Virtually half of all primate species are threatened with extinction. Although humans are the only primates not dwindling in numbers, our actions—particularly our destruction of habitats—pose the major threat to all other primates, such as chimpanzees and gorillas. In some areas, however, unregulated hunting of primates for commercial use poses an even greater threat than does habitat destruction.
Bushmeat, or wild-animal meat, has been part of the traditional diet of many forest-dwelling African people. As Africa has become urbanized, however, bushmeat has become a valuable commodity. Commercial bushmeat hunters, who use shotguns and snares that can kill many more animals in much less time than the traditional spears and nets, are bringing the lucrative bushmeat to growing markets in villages and cities.
These hunters also benefit from logging operations in the region. Cameroon, Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Liberia are the major producers of tropical timber in an African industry dominated by European logging companies. As British, French, German, Italian, and other international logging companies plow into the African forests, they not only destroy and fragment wildlife habitats, but they also expedite the bushmeat trade. Logging roads are used by bushmeat hunters to gain access to the deep forest and to transport the bushmeat out of the forest to markets, often with logging trucks. Hunters also sell bushmeat at logging settlements, the camps where loggers and their families live while working for the logging companies.
Commercial hunters converge on new logging operations and build camps along roadways. There they display fresh kills and sell them to logging truck drivers, who transport the meat to market. Logging company officials say they can do nothing to stop the drivers from transporting bushmeat on their vehicles because the extra money and meat are too enticing. In fact, few companies have tried to implement rules that would stop loggers from accepting meat from hunters, and those companies that have prohibited their workers from aiding hunters rarely enforce their rules.
Not only do logging companies facilitate commercial hunting and delivery of bushmeat to market, they also create a need for bushmeat by failing to provide food for their workers. As a result, loggers turn to bushmeat for subsistence. With as many as 4,000 residents, a single logging settlement can consume huge amounts of bushmeat. The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), of which The HSUS is a member, reports that in the Republic of Congo, logging companies have held bimonthly hunts and provided local men with weapons and ammunition for providing fresh meat to loggers. Despite national laws against hunting protected species such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos, logging companies and commercial hunters foster the illegal meat trade.
Forest elephants, giant pangolins (anteater-like animals), duikers (small antelopes), leopards, dwarf crocodiles, and golden cats are also killed for the bushmeat trade. Although ape meat constitutes only a small percentage of the bushmeat trade, the trade decimates a large percentage of the threatened primate populations. The WSPA estimates that several thousand lowland gorillas are killed annually; one study projected an annual slaughter of 800 gorillas in eastern Cameroon alone.
Male lowland gorillas are particularly desired by hunters because their large body mass brings hunters more money at the market. Usually, these protective silverbacks are the only group members killed, but their loss is particularly devastating, since it can isolate surviving individuals and make them vulnerable to attacks by other primate groups.
Sometimes mother apes and monkeys are killed with their infants, but when babies do survive, the hunter usually captures them and takes them to market. There they are sold as pets. Sometimes the hunter takes an infant home to be eaten later or chained up for amusement. In a five-day span, WSPA investigators observed two chimpanzees and three gorillas chained in logging settlements.
Cities offer large markets for pet apes. Both Africans and foreigners can purchase young chimpanzees and gorillas for $100 (although chimpanzees are more commonly kept as pets). Once such animals mature, they become difficult for pet owners to handle. As a result, many pets end up in sanctuaries. If they survive, these victims of the bushmeat trade become dependent on human care.
Recent measures have been taken to reduce the overall trade in and hunting for bushmeat, but primates—and other endangered species—continue to be killed at alarming rates. Species such as crowned monkeys and dwarf crocodiles face extinction in some localities.
Organizations such as the Bushmeat Project, The WSPA, and coalitions of organizations such as the Ape Alliance, of which The HSUS is a member, are seeking solutions to the bushmeat crisis. In 1996, an agreement was made between The WSPA, the European Parliament, and a French-owned ammunition manufacturer to halt the west-central African production of gun cartridges powerful enough to kill a gorilla or forest elephant. The ammunition had been used in the region almost exclusively to poach large mammals, such as elephants, who are protected by national and international laws.
European logging companies in Africa must be held accountable for their role in the decimation of wild species through the commercial bushmeat trade. They should eliminate the hunting, trading, harboring, and transporting of endangered species in their settlements and set up programs to educate their workers about the importance of protecting primates and other endangered animals. Logging operators should also supply alternative forms of protein to their workers. African governments that contract out their timber cutting should promote bushmeat alternative programs.