Monkey skulls tend to be for collectors and hunting clubs in the US, where they are reportedly given as gifts and prizes.
Customs officials at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris say they seized nearly 400 skeletons from protected monkey species in seven months last year.
Customs agents at the French capital’s largest airport said Thursday they had intercepted 392 posted packages from May to December 2022 containing monkey skulls, mostly from Cameroon. and destined for recipients in the United States.
They also seized hundreds of other packages containing skeletons or bones from other species. None of the items seized included any legal authorization for the sale of protected species, customs said.
“Trafficking in protected species is one of the most profitable trades after drugs, weapons and human trafficking,” airport customs chief Gilbert Beltran told reporters as he showed off hundreds of skulls, jaws and horns from protected species.
This “sordid” business generates 8 billion to 20 billion euros ($8.5bn to $21.3bn) annually, Beltran said.
According to news reports, the skulls are likely for collectors and hunting clubs in the US, where the skulls are presented as gifts or prizes.
Some of the packages also contain whole animals or arms with hands.
Customs officials first became aware of the monkey skull trade in May 2022 when they discovered seven skeletons posted from Africa.
They intensified their search and found dozens more, mostly from the cercopithecoid family, which includes macaques, baboons and mandrills, and from chimpanzees.
Monkeys are often hunted for meat, said Fabrice Gayet, an expert on animal trade customs. “Selling skeletons is a very lucrative business,” he said.
The skeletons of small monkeys cost 30 to 50 euros ($32 to $53) each, larger ones 400 to 500 euros ($426 to $532) and chimpanzee skeletons up to 1,000 euros ($1,065), he said.
There is also a thriving business in the remains of other species, including otters, big cats, lizards and birds of prey.
The skulls will be handed over to the Museum of Natural History in Aix-en-Provence in southern France for scientific examination.
“I am shocked to think that our closest relatives, monkeys and great apes, are being destroyed and the rainforests are being robbed of their endangered biodiversity for a business as stupid as it is cruel,” said the expert. of the museum’s monkey Professor Sabrina Krief.