Africa's apes 'are being eaten to extinction'

Bush-meat trade is threatening a possible depletion of Africa’s great apes, the world’s leading chimpanzee and gorilla conservationist, Jane Goodall, warned on Thursday.

She said that although governments on the continent have agreed to the protection of the primates, corruption and commercial interests involving logging companies are making conservation efforts futile.

Extensive destruction of the forests by international logging firms in Central Africa has exposed the primates, mainly chimpanzees, to bush-meat hunters who are killing off the parent chimps, leaving babies orphaned, and selling off the meat to local and illegal international markets, Goodall said.

“The bush-meat crisis is very, very serious. Animals are being eaten to extinction,” she told reporters at the sidelines of an international primate conference in Uganda.

“My concern is with the great apes of the Congo basin. Logging firms go deep into the forests which were originally inaccessible to hunters.
People used to hunt for bush meat for centuries on a family basis and mostly for food and for cultural rites like magic,” Goodall said.

She said that the most affected states in the bush-meat crisis are the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Congo and Equatorial Guinea, and that the bush-meat trade brings in $1-billion every year to the Central African Republic.

“The local hunting for bush meat has now changed to commercial hunting and everything that can be eaten is shot and smoked. The most affected primates are chimps,” Goodall said.

“Some meat is eaten by local people and the rest sold in towns and ... exported mainly to the United States and Europe. This meat is eaten by African experts there who come from primate-meat eating countries,” she said.

Goodall said that due to the destruction of the forests and the current bush-meat crisis, the equatorial and tropical forested regions of Africa, which were teeming with up to two million chimpanzees more than 100 years ago, are today home to only about 200 000 chimps.

Goodall is attending the 21st congress of the International Primatological Society that began on Monday at the lake-side airport town of Entebbe.

More than 700 scientists and ecologists are presenting research papers on a range of topics, including the bush-meat crisis and diseases affecting primate communities around the world.

“The problem has been the destruction of primate habitats as the human population grew and the setting up of snares to catch them. Now the bush-meat trade has taken over as the greatest threat to the primates’ survival. There has been a change from live animal trade to bush meat,” Goodall said.

“The mother is shot and the baby orphans sold to anybody who can buy. Many chimps are killed for meat and the baby orphans are roaming the forests,” she added.

Goodall’s Great Apes Survival Project (Gasp) is influencing African governments through the United Nations Environment Programme to pay more attention to the preservation of the primates.

Her programmes in states such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Congo are targeting communities around the ape-protected areas, carrying out conservation programmes, teaching people to plant fast-growing trees around the parks and providing micro-credit facilities to women groups.

“We work very hard to sensitise the communities. Governments in the region agree that it is important to protect the apes in the forests, but there are economic factors undermining this,” Goodall warned.

“Logging firms pay a lot of money to cut down the forests and there is corruption. Bush-meat trade brings in $1-billion to the Central African Republic every year and this meat is exported illegally to Europe and the US,” Goodall said.—Sapa-dpa

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