June 11, 2006

Booming bushmeat trade threat to Africa wildlife

By Antoine Lawson

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Elephant trunks and smoked gorilla
limbs hang from Emile Ndong's stall, "ripening" in the tropical

"A good ceremony, a marriage or an initiation is worthless
unless you serve game at the table," said Ndong, a hawker at
the bustling Oloumi market in Gabon's capital of Libreville.

Ndong is one of many profiting from Africa's booming trade
in bushmeat -- a blood-soaked business that has serious
consequences for the continent's wildlife.

Finding ways to curtail this industry will be discussed at
an international conference in Madagascar from June 20 - 24,
which will seek ways to harness Africa's ecological treasures
for development, while also protecting them.

"Bushmeat is probably the biggest threat to biodiversity in
central Africa," said Juan Carlos Bonilla, head of the Central
Africa program for Conservation International, the main
organizer of the Madagascar symposium.

From Ivory Coast in the west through Equatorial Guinea to
Kenya in the east, poaching to feed the bushmeat market is
rampant. And it is threatening entire species, including man's
closest relatives, the great apes.

Even in the continent's economic powerhouse of South
Africa, poor farmers and rural laborers poach wild game to
supplement their incomes, using snares, poisons and traps.

One Reuters correspondent recently saw a crude trip-wire
device on a fence on a South African farm meant to fire a
shotgun shell into a warthog when it passed underneath.


In west and central Africa bushmeat is big business.

"In the past game was locally hunted and consumed as part
of the diet of villagers. But now it is being consumed on an
industrial scale," said Bonilla.

He said two key factors were driving the trade.

"There is rapid urbanization with cities becoming populated
with migrants from the countryside. These migrants settle but
continue a way of life that is linked to the forest," he said.

Bushmeat has long been a staple among forest communities.

The other factor is the opening up of previously remote and
wildlife-rich regions by the logging industry, which is hacking
new roads into rainforests.

"These are structured markets which start with commercial
hunters in the forest, using mostly snares and traps, but they
are linked to major urban markets," Bonilla said.

The prices vary but delicacies such as monkey can command
$150 or more in oil-rich countries such as Equatorial Guinea,
finding a market among the newly affluent.

The hunters themselves get a pittance.

One recent study by Conservation International said monkey
hunters on Equatorial Guinea's Bioko Island -- home to several
rare and endemic species -- only made about $30 a month.

So job creation and poverty reduction would probably go a
long way to eliminating the "production" side of the industry.

"Providing alternative employment is a measure that would
likely enjoy broad-based local support (on Bioko Island)," the
study said.

"Hunters come from varied backgrounds and cannot be said to
be 'hard-wired' to shoot monkeys," it added.


Primate species at risk on Bioko Island include the rare
red and black colobus. Elsewhere gorillas and chimpanzees are
targeted by the trade.

Conservationists have warned that poaching, logging and
disease could soon wipe out the last of the world's great apes
unless new strategies are adopted.

There is also a health risk for humans: scientists think
past outbreaks of Ebola haemorrhagic fever in central Africa
were caused by the consumption of infected monkey meat.

Some researchers believe that better protection for the
diversity of the planet's creatures and plants could help
shield humans from diseases like AIDS and Ebola, and be more
cost-effective than developing vaccines.

In Gabon, the most sought after bushmeat items are monkey
head, bush pig, crocodile, pangolin, gazelle, and elephant
trunk -- many of which are protected species.

At a sweltering open-air market in the Ivory Coast city of
Abidjan, saleswomen flick clouds of flies off a bewildering
variety of meat including antelope, pangolin and squirrels.

"There's a python in the refrigerator waiting to be
smoked," said Apollinaire Yao, one of several young men smoking

Seller Anne-Marie N'Zi gives some insight into the trade.

"I get my supplies from women coming from upcountry with
bushmeat. It's difficult to get because the water and forest
(guards) and customs officials demand lots of money from them
along the way. That makes meat a little more expensive."

Denis Amani Kouame, director of Ivory Coast's Water and
Forests Ministry, said he did not have the resources to enforce
the law, and that legalizing hunting could help.

"Hunting has been forbidden in Ivory Coast since 1974 but
nevertheless wildlife resources are diminishing at an alarming
rate," he told Reuters.

"The only people benefiting ... are the poachers and
restaurant owners who have established and maintain an illegal
economic sector worth more than 100 billion CFA francs ($193
million) per year," he said.

Lax law enforcement is underscored by the fact that
Libreville's market is just 30 meters (90 feet) from the
municipal police station.

At the market, shoppers appear unperturbed at the sight of
six dead bush pigs, their young still alive, tethered by their

(Additional reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly in Abidjan
and Ed Stoddard in Johannesburg)