What price, gorilla meat

African bushmen stand the risk of contracting deadly viruses from bushmeat

Published: Sunday 31 August 1997

public health officials in west Africa say the hunting and consumption of bushmeat (meat from hunting wild animals) leads to the transmission of hiv related virus among local villagers. The major outbreak of Ebola virus in Gabon last summer that claimed the lives of 13 villagers has also been linked to eating the meat of dead chimpanzee by the inhabitants. Reports say that urban consumers eat more than 1,816,000 kg of bushmeat per year in Gabon ( Environment , Vol 39, No 3).

Subsistence hunting of these animals has always been a part of the region's indigenous and elaborate culture. But the situation has worsened over the years. The dwindling numbers of western lowland gorillas and chimpanzees in west Africa can be attributed more directly to bushmeat hunting than other factors such as logging and poaching.With the decline of the primate population, the meat of the gorillas and chimpanzees - as well as that of the other protected species such as elephants, anteaters, and mandrills (a rare species of baboon) - has become a luxury commodity and a culinary delicacy.

Commercial hunters are also playing their part in the decline of the animal population. As loggers push their way into the jungle, they create a network of roads. These are used by the market hunters. Some loggers have begun to involve hunters in their work directly. They provide them with guns and travel to villages in the evenings to collect fresh kills. These market hunters earn as much as 50,000 Cameroon francs (about us $100) in a week.

Widescale hunting of wild animals, besides affecting their populations, also has a devastating effect on their habitat. The most prized meat comes from animals that are the most important agents of seed disposal. All the species in the biosphere are functionally inter-dependent on each other for food. "If you took out all the elephants and primates, you'd see a decline in lots of trees and a die-off of certain important species," says Melissa Remis, anthropologist at the Purdue University, usa.

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