ECOSYSTEM AT RISK: TREE REGROWTH AT A LOSS.

Hunting and logging has come at a cost, not just to the animals but the entire ecosystem that surrounds it. In the country of Cameroon, located on the tip of Africa, conservationists are saying that expansion of logging operations have dropped forest depth to a minimum (10).

In one instance, a Malaysian company was said to have been "illegally exporting more than 30,000 cubic meters of logs per month since December 1995." (15)

And it is happening in all regions that encourage tree cutting.

Forestry officials who monitor these activities admit that logging companies are repetitively violating the forestry laws, cutting down young trees and failing to replant seedlings. (5) [One of the many logging access roads that are patrolled by forestry officers, photo courtesy CNN]

This lack of cover leaves the forest wide open, allowing easier access to hunters and forcing some animals that are not deep forest dwellers out into the open where they are easily captured and killed.

Bushmeat hunting has affected the forest in other ways as well, since it not only supplies shelter for the animals but uses them as distributors as well.

Primates provide reproductive opportunities for trees and plants that inhabit the forest. The animals transmit the seeds of fruit trees and flowers such as the fauna by eating and dropping the remains behind, as they travel through the forest. (13)

But with the killing of the bush dwellers, other plants and small trees suffer as harsh a fate as the timber trees. The whole forest, in effect, fails to reproduce effectively.

Residents who live near the logging capitals have mixed reactions about the impact of forest clearing on the ecosystem and the country which they enhabit.

When asked by researchers to relate their perceptions of the timber industry, the results varied mainly based on contact with the companies and first-hand witness accounts of the daily routines of the loggers.

Cameroon citizens see the foreign-owned timber companies as "agents of neo-colonialism and exploitation, condemning them more for their profits than for the destruction they cause on the environment." (14)

"Some claimed that everyone should be concerned, others that it was the responsibility of the government, still others believe that forest conservation is incumbent on those who live in the forest and use its products. These types of responses are largely influenced by socio-economic and educational criteria."

In Gabon, forest still covers 85% of the country. This is approximately 19.3 hectares per individual, one of the highest forest to human ratios on the continent. Because of this, especially in the city of Libreville, citizens are not as concerned about the welfare of the forest or its enhabitants. (28)

Estimates say that the rainforests in Gabon and Congo will disappear in 125 to 155 years if trees are continued to be felled in the same unresponsible manner. In Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Zaire, however, forests will be gone by 2070 without conservation efforts. (26)

PRIMATE LOSS: EXTINCTION
[chimpanzees play with a refuge shelter worker, CNN]

It is estimated that just a century ago there were several million chimps in Africa, now less than 200,000. About 140,000 gorillas are living today because of increased hunting and territorial encroachment. (2)

Bonobos, a distinct subspecies now found only in the contained area of rainforest south of the Zaire River in Central Zaire, were recently estimated at about a 100,000 population. This figure has been cut in half over the past twenty years. (22)

And the figures are steadily dropping with each passing year. If logging and hunting continues at the current destructive pace, primate species living in low density forest areas will become extinct within the next few decades.


DISEASE TRANSMISSION

The transmission of disease between primates and humans, especially the apes because of their fragile immune system, is a realistic worry. Salmonella, shigella and airborne viruses are a risk that every human who comes into contact with primates must face and visa versa. (25)

One account showed how two airline passengers had attempted to board a plane carrying rotting bushmeat inside their suitcases, and when the bags were confiscated because it emitted a rank odor, the security guards refused to open the luggage. (27)

They feared exposure to the deadly Ebola virus. (") [A baby ape carcass lays in an open suitcase, photo by CNN Environment]

Some viruses that seem non-threatening to a healthy human can be life-threatening to even the strongest of primates, such as the flu, chicken pox or whooping cough. (25)

And the same is true for humans, where Herpes is benign to primates and the AIDS virus does not affect some subspecies. (")

AIDS has caused widespread pandemonium across Africa.

Hunters who strip the meat of infected primates risk transmission of the virus to themselves, if there are open wounds or scratches on the surface of their skin. (10)

Researchers attribute this foolish technique and unprotected sex as two of the leading causes of AIDS in Africa. (")

Back in America, worry is increasing about the gradual disappearance of the chimpanzees in the west equatorial African region where AIDS is suspected to have first developed.

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham proved the connection between primate and "HIV"-1 the AIDS virus by comparing current samples taken from these captured animals and frozen samples taken for earlier analysis. (9)

Samples taken from the Pan troglodytes chimp have pinpointed these animals as the natural host and carrier of the SIVcpz virus, also known as the "grandfather" of the HIV-1 virus that causes AIDS. Chimps are suspected of having carried this virus for thousands of years without the deathly results. (9)

Studying samples taken from these chimps could produce the answers that researchers are looking for. Chimps are identical to humans in 98% of their genome, yet seem to be resistant to the side effects on their immune system from the AIDS virus. (") [photo by CNN network]

These scientists believe that the differences could provide valuable clues to the dehabilitating condition of AIDS infected people and possibly lead to a vaccine that can treat the disease effectively.

That is, if poachers don't get to the chimps first. And the results have been devastating.

Biomedical teams that are sent out into the wilderness of Africa to collect samples for study, are not finding the animals but instead forest ruin and massacred carcasses. (10)

Virologists stress that the destruction of such vital medical resources could be catastrophic for the human population. Without a vaccine, AIDS will continue to spread and kill millions more every day.

According to the World Health Organization, 11 million Africans have died of AIDS so far, and 22 million are living with HIV or AIDS. (11)

Thirty-three million people worldwide are currently living with AIDS. The overwhelming majority are in Africa. (12)

LOSS OF ECONOMIC STAPLE

There is a crisis taking place, but awareness and positive action have been slow to combine together and clamp down on violators who threaten the existence of animals that are on the bushmeat list.

Because locals have found bushmeat trade as a viable moneymaking option, many have become self-employed hunters. This in turn lowers the unemployment crunch. (17) [A local man eats some bushmeat, photo by CNN Network]

But if the region's governments put a tighter hold on such illegal actions, they are aware that it means donating extra resources to assist in the fight against extinction.

This is money that many of the poorer central countries do not have and could not possibly generate, given their current economic status. (")

An excerpt from Trefon papers (A French research division):

"The fragile nature of African political systems has induced local leaders to address priorities which serve incumbency above all else. These priorities are generally linked to perceived economic requirements or commercial activities that provide revenues at minimal investment costs.

With respect to the forest this translates, on the international level, into massive lumbering; sale of live animals for research, zoos or pets; and hunting parties or eco-tourism for the well-to-do. Likewise, policy concerning non-sustainable use of forest products by urban populations, also for reasons of expediency, is characterized by attitudes ranging from indifference to leniency.

Short-term political and economic imperatives, in sum, clash with forest conservation which is a long-term enterprise."

Eradication of bushmeat hunting also means that the government must develop alternate programs for people who have moved from the city into rural areas just to be part of the hunting trade. This is a step that many of the central region countries cannot afford, despite the desire to do so. [Photo by the WWF News Network]

Furthermore, polls suggest that most locals do not consider the alternatives as viable, despite the destruction and threat of animal extinction.

In the end, unless major conservation powers come into play to help African governments control the bushmeat trade, these countries will remain powerless against poachers who continually kill and sell the animals for money.