The African people, particularly those who live in and near forest areas, have been eating meat of wild animals or bushmeat for centuries. They hunted for subsistence, as bushmeat was a main source of protein in the forest. But as Africa’s forests increasingly become more accessible through urbanization, the hunting for bushmeat in West and Central Africa is now developing into an enormous and extremely profitable commercial trade. In fact, bushmeat is now being exported to and sold in underground markets in the United States and Europe, where bushmeat is treated as a luxury food item like caviar or shark meat.
With the increasing demand for bushmeat in and out of Africa and the growing trade that supplies it, bushmeat hunting is now the greatest threat to Africa’s great ape population. Meats from chimpanzees, gorillas and bonobos may only be a small proportion in the bushmeat trade, but because these great apes reproduce more slowly than other mammals the hunting puts them in danger of extinction. The absence of parent apes to nurture their young also poses a risk to the great ape population. Young orphaned apes, because they still don’t have much meat in them to eat, are being sold as pets.
Conservationists argue that unless the bushmeat trade is stopped there would be no more viable great ape population within 50 years. There are three African great apes: bonobos, chimpanzees and gorillas. All three are now endangered species. The subsequent ape population estimates provided here, unless otherwise stated, are from 1996 figures. Bonobos can only be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and were estimated to be 10,000-25,000 in numbers. Western chimpanzees, estimated to be 12,000, could still be found in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Ghana and Senegal.
This sub-species of chimpanzees are now extinct in Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin. The central chimpanzee population was estimated to be 80,000. They can still be found in Gabon, Congo (Brazzaville), Cameroon, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria and Angola (Cabinda enclave only). The last sub-species of the chimpanzee is the eastern chimpanzee and could be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and Sudan. Their population was estimated to be 13,000.
There are also three sub-species of the gorilla: the western lowland gorilla, the eastern lowland gorilla and the mountain gorilla. The western lowland gorilla, with an estimated population of 110,000, live in the states of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo (Brazzaville), Cameroon, Central African Republic, Nigeria and Angola. The eastern lowland gorilla, meanwhile, could only be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its population is estimated to range from 8,700-25,500 in 1998. Lastly, the mountain gorilla is the fewest of all the great apes.
There are only about 600 of them and they could be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Rose (1998) had cited various studies on bushmeat trade across West and Central Africa. The bushmeat commerce around the Congolese city of Ouesso done by Hennessey found that 64% of the bushmeat in the area came from just one village and that a single hunter could have supplied more than 80 gorillas annually. He also estimated that 19 chimpanzees are killed every year in the city.
In the Sangha region, many hunters prefer to trade their bushmeat at Ouesso rather than sell them at logging concessions because in Ouesso they can sell it for a higher price. As cited by Rose, Stromayer & Ekobo had reported that Ouesso and Brazzaville are the “ultimate sources of demand” for bushmeat. There is also an intense hunting of gorillas and chimpanzees in southeastern Cameroon. Most of the meats hunted here are shipped to the provincial capital of Bertoua and to Yaounde and Douala where hunters could make more profits.
Bushmeat trade is also present in villages near Lope, Ndoki and Dja Reserves, and in city markets at Bangui, Kinshasa, Pt Noire and Libreville. Based on the studies on bushmeat commerce, Rose extrapolates that “the bushmeat trade across equatorial Africa could be more than a two billion-dollar annual business. If logging and hunting continue to expand unchecked, the numbers of monkeys and apes killed for the cooking pot will increase. ” A good payoff is a great motivation for hunters of bushmeat.
Bowen-Jones (1998) said chimpanzee carcasses in Cameroon could pay as much as $US20 to $25 each. The increase in bushmeat hunting has been fueled by general improvements in infrastructure, which makes road access to forests and transportation to urban markets easier. The growing timber industry, dominated by European-owned companies and increasingly joined by Asian industries, also increased demand and helped facilitate the supply end. The forestry employees hunt so they could provide for their own needs.
Commercial hunters abound to provide for the needs of forestry workers and other consumers outside the forested region. Buyers of bushmeat are not just the logging camp families, but also restaurateurs and private feasts in wealthy national capitals. Bushmeat is sold at prices ranging from two to six times that of beef or pork, both of which are readily available to consumers in larger towns and cities. The increasing availability of guns also adds to the pervasiveness of the bushmeat trade. The expansion of commerce in Africa also threatens the cultural heritage of African communities.
As cited by Rose (1998), Mordi’s study of attitudes toward wildlife in Botswana found that “contemporary Africans have lost their traditional ‘theistic’ reverence for wildlife and many have taken on the harshest utilitarian view. ” Rose further explained that “tribal values of conserving and protecting non-human life are rendered spiritually inoperable, while new ecological and ethical foundations for sustaining nature have not emerged. ” He also cited Ammann’s talk in Washington DC to report that African tribes that had before forbidden the consumption of primates are now beginning to eat their meat.
Rose further says that, in Africa, “A ‘live for today’ attitude prevails. This holds for people struggling to survive, as well as for wealthy Africans. ” Citing Hart’s 1978 study, Bowen-Jones (1998) reported that the change from subsistence to commercial hunting began half a century ago. Hart’s study of the Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri forest in the Democratic Republic of Congo found that the pygmies had began making contact with meat traders in the 1950s. These meat traders went with them to their forest camps to promote “intensification of traditional hunting methods such as communal net drives.
” Meat, then, was a means for barter. They exchanged it for iron tools, tobacco or agriculturally produced food. In many other places in Central Africa, indigenous forest dwellers have also been trading meat for other commodities for a long time. Bowen-Jones suggested that “This trading ethos, accompanied in some cases by varying degrees of coercion, has led to an often hierarchical structure in the newly prospering commercial trade in meat from the forest, where Bantu patrons [who are agriculturalists] make use of Pygmy hunters.
In other cases, the hunting is carried out by immigrants attracted by work or the prospect of making money by poaching and hunting. However, the common denominator is that, increasingly, animals are hunted not for local consumption but for the urban population centres, where demand keeps prices high and inspires others in the forest to hunt. ” Another problem posed by bushmeat hunting is the risk of transmitting dangerous diseases to humans. This is because apes, being the closest living kin to humans, harbor pathogens that also affect humans.
The Ebola virus, which is epidemic in chimps and gorillas, has been found to come from dead carcasses of primates and could spread during butchering. Scientists have reported in an Independent Online article by Fox (2004) that the virus breaks out when people slaughter chimpanzees, gorillas and small antelopes. The Ebola virus had killed 29 people in the Congo Republic in January 2004. And always increased animal mortality always comes before the first human cases.
HIV, which causes AIDS, is also said to have been transmitted to humans from apes. Hunting and butchering produces blood splatters which can easily create infective aerosols. Rose (1998) reported that medical scientists have discovered evidence that points to western African chimpanzees as the original source of the viruses that causes AIDS. Bushmeat hunting “could transmit new forms of SIV that could further expand the AIDS epidemic. The illegal bushmeat commerce had before been viewed as a wildlife crisis.
But now, with evidence supporting the transfer of epidemic diseases from apes to humans, the bushmeat crisis extends from a problem of ape extinction to a threat to human civilization. To sum up, the illegal bushmeat trade is fueled by: the increasing demand in and out of Africa; the diminishing cultural reverence for wildlife; the rapidly growing timber industry: the improvement of forestry infrastructure like roads, vehicles and camps; and the increasing availability of guns.
Some of the consequences of an unregulated bushmeat commerce are as follows: vulnerable and endangered species, including all three African great apes, face extinction; unprotected and unstudied species are put in danger; the ancient culture of African indigenous communities are imperiled; and there is an increased risk of transmitting dangerous diseases to humans. Bibliography: Rose, A. (1998). Growing Commerce In Bushmeat Destroys Great Apes And Threatens Humanity. Retrieved February 22, 2007 from http://bushmeat.
net/afprimates98. htm Bowen-Jones, E. (1998). A Review of the Commercial Bushmeat Trade with Emphasis on Central/West Africa and the Great Apes. In The African Bushmeat Trade – A Recipe For Extinction. Ape Alliance. Retrieved February 22, 2007 from http://www. 4apes. com/bushmeat/report/bushmeat. pdf Fox, M. (2004, January 15). Ebola may come from ‘bush meat’ – study. Independent Online. Retrieved February 22, 2007 from http://www. iol. co. za/index. php? click_id=117&art_id=qw1074190685813B243&set_id=1
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