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Growing demand for 'bushmeat' threatens great apes

Ape  and ape skull
Gorilla populations face extinction due to a growing demand for ape meat in Central Africa  

August 12, 1999
Web posted at: 3:18 a.m. EDT (0718 GMT)

By Correspondent Gary Strieker

LOMIE, Cameroon (CNN) -- Deep in the Central African forest hunting camp, gorilla skulls are trophies for a man who lives there.

He started hunting from the camp more than a year ago. His targets then were mostly smaller animals, such as porcupines, monkeys and pangolins.

When he's lucky, the hunter says, he can shoot a gorilla or a chimpanzee.

Every ape he kills is a bushmeat bonanza.

In most of central Africa, the demand is growing for the meat of forest animals, popularly known as "bushmeat." The most desirable bushmeat comes from endangered species, including elephants, chimpanzees and gorillas.

ape arms
A gorilla caught earlier in the day is already cut to pieces and smoked  

Thousands of hunters earn their living in the bushmeat trade. They hunt animals that are supposed to be protected by law, but government officials seem unaware of the growing crisis.

"If that awareness cannot be created in the capitals, it's very hard to tell the little guy not to pull the trigger," said wildlife photographer Karl Amman.

Some conservationists are trying to find ways to reach the hunters.

A village chief says no one has killed a gorilla or chimp in his village in the last year.

That's because the hunters were told they could earn money by attracting tourists eager to see the animals in their natural habitat.

skulls on roof
Gorilla skulls are displayed like trophies on the roof of a hunter's home  

The concept works only if the surviving apes could be conditioned to allow human beings to approach them. Most apes associate people with danger.

If the hunters fail to realize revenue from the venture, they are likely to return to the bushmeat business.

With advice from conservationists, a few logging companies are trying to keep poachers out of their forest preserve and stop their truck drivers from delivering bushmeat to the cities.

"What we can do in this area is have an effect on the trade. This is what we can do. We can reduce the trade," says Philippe Auzel, a conservation advisor.

A few people are making desperate attempts to stop the spiraling carnage of the apes, but many conservationists believe it is inevitable that gorillas and chimpanzees will become extinct outside protected parks and reserves.

Even in some protected area, poaching is increasing. The conservationists say only government intervention can save the great apes.

"If the government don't (sic) get behind it, nothing can be done. Nothing." former bushmeat hunter Joseph Melloh says.

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The Bushmeat Project
Wildlife Conservation Society
World Wildlife Fund: European logging companies fuel trade in ape meat
WSPCA: Africa's bushmeat crisis
The Bushmeat Project
Making a Killing: the bushmeat trade
Links - Zairean Civil War and "the New Congo"
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