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Poachers killing gorillas, chimps for bush meat delicacy

Baby Chimpanzee
Threatened species are a luxurious target  

Activists blame logging companies for problem

December 30, 1998
Web posted at: 9:25 p.m. EST (0225 GMT)

From Correspondent Gary Streiker

EASTERN CAMEROON (CNN) -- In Central Africa, some of man's closest relatives are being pushed close to extinction by two disturbing trends -- civilization's appetite for luxury foods and virgin timber.

Here, in the space of two days, an entire family of gorillas was shot and killed -- three adult females, two babies and the father, a big silverback.

The gorillas were killed to be butchered, smoked and sold in the markets of Cameroon as "bush meat," an increasingly popular food.

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"The slaughter of chimpanzees and gorillas, our closest relatives, is absolutely diabolical. I can't imagine that this can go on much longer before these animals are extinct," warns Richard Leakey with the Kenya Wildlife Service.

But in Central Africa, the commercial trade in bush meat continues to grow. Markets teem with meat from many forest animals, including endangered chimpanzees, gorillas and elephants -- not as necessary protein sources but as delicacies.

Unrestrained logging, mostly by European companies driving new access roads into old-growth forests, makes the proliferation possible. Roads now penetrate deep into areas once inaccessible to hunters.

"It's the logging that's at the core of the problem. We would not have this dramatic increase in bush meat death and destruction if it weren't for the commercial logging," says Randy Hayes of the Rainforest Action Network.

Aerial of road
A new road takes loggers to areas once inaccessible  

Some logging companies do more than build the roads; they take a role in the bush meat trade. They hire employees to buy the meat, supply hunters with guns and ammunition, and transport them and their catch between forests and markets.

Central African governments say logging companies have the right to expel poachers from their concessions. But many companies say that's not possible. Poachers are armed and dangerous, and only the governments have the power to solve the problem, they say.

"You need the collaboration of many authorities to be able to close the market," environmental activist Roger Ngoufo says.

But governments fail to enforce laws against illegal guns and the poaching of protected animals, environmentalists charge.

Worldwide attention needed

Photographer Karl Amman, who has spent years documenting the killings, believes only international action can stop the developing disaster.

"It will need political will. To generate political will, you need a major international outcry," he says.

Yet unless action takes place, the carnage will remain commonplace in Central Africa.

Leaving the main road and heading down a hunting trail, Amman identifies one such gruesome scene: except for the youngest, an entire family of chimpanzees has been cut into pieces.

"There should be concern expressed at every possible venue to bring pressure on both the African governments and on the international bodies to do something about this," Leakey says. "Unless this is stopped, these species could become extinct, and it would be a terrible loss to humanity."

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