Bushmeat trade could spell disaster for the chimps

Posted: 18 February 2003

Dr Jane Goodall, the leading primate expert, whose research was used in the highly successful David Attenborough TV series The Life Of Mammals, has made a plea for stronger regulation and monitoring of the bushmeat trade. Without it, she says, disaster will befall our closest living relatives, the chimpanzee.

Jane with chimpJane Goodall with an orphan chimpanzee at a sanctuary in Africa. Hundreds of chimpanzees are killed each year for bushmeat, leaving many orphan baby chimps.© Michael NeugebaurShe was speaking in London at the launch of Okomi, a series of children's books about chimpanzees, produced by the Children's Project.

Central Africa comprises one quarter of the world's and 70 per cent of Africa's remaining rainforests and is a priority region for biodiversity conservation as well as a focus for forestry, industry, and hunting. The Congo Basin is home to half of Africa's wildlife.

But, says Dr Goodall, illegal hunters remove more than one million metric tons of bushmeat from the forests in the Congo Basin each year resulting in "empty forest syndrome" (no animals left) in many places.

The growth of the logging industry means easier access to previously inaccessible forest areas. Logging company employees are large bushmeat consumers at their camps, as is the urban elite. Logging truck drivers make easy money, even when it is prohibited by company policy, by transporting bushmeat loads of up to 200kgs including chimpanzees and gorillas.

Most of the 24 million people of Central Africa rely on wild animal meat as a main source of protein. During a 12-month period, 15,000 carcasses passed through the markets in Brazzaville in the Congo: 293 were chimpanzees. The rising demand for bushmeat and its high value (chimpanzee meat brings 20-25 US dollars a piece) can contribute up to 40 per cent of a logging company employee's income, she said.

The lack of alternative ways to earn a living and the ease of entering the commercial bushmeat trade, are the driving factors threatening wildlife and biodiversity conservation across West and Central Africa.

Hunting requires a permit granted by the wildlife administration, unless for traditional hunting or hunting outside state forests. Certain methods are banned along with the hunting of protected species but government ministries lack the power to monitor and enforce the rules, which are constantly flouted.

British-born Jane Goodall has studied chimpanzee behaviour for over 40 years and works for their protection. During this time it is estimated chimpanzee numbers have fallen by more than 90 per cent.

Forest ecology

Her warning echoes that of Douglas Williamson, of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), who says that shrinking populations, particularly of large forest animals, could result in a long-term change in forest ecology, since many plants depend on animals for pollination, seed dispersal and seed germination.

Among the main factors threatening long term supplies of wild meat were increasing population, the use of new technologies such as automatic weapons, the temporary encroachment of large numbers of people displaced by conflicts and the growth of a commercial trade in wild meat,he said.

Since there were natural limits to the level of harvesting that wildlife could sustain, such trade could result in the extinction of vulnerable species such as elephants, larger antelopes, gorillas, chimpanzees and others.

Such unsustainable trade in wild meat is a particular problem in the Congo Basin because conflict and civil disturbances have disrupted normal economic activity and forced people to turn to wild meat as a source of income.

In response to the Bushmeat Crisis, a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have formed an alliance to try to tackle the problem, which is being addressed by a working group of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The Okomi books will go on sale in the Spring of 2003. Produced by Helen and Clive Dorman at The Children's Project they may be ordered from www.cpshopping.co.uk. A US edition will be published in March by Dawn Publications. Each Okomi book sale contributes directly to the care of orphan chimpanzees at the Tchimpounga sanctuary, Congo.