Meeting to beat bush meat

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July 1996:

BERTOUA, Cameroon–– In
March ANIMAL PEOPLE shocked the
animal protection community with
Kenyan wildlife photographer Karl
Amman’s expose essay “The Great Ape
Project and the bush meat trade,”
describing the “overwhelming evidence
that the bush meat trade is one of the
biggest, if not the biggest, primate conservation
issues facing Africa today.”
Amman frustratedly described
how major conservation and animal protection
groups ignored his findings
through six years of field research. A
two-year association with the World
Society for the Protection of Animals
brought some exposure, but no substantive
action from other players.
“Is there any time left for theoretical
debates on great ape rights?”
Amman concluded. “Would the chimpanzees,
bonobos, and gorillas of Africa
not benefit more if the combined talent,
energy, and influence of the scientific
community now engaged in the Great
Ape Project took some time to devise a
strategy on how to keep these animals
out of the cooking pot?”

Amman posted a draft of his
essay to the Internet on January 26. By
the time ANIMAL PEOPLE p u b l i s h e d
it, two weeks later, it was already
known around the world. We posted it to
further Internet sites, and within a month
came action.
“I can say now, without hesitation,
that Karl Amman’s long and hard
private investigations and WSPA’s campaign
to raise public awareness are paying
off,” reported Anthony Rose of the
Biosynergy Institute Bush Meat Project,
one of Amman’s few longtime allies.
On March 22, explained Rose,
“The European Parliament and a joint
congress of European and African government
representatives resolved to urge
international action to curb the trade in
great ape bush meat. In March,
Cameroon’s Ministry of Environment
and Forests decided to call a national
meeting, with financial support from
WSPA and the local nongovernmental
group Enviro-Protect.”
Rose attended the conference,
held in mid-April.
“While leaders in the European
logging community have been on television
affirming that their roads, trucks,
and logging camps provide the infrastructure
through which the illegal bush
meat trade is flourishing,” Rose continued,
“[local] logging company representatives
were less than forthcoming.
Enlisting their aid in law enforcement
and in the provision of food substitutes
for great ape and other endangered bush
meat will be crucial to success. I have
returned from Cameroon committed to
make this my primary professonal concern,”
Rose said.
Like Amman, Rose was critical
of how the bush meat issue has been
handled––or not handled.
“It is clear, for example,” he
wrote, “that in Cameroon the occasional
trade in orphaned apes,” which has gotten
most of the attention, “is a tragic but
secondary issue. The prime targets for
the hundreds of commercial hunters are
the large and profitable adult gorillas and
alpha chimpanzees, whose meat draws at
least twice the price of domestic cattle,
chicken, etc. Those of us devoted to primate
protection need to redirect some of
our efforts and resources toward the root
cause: keep the mother ape out of the
cooking pot and protect the babies from
becoming orphans in the first place.”
Rose is setting up a World
Wide Web page on the bush meat trade,
and can meanwhile be reached at
His words came as Simon
Easteal of the John Curtin School of
Medical Research in Canberra,
Australia, told the Australian Academy
of Science that, “If you compare other
mammal groups, like genus ratus, there
is much more divergence in DNA than
there is between humans and chimpanzees.
If species classification is to
have meaning,” Easteal said, “we
should be in the same genus. There is
only 1.6% difference between our
nuclear DNA and that of a chimp, and
only 1.7% difference from a gorilla. The
coding DNA is closer still, and some
DNA shows absolutely no difference.”
But popular sentiment in
Africa was uninclined to favor great apes
after a wild chimpanzee seized a field
worker’s four-month-old child from
beneath a tree near Odzala, the Congo,
and as the mother gave pursuit, smashed
the baby’s skull and mutilated his limbs.
Locals were reportedly of the belief––not
uncommon in Africa––that the chimp
was a human witch in disguise.
As outrage subsided, the News
Agency of Nigeria reported that a male
chimp thrashed a man who was collecting
fallen wood to build a house, while a
female chimp clapped her hands and beat
her chest. Victim Victor Anumogu landed
several good punches, he said, but
the chimp “merely shook his head,
closed his eyes, and wiped his face,
apparently to savor the blows.”
Meanwhile, the bush meat
traffic spread to Europe. London Times
correspondent Tunku Varadarajan reported
from Madrid on May 23 that, “Some
Spanish baggage handlers have refused
to deal with luggage on flights from
Malao, the capital of Equatorial Guinea,
to Madrid, after the disovery of rotting
monkey meat in a suitcase.” According
to Varadarajan, private cargoes of monkey
meat arrive weekly, en route to “the
kitchens of Madrid’s sizeable Guinean
immigrant community.” Equatorial
Guinea is a former Spanish colony.
“I am sure a few monkeys
arrive on every plane from Guinea,” a
baggage handler said. “But we can’t
really check each and every suitcase on
each and every flight.”

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