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Gorillas are endangered prey in Central African forests

February 21, 1997
Web posted at: 5:10 p.m. EST (2210 GMT)

From Correspondent Gary Strieker

EASTERN CAMEROON (CNN) -- Deep in the rain forests of Central Africa, a hunter sits beside the carcass of a dead gorilla, an endangered animal protected by law in Cameroon. The man, brandishing the gorilla's dismembered hand, boasts that this is one of many apes he's killed.

gorilla

Why would anyone care about the animal, the hunter asks. In the forest, he says, it's a war between man and savage beast.

The widespread slaughter of endangered animals in eastern Cameroon, like lowland gorillas and chimpanzees, is a mounting problem that could drive the great apes from the face of the Earth.

A hunter can fetch roughly $30 for the carcass of a 400-pound male gorilla. The meat, known as bush meat, is destined for markets in cities and towns where consumers pay more for it than beef or pork.

Rescue operation low on money

apes

At the zoo in Limbe, a chief trading port in Cameroon, volunteers care for orphaned baby gorillas and chimpanzees -- their mothers were sold for meat; the babies sold as pets. Government officials seized some of the animals from poachers, but most were given to the zoo by people who bought them from hunters.

"The baby, if it survives, tends to bring in more money for the hunter than the carcass. That encourages the hunter to go out and look for females with infants," volunteer Patricia Gleason said.

However, the zoo's rescue-operation program, Pandrillus, is running out of funds and space for the ever-increasing number of orphans. Volunteer Anna Randall holds up an orphaned animal and rubs its stomach. A smile spreads across the animal's face.

"This is Chela," Randall said. "He was confiscated from a bush taxi that was carrying his mother's carcass and him in a bag."

Logging poses threat

The widespread slaughter of the animals is compounded by expanding timber operations, primarily conducted by European and Asian companies. When companies clear land and build logging roads that lead deep into forests, hunters follow the roads to track down prey.

Hunters also use logging trucks to carry meat out of the forests, and some sell their kills to logging workers and their families in company towns.

Residents in the towns say they have no choice but to eat the bush meat because pork and beef are not available.

"When the hunter kills an elephant, everybody buys it. When it's a gorilla, everybody buys it," explained Ndzana Ndzana, government minister of environment and forests.

And on the logging roads, hunters say they don't like their way of life, but they claim it's the only way to feed their families. There are no other jobs in Cameroon, one hunter said.

But as timber companies press deeper into the forest, followed by the hunters, it is clear what the outcome will be: a mounting disaster that could lead to the extinction of some of the world's most endangered animals.


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