Asset 3


End of content No more pages to load

Your search did not match any articles

Kristine Aghalaryan

Controversial Trade: 300 Exotic Animals Shipped to Armenia from South Africa

  • In 2021, more than 300 exotic animals, including 44 giraffes, 20 zebras, 20 crocodiles, 68 different species of antelope, seven African wild dogs and ten black swans, were imported to Armenia.
  • Most of the imported species are registered in the International Red List and require special care and storage. The animals are exported to Armenia from Africa.
  • In 2021, the animals were imported exclusively from the Republic of South Africa (RSA), but this country’s export data differs from Armenia’s import data.
  • Armenia continues to be an animal trade transit country.  

Last year, the family of Gagik Tsarukyan, a former Armenian MP and founder of the Prosperous Armenia Party, announced that it was donating a giraffe to the Yerevan Zoo. The giraffe was never delivered.

Tsarukyan’s Kentron TV announces the giraffe donation

Zoo management refused delivery of the giraffe, arguing that the zoo didn’t have the facilities to properly house the animal.  Zoo Director Arik Mkrtchyan said international regulations (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums-WAZA) ban the display of animals of suspicious origin.

“Giraffes are social animals and a single one cannot be displayed,” Mkrtchyan said at the time. "Accepting and displaying an animal in the current conditions would mean condemning it to a slow and torturous death. Under no circumstances should this be acceptable to a high-standard zoo.”

Special flights from South Africa shipped Tsarukyan’s giraffe and other animals

Hetq found out that the giraffe was shipped to Armenia from South Africa, along with many other animals, on a special flight.

The video shows that Tsarukyan's giraffe was being kept by Artur Khachatryan, a well-known animal trader Hetq has written about before.

Khachatryan imports various exotic animals to Armenia, then transports or sells them mainly buyers in Russia, where he has contacts.

Khachatryan was placed on a “want list” filed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with Interpol for trafficking in protected animal species on September 12, 2014. A Hetq investigative series into the illegal animal trade in Armenia led to criminal charges against Artur Khachatryan. That case was dropped due to a change in the Criminal Code. The man immediately returned to the trafficking of rare and endangered animals.

Khachatryan once owned Zoo Fauna Art, a company he used to import various exotic species to Armenia. In 2017, an Armenian court declared the company bankrupt after it failed to repay a UniBank loan. But Khachatryan and his partners continued to trade in animals as individuals.

In 2019, World Wildlife Fund-Armenia signed a $54,000 contract with Zoo Fauna Art to purchase nine red deer for resettlement in the Dilijan National Park.

Later in the year, Khachatryan founded a new company, Fauna Zoo LLC. Our research shows Fauna ZOO organized the shipment of all the animals transported to Armenia in 2021.

Armenia remains an animal trade transit hub

Examining the 2018-2021 data on the import and export of animals, it’s clear that Armenia remains a transit country for the trade of endangered animals from Africa and other tropical countries.

The global animal trade is regulated by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) which Armenia signed in 2009. CITES mandates that animal exporting countries must issue the importer a permit   stating most all animal details - country of origin, species, bred or wild. The CITES coordinating body in Armenia is the Environmental Ministry’s Bioresource Management Department (BMD). In 2020, it stopped providing information on importers or exporters of animals, classifying such data as confidential.  

In 2018, according to data provided by Armenia’s Ministry of Environment, the BMD issued a re-export permit for 34 monkeys, all taken from the wild. 28 of them, animals of Sudan origin, were exported by Arthur Khachatryan's Russian partner, Eduard Khachaturyan who has a private zoo near Moscow and sells animals. Due to the violations observed during the export of these monkeys, Russia temporarily banned the import of monkeys from Armenia in June 2018.

In 2019, Zoo Fauna Art imported five Amur tigers from Ukraine. During the same period, thirty monkeys were exported to Kazakhstan, but the export was carried out by an individual contractor called Stakris that apparently acquired the monkeys from Khachatryan and transported them to Kazakhstan. Stakris is engaged in animal trade in Kazakhstan. Another company of its founder Roman Alferov, Credos Ltd. C, has been embroiled in various scandals over the supply of elephants to the Great Moscow Circus.

The batch imported to Armenia in 2020 arrived from Benin - 38 monkey species, 20 genet cats, marabou storks, little bustards, Gambian geese.

In response to a Hetq inquiry on the 2020 and 2021 animal imports to Armenia   Mnatsakan Sharafyan, Head of Armenia’s State Revenue Committee's Customs Statistics and Revenue Accounting Department, said such data is not “public record”, referring to EEU regulations and Armenia’s customs code.

South Africa’s CITES coordinating body told Hetq it couldn’t provide any information since reports on the export of animals have not yet been finalized.

Peter Mbelengwa, Head of Public Relations at the RSA Ministry of Forestry, Fish Breeding and Nature Protection, responded to our inquiry in July 2021.

"Please note that export data for 2021 is not yet available as it hasn’t yet been reported or obtained in accordance with CITES protocols."

 Last week, Hetq again asked if the data was available, and the same department said export data would be available this October.

We received the same information through the EMS Foundation in South Africa that advances and protects the rights and general welfare of wild animals, children, elderly persons and other vulnerable groups in South Africa. The foundation, at our request, wrote to the ministry and received the data.

According to the data provided by the EMS Foundation, Artur Khachatryan made all the imports in 2021 via his newly established Fauna Zoo company.

Difference in the RSA, Armenia data

Of interest is that the data received from the Republic of South Africa (RSA) is very different from the Armenian version, which suggests that some species crossed the Armenian border without being registered, i.e., illegally. Otherwise, the animals should have been reflected in the data the State Revenue Committee (SRC) provided Hetq.

 2021 - What the RSA claims was exported to Armenia and what Armenia’s SRC claims was imported.

Our source in Africa (who requested anonymity) said that Khachatryan imported this batch by cargo plane, carrying out 29 flights. Transportation of the animals cost US$500,000. Most of the flights were made to transport the large giraffes.

Imported giraffe species, the Northern Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), sometimes called the steppe giraffe, is the tallest mammal in the world and is classified as a vulnerable species in the International Red List.

Giraffes live in the steppes of Africa and can be found only south of the Sahara. According to the data received from the RSA, the giraffes imported to Armenia were taken from the wild. According to Armenia’s SRC, the last imported batch was not shipped from Armenia given the June 2020 ban on the importation of RSA animals imposed by Rosselkhoznadzor, Russia’s Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance. The ban was imposed to prevent the spread of smallpox and hasn’t been lifted.

Russia, since January 2018, has also banned the importation of other animal/bird species from the RSA to prevent the spread of African plague and bird flu.

Artur Khachatryan houses animals in Yerevan

Artur Khachatryan owns a large tract of land in Yerevan’s Eerbuni District where he keeps animals. We don’t know if he keeps the giraffes there.

Artur Khachatryan's land in Erebuni. (Hetq archive photo)

The 148 Gurgen Mahari address in Yerevan, where the Khachatryans' companies are registered, has two separate tracts of land. The first, according to a document received from the local Cadastre Committee, consists of 26 buildings and measures more than 10,000 square meters. The area is registered under the name Khaleyan CJSC.

The other area has eight commercial building on 0.33 hectares and belongs to Ski Falcon Building Pharm LLC. From the name, it’s assumed that it is engaged in the breeding of falcons. This company was founded in Armenia in 2009 and is owned by Jaber Sultan Jaber Almutayiv Almansoor, a citizen of the United Arab Emirates.

Hetq asked Armenia’s Food Safety Inspectorate Public Relations Director Anush Harutyunyan if inspectors have visited these sites. Harutyunyan responded that if the quarantine period for the animals is still in force, inspectors have the right of access, otherwise the owner can refuse access.

The quarantine period expired long ago.

Khachatryan, despite bankrupting his previous company, apparently still has the resources and partners to continue his operations.  

Hetq couldn’t contact Artur Khachatryan. His telephone number was not in service.

Comments (1)

Garen Melikian
Thank you for this in-depth reporting. So much for those who believe the “earth has moved” since the so-called Velvet Revolution. Unfortunately, so many things have remained the same with little prospect of any real change on the horizon.

Write a comment

If you found a typo you can notify us by selecting the text area and pressing CTRL+Enter