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  National Geographic 18 Jul 06
Ape Meat Sold in U.S., European Black Markets
Sara Goudarzi for National Geographic News

EurekAlert 5 Jul 06
West develops taste for primates

PlanetArk 5 Jul 06
Bushmeat "Sold in Secret European, US Markets"

LONDON - Meat from wild animals including primates is being sold in clandestine markets in North America and Europe, according to scientists on Wednesday.

Wildlife biologist Justin Brashares, of the University of California, Berkeley, and a team a volunteers tracked down the illicit trade in Paris, Brussels, London, New York, Montreal, Toronto and Los Angeles.

"I have 27 records of chimpanzee and gorilla parts being sold in markets," Brashares told New Scientist magazine. "In each case it was not a complete body, but a hand, leg or in two cases, a head," he added.

Bushmeat is meat from wild animals including gorilla, chimpanzee, forest antelope, crocodile and bush pig. It is a food staple among forest-dwelling communities in Africa and a source of income for thousands of people.

But the hunting and sale of wild animal meat is a threat to endangered species and also poses a health risk because eating bushmeat has been linked to fatal illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and Ebola.

Brashares stumbled upon the illegal trade after a chance conversation two years ago with a Ghanaian taxi driver in New York who took him to a market in a warehouse in Brooklyn. "I was shocked that open markets sell large quantities of African bushmeat in major cities outside of Africa," Brashares added.

At a meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology last month he said 6,000 kg (13,230 lb) of bushmeat moves through the seven markets each month. Small antelopes called Duikers were the most common type of bushmeat in the markets but Brashares said meat from primates, rodents, reptiles and birds was also being sold.

EurekAlert 5 Jul 06
West develops taste for primates

Meat from wild primates killed in Africa is landing on dinner plates in North America and western Europe. Offered for sale in clandestine markets from Los Angeles to Paris, primates make up nearly a third of the illegal international trade in bushmeat, according to a survey of markets in seven cities.

Rumours of the existence of such markets have floated around for years, says wildlife biologist Justin Brashares of the University of California, Berkeley. Confirmation came from a chance encounter with a taxi driver from Ghana two years ago. When asked if he missed eating bushmeat, the driver said, "I don't, really."

He then offered to show Brashares a market in a warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, where bushmeat is sold. "I was shocked that open markets sell large quantities of African bushmeat in major cities outside of Africa," Brashares says.

Starting with his initial contact, Brashares has recruited 15 volunteers, expatriates from west Africa to visit illegal markets in Paris, Brussels, London, New York, Montreal, Toronto and Chicago. A market in Los Angeles has just been added to the list.

Two volunteers separately recorded the amount of bushmeat for sale at one sample location in each city. Just over 6000 kilograms of meat moves through these seven markets each month, Brashares told the Society for Conservation Biology when it met in San Jose, California, on 28 June.

This probably underestimates the international trade, itself only a tiny fraction of the wild meat hunted in Africa, most of which is eaten locally.

Primate meat makes up a larger share of what is sold overseas compared with markets in west and central Africa.

"I have 27 records of chimpanzee and gorilla parts being sold in the markets," Brashares told New Scientist. "In each case it was not a complete body, but a hand, leg or, in two cases, a head." Guenon monkeys and baboon species appear to be a big part of the trade, he says. Small antelopes called duikers are the most commonly sold animal, and the rest of the trade is made up of rodents, reptiles and birds.

Bushmeat is often concealed beneath legal shipments of smoked or dried fish, but it is difficult to say how much is imported because customs officials in the US and the UK lump all illegal meat together in their reports.

The sellers don't distinguish between different species, even in the markets in Africa, and there is a good proportion that Brashare's volunteers can't identify.

"The bushmeat trade is huge and supports thousands of people in Africa," says Glyn Davies, director of conservation for the Zoological Society of London, who pointed out that bushmeat traders are occasionally arrested in London.

He suggests that cane rats and duikers, for example, which live near farms, could possibly be harvested sustainably to support local people. "But that is very different to harvesting large mammals such as great apes and elephants," he says. "It would be very hard for that to be sustainable."

Davies says that central governments in Africa need to be made aware of the millions of dollars being spent on the parallel economy of the bushmeat trade, and they need to work with the forestry industry to regulate hunting at the critical forest frontier.

People in the know keep the international markets relatively buoyant, but the demand isn't driven by need. Prices for bushmeat are higher than for legal meat.

"It's part of what is clearly a luxury trade," says Brashares. "They could go and buy a filet mignon in London for what they're paying for baboon."

National Geographic 18 Jul 06
Ape Meat Sold in U.S., European Black Markets
Sara Goudarzi for National Geographic News

Meat from chimpanzees, gorillas, and other wild African animals is popping up in illegal markets in the United States and Europe, a new investigation reveals.

"Bush meat" consumption is widespread in western and central Africa. There, the poor have traditionally trapped wild animals as a form of subsistence hunting to help feed their families and villages.

However, wild animals such as primates have been shot in such large numbers that conservationists have declared bush-meat hunting a crisis. Adding to the demand, wild animal meat is making its way from small villages into African cities, where some diners consider it a delicacy.

Now bush meat is going overseas to Western cities. Justin Brashares, a professor of wildlife ecology at the University of California, Berkeley, and a team of volunteers recently said it found the illegal meat in markets in Paris, Brussels, London, New York City, Montreal, Toronto, and Los Angeles.

The team documented 27 instances of gorilla or chimpanzee parts being sold, though it never found a complete carcass.

Carry-On Meals

"Most illegal meat is carried in suitcases and also is shipped in parcels and large containers," Brashares said.

Brashares first learned of markets that trade bush meat through a chance meeting with a Ghanaian living in New York City a couple of years back. "In the U.S. a lot of it comes through JFK and Miami airports," he added. "Inspectors actively search for these shipments and use sniffer dogs. But they tell me they can't begin to keep up with the volume coming in and estimate they catch about one percent of the total coming into the country."

Many officials at Africa's airports are aware of the illegal cargo but choose to look the other way and allow the airports of the importing countries to deal with the issue, says Karl Ammann, a bush-meat activist and wildlife photographer.

"I have checked in on flights to Europe in central African capitals," Ammann said. "A lot of local passengers check in openly with [coolers]. Airlines--I talked to Swissair staff at the time--are terrified to confront passengers and risk huge scenes at the airport."

Meat for the Elite

Bush meat is a vital part of the livelihoods of many rural Africans. But for Western countries that are not suffering from food shortages, it has become a luxury food item, like caviar or shark meat.

The biggest Western consumers come from the middle and upper classes and have found easy ways to access bush meat, according to Ammann. "It is pretty openly for sale, and when checking out the buyers, it is clear that it is not the poor but often the wives of politicians and policymakers," he said.

The University of California's Brashares believes it's reasonable to assume that African bush meat sold in North America and Europe is a luxury good. But he found out that, for many, it's just a matter getting some home cooking.

"My sense from talking with the volunteers who use these markets and know them pretty well is that most buyers are expats from Africa who cook the meat in their house," he said. "I'm told some of it is going to restaurants, but I can only guess as to how much."

The most commonly sold bush meat found in Brashares' investigation was from small antelopes known as duikers, but meat from various rodents, reptiles, and birds was also discovered.

Risky Business

Many experts warn that illegally imported bush meat could be a vector for the introduction of diseases.

Some think this has already happened. "The belief is that the foot-and-mouth outbreak [in 2001] in the U.K.--costing the country billions of pounds--originated with African bush meat," Ammann, the activist, said. "In Gabon there have been several outbreaks of Ebola, all associated with villagers eating primates."

Brashares agrees that, with the large amount of meat that makes it into the West and the relatively unsanitary conditions of the markets, many zoonotic diseases--infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans--arrive with African bush meat every day.

Shipped by the Ton

Most experts agree that the total amount of bush meat imported into the West is high. But precise estimates are hard to come by.

"A very small part of the total sold makes its way overseas, but considering that millions of tons of bush meat are sold in Africa each year, a 'very small part' can still mean several hundred tons each year arriving on our shores," Brashares said.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement among governments, works to ensure that international trade of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Under CITES laws, cross-border trade of bush meat is illegal.

"I don't believe there are laws against eating bush meat in the U.S. It is illegal to bring it into the country but not to eat it," Brashares said.

Related articles on Primates and Wildlife trade
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