Apes are Being Eaten to Extinction
July 25, 2000 08:31 CDT
From a report by Joseph B. Verrengia of the Associated
wild monkey Anthony Rose ever saw in Cameroon was dead
gutshot and still next to a porcupine and a pair of
tiny red antelope. "A poor day's catch," his host apologized,
gesturing with his gun. In two weeks of barnstorming
rain forest boomtowns in central Africa, Rose, a conservationist
from Los Angeles, counted more primates dead than alive.
stacked, stiff like cordwood, on the beds of logging
trucks bound for distant cities. Sinewy arms and legs
were smoking over trailside fires. Their fresh red meat
was piled in open-air market stalls as women listlessly
fanned away the flies and questions.
and monkeys are among the world's most fervently protected
and extensively studied creatures. Yet they are being
hunted into extinction by commercial poachers carrying
fear these poachers will exterminate many of the world's
618 primate species including all the great apes from
equatorial jungles in 10 years. In central Africa, more
comparing the slaughter to that of the American bison
in the 19th century.
apes are on the menu is hard enough," said Rose. "Getting
them off the menu and finding alternatives for millions
of people is enormously difficult."
from several environmental groups, like Conservation
International, are estimating that hunters are dragging
1 million metric tons of game from the forests every
year, an amount equal to about 4 million cattle.
20th century, chimpanzee numbers have declined 95 percent
from an original population of 2 million. This descent
has been seen more since the 1970s when Jane Goodall
estimated that there were still approximately 1 million
spread through 21 countries.
most likely were never that plentiful, but their ranks
have dwindled. Field counts from Nigeria to Rwanda since
1998 show at least three subspecies number only in the
just as bleak in Asia. The orangutan population there
has been reduced to fewer than 20,000 in Borneo and
To the hunters,
they are meat. And money.
primates are the perfect models for our evolutionary
past. They demonstrate many of the same qualities that
we have combined to create culture, such as emotions,
use of tools, communications and problem solving capabilities.
they carry versions of human diseases such as AIDS,
Ebola and other tropical diseases. These diseases have
infected millions of humans, and primates may provide
world where a person like Jane Goodall could study mankind's
closest relatives only in a zoo's substitute rain forest
or in a laboratory cage? It's closer to true than you
conservation is failing on every front," said celebrated
photographer Karl Ammann.
has been documenting the escalating hunt for a decade,
sometimes with concealed cameras, considers primate-eaters
as "98.5 percent cannibals" which is a direct reference
to the percentage of DNA that humans share with chimpanzees.
new approach might very well represent the last chance
for most of the primates and other wildlife," Ammann
might not agree with Ammann's finger-pointing but agree
that their scattered protection efforts, hampered by
infighting for donor dollars, are being overwhelmed
by larger forces such as:
Civil wars. Poverty. The fall of tribal traditions.
And a voracious appetite for game, or "bush meat [ link:
]." Antelope, elephant, wild pigs and, most worrisome
to ecologists, primates, which breed too slowly to replenish
In the heart
of the African continent, tribes like the Baka pygmies
have been hunting for eons, but their small villages
only nibbled at the forest's bounty.
beginning in the 1980s, ancestral hunting ranges were
mainly taken over by commercial hunters across Africa's
equatorial belt, including Guinea, Liberia,the Ivory
Coast, Ghana, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the
Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and Congo.
Increasingly, the native hunters are abandoning their
snares to join into the more lucrative commercial hunt.
can wipe out entire social groups of primates in single
burst of automatic gunfire. If the infants are not killed,
they are then captured for the illegal pet trade or
even wind up in cramped orphanages, excluded from the
natural gene pool.
admit they were dazed by how swiftly the hunt has spread.
literally erupted as we were sitting there studying
the species," said biologist Heather Eves, coordinator
of the recently formed Bush Meat Crisis Task Force in
Silver Spring, Md. "It was a shocking thing for all
done in the past isn't going to work," Eves said. "We
don't have time for each group to try its own project.
We need an unprecedented collaborative effort."
So is the
answer to pay off poachers? Are there different methods?
meeting at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago between a growing
chorus of primate specialists recommended urgent steps:
Pay hunters not to pull the trigger. Compensate farmers
for damages caused by crop-raiding species.
"We pay fishermen
not to overfish the Georges Bank," said Boston College
anthropologist David Wilkie. "In Yellowstone, we pay
the rancher when wolves eat his sheep."
is a necessary part of biodiversity conservation," Wilkie
said. "If it's OK to do it here, then we've got to have
the same attitude toward Africa. The international community
has to shoulder most of the costs."
a few small projects are setting the example. In eastern
Cameroon, hunters shoot as many as 800 lowland gorillas
annually. At that rate, the region's population of 3,000
will be wiped out quickly.
two years ago, a group called the Bush Meat Project
[ link: http://biosynergy.org/bushmeat/
] in Los Angeles offered one hunter, Joseph Melloh,
$200 per month to lay down his weapons. Melloh then
recruited a few others who are now also subsidized by
Western donors. The group's next step: establishing
an ecotourism preserve that is strictly protected by
the former hunters. They hope to demonstrate that living
primates are worth more money than dead ones.
"It's a cash
economy now and whoever has cash has the power," said
Rose, a social psychologist who directs the Bush Meat
Project. "One hundred bucks can have a big influence."
is not the answer for some, then what are the answers?
people is difficult in Africa. Central authority is
frequently corrupt or weak. At least a dozen countries
are beset by war, genocide and famine, causing economic
struggle. The country's greatest wealth is locked into
their natural resources. The petroleum market collapsed
in the 1980s leaving two stable markets, forests and
logging consortiums sign 30-year contracts for huge
tracts of virgin forests that yield wood veneers for
furniture and luxury car interiors.
import food, these companies encourage hunters to sell
bush meat to the thousands of loggers residing in muddy
shantytowns. At times, the hunters even rent firearms
from local police to do the job.
armies and refugees have also taken up residence in
the forest. They rely on bush meat, as well.
eat the primates' hands, feet and entrails. Heads and
genitals are sold as fetishes and folk medicines locally
and abroad. The choice cuts are then loaded onto trucks,
river ferries and trains destined for city markets hundreds
of miles away. A chimp might bring $20; a gorilla, $60.
these problems, conservationists are now asking lending
agencies like the World Bank to attach wildlife protection
standards to foreign aid and development packages.
to tax ammunition and prohibit the transport of bush
meat on logging trucks crisscrossing what had been remote
territory. In Congo, the Wildlife Conservation Society
has convinced one large European logger, Congolais Industrielle
de Bois, to cooperate.
despite their efforts, enforcement is difficult. Some
countries, like Gabon, have no national parks. Even
parks created a century ago are, in Ammann's words,
"mere lines on a map." Park rangers are few, and rarely
have weapons or even uniforms. Ammann and other longtime
observers say they know of no primate hunters being
like Cameroon, want development aid for village schools
and water systems in exchange for conservation guarantees.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., has introduced legislation
that would provide $5 million a year for primate protection.
The bill has been modeled after successful elephant
and rhino measures.
The $5 million
would be a down payment. Wilkie estimates that reversing
the bush meat trade will cost at least $35 million annually
- roughly equal to the operating budget of a single
large national park in the United States, such as Yellowstone.
To help raise
money, environmental groups would like to entice a technology
tycoon to underwrite the effort, or perhaps snare admissions
paid by the estimated 134 million visitors to American
zoos yearly. The Bronx Zoo has already raised $1.5 million
for its Africa programs with the Wildlife Conservation
a lot of disposable income in this country and we need
to tap into it," said Conservation International's Russell
another way to control the trade and reduce demand.
But westerners cannot agree on the cost of bush meat
costs or how much to tax it.
affluent Africans have paid $40 for a single plate of
monkey or elephant symbolizing a cultural link to their
ancestral villages. Often the meat is heavily smoked
and dishes are cloaked in wine-based or peanut sauces.
Rose says in Cameroon he declined a bowl of monkey stew;
it smelled like a sour mutton dish that his grandmother
used to make.
But in frontier
towns, the meat sells for a fraction of the cost of
beef and chicken. It's protein that poor people can
sure what's driving the trade," Wilkie said. "If we
don't know that, we're not going to be sure of the approaches
to minimize it."
most of whom are white, wince at allegations that they
want to cut off food to fast-growing black nations.
"How do you
replace a billion-dollar industry?" Eves said. "How
do you replace one million metric tons of protein? You
could save hundreds of animals in a single area if you
could ensure a system of properly feeding the people."
the expertise of most conservationists. That's the irony
of the bush meat crisis.
To end the
hunting and protect primates for future study, the Jane
Goodalls might have to be forsaken for new leaders ranchers,
engineers, meatpackers and supermarket executives.
the things we learn in biology or forestry," Rose said.
"Conservation needs a new vision and new players to
get new kinds of results."
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