The society, incidentally, has discovered one little-known commercial use for animals. Policemen are generally nervous of dogs and take a while to get into a house that has one. This has been discovered by prostitutes, who have now gone in for German shepherds to such an extent that a Humane Society man a while ago counted nine in one downtown Toronto hack yard and seven in the yard next door. The Humane Society has no particular objection to this in itself — they’ve found that prostitutes are particularly kind to animals — but occasionally the society has to move in to help the police. One time when the Toronto police saw two German shepherds on a flat roof that they had to cross to get at an apartment, they called the Humane Society and told them to send out a small assault unit and pick up the dogs. The Humane Society men got the dogs. A policeman phoned the Humane Society an hour later and said bitterly, “Well, we raided that place. There was no one there but three nice girls drinking tea.”

The merchandising of animals is one of the few specialized lines left that you can get into without a college degree or a course in business management. All you have to know is how to catch animals. Usually only the young animals arc caught. The general method is to chase a herd until the youngsters are left behind. Most animals — eland, waterbuck, zebra, wildebeeste, ostriches, giraffes, gazelles — will leave their young, which can be easily lassoed or otherwise caught and hound. Elephants, buffaloes and rhin-

oceroses will fight to the death for their young, but even this is used against them. A rhino's mother can be induced to charge one trapper's car (which has been specially draped with rubber tires for protection) while the trapper's accomplice rushes over and picks up her youngster in a truck. Some animals are caught in pitfalls: a tiger can be caught in a pit fifteen feet square by twenty-four feet deep with a stockade around the edge and a buffalo calf at the bottom. Baboons are sometimes caught the way kids used to catch street sparrows, by pulling a string attached to a peg that props tip a cage. Other baboons will gather outside the cage yelling for the release of the prisoner, and follow the trappers, hooting. One of Hagenbeck's trappers was attacked by three thousand Arabian baboons who carried off their wounded and finally won the battle, releasing their pals. These days tranquilizer guns are used.

While business is still brisk in the animal trade, the supply is in danger. One of the unfortunate by-products of the political emergence of African countries is the effect it's having on animal life. Whatever was good or' bad about the Belgians in the Congo, for instance, they knew how to conserve game and nothing was exported without permission. Shortly after the Belgian Congo attained its freedom, however, Africans began grabbing off gorillas at such a rate that one white dealer was offering them in half-dozen lots for three thousand dollars each. Zoo men are now happy to see prices going up, which means controls are tightening again. During the war the Japanese shot so many orangutans in Indonesia for food that there's a great

danger of this animal's disappearance. They're \?ry rare already, and the Indonesian government won't export them except to approved zoos. Anyone who lists an orangutan cheap is suspect.

The value of an orangutan, or any other animal, can't really be measured in dollars. Even animals that seem in no great danger of dying out have individual values independent of the market price. There are zoo animals that get up to the front of the cage and give their money’s worth, and some that seem completely untalented. Riverdale Zoo had a striped hyena once that would do nothing all day but stand with its head in a corner, but they had a laughing hyena that would whoop it up every time an attendant waved a beef shinbone, keeping it up hilariously until he got the bone, when he'd stop laughing and crunch the bone into powder, a sight that had a sobering effect even on zoo attendants who have some idea of the power of animals’ jaws. George, the big male chimpanzee in Riverdale Zoo, can make kids just about go into orbit with mirth. Every now and then he puts on a really mad show, sneaking up behind the female and pretending to pound her on the head, which infuriates her, then letting out a prodigious series of whoops, kicking an iron plate in his cage until it sounds as if the whole monkey house is falling in. If the female gets her cup of milk before he gets his, he sometimes grips his head, pulls down the corners of his eyes, moans, and looks distraught. Riverdale Zoo wouldn't part with him for the world. There probably aren't many more where he came from. ★