Persecution and Hunting
Meat Hunting: Page 2 A wildlife slaughter of enormous proportions is taking place in Central and West African countries. Rural people who once killed animals only for personal consumption now hunt professionally, and markets in villages and cities now sell thousands of monkeys, antelope, wild cats, pangolins and even endangered apes (Pearce 1995, McRae 1997). Hunters use wire snares and leghold traps, high-powered rifles and dogs to track down animals. The tropical rainforests of west-central Africa, which once teemed with wildlife and echoed with their calls, are now falling silent. For miles surrounding villages, wildlife has largely disappeared as local peoples throughout this vast region are killing every animal to sell its meat and body parts. Professional hunters have taken so much wildlife that little is left for local tribes. Logging corporations based in Europe have launched this commercialization of bushmeat by opening up previously impenetrable wilderness areas with logging roads and offering to buy animals that local people kill. Both the forests and the wildlife are being devastated.
Logging companies have taken advantage of these impoverished countries' national debts, buying rights to clearcut the majority of the remaining primary tropical rainforest in West and central-west Africa at bargain prices. The last primary forests in Cameroon, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic are being cut and bulldozed, and their wildlife exterminated. Five-hundred-year-old trees with massive trunks 20 feet around, standing more than 100 feet tall, fall daily. The old-growth forests that provide homes for a myriad of wildlife will soon be gone at the present rate of cutting. In some areas, the logging is selective for certain species of trees, but this reduces forest diversity, and hundreds of trees are destroyed in the process of obtaining a few. When great trees fall, they bring down others, and logging roads and entry roads into forest tracts take thousands more trees.
In a shocking and moving report, Slaughter of the Apes. How the Tropical Timber Industry is Devouring Africa's Great Apes (Pearce 1995), the World Society for the Protection of Animals documents the tragic and gruesome slaughter of hundreds of Gorillas, Chimpanzees and other wild animals in Central African countries in this trade. The commercialization of wildlife and environmental devastation that have resulted are activities totally antithetical to the legislation and conservation ethics of the European countries--France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark--that are sponsoring the logging (Pearce 1995). Several documentary films shown on the National Geographic Explorer program and CNN have shown the markets with thousands of small antelope, Chimpanzees, Gorillas, monkeys and other mammals lying dead on tables, offered for sale. “Africa Extreme” and “Ndoki Adventure” are National Geographic films shown in March 2001 that document the discovery of poachers' camps with dead forest antelope, Leopard skins and other wildlife. One incident of snaring was filmed. A hunter filmed in the remote Ndoki Forest of the former Zaire found a Forest Pig struggling in a wire snare. The hunter began hitting the pig in the head to cause death, while the animal screamed and kicked. Only after hitting the animal about six times did death finally occur. Local hunters interviewed by the photographers said they regularly killed Bongos (Boocercus euryceros), rare and extremely beautiful rainforest antelope that are closely related to giraffes. These films traced the 1,500-mile voyage by Wildlife Conservation Society biologist Michael Fay through the last rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Gabon to publicize the fact that these magnificent wildernesses are being logged and their wildlife killed, and urgent action is needed to stop these activities.
Hundreds of Lowland Gorillas are being killed for the meat trade and sold for $40 per animal. Loggers place orders for Gorilla meat, which encourages the snaring and shooting of virtually every Gorilla that local people are able to procure for this grisly trade. WSPA found that in one district of the Cameroon, 800 Gorillas a year were being killed (Pearce 1995). Swiss photographer Karl Ammann has spent years fighting this trade (McRae 1997), and in the late 1990s, conservationists from around the world began efforts to save these beleaguered apes from slaughter.
In the forests of southeastern Cameroon, Ammann and Michael McRae, a journalist, found an infant Gorilla being kept in a dark mud-hut; the tiny animal was cowering in the corner, grinding its teeth and straining against its tether. The owner explained that the Gorilla’s parents had been shot two weeks earlier by a village hunter, the male having been wounded as he charged to defend the family, but escaping. The mother Gorilla died clutching her baby; she was then gutted and carried out of the bush, cooked and eaten (McRae 1997). Malnourished baby Gorillas are kept to be sold to passing trucks, but usually die within days. Ammann, after years of witnessing these tragedies, concluded, "Chimpanzees have the will to live if they're separated from their family, but Gorillas fall into a depressive state, and just give up on life" (McRae 1997). One baby Gorilla photographed by WSPA had been stuffed into a suitcase, where the Gorilla died of starvation after days of suffering (Pearce 1995). Another baby Gorilla was filmed lying dead in a battered cardboard box. CNN reporter Gary Streiker filmed an orphan baby Gorilla, tied on a string leash, being kicked and taunted. Huge cargo boats chug along the Congo River and other waterways of the Central African rainforest that serve as highways, carrying hundreds of orphan Chimpanzees and Gorillas to markets, stuffed in boxes and bound with rope. “Down the Dark River,” a 1996 film by CNN, captured the squalid and cruel conditions that baby Chimpanzees endured on these boats. When sold as pets, baby Chimpanzees are often placed in outdoor dirt yards, lonely, solitary little gnome-like figures with sad eyes, hugging themselves or clinging to dirty cotton cloths. When they grow older and become strong and difficult to manage, they are usually killed and eaten (McRae 1997).
The total Lowland Gorilla population is not known with any certainty, and "guesstimates" of 100,000 put forth in 1985 are probably greatly exaggerated. Their true numbers are probably half that, and in steep decline (McRae 1997). Several bushmeat hunters were interviewed in “The Bush Meat Trade,” a film shown on the National Geographic Explorer television series in 1995. When asked why they shoot these magnificent and protected animals, the hunters defended themselves by saying: "What's wrong with killing a Gorilla? They're fierce." One of the hunters told McRae that he was sure Gorillas were plentiful: "In Cameroon there are a million Gorillas. Three weeks ago, I saw sixty in one day. I shot three and then stopped . . . Why should I feel bad for a Gorilla? He is just a stupid animal" (McRae 1997). The West African country of Gabon also has markets where huge amounts of bushmeat are offered for sale, including Chimpanzee heads and Gorilla parts (Walters 1996).
Monkeys are killed on sight by the hundreds by hunters for sale in meat markets. Traders on the boat trip filmed in “Down the Dark River” were transporting some 30 or more dead monkeys, strung together with cord wrapped around their necks. These colorful and delicate rainforest primates are rapidly disappearing throughout their range. Monkeys from the forests surrounding the Congo River are bought by traders from hunters along the boat routes, or by logging truck drivers, and sold for $1 each in cities such as Kinshasa to be smoked for human consumption. Some traders traveling on riverboats specialize in bushmeat and barter with local people for monkeys, apes, turtles and other animals, some kept alive for the journey to preserve freshness of the meat, and others dead, stacked in piles.
WSPA has launched a campaign called EscAPE to encourage African governments to enforce existing hunting laws and police the trade in ape meat and body parts. WSPA personnel have rescued baby Chimpanzees and Gorillas
from being sold as pets or abandoned, placing them in zoos or sanctuaries. A conference organized by WSPA invited loggers, conservationists, government representatives and organization representatives to discuss the bushmeat market and possible ways of ending it. The loggers boycotted the meeting, but others attended and, after two days, drafted a long list of resolutions, including enforcing existing laws, instilling conservation ethics, and restricting the logging trade (McRae 1997). In December 1995, Ammann and WSPA presented information on the trade to a committee of the European Parliament, distributing their report (Pearce 1995), and at a subsequent meeting of Afro-Caribbean-Pacific nations and the European Union, 140 delegates passed a resolution urging action (McRae 1997).
The bushmeat trade has become the foremost threat to wildlife in Central and West Africa's forests, an even greater threat than logging (McRae 1997). Urgent action to substitute other sources of income is needed. Ecotourism has been suggested, as well as employing hunters to conduct wildlife counts and become rangers. To date, no coherent program has been set into place, and hunters claim that they will continue to kill large numbers of animals until they find an adequate substitute.
Bonobos (Pan paniscus), or Pygmy Chimpanzees, number only about 13,000 in a restricted area of the former Zaire's dwindling rainforests. As the most endangered of the apes, exploitation could cause their extinction. WSPA documented illegal trade in these primates (Pearce 1995).
A study of the bushmeat trade in western Cameroon found serious declines in several other species of primates, caused by the meat trade. The rare Preuss's Guenon (Cercopithecus preussi) and the highly endangered Drill (Mandrillus leucophaeus), a large monkey listed on the US Endangered Species Act and Appendix I of CITES, are also being hunted for market sale. In one hunt alone, 30 Drills were killed (King 1994). Troops in the area have declined in number. One monkey, the Russet-eared Guenon (Cercopithecus erythrotis camerunensis) has been hunted to extinction there, and all primates from the Mount Manenguba region have declined dramatically (King 1994). In Sierra Leone, 300 tons of monkey meat are exported to Liberia each month, decimating wild populations of Red Colobus (Procolobus badius) and Diana Monkeys (Cercopithecus diana). All these primates are listed by the 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. Scientists predict extinction in the region for the Red Colobus in 10 years, and the Black and White Colobus (Colobus guereza) in 20 years. Gabonese markets also offer various species of monkeys for sale. In one market, three small monkey heads were lined up on a gutter curb. Two of the faces were expressionless, and the third was open-mouthed, its eyes staring under furrowed brows, "as if frozen in a final, terrified gaze" (Walters 1996).
The Gabonese bushmeat trade, while not linked to commercial logging, has nevertheless grown in size and, in 1993, accounted for almost 11 percent of the country's gross domestic product (Walters 1996). A 1993 study found that, in a single city, more than 5,000 animals of 43 species of mammals, reptiles and birds were sold per year. Guenons; the magnificent and colorful Mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx), a Vulnerable species; Black Colobus; Chimpanzees; Gorillas; four species of duiker antelope; pangolins; Brush-tailed Porcupines; mongooses; genets; civets; and African Golden Cats are among the mammals killed for sale in Gabonese markets (Walters 1996). Birds being sold in these markets include crowned eagles, vultures, hornbills, guineafowl and plaintain eaters (a type of turaco). Pythons, Gabon Vipers, Nile Monitors, hinge-back tortoises and even threatened West African Dwarf Crocodiles (Osteolaemus tetraspis) were being marketed. Even animals protected under Gabonese law as endangered species are offered openly for sale. In addition to Gorillas and Chimpanzees, the Giant Pangolin (Manis gigantea), a race of the Potto (Perodicticus potto), and Demidoff's Dwarf Galago (Galagoides demidoff), nocturnal primates, all threatened species, could be obtained clandestinely (Walters 1996). In some areas of Gabon, high-ranking government--as well as local--officials supply hunters in villages with rifles and ammunition. Hunters then decimate wildlife and exchange the dead animals with traders for beer or soap. The traders then sell them for large amounts in city markets (Walters 1996). Hunting takes place throughout the forests, which still cover much of the country, and even in protected reserves where hunting is not allowed (Walters 1996).
An environmental organization, ECOFAC, has set up an ecotourism project to attract visitors to one of Gabon's wildlife havens, the Lope Reserve. Paths have been made through the forests, and 24 elevated observation posts have been built by members of the Scottish Primate Research Group, who have spent years habituating mangabeys and Chimpanzees to human contact (Walters 1996). The goal is to provide local communities with an alternate form of income from tourism and, perhaps, to spread the concept throughout the country and elsewhere in tropical forests where viewing wildlife is not as easy as in open savannah habitats.
The wild animal trade of Central and West Africa is obliterating populations of small forest antelope, such as various species of duiker. Twelve species of central and west African duiker are listed in the 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The meat trade and unregulated hunting, accompanied by destruction of forests, are the major threats. These animals are killed by capture in snares, where they may struggle for days. Two small, delicate antelope, both on CITES Appendix II, the Blue Duiker (Cephalophus monticola) and Bay Duiker (Cephalophus dorsalis), are trapped in wire snares or taken in pit traps in the Cameroon (King 1994). Dismembered duikers were seen in a market in Libreville, the capital of Gabon, in 1995 (Walters 1996).
Illegal snaring for antelope meat in national parks has been a major threat to Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla (gorilla) beringei), who number only about 650 animals. Many have lost their hands to snares, but some have now learned to recognize these traps and spring them. In 1995, however, a baby Mountain Gorilla strayed from the group and became snared, crying and struggling in terror for almost 24 hours while family members watched helplessly until Virunga National Park guards cut him free. Others have died in these snares.
Congo's national park, Odzala National Park, an area of 1,000 square miles, until recently had the region's only unexploited populations of African Elephants, African Buffalo and other mammals. Because of a lack of guards, poachers are now invading the park. The European Economic Community has agreed to fund the hiring and training of guards, with help from the Congolese army. This country is nearly bankrupt, like neighboring countries, making wildlife protection extremely difficult. Private hunting safaris enter the Congo rainforest and, for a fee, a foreign hunter can kill rare species of antelope and other wildlife.
Those who eat African monkeys and apes may be risking death. Several people who ate a dead Chimpanzee they found in the forest in Gabon died of the dreaded ebola virus, and the disease threat is not well-known to those who eat the meat of primates. Sooty Mangabeys harbor a virus related to HIV-2, an AIDS-like virus, and McRae (1997) saw a hunter carrying dead mangabeys, dripping blood into scratches on his leg.
In the Amazon, primates are avidly hunted for meat. Russell Mittermeier, head of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group, states that thousands of primates are killed by hunters, causing local extinctions of woolly monkeys (Lagothrix spp.) and spider monkeys (Ateles spp.) in Peru and Brazil. Forest tribes in Suriname kill very large numbers of primates for food, selling the meat in many local markets. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has been working with several native tribes in South America, evaluating the effect of their hunting on wildlife. They have found that in many cases, natives were overhunting many animals, causing local extinctions, even when only killing for subsistence. Peccaries of various species have been extremely vulnerable.