Eaten Out Of House And Home
Growingin popularity as a food source, apes may be wiped out of Africaby the booming bushmeat black market, says a Tufts expert.Medford,Somerville, Mass.
Medford/Somerville, Mass. [07.17.03] The secluded safety of Africa’sdeepest forests – once a protective haven for the continent’sdwindling population of apes – is quickly disappearing.The region’s profitable timber resources have attractedloggers, roads and the illegal but often overlooked black-marketpractice of hunting endangered wildlife for food. Apes, writesTufts’ Dale Peterson in a new book, may soon be eaten outof house and home by their closest living relatives: man.
“Today,with the loss of traditional ways in Africa, with the arrivalof modern weapons, modern population growth and modern cities,and with the unprecedented opening of African forests by Europeanand Asian timber companies, the consumption of wild animal meathas suddenly exploded … moving from what was until recentlya subsistence activity to become an enormous commercial enterprise,”Peterson – a lecturer in Tufts’ EnglishDepartment – writes in his new book “EatingApes.”
An unvarnishedlook at this complex and pressing issue, Peterson’s bookhas been profiled around the world – from the New YorkTimes to London’s Globe and Mail.
“Thetrade is huge, amounting to more than five million tons of antelope,elephant, buffalo, bush pig, porcupine, rodent, monkey and othernative animals per year,” reported the Times. “Conservationists,concerned that African forests are being emptied of wildlife evenfaster than they’re being cut for timber, refer to thisas the problem of bushmeat. For other folks it’s just aface of existence. Life is harsh, tastes vary and wildlife isedible.”
Petersonexamines both perspectives in “Eating Apes” by centeringhis story around two people from very different worlds –a Swiss nature photographer who has captured the growing bushmeatcrisis on film for years and a hunter from Cameroon who made hisliving killing and selling bushmeat.
“Petersonbuilds a case that the problem ultimately must be laid, not atthe feet of hunters themselves, or even the corrupt governmentofficials whose favorite food is gorilla meat, but on the doorstepsof the giant multinational corporations that own logging ‘concessions’in West and Central Africa,” reported the Modesto Bee.
By carvingup Africa’s forests, logging companies have opened the doorto a potential ecological disaster.
“Loggershave come in, and they’re not clear cutting. They’retaking out particular species of valuable hardwoods and they’recutting in roads throughout these forests that ten years ago wereremote and inaccessible and now are no longer remote and inaccessible,”Peterson told National Public Radio. “Just openingup these forests allows this huge commercial trade in meat intothe big cities.”
Some estimatethat apes will go extinct in certain African countries in as littleas 50 years.
“Someonedid a survey [of Gabon] in which they compared ape populationsin the year 2000 with what they knew were ape populations in theyear 1983 – 18 years difference – and found that theyhad declined by 56 percent,” the Tufts lecturer told NPR.“That’s a decline of about 4.7 percent per year. Ifyou project that into the future, you will see a loss from whatwe have now of 80 percent in the next 33 years. That’s acatastrophic loss.”
Though manyanimals are killed and sold as bushmeat, apes are particularlyvulnerable.
“Althoughapes make up just an estimated one percent of the booming bushmeattrade in Africa, the threat to their existence is amplified bysimple biology,” reported the Modesto Bee. “Likehumans, they are very slow to reproduce, and with the unprecedentedroad-building of Asian and European logging companies, they arebeing killed at widly non-sustainable rates.”
Ape populationsare already alarmingly small. Experts estimate that there are110,000 gorillas, 152,000 to 225,000 chimps and less than 50,000bonobos (pygmy chimpanzees) in the wild.
“Thatmay seem like a lot, but if you think about it more carefully,the Rose Bowl in Pasadena is made to seat 110,000 humans,”Peterson said in a Metrowest Daily News report. “Youcan fit every gorilla in that stadium, and all of the chimps maybetwice.”
Accordingto Peterson, conservation groups have been slow to report on theissue.
“Perhapsthe most disturbing chapter in this book is the one titled ‘Denial,’where the author explains why you’ve never heard of thisproblem,” reported the London Times. “Itsees that Karl Ammann, the book’s photographer, tried toplace articles with such magazines as National Geographic,International Wildlife and Wildlife Conservation,only to be told that the editors felt that the subject matterwas ‘inappropriate’ for their readers.”
But Petersonsays the problem, while grisly, can’t be solved withoutmore public attention.
“It’slike the African elephant ivory crisis. It’s like the whalingcrisis. It’s like the greenhouse effect,” he toldNPR. “Until it becomes a common household term,I think we’re going to fall short.”