Subject: PRIMATE TALK
(from email@example.com [ Karl Amman ])
THE GREAT APE DEBATE AND THE BUSH MEAT TRADE
I am a very recent subscriber to primate talk and I have followed with great
interest the arguments advanced in connection with the Great Ape Project.
WhileI do not feel qualified to contribute to the more philosophical aspects
of the debate I would like to raise, what to me is a more fundamental issue,
with the hope that it becomes part of the discussions. I have investigated
aspects of the bush meat trade in Africa for the last 6 years. I no longer
have any doubtthat the increasing commercialisation of this trade is today the
biggest threath to the survival of many species in West and Central Africa.
The great apes are no exception. Many parts of their range have come under
increasinglogging pressure. The corresponding infrastructure has allowed the
bush meattrade to go commercial and, as a consequence, entire gorilla and
chimppopulations are eaten into extinction, at a rate of thousands of animals
Why, at this stage, is the scientific and, to some extend, the conservation
community concentrating on a rather theoretical issue while the very existance
of the subjects under discussion is under serious threat.
I have interviewd some 200 commercial and subsistance hunters, and
documentatedan equal number of orphan ape scenarios. This, combined with the
research dataavilable on the quantities of bush meat consumed, constitutes
overwhelmingevidence that the bush meat trade is one of the the biggest, if
not thebiggest, primate conservation issue facing Africa today.
Two years ago I joined up with the World Society for the Protection of Animals
(WSPA), with the view of publicizing the issue. The issue being:
"The increasing commercialisation of the bush meat trade and its impact on
chimpanzees, bonobo and gorilla populations".
As a professsional photographer I had assumed it would be easy to get the
mediainterested and to get the conservation community to come on board and
verify the facts. Far from it! The February 1996 issue of the American
Outdoor Photographer Magazine has a feature outlining my frustrations in
dealing with the print media.
The electronic media was more forthcoming. The latest television documentary I
convinced a South African network to produce, comes close to presenting the
message I feel needs to be told. (Copies are available to readers who can bear
footage of silverbacks being cut up into managable pieces and chimpanzee
mothers being smoked on the same rack as their offspring). What I hope we
established with these productions is the fact that the killing of gorillas
andchimpanzees for their meat is a daily occurance and that we are no longer
dealing with isolated cases. (Some members of the conservation community
termedthe inital news reports we released as sensationalizing the issue. The
evidencecompiled since makes it absolutely clear that thousands of animals are
A point in case is Joseph, a commercial hunter we have interviewed on camera
onthree occassions. He states that he and his two pygmy assistants kill
apporoxiamtely 50 great apes annually. The first time we talked to him his men
were cutting up a silverback gorilla, the second time he was smoking two
chimps, and this last time he was smoking a silverback and a baby gorilla. He
told us that for the next two weeks he would stay in his forest camp to try to
supply the Christmas demand for bush meat which included orders for gorillas.
Just like some of us order a turkey or goose for Christmas.
In trying to publicize some of these facts some members of the conservation
community also called our approach counterproductive on the grounds that the
African governments concerned preferred quiet and diplomatic exchanges.
Supposedly that is what has been tried - and has it succeeded? Not based on
ourevidence! Not even close! The off-take of great apes and other primates is
today higher than at any other time in history and it certainly is no longer
sustainable in many regions. Correspondingly, the flow of orphans is on the
increase as well, except for areas where population densities have droppeed to
a point where commercial hunting is no longer viable. The Congo Republique,
where many of the international conservation organisations have their regional
base and where three great apes sanctuaries have been established, had the
Prime Minister go on Television last year and announce that all school
childrenschould spend their holidays hunting and fishing. The announcment was
made during the closed hunting season. Elephant steaks were openly advertised
and sold in the countries most up-market supermarket. According to the bush
meat traders in the Cameroon, their parliament two years ago officially
abandoned the 6 months closed hunting season. In this context: What hope is
there in the quiet diplomatic approach?
One established conservation organisation with offices in the countries
concerned rejected my feature for their magazine on the grounds that it might
affect their representatives in the field. Scientifique research often seems
The National Geographic Magazine relegated a bush meat piece to the Earth
Almanac column, and postponed it for several months after one picture they
wereplanning to use supposedly clashed with a chimpanzee-linked story they run
in December 95.
The individual cases of smuggling of great apes or other primates still seems
to be the main concern for several animal welfare and conservation groups. The
fact that we have evidence that for each great ape which might get smuggeled,
possibly a hundred die a miserable death, tied to a post in some village, gets
little attention. None of the hunters I interviewed indicated that getting
holdof baby apes was an issue. It is virtually impossible to shoot a mother
with a shot gun and not injure the baby as well and I have recorded several
cases of mothers being 'prepared' at the same time as her offspring. I
photographed a frozen baby chimp in a bush meat freezer in Yaounde. There were
no visible injuries and the trader assumed it had been strangled. If there
should be a request for an orphaned ape there is no point going out there and
taking any risks. They can be found everywhere and generally their price is
only slightly higher than their meat value.
Is it justifiable to turn the smuggling of any orphaned great ape into
headlinenews and letting the world belive that the demand for babies is a
major concernwhile the plight of the hundreds of unsmuggled orphans is
Of course there are no easy solutions. However, the ivory crises of the late
1980s proved that world opinion can make a difference. An international outcry
is what is needed. Many of the countries concerned (we are talking about
Cameroon, Congo Republique, Central African Republic and, to a lesser extent,
Zaire, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea) badly need whatever international aid they
can get. Aid is now closely linked to human right issues - what about the
rights of the great apes and other primates?
I am still looking for a single documented case of a successful prosecution of
an individual who had infringed upon a hunting law. The laws which exist
amountto lip service. I strongly suspect that the recent prosecution of the
poachersof the Zaire mountain gorillas is just an exercise in public
relations. (On many occassions I have recorded gorilla and chimpanzee skulls
worked into carved statues which one finds for sale in Goma and Bukavu. It
would appear that most chimpanzee orphans which arrived in the last few years
in Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda came from Zaire and were a mere by-product of
the bush meat trade. I have not heard of Zaire taking any measures except
where the international community has applied pressure.
Good governance is supposedly a criteria for the granting of foreign aid.
Looking after ones natural and national resources supposedly represents
anothersuch criteria. During our latest documentary shoot we interviewed one
of Cameroon's top wildlife officials who went on record stating that the army
and police were heavely involved in the bush meat trade and that they could
not be called on to help enforce the laws.
A French logging company executive went on record stating that the industry
hadgone into a free for all approach to logging and that nothing had been
learnt from what happened in the Ivory Coast, Liberia, etc. He predicted the
total destruction of wildlife within the next twenty years in all the
commercially logged areas.
Is there any time left for theoretical debates on great ape rights? 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 best keep
theseanimals out of the cooking pots.
I trust that this essay will be accepted in the spirit it is written. I accept
that a certain cultural sensitivity debate might result from it. On the other
hand, I am convinced that controversy will help to get the real facts to come
E-Mail here in Kenya (especially in Nanyuki where I live) is stilL not exactly
the most reliable and cost efficient way to communicate, which might restrict
my ability to supply additional information and answer all the question which
might result from this message.
Karl Ammann tel: 254 176 22448; fax: 254 176 32407 e-mail: kamman@ATTMail.com