BUSHMEAT:
THE FATE OF HUMANS' PRIMITIVE RELATIVES

Economics is the driving force behind every financial decision and thus has become a big factor in the smaller, third world countries of Africa.

With a depleted source of monetary means, especially in the poorer central African cities and outlying villages, locals have turned to nature for attainment of financial resources to live. The nature is bushmeat. [Picture by Karl Ammann]

West and Central Africa has become the killing ground for gorillas, apes, other primates and animal species that are hunted by poachers in its deep equatorial rainforests for eating purposes.

The selling is a way of life for locals, yet extremely dangerous for these animals that are now threatened to the brink of extinction because of an overnight food craze.

Dr. Anthony Rose, a social psychologist and conservationist, noted that a record number of 1,200 apes were killed last year in the area of Gabon, which makes up part of the 20% primate population that is slaughtered for meat and sold on the market. The gross sales were estimated at 50 million dollars in that country alone. (6) [A picture of Rose wandering the forest, photo taken by a fellow worker]

Rose has worked for years with conservation groups and teams who have analyzed the declining conditions of animal life in Africa. He has met several times with forestry officials at conferences held in the African countries and in the U.S. to discuss the bushmeat crisis and possible solutions. (6)

The bushmeat crisis was at its highest recorded peak ever last year in Congo, where 293 chimpanzees and 15,000 animal carcasses were counted at meat markets in the city of Brazzaville.

Among locals living in the northeastern Congo republic alone, 80% were willing to eat gorilla and chimps if given the opportunity. (4)

Overall business for bushmeat is estimated to be in the billions. Wild game makes up 50% of the captured meat and the other 30% accounts for species like the forest elephant, pangolin, bonobo and so on. (5)

Some bushmeat, or the meat of the wild animals, costs two to six times more than the price of beef and pork, ranging at about $12 USD per kilo. Elephant steak is sold on the high "up-market" region and distributed to restaurants around the country with some meat going via international rings or the black market to foreign cities like Brussels or France. (5)

And the demand is growing for the bushmeat delicacy. Locals have become quite aware of the growing popularity, to the disadvantage of the animals living in the forest.

Karl Ammann, a Swiss conservationist and photographer turned local campaigner, has seen gorillas and chimpanzees in almost every country in the region being butchered and sold for their meat.

An article printed in the Gorilla Foundation newsletter stated that Ammann has talked with 200 "commercial and subsistence hunters" to find out information about bushmeat dealings.

"Hunters get $40 for a smoked gorilla, $29 for a chimp and $5 for a monkey. Some commerical hunters catch up to 50 great apes a year," Ammann was quoted as saying.

As the bushmeat trades hands, so does the price. Very often, local hunters who sell to street vendors or loggers around the area will make three times less than what the "black market" price goes for. (5)

But for locals who do not have any other ways to make money, poaching is considered the only viable choice.

[Bushmeat cooking on the campfire, photo by Karl Ammann]

Specific types of bushmeat are illegal, especially the endangered species such as ape, gorilla and chimpanzee. Yet hunters have found ways to work around the system to trade the bushmeat to interested buyers.

The meat can be smoked to give the appearance of buffalo, which is easier to sell in public to customers without the fear of police interaction.

Poachers risk jail time if caught, but without proper police supervision and government assistance to watch for these unlawful actions, many get away with murder, literally.

Officers who patrol the forests and markets seldom say they hardly have enough enforcement backup to make needed arrests.

In an interview with CNN, Dieudonne Nguele of Cameroon explained that there are no resources available to fight such illegal activities. He says that they have no vehicles to get around and check the forest activities. (12)

Nguele's position as the local head of the Ministry of Environment and Forests is a demanding one, as the forestry division must balance the tasks of monitoring logging company routines and watching for street vendors who sell bushmeat on the side.

One day while on a routine check by foot into the forest, he came across a poacher who had had just killed a mountain gorilla. His response to correspondent Gary Streiker was disarming.

"This is the first time I have ever seen a gorilla out of the forest with its hands chopped off," Nguele said, "because I never come into the forest. Why? Because I don't have the means." (12)

Officers and critics have attributed these problems to the lack of attention shown by African government leaders on conservation issues and animal threats of extinction. (12)

"Even if African governments had the means to enforce their laws effectively, they lack the will to do so...they put no priority on conservation." (17)

"Timber exports produce billions of dollars in revenue for those regions, yet very little of that money is spent on conserving forests." (")

"And without more financial aid and political pressure from the industrialized north, the endangered forests and wildlife in areas like eastern Cameroon (and other central African countries) will remain unprotected." (")

In one campaign promotion, the Congo Republic's Washington Embassy replied to concerned individual stating that 'There is no poaching problem in Congo.' (16)

But local influences are not the entire reason for this sudden high demand and slaughter of wild meat, as outside sources are partly to blame. A vastly rising population of timber industries, generally dominated by the European market, has become a factor in the bushmeat trade.

Timber companies have carved roads into the forest so that trucks and workers can move freely back and forth with wood and supplies, leaving the door wide open for poachers and other animal hunters. (14)

Hunters use these roads as access routes into the forests to capture and kill animals for sale to logging workers, local villages and restaurants in the surrounding cities. (")

Most hunters are locals, though some immigrant logging workers have taken on the hunting position to receive extra income generated from the sale of the meat. The workers often use logging trucks to carry bushmeat from the rainforest to 'urban markets.' (4)

Reports have shown that many of the logging companies are not feeding their workers adequately or at all, which has turned some to bushmeat as a viable food source provided by traders and poachers. (") [Another day of hunting for these men, photo by the WWF Network]

These people choose to buy the meat rather than hunt for it.

Some companies said they are not aware of the disastrous effects that logging is having on the local mentality. (6)

"A timber CEO recently invited outside investigators to help police ape hunting after seeing photos of seven bonobos smoked and sold for bushmeat," read a statement by conservationist Karl Ammann. (")

Other companies are following in the same productive pattern, yet the majority evidence has been overwhelmingly negative.

In a presentation given by Ammann at the World Congress for Animals in Washington, the photojournalist said that he has witnessed first-hand accounts of meat coming into the logging towns on trucks, which are then sold by traders. (8) "Bushmeat has been a commodity in use by locals for years, but now with the availability of firearms, the opportunity to kill these animals is much higher," Ammann stated. (8)

Hunters no longer need to use the earlier forms of weaponry like nets, spears or snares that heightened the risk of retaliation by the animals. (10)

Silverback gorillas, for example, often try to defend themselves by "standing their ground" or attacking the poachers. (16)

Timber companies have been known to supply firearms and ammunition to hunters. But when confronted, many said that it was purely for protection and clearing the roadways, not for bushmeat purposes. (16)

"With the advent of modern firearms and improved communications and transport, subsistence hunting has given way to the 'anarchic' exploitation of wildlife to supply the rapidly growing cities with game." (") [A gorilla family lays dead together after hunters shot them for body parts, photo by Karl Ammann]

The results are serious and catastrophic. Without constant intervention from government and conservation powers, both local and foreign, the logging and bushmeat massacre will continue to plague the once pristine rainforests of Africa.

And eventually destroy all of our primate relatives.