The illegal bushmeat trade threatens the already endangered great apes with extinction. But how does the bushmeat trade affect our closest living relatives, with whom we share over 98% DNA? The answer lies with the reasons why people hunt apes.
The Congo Basin, is not only home for apes, monkeys and other animals but also for people. Poverty, war and political unrest force people to rely on natural resources to survive. With lack of opportunities for economic development, people enter the forests illegally to set down traps for small deer (e.g. duikers), bats and rodents. However, the traps may also catch and lethally injure young gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. To have food on their tables, local people use what they can and sometimes have to resort to eating apes. However, many indigenous tribes that reside close to the habitat of great apes, believe that these animals are sacred. So much so that many indigenous legends teach them that gorillas and chimps are their ancestors, that their clans descended from them and therefore, it is prohibited to eat them.
Expanding human population however, dilutes these traditions. Another reason why people kill great apes for bush-meat is status. Some believe that exotic meat is exclusive, expensive and make them gain further importance in their social circles. Just like in the western world, the rich may purchase exotic skin handbags, fur coats or game meat, their traditions are not as different from ours. Lastly, traditional medicine is also a reason why people trade in bushmeat. Consumption of a strong silverback gorilla is thought to allow a man gain the gorilla’s strength and treat illnesses. Lack of education and actual healthcare will push these great apes to extinction.
What can you do? Share this message to spread the word of education. Also, when on holiday, do not be tempted to “try” exotic meats, or support any other trade in primates, e.g. keeping them as pets. Chances are that, the pet ape had its whole family killed and/or sold into the meat trade before the baby was sold as a pet.
I recommend reading more about this in the book:’Eating Apes’ by Dale Peterson: